Chris Rizzo '01

Precision Focus on Environmental Law

Partner, Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP, Director of the Environmental Practice

Chris Rizzo is a Partner with Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP and Director of the Environmental Practice at the firm. From the moment he decided he wanted to attend law school, Chris knew that he was specifically going to focus on environmental law. From participating in the environmental litigation clinic, to environmental law review, and ultimately graduating with an environmental law certificate, Pace provided the environmental legal education he sought out.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a lawyer?

That was probably in my sophomore year of college. I was studying political science and biology. I had a biology professor, and I expressed to him my deep interest in biology, particularly environmental biology. And he said to me something like “no, no, no, no, Chris, do not become a scientist or biologist. You should become a lawyer, an environmental lawyer. Lawyers get everything done.” He didn't say this with kindness. He said it with resentment. But he was very clear with me that he thought I should go towards law school. I took it to heart, and I never looked back.

And from there, how did you choose Haub Law?

Well, I knew that I specifically was going to law school to focus on environmental law. So I sought out a law school where I could specifically focus on that area with the intention of practicing in that area.

I received a full academic scholarship to come to Haub Law, which was a huge motivation for me. I was very leery about taking on any student debt, and worried about what that would do to my professional flexibility in the future. I was admitted to a number of other law schools and while the full scholarship was a motivating factor, it was not the only one. At the time, a few other schools I looked at did not have the robust environmental law program that I was seeking and I thought they were not of any use to me. I wanted to be an environmental lawyer. Why would I go to a law school with two course offerings and an underdeveloped environmental law program? Haub Law had the environmental law program that I was looking for and combined with the scholarship it was an easy choice.

What were some of the more impactful experiences you had while at Haub Law?

The environmental litigation clinic is a very transfor­mative program. Part of that was the oversight of Karl Coplan. When I had him, Professor Coplan was a very demanding and very good professor. The envi­ronmental litigation clinic really, really helped refine my legal skills. I also made a number of connections outside of Pace as well working on those matters, and I still find them valuable today.

You were an articles editor on the Pace Environmental Law review, and you graduated with the environmental law certificate. Would you recommend those experiences?

Yes. I had to write a note for the law review and that was a very useful process. It wasn’t so much what I wrote, but the process of writing such a complex law journal is incredibly helpful. I think anybody that participates in a law review winds up being a better lawyer because you're forced to learn how to write, research and edit.

I also think the certificate program is useful. I think exposing law students to topics, concepts, and legal acronyms is helpful and gives you a running start in your career as an environmental lawyer. I think it's really invaluable and that's one of the reasons I came to Haub Law. All of the robust environmental course offerings really gave me a foundation in various areas of law, which was helpful later.

You are a partner with Carter Ledyard and Milburn LLP and director of the Environmental Practice—how did your career start out and how has it evolved?

My career definitely morphed over time. When I first started practicing law, I did a lot more traditional environmental work than I'm doing these days. I worked with RCRA and CERCLA, which are two federal hazardous waste laws. I worked heavily with NEPA and SEQRA. I worked on a lot of historic pres­ervation matters involving federal, state, and city preservation laws. I also worked on some brownfield matters, the Clean Water Act, and more. The past few years I've started doing a lot more real estate related work. That’s because my practice is very fo­cused on New York City and this is a real estate town. Helping clients resolve their land use, construction, and real estate problems has become a big driver of my work.

What advice do you have for law students who want to work in the field of environmental law at a law firm upon graduating?

I find that Haub Law students are pretty good about aggressively seeking out internships and experiences and opportunities in the areas that are meaningful to them. Whenever I see a Haub Law resume I'm always impressed, there are intern­ships at the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Litigation Clinic, and all sorts of things. It is important to fill your resume with meaningful experiences in the area you want to practice in, but also networking in those areas. And this is true, not just for environmental law, it's true for any subject matter you want to practice. It is really about networking, meeting as many people as you possibly can who might become future employers. To that end, you should become a student member of the New York State Bar Association or the New York City Bar Association. You can sit on committees as students, and I would do that aggressively and participate. You must prioritize making connections outside the law school even more than making con­nections inside the law school.

That is very good advice. Outside of the law, tell us a bit about yourself and your hobbies.

Well, I have 3 young kids, so that takes up a lot of time. So aside from my family, I also love exploring New York City and New York State. My family and I love national, state and city parks—we travel all over the place to visit them. I am also a big fitness enthusiast—I run 5ks and bike to work and do whatever I can to stay fit. I think prioritizing your personal life, physical fitness and mental health is very important. There is no ques­tion that I am a better lawyer because I dedicate time to these things. You need to have a healthy balance and if you don’t have that balance you wind up being less of a professional.