I wanted to be part of a proactive change in policy and how industry is developing products, devices, and projects.”
Founder and Managing Partner, Cleantech Law Partners
Jack Jacobs has held a variety of legal, policy, and business positions in the United States and abroad since graduating from VLS. "My background is a pu pu platter of experience," he said, chuckling. "There have been a lot of curves in my career path." Many of Jacob's college classmates used their environmental science degrees to become administrators at sewage treatment plants and landfills, but "studying E coli and wastewater wasn't exactly what I wanted to do with my life," he said.
Instead, he came across a magazine article about the growing field of environmental law and decided that's what he wanted to do. After graduating from VLS, he envisioned himself working as an attorney for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council or another national environmental nonprofit. He sent out hundreds of résumés but got nowhere.
He landed his first job at the Boston law firm of Shep Johnson JD'86, who put him to work as an environmental litigator on local pollution and land use cases. "It was a great experience because it was a small practice and he trusted me and just threw me right in. Opposing counsel was yelling at me from the start. It wasn't a traditional start for young lawyers."
But Jacobs decided litigation wasn't for him, so he became in-house counsel for a communications company, where he reviewed contracts and handled other business issues. "I developed good business knowledge, but it wasn't environmental law, which is what I wanted to do," he said.
Next, he moved to Israel, where he had spent a year in college. He worked in several jobs, including as a policy analyst for the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, adjunct lecturer at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a clean technology consultant for Terra Venture Partners, and corporate attorney for Israel's second largest law firm, where he established an environmental law department.
After four years in Israel, he decided to return to the United States and in 2009 became in-house counsel at BrightSource Energy, the world's leading solar thermal energy company. In 2010, he founded Cleantech Law Partners in San Francisco, a boutique law firm that serves the legal and policy needs of renewable energy project developers and clean tech companies. "My interest is in using the law to encourage development of clean technologies," he said.
At VLS and Lewis and Clark Law School, where he received an LLM, he learned that environmental law typically involves using lawsuits to oppose shopping malls, factories and other development projects-a practice known as "hole-punching" as in punching holes in developers' buckets. But he decided he wanted to encourage clean technology rather than oppose dirty developments or force them to retrofit. "I didn't want to be hole puncher," he said. "I wanted to be part of a proactive change in policy and how industry is developing products, devices, and projects. If you have the technology to not pollute in the first place, then environmental laws become secondary."
At Cleantech Law Partners, Jacobs serves as managing partner. He helps companies develop clean technology and helps developers install those technologies, such as wind farms, solar panels, geothermal power stations, and electric vehicles. "We use a business approach to push environmental change," he said. "I'm practicing little law these days, but my legal experience and skills are key to my being able to meet our clients' legal needs."
Jacobs advised new and recent VLS alumni to be flexible in their career paths. "Be open to whatever life throws at you. Not everyone can be chief counsel at the NRDC or Earthjustice, but there are a lot of other ways for lawyers with strong backgrounds to have a big impact."