Earth Institute Profiles

Michael Gerrard

Director of the Center for Climate Change Law; Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia Law School

Michael Gerrard

Michael Gerrard has devoted almost his entire career to environmental advocacy. His passion was born in response to the industrial air and water pollution in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, one of the major chemical manufacturing centers of North America. He has since become one of the world’s most distinguished environmental lawyers and is director of the Center for Climate Change Law  (CCCL) at Columbia University and a member of the faculties of the Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute.

In addition to his professional endeavors to improve the environment, Gerrard also tries to reduce his own environmental impacts and carbon footprint whenever possible. He has been active in influencing environmental policy in Chappaqua, New York, where he resides. Previously, Gerrard served as the deputy director of the New York City Mayor's Transit Office and special counsel to Richard Ravitch when he was the chair of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Gerrard’s other roles have included chairing the 10,000-member Section of Environment, Energy and Resources of the American Bar Association, chairing key committees of the New York State and New York City bar associations, and serving as general counsel of the Municipal Art Society of New York.

“In my 30 years practicing environmental law, I was fortunate to witness, and participate in, the growth of the field from a tiny specialty with little perceived relevance to most people into a sprawling endeavor of global significance,” says Gerrard. His role in this endeavor has been significant throughout; one London-based legal publisher recently ranked Gerrard as the leading environmental lawyer in the world, based on 4,500 interviews.

Through CCCL, which he launched in January 2009 at the Columbia University School of Law, Gerrard helps train the next generation of leaders in climate change law. With the aim of influencing key decision makers, bringing the latest scientific knowledge into the regulatory system, and developing innovative legal tools to combat climate change and promote sustainable development practices, CCCL is collaborating closely with the Earth Institute and the United Nations.

“Columbia University, as the leading university in one of the greatest cities in the world, has the independence, the geographic location, the international reach, and the astonishing breadth and depth of expertise across many disciplines to formulate innovative approaches to climate change and to have those approaches taken seriously by those who can implement them,” Gerrard says.

Gerrard literally wrote the book on climate change law. His 2007 edited volume, Global Climate Change and U.S. Law (American Bar Association), is considered to be one of the leading texts the field. Climate change law is emerging in response to the evolving web of local, national and international laws that set standards for such things as carbon emissions, energy efficiency and land protections. Navigating these often complex and technical statutes will require lawyers in this field to draw knowledge not only from environmental law, but also from a spectrum of law specializations including corporate, property, international trade, intellectual property, tax, energy, human rights and contracts. Gerrard is also editor and author of a number of hallmark publications in environmental law, including the 12-volume Environmental Law Practice Guide, which was awarded the "Best Law Book of the Year" by the Association of American Publishers, a distinction that he has earned twice.

Gerrard has been active in major environmental law cases in New York since his days as a student and Root Tilden Scholar at the New York University School of Law, where he earned his J.D. in 1978. As a student—and later as a young lawyer at Berle, Kass & Case—he was a key member of the team that helped defeat the massive Westway highway project, which would have added substantial landfill along the Hudson River in Manhattan. He has also battled Donald Trump, stopping plans for a luxury golf course in Westchester County, where pesticide runoff would have threatened the local water supply. Most recently, Gerrard was a managing partner of the New York office of the prestigious Arnold & Porter law firm. He has become senior counsel to the firm since founding CCCL.

In joining the Columbia University law faculty full time as a professor of professional practice, Gerrard has brought his academic career full circle. He earned his B.A. in political science from Columbia in 1972 and has also been an adjunct lecturer at the School of Law. Both his parents and both his children also earned degrees from Columbia.