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Sara Kelly, JD 2009

A photo of Sara Kelly
There’s no textbook on energy law, because the minute someone published one it would be out of date.”

Undergraduate Degree:

BA, international relations and religious studies, Connecticut College

Career Before Law School:

Development and event management

Sara Kelly's interest in conflict resolution began early in life when she was moved to Northern Ireland to work as an au pair. It was no mere coincidence that she went on to double-major in international relations and religious studies.

During those undergraduate years she spent a summer in the Middle East working with archeologists in Israel and Jordan. She later received a grant to study feminist perspectives on conflict resolution at the Women's World Congress in Uganda. She also spent time studying conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the Balkans, where she discovered yet another undercurrent of strife.

"You really start to recognize that one of the threads running through these conflicts is natural resources or the lack of adequate natural resources just to sustain the population, particularly in underdeveloped nations," she says. "That's what brought me around to environmental law."

Aside from the time she spent in Northern Ireland, Sara grew up in the Pacific Northwest, north of Seattle. With that geographic backdrop, she recalls developing "a deep consciousness of the environment" from a young age.

After college, she took three years off from school and moved to Montana.

"I took the LSAT right after college but I wasn't quite ready," she recalls. She worked for an arts and cultural center in Bozeman, where she handled marketing and managed events that included the Amnesty International Film Festival and the Northern Rockies Bioneers Conference. It was while living in Montana that she developed relationships with people connected to VLS. She was intrigued.

"I decided that what I wanted to focus on was energy and land use," she says. "I really decided that the program here just fit what I was into so much more closely than what I was able to find elsewhere."

As a researcher with the VLS Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE), she fires off a list of areas of energy law that capture her interest: its relationship to environmental justice; "everything from climate change to adequate and affordable access to electricity;" renewables vs. big oil and coal; the burgeoning market for entrepreneurs; demand-side management, efficiency standards and regulated vs. unregulated utility systems. In short, it's a dynamic market.

"It's really up in the air as to what an electricity purchasing system will look like in five to 10 years. It is shifting so quickly," she says. "I really like the policy side. There's no textbook on energy law, because the minute someone published one it would be out of date."

As an IEE researcher, she helped publish The Farmer's Guide to Energy Self-Reliance, a publication designed to help farmers incorporate energy-efficiency technology into their practices. Sara spent last summer working with the Burlington firm of Shems, Dunkiel, Kassel & Saunders, where she researched cases, wrote briefs, and worked with clients who are involved in energy and land use law. She is continuing her work with the firm through the fall semester.

In addition to her work as a VJEL editor, she is working with a team of authors on a soon-to-be published book exploring global energy justice. After she graduates in May 2009, Sara plans to spend two years clerking with the Washington State Court of Appeals in Seattle.