Celebrating 25 Years in DC

And Recognizing the Professor Who Made it Possible

Twenty-five years ago, what was then known as Pace Law School launched a summer Environmental Law Externship program in Washington, DC. Beyond giving students direct experience with environmental law and policy, one of the key goals of the externship from the outset, as described by Professor of Law Emerita Ann Powers and champion of the program, was “to introduce students to the lawyer’s role as responsible, ethical decision-maker, with an emphasis on the special discretion of the government lawyer.” In 1997, students experienced an intensive “bootcamp” on environmental law taught by environmental legal pioneer and Pace Law Adjunct Professor David Sive. In DC they worked as externs and took a seminar taught by Adjunct Professor Steve Solow, formerly Co-Director of the Law School’s environmental litigation clinic and then Chief of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section. Today Professor Solow is a partner at Baker Botts and still at the helm of this impactful and transformational program.

DC on a Boat 1999

Over his tenure, Professor Solow has recruited five co-professors, all Pace alumni. One former student turned co-professor, Robyn Emeson, who serves as Senior Assistant Regional Counsel in the Regulatory Enforcement Section of EPA’s Denver Regional, credits her time in the externship program as refining her introspective approach to the practice of environmental law. She recalls that “from day one, Professor Solow taught his students to critically analyze the happenings around us in our practices, no matter what the context, and to periodically take pause to ensure our actions align with how we want to be remembered one day as lawyers, colleagues, and neighbors.” Former co-professor Lauren Bachtel, now in private practice after spending the beginning of her career in the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor, credits Solow as “one of the main reasons the DC Externship is so special. His experience, energy, and inquisitive nature made every class very exciting and rewarding.” Another co-professor, Lauren Fischer, notes that “Steve is the consummate teacher/mentor whose wisdom and guidance provides Pace students with critical lessons on how to avoid life’s potential pitfalls and achieve excellence.”

2010 DC

Current co-professor Kristen DeWire, a student when the program celebrated its 15th anniversary, reflected on the “profound” effect the program had on her career – “[i]nterning at the EPA and meeting many of the alumni practicing environmental law in the DC area opened my eyes to the wide range of opportunities in environmental practice. The experience was instrumental in my decision to return to DC to pursue a career in government service.” Professor DeWire is currently Senior Counsel of the EPA Environmental Appeals Board.

Not surprisingly, Professor Solow notes the crucial role of alumni participation and engagement. The list is dozens long of former externs who come back to support and give advice to the current class. Anne Carpenter, a former extern who then spent the last 15 years working alongside Steve in private practice regularly comes back to guest lecture once every summer; former Dean of the Environmental Law Program Alexandra Dunn also joins the class and helps open doors. In the truest proverbial sense, the DC externship program is a village. Professor Solow also credits the large network of attorneys at DOJ, EPA, Interior, the Coast Guard, FERC and elsewhere who have opened the door to Pace externs.

2011 DC

A member of the 2019 summer class, Anxhela Mile, says it was the deep relationships she was able to build with classmates and alumni from different sectors of the environmental law field that expanded her understanding of what opportunities may exist after graduation, and helped her career trajectory towards becoming a practicing climate change lawyer.

Danielle Schreiber, a participant in the 2010 summer session says that the DC externship was by far her favorite class in law school and that “Unlike traditional lectures, the DC Externship Program provides students with practical advice based on the real world legal experience they are getting over the summer. Having Steve’s expertise navigating issues relating to the public interest and tying in his private practice experience is invaluable.”

Another former student, Zaheer Tajani, who was recently appointed by the Department of the Interior as Senior Advisor for Oversight, remarks that even when it was not immediately apparent, the connections that Professor Solow helped foster with established environmental law professionals and peers alike built a network of support which would scaffold future professional success in both the public and private sectors.

In a region where there is huge competition for positions, Pace students are in the mix in part because of this growing network of Haub graduates. Professor Solow recalls that when he came to DC in 1997, he didn’t see enough Pace alumni in the environmental agencies and government offices. In his view, the biggest change over the last 25 years is how Pace students are received in the DC marketplace – they are recognized for a combination of practical skills, solid research know-how, and agency savvy, often gained through the DC program. He believes that the success of so many of his former students has helped in its own way to keep the Environmental Law Program atop the rankings for so long.

An example of how the extern program’s network impact continues to grow is the story of Samuel Capasso. A student in the 2008 summer session, Capasso is now a mentor and supervisor in his role as Branch Chief of the Community Infrastructure Resilience Branch in FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Division. Capasso notes that “The DC Externship program gave me the confidence to apply for DC jobs. I learned I was up to the task of serving the people of the United States and it helped me set working at FEMA Headquarters, where I now am a leader, as a career goal. I’m proud to pay this experience forward to new students!” Capasso received the 2022 Nicholas Robinson Award for Distinguished Environmental Achievement from the Law School.

2022 DC

Since its inception, over 225 students have participated in the Environmental Law DC Summer Extern Program. They all received the training and mentorship from Professor Solow in this programs format that Professor Powers describes as “especially effective, complementing and enriching the students’ more traditional academic experience.” Professor Robyn Emeson adds that “for 25 unwavering years, [Steve] has remained a phenomenal mentor and advocate for law students, making his mark as a foundational pillar of the Law School’s DC Externship program.”

As he prepares for the 26th summer class, Professor Solow describes how the class helps students explore the real-world issues they face. From negotiating for better work assignments and dealing with ethical dilemmas as government or private-sector attorneys, to addressing issues such as environmental justice and navigating government bureaucracies. Separately, he looks forward to the continued expansion of the Law School’s network in Washington DC.