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Environmental law clinic gets new director

June 29, 2000

Nick Marinello

One of the great things about being a lawyer is that you have so many options for what you can do in your career," said Adam Babich, the new director of Tulane's Environmental Law Clinic.

Babich, who arrived at Tulane in May to fill the position opened last spring by the departure of the clinic's longtime director, Bob Kuehn, was an attractive candidate exactly because of his breadth of experience within the legal field Babich, who graduated with a law degree from Yale in 1983, has worked in both private and public legal sectors as a litigator, educator and administrator. It's a background that fits nicely with what he anticipates will be his role at the clinic.

"This is an opportunity to do two things," he said. "The first is to train lawyers on how to really handle cases. The other is to provide legal representation to people who wouldn't otherwise get it."

Through that twofold agenda, Babich expects to continue the mission of the clinic, which has regularly been ranked as among the best legal clinics in the country. Babich said he looks forward to maintaining the clinic's traditional mission but wouldn't comment on turbulent events of the past two years.

The Environmental Law Clinic was harshly criticized by Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster and a number of business organizations for its role in assisting residents of Convent, La., in their successful bid to prohibit the Shintech Corp., a petrochemical plant, from developing in their community.

In addition, the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1998 limited the authority of state law school clinics by restricting the type of clients they can represent.

"In terms of bad feelings," said Babich, "I wasn't part of that and see no need for me to be part of that past. I am here to go forward."

Oliver Houck, professor of law and director of the law school's environmental law program, said he expects Babich to further the clinic's reputation for education and advocacy but he anticipates that the clinic will respond differently in how it represents clients.

"In terms of the restrictions imposed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, we will probably move from a clinic that served hundreds of clients on small cases to a clinic that serves fewer clients on large cases," he said. "We are going to comply with all applicable rules," agreed Babich. "We are in business."

Without the pro bono legal assistance provided by Tulane's law clinics and other organizations, our court system would be "like the healthcare system without health insurance," said Babich.

"Essentially, the only people who can afford lawyers are governments and big corporations and a small percentage of individuals," he said. "What that means is you have people with rights whose rights cannot be protected."

By providing legal representation, the clinic not only helps its individual clients but also, over time, sends a message to the government and industries that the residents of a community are not powerless, said Babich. Babich's perspective on the legal system has been shaped by what Houck describes as "long experience on many sides of environmental issues."

After law school Babich worked for the Colorado attorney general's office for four years enforcing federal environmental regulations. He then went into private practice representing grassroots environmental organizations and eventually formed a law firm with two partners. Clients included the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resource Defense Council, as well as municipalities and corporations.

In 1993 Babich joined the Washington, D.C.based Environmental Law Institute, a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing environmental protection through research, education and dialogue. He served the institute as editor-in-chief of its monthly publication and also became involved in establishing an international training program for judges and prosecutors primarily in Latin America and the former Soviet Union.

In 1997, he returned to private practice by joining a Chicago-based firm. Over the years Babich taught law as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver and the Georgetown Law Center.

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