Opening Statements

Becoming Legally Green

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Courtesy of
Nixon Peabody LLP

After spending nearly four months of his spare time boning up on the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards and practices for sustainable building and development, Aaron Harmon got what he wanted: Another set of initials to add to his resumé.

But when Harmon, an associate at Ball Janik in Portland, Ore., told the partners at his firm of his new LEED AP credential, one quickly shot back, “Great. But why?”

For Harmon the why was a no-brainer.

As energy efficiency, green design and sustainability have moved to the forefront of Americans’ consciousness, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation is the best way to show his commitment to and understanding of the movement.

He also suspects clients will value his expertise in the fast-growing area. “For attorneys interested in aligning themselves with sustainable building or low-impact, high-performance building, this is a great way to brand yourself as someone interested in these issues,” says Harmon. “And once you brand yourself as someone interested in these issues, you more and more become the go-to person.”

While an LL.M. or M.B.A. used to be a hot credential for lawyers, those initials are now being supplanted by the LEED AP. The accreditation is issued by the Green Building Council to signify mastery of green and sustainable construction practices.

Since the council began certifying professionals in 2002, more than 50,000 people have obtained the accreditation, but so far only 126 of them are lawyers.

Jeffrey Lesk, a partner at Nixon Peabody in Washington, D.C., is one of those who was recently certified. Lesk, who became a LEED-accredited professional in July, says the need to understand sustainable development prompted him to study for and take the highly technical test, in which applicants must show a mastery of industry standard practices that is far afield from most lawyers’ expertise. The test addresses topics such as energy credits, tax incentives and complex environmental design ratios.

The building council now offers nine separate certification programs to address different types of property and development. But most lawyers are getting certified in the group’s new construction and major renovation track for high-performance commercial and institutional projects because that’s what their clients are involved in.

“Green development is on the horizon for all development,” Lesk says. “We will get to the point very soon that any real estate lawyer who doesn’t have green development skills will not be able to fully provide the client with all the services they need.”

The increase in green building and sustainable practices also is creating some concerns about liability, says lawyer Nathan Shook, in-house counsel for Darlind Construction in LaGrangeville, N.Y.

“Everyone is jumping into green building and not everybody has their eyes wide open,” Shook says. “They don’t understand what it is they are asking for and the potential is there for a contractor to try to agree to do something that they can’t deliver.”

Shook says that concern led him to get certified. While he has yet to have the opportunity to test the value of the credential, Shook says his passage of the accreditation test has inspired the construction professionals in his company.

“They figure if a lawyer can pass the test, then they can too.”


Can You Make the Grade?

Test your knowledge of LEED certification with these sample questions:

1. Which two of the following are considered sources of potable water in the LEED system?

A. Irrigation wells.

B. Captured rainwater.

C. Municipal water system.

D. Municipally supplied reclaimed wastewater.

2. Which two are true statements about the LEED certification process?

A. No credits are awarded during a design phase review.

B. Appeals may only be filed after a construction phase review.

C. LEED certification may be awarded after a design phase review.

D. Additional information must be submitted during the construction phase review for any design phase attempted credits that have changed.

3. Which two safety factors does the Uniform Building Code regulate for building renovations?

A. Structural safety.

B. Fire and life safety.

C. Potable water safety.

D. Indoor air quality safety.


1. A and C

2. A and D

3. A and B

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