Earthjustice Attorney Joins Environmental Clinic

Erin Gaines stands outside the Connally Center for Justice

The Environmental Clinic has added a new clinical professor. Erin Gaines ’13 brings expertise representing communities and nonprofit groups in cases addressing air and water pollution and climate change.   

“I’m thrilled to have Erin join the clinic,” says Clinical Professor Kelly Haragan ’95, director of the Environmental Clinic and co-director of Texas Law’s clinical program. “She brings a wealth of experience using environmental laws to help communities protect public health and their environments.”  

Gaines is pleased, too. “I’m excited about the clinic bringing new strategies to the work that we’re doing in the communities that we serve,” Gaines says.      

“Lawyers play a very important role in terms of helping community groups who do not have a lot of access to resources or experts,” she says. 

Currently also a supervising senior attorney at Earthjustice, a national environmental law nonprofit, Gaines says her interest in environmental law began while growing up in a family of scientists. She later expanded her interests to applying policy for environmental improvements, including as a student in the Environmental Clinic under Haragan.  

Environmental Clinic students work with underserved communities throughout Texas to advocate for solutions to today’s pressing environmental problems, including environmental injustice and climate change. Students develop creative legal solutions to protect and improve environmental quality and public health. 

Gaines says her own student experience at the clinic proved fundamental to her career path. “In college and then particularly in law school, I got much more interested in how environmental work really impacts people where they live,” Gaines says. She recalls her visits to parts of the state with a high concentration of industrial facilities, leading to health and safety consequences for the local population who were breathing polluted air, that highlighted the disproportionate impacts on certain communities.  

In college and then particularly in law school, I got much more interested in how environmental work really impacts people where they live.

Erin Gaines ’13

“The work I did in the clinic narrowed my focus to the environmental justice work that I’ve done in Texas,” Gaines says, adding that as a Texas Law student she also worked for the Community Development Clinic (now known as the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic) and the Transnational Workers Rights Clinic.  

After law school, Gaines clerked for Judge Gregg Costa on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Southern District of Texas, Galveston Division, and was a team manager at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, where she represented low-income community groups in environmental justice cases along the Texas Gulf Coast and the Texas-Mexico border. Her work included civil rights and fair housing complaints, permit challenges under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act review cases, and citizen suit enforcement.

As a clinical professor at Texas Law, Gaines will assist students as they learn by doing, including working on cases she’s previously undertaken, such as fighting against four proposed desalination facilities in the Corpus Christi region.

“What’s exciting for me is the creativity of it, just getting to research and work with students on coming up with new angles—things that we might not necessarily otherwise have thought of or that I haven’t done before, and trying to think outside the box,” she says. 

And she’s particularly happy about working with the clinic director. “Prof. Haragan has played such an important role in mentoring so many of us, including myself, who have gone through the clinic and then continued to do public interest environmental law in Texas or gone on to other areas of law,” Gaines says. “She’s played such a foundational role and is a huge resource. So, I’m excited to work with Kelly and hopefully continue to help build that network of future lawyers in Texas.”   

Category: Alumni News, Clinic News, Faculty News, Law School News