Dana Cooper is General Counsel for GreenVest, LLC, an environmental development and consulting firm. Currently, Ms. Cooper serves as the Chair of the Environmental & Energy Law Section. We caught up with Ms. Cooper to learn more about her work, and the Section.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your current role:
DC: I’m the general counsel for an environmental services small business. GreenVest specializes in fixed price, full delivery mitigation and ecosystem restoration. Our signature projects are stream and wetland restoration and enhancement, but we do all types of nature-based solutions for mitigation and regulatory compliance. As general counsel I am involved in most parts of the business: land acquisition, contracting and subcontracting, corporate governance, environmental permitting, and even business development.
Q: What do you love about your current role?
DC: A lot! I work with an incredible team of scientists, planners, business specialists, and other lawyers. I learn things from my colleagues every day and I love working with them to get the science and operational aspects of the business to meet up with the legal needs. I also love that no day is exactly like another and no project is exactly like another. While I can usually use lessons learned (and documents generated!) from one project to the next, there are always nuances to take into account to keep me on my toes.
Q: What is one of the challenges you have faced as a result of COVID-19?
DC: I started this job two days before the office shut down due to COVID-19. A few of us have been back in the office a bit during the year, but I have a number of colleagues who I’ve never met in person. I’m really looking forward to when we can get together for more social and team building activities.
Q: Tell us a little about your biggest project on your plate right now.
DC: GreenVest, is pursuing two grants to fund aquatic habitat creation and resiliency projects along the shoreline of the Middle Branch River in Baltimore. We’re working with the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Baltimore City government agencies, and a phenomenal team of Baltimore-based partners to try to make these projects happen. This work is important to me because I lived in Baltimore for 11 years and worked for Baltimore City government for more than 6 of those years and I am a passionate booster of the City. The projects GreenVest is proposing will be good for the environment, good for resilience (i.e. less flooding in a vulnerable part of South Baltimore), and would provide an aesthetic natural amenity in communities that face serious environmental justice issues. Ideally we will be starting design and permitting on one of these projects in the second half of 2021, and the other in 2022. My goal is to have the legal mechanisms in place to make that happen if and when we receive the grants.
Q: Why did you enter the legal profession?
DC: I worked for environmental non-profits when I was in college and I was always intrigued by the complicated laws and regulations that impacted the work. Knowing that I didn’t quite understand all of the context that was important to the issues I cared about drove me to law school.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received from someone in the legal profession?
DC: I started my career in Baltimore City government, and early on my first supervisor told me that there was as much responsibility lying around City government as I was willing to pick up. I ended up taking on a number of roles that weren’t exactly contemplated when my position was created. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my subsequent jobs and all of my clients in my private practice can be traced back to connections I made and things I learned through those additional responsibilities.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your legal career so far?
DC: Before I joined my current company I had a solo practice. I had left my very stable job in Baltimore City government to start my own business and it was incredibly terrifying. While I have a number of fond memories from my career, the one I would pick was when I landed my first client as a solo practitioner and along with my signed engagement letter they sent me a thick packet of fairly technical documents to review to get up to speed on their matter. When I opened that packet and realized that I knew exactly what to do, it really felt like going out on my own was the right choice.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give someone in law school or considering a legal career?
DC: Specifically for students interested in environmental law, my best advice is to spend some time working in government early in your career. When it comes to environmental issues, government attorneys often find themselves hearing from both environmental advocates and industry and needing to find the right path between both of those interests. I think that that perspective is very valuable in any practice of environmental law.
Q: What do you do to unwind/ de-stress?
DC: I think like a lot of working parents and especially a lot of working moms, it has been incredibly difficult to find time for anything this year that’s not work, childcare, or basic necessities. I do make time to exercise most days, but that comes at the expense of getting enough sleep.
Q: What’s your favorite hobby?
DC: Caveats about 2020/quarantine aside, I’m a pretty good cook and truly enjoy it when I have enough time to do it in a relaxed fashion (i.e. not trying to get something on the table for dinner in between responding to emails).
Q: What’s an interesting fact about you that no one would guess?
DC: This might be guessable, but I’m a total nerd. Science fiction and fantasy novels, superhero movies, fan culture … I love it all.