Like many at Earthjustice, I came to environmental law as a result of spending time outside. Knocking around outdoors in the West was the setting for a different, more profound relationship with the world around me. Some of those experiences-challenging, awe-inspiring, funny, scary, beautiful, humbling and insightful-made lasting impressions.
I went to law school with the vague notion that becoming a lawyer would let me connect my work with things that were important, but assumed without real thought in those days that practicing law on behalf of the environment could not be a career. But it was about to become a possibility. A law school externship at the new Center for Law in the Public Interest led me to Rick Sutherland at CLIPI and an opportunity to use what I learned in law school for the benefit of places I cared about. After law school professors and big firm recruiters, Rick was a revelation-I'd never met a lawyer who cared so much and worked so hard but didn't take himself in deadly earnest.
Rick and I stayed in touch. After he became Executive Director of what was then the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1977 (two offices and six lawyers, counting Rick) and I grew weary of commercial law practice, I talked him into letting me work on a few things for free at SCLDF until a real job came along. When a staff opening turned up in Denver, I jumped at it.
I spent five years in Colorado that encompassed the James Watt era. I got to work on the last big coal project on the Colorado Plateau (the defeated Allen-Warner Valley Energy System), oil and gas development in the Rockies, and other things that taught me a lot. After returning to California and worming my way back onto the payroll part-time, I did cases about nuclear power plants, land use, highway planning, air quality and giant landfills. I was the Managing Attorney in what is now the Oakland regional office for nine years.
I don't handle cases any more as Deputy Director. Although I get nostalgic about being in court once in awhile, I've enjoyed the chance to learn some new things. My job involves standing back from the fray and trying to make sense of the bigger picture: Why are we doing this and not something else? How do cases from different regional offices fit into a larger strategy? How is our work changing? As a recovering lawyer, I try to ask the simple questions and help explain their answers to our supporters, the public at large and to Earthjustice itself.
Bill Curtiss has been at Earthjustice since 1979, and is the Deputy Director/General Counsel. He grew up in the Bay Area, and lives in Berkeley with his wife, Judy Anderson, and daughters Hannah and Elizabeth. Bill graduated from Stanford with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and went to law school at U.C.L.A.