April 9, 2015 -- Laura Duncan never planned to be an attorney. But an interest in environmental matters developed while working in public relations has led her to a trial attorney position with the environmental law division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The 2014 graduate of the University of Houston Law Center secured the job through the prestigious Attorney General’s Honors Program.
Duncan majored in communications at the University of Texas at Austin, later earning a master’s degree in advertising. After earning her undergraduate degree, she worked at an Austin public relations firm that did work for the water industry.
It was in that role, she says, that she began working with attorneys and gaining a strong interest in environmental matters, something that harkened back to her childhood growing up in the rural community of El Campo, near the Gulf Coast. Later, she worked as a senior communications manager for the Texas branch of the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. Ultimately, however, she wanted to have more of an impact.
“While strategic communications is a critical element in shaping environmental policy,” she explained, “I wanted to be the person determining all elements of a strategy to effect change.”
She decided to go to law school. After taking the LSAT, she applied to several schools, including the University of Houston Law Center. When UH didn’t accept her, she retook the LSAT and reapplied because of the breadth of the environmental law courses offered. This time, she was accepted and went on to graduate third in her class.
During her UHLC career, she served as an intern to U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas and Judge Jennifer Elrod of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals , as well as an intern in the environmental division of the Harris County County Attorney’s Office and as a law clerk at three law firms, small and large. Currently, she clerks for U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller, ’78, also of the Southern District of Texas.
This fall, she’s headed to Washington, D.C., to begin at the Department of Justice, where she’ll be a trial attorney with its Environment and Natural Resources Division. She got the job through the Attorney General’s Honors Program, the only way that recent law school graduates can go to work for the DOJ as entry-level attorneys.
“I’m very excited,” Duncan said, adding that as yet, she doesn’t know exactly where she’ll be working – in criminal or civil enforcement or on the defense side.
The job requires a three-year commitment. Ultimately, Duncan said, she hopes to return to the Houston area, where her family resides, and work in environmental litigation here.