Natalie Kirkish JD '14

A Passionate Part of the Solution: Q&A with Natalie Kirkish

Natalie Kirkish JD 14 has dedicated her career to public service and environmental law. She practices environmental law and also advises public agency clients regarding transactional issues. Kirkish’s passion for the environment and public service fuel her drive to help others and solve challenges for her clients. 

Towards the end of her time at Santa Clara Law, Kirkish participated in an International Human Rights Clinic, where she was the co-author of an amicus curiae brief before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in support of environmental clean-up efforts in Vieques, Puerto Rico. After graduating in 2014, Kirkish began her career as an Associate at Wittwer Parkin LLP where she practiced in the areas of environmental and natural resource, land use, and governmental law. 

Kirkish joined Downey Brand in 2018, where she represents public agencies and private clients on land use issues from the permitting and entitlement stage onto litigation in both trial and appellate courts. Her practice focuses on California planning and zoning laws, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the National Environmental Policy Act, the public trust doctrine, endangered species, the California Coastal Act, and the McAteer-Petris Act, as well as federal and state laws governing protection of historic and cultural resources. Last year, through Downey Brand’s pro bono program she had the opportunity to work with victims of the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County. Kirkish and her fellow attorneys served more than 1,200 people at the Disaster Recovery Center and opened more than 400 cases. In 2019, Kirkish and her fellow attorneys were recognized by the Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC) for their pro bono work with the victims. 

What motivated you to take your career into environmental law and public service? 

I was motivated by my passion for the environment to pursue a career in environmental law. Throughout my education, I learned about the problems faced by society, and I decided I wanted to be part of the solution. I always envisioned a career in public service, and I have found I can achieve that goal by working for a law firm that represents public agencies on environmental and land use issues.  

What have you found to be most challenging about your work so far? 

I have found the most challenging part of California Environmental Quality Act litigation to be drafting briefs. Drafting briefs requires you to take complex, often highly technical issues, and present them in a way that the court will understand and agree with your argument. Even after six years of practice, I am constantly working on developing my brief drafting skills 

What classes at Santa Clara Law best prepared you for the work you do now?

I found the skills-based classes best prepared me for practicing law. For instance, because I took pre-trial litigation techniques, I had experience drafting a motion for summary judgment and conducting a deposition. I also think that Environmental Protection, the Environmental Law Seminar, and Land Use were critical for my practice of California land use law.  

What would you say to a young college student considering law school today? 

College students considering law school should reflect on what they are truly passionate about. The practice of law involves long hours in a potentially high-stress environment. But if you pick an area of law that you are passionate about, the challenge becomes incredibly rewarding.  

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, what advice would you give to current law students or recent graduates?

This current pandemic has shown how resilient we can truly be. As someone who graduated from college during the last recession, I understand that entering the job force during an economic downturn can be daunting. I think it is important to be creative and to be open to any kind of opportunity that can build your lawyering skills and fortify your network. 

What do you do in your spare time for fun and relaxation?

I love backpacking, snowboarding, and scuba diving, and lately I have enjoyed gardening, cycling, and exploring the open spaces of San Francisco.