Interview with Bill Penny - Articles

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Posted by: Lynn Pointer on Oct 16, 2013

1.  Can you give us some background on your involvement in ABA SEER?

First, I have to say that I have always been a big fan of the ABA and what they have to offer for practitioners.  When I was general counsel of TDEC’s predecessor I was active in the Administrative Law Section and served as co-chair of the ADR Committee.  I remember speaking in New York City for the Section and was very impressed with the quality of programming.  When I left state government in 1992, I needed to have a big picture perspective of environmental law and also was looking for networking opportunities.  I went to the Keystone Conference in 1992 where I was blown away by the quality of speakers and content of the papers.  I decided to go to more ABA SEER activities and continued to meet new lawyers all over the country, yet I was still able to go skiing or make other activities with our Tennessee contingent.  When SEER began its regional conferences in 1994 or so, I helped plan the first Region IV conference.  I answered a letter from Stephanie Brown with EPA who was looking for Vice Chairs to start a new committee on Solid Waste.  I agreed to be the program Vice Chair and in that capacity led some webinars and also some sessions at Keystone or the Fall Conference.  I was later recruited to be the Vice Chair for Programs for the State and Regional Environmental Coordination Committee (SRECC) and ultimately became chair of that Committee. With SRECC I was able to meet other committee chairs and council members at meetings at various spring council meetings at some fairly neat locales.  When I finished my two years as chair, I was selected to a three-year term on the SEER Council where I formed the Section Governance Committee.  I then became the Section Budget Officer and became the ABA’s budget officer class representative.  The nominating committee of SEER selected me as Vice Chair which automatically moves to Section Chair.   

2.  What are your goals or themes for your current role as Chair of the ABA SEER?

In my year as chair, I plan to “focus on the practice” of environment, energy & resource law.  Why?  The practice of law in general and environmental law in particular has changed over the years. For example, a good deal of environmental, energy, and resources legal work has shifted from the private sector to in-house counsel.  The type of work in private practice can change based on government agenda or initiatives.  Non-governmental organizations with local, national, and international platforms are becoming more active in the legal arena.  We are experiencing a time of globalization of legal services. The substantive environmental law areas are changing to meet new and expanding fields--climate change and sustainability come immediately to mind, while regulation of renewable sources of energy and financing environmental infrastructure also seem to be trending up.  Is the focus of environmental energy and resources legal practice shifting altogether? Does the market still consider traditionally core topics—such air, waste, and water—to be the main focus for environmental lawyers? Have these areas blended into the dynamic fabric of energy and resources law?

I have asked all of our publications, CLE’s and other activities to evaluate and focus on where and how the section can provide benefit to the practice whether that is private practice, governmental, NGO, academia or otherwise.  I plan to culminate this by holding a symposium on the “state of the practice,” in Nashville in May with the help of Vanderbilt Law School.  This “Quo Vadis” symposium will focus on the practice of environmental, energy, and resources law today and where it may be going in the future. 

I also want to stress that ABA SEER also focuses quite a bit of energy and attention on international issues as well as environmental justice.  We have representatives on a new ABA sustainability task force and we are working with the World Justice Project to create an environmental index for environmental justice worldwide.  I also plan to continue our commitment to our diversity programs and our programs for providing opportunities for young lawyers participation in ABA.

3.  Tell us a little about your involvement in TBA?

I joined the TBA right after getting licensed.  I always felt there was value in knowing other lawyers and sharing knowledge.  In 1991, I received a call from Irma Russell who at the time was with the Memphis Firm Glankler Gilliland. She wanted to create an environmental section for the TBA.  She asked me if I would help.  She actually set up the framework we now have.  As a government lawyer at the time, I was asked to be the first chair (which ended up being an almost two year term).  The plan was that every other year, a government attorney would be chair.  The bylaws were approved and I was elected.  I really was honored to be the first chair and spent a lot of time just organizing, getting newsletters out, meeting people and beginning to put on programs.  I remember our first CLE in I think 1992 or 1993 attracted 250 people.  I used the ABA Keystone Conference as a model for that program.  This of course is before our Environmental Law Section began partnering with others at the Gatlinburg conference. 

4.  Do you see opportunities for collaboration between the TBA and ABA?

TBA members are very active in ABA activities.  TBA members have included Section chairs of TIPS, Young Lawyers Division and others.  In addition, the current ABA Treasurer is a TBA member and a former Secretary is a TBA members.  The Tennessee delegation includes a number TBA members in the House of Delegates.  So, ABA welcomes TBA member involvement.  Some ways of collaboration include participation in the ABA’s one million trees project.  The TBA actually became listed as a climate challenge partner.  In addition, ABA welcomes co-sponsorship opportunities for webinars and other CLEs.