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Ellery Richardson

General Counsel, TDEC

The scientific way of thinking and looking at the world will help you in whatever you do, whether it’s in the geosciences or not.

What Organization do you work for?

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Office of General Counsel

What is your official title and what would you call yourself (geologist, hydrologist, geochemist, environmental scientist, etc.)?

Attorney – Assistant General Counsel (for the Divisions of Solid Waste Management and Remediation, so I work with “real” geologists every day)

What attracted you to the field of geosciences?

I love nature and loved learning about how it worked

What do you do at your job day to day?

I work closely with issues around landfills, groundwater contamination, remediation of contaminated sites, and other cleanups. I problem-solve with the engineers and geologists at the state whenever issues come up that involve compliance or legal and regulatory interpretation. I encourage citizens to make the right scientific decision through the legal process. I also use our geologists and engineers as experts and consultants when we are bringing an enforcement case.

What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I am making a direct impact on the environment in Tennessee, and that I’m always learning something new. It rarely gets boring.

I still get to work with geologists and the science aspect every day, despite being an attorney. Environmental law is a fascinating field, and it really helps to have a science background.

What about your job do you find most challenging?

Sometimes there is no good answer, or the law hasn’t caught up with technological and scientific innovation. When that happens, we have to get very creative, or work to change the regulations to accurately reflect the current landscape.

If you could go back and give your college self one piece of professional advice, what would it be?

I didn’t know there were more options for being a geologist other than academia and working for an oil company. I sort of fell into law as a plan b because neither of those fields sounded appealing to me. I am happy with it, but I wish I had a better understanding of the career options when I was still in school.

Has being a geoscientist changed the way you view the world around you, and if so, how?

Yes! At the beginning of law school, I noticed that I thought more critically than my peers that majored in other fields. It was easier for me to pinpoint the issues in the legal documents than it was for them. I read a statistic a while back that people with science degrees have higher grades their first year of law school than their pre-law or political science counterparts. The scientific way of thinking and looking at the world will help you in whatever you do, whether it’s in the geosciences or not.