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Environmental firm Fair Shake aims to help clients of modest means

By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A new legal entity billing itself as an “environmental justice incubator” will open its Pittsburgh office this week, amid what executive director Emily Collins says is an immense need. Part of that need reflects land owner issues surrounding the development of the Marcellus Shale, but oil and gas won’t be the only practice areas the firm will handle.

Ms. Collins, who was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Environmental Law Clinic, founded Fair Shake in January as a nonprofit, free-standing law firm offering environmental legal services for clients of modest means. It also is meant to serve as a residency program for lawyers who will spend two years there practicing environmental law.

“People were having difficulty finding legal help for environmental and community health needs,” Ms. Collins said. “We want to fill the gap and help people who can’t pay top dollar for legal services but can pay something.”

While she expects Fair Shake will handle plenty of oil and natural gas issues, Ms. Collins said those areas won’t be the firm’s sole focus.

“We can do all those things, but we don’t want to get so specialized that we’re turning people away,” Ms. Collins said. “If someone has a coal mining-based problem, for instance, we could help with that. It will be a client-centered model.” She anticipates offering Fair Shake’s legal services to small businesses, as well.

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Once lawyers have gone through the residency program, Ms. Collins expects they will be able to sustain their own practices in environmental law. Fair Shake’s staff includes five resident attorneys, in addition to Ms. Collins, a senior attorney and an office administrator.

Fair Shake is funded via donations and grants. It received catalytic funding in the form of grants, a $50,000 grant from the Colcom Foundation, a $50,000 grant from the George Gund Foundation in Cleveland and another grant for $800,000 from Heinz Endowments.

Philip Johnson, senior officer for the Heinz Endowments’ Environment Program, said the foundation recognizes many people can’t afford the legal help needed to deal with environmental problems.

“We’ve seen the good work that attorneys heading this project have done in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio, and we’re excited to support an initiative that will provide these vital services,” Mr. Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The Pittsburgh office of Fair Shake is on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. It also will open an Ohio office in Akron.


Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly.


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