Not all attorneys are the same

There was a discussion in LinkedIn a few days back when an environmental consultant was lamenting openly why the federal government was immune from federal environmental laws!! When asked who told him that nonsense, he proudly announced that his authoritative source is an attorney (so it must be true). The attorney also told him that the federal government could pollute its own land due to sovereign immunity and anyone can do what he wants to his own property. Just imagine that! So we have a clueless attorney advising an even more clueless environmental consultant who ought to know better. We figure the attorney must be an old real estate fellow who had never heard of CERCLA and was in a coma when sovereign immunity was done away with many years ago.

I have been to conferences where I posed a difficult question (about disclosure) and someone would say: “I will check with my attorney”. It was as if the attorney has all the answers – and correct answers at that. If that were the case, there would not be a robust judicial system in this country where two attorneys enter a courtroom and out comes one winner.

When I worked for a multinational, our law department (30 plus corporate attorneys) rarely handled any specific EPA or OSHA cases. They went straight to outside counsel. And righty so.

It is important  to understand that not all attorneys are the same. It is a simple enough principle (attorneys and engineers all have their own specialties within their own professions) and yet it is often overlooked. You should no more hire a civil engineer to design a refinery than to hire a chemical engineer to build a dam.

Always do your own due diligence before accepting an attorney’s words or anyone else’s. Or else you are going to look like that consultant in LinkedIn who was misled into thinking sovereign immunity still exists for federal agencies.


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