John Watson, Class of 1988
Leading environmental attorney at Baker & McKenzie
John Watson is the chair of Baker & McKenzie’s North American Environmental Practice Group and leads the coordinated Global Environmental Practice. His practice focuses on providing counsel to US and multinational companies to address the environmental challenges associated with their industrial and manufacturing operations. He has been advising industrial enterprises on managing wide-ranging environmental risks and liabilities arising out of their domestic and international operations for more than 20 years. He advised a Fortune 100 specialty chemical company in the development and implementation of a global environmental compliance program involving facilities around the world and he represented a Fortune 250 U.S. natural resources concern in Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act enforcement actions arising out of their mining operations. He also represented the leading U.S. industrial real estate industry trade association on the U.S. EPA Advisory Committee charged with drafting agency regulations to implement the federal Brownfields Revitalization Act of 2002. Prior to joining Baker & McKenzie, Watson spent time at the EPA and Gardner, Carton & Douglas.
Watson writes and speaks regularly on environmental law issues, including at the annual International Environmental Law Conference and the ACI Environmental Regulation and Enforcement Conference. He has been consistently recognized as a leading environmental lawyer in Chambers USA, The International Who’s Who of Environmental Lawyers and Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers publications. Most recently, he was recognized in Environmental Law, Best Lawyers in America 2014.
What were you like as a law student?
I would describe myself as a “reluctant” law student. I was initially reluctant to invest adequately in the rigors of law school. Entry into the Environmental Law Program and active participation in Kent’s externship opportunities afforded me the necessary focus and perspective.
Describe your career path. What steps did you take to get where you are today?
Extensive externship experiences at US EPA and Baxter Healthcare while in law school, along with a summer associate position at Chicago’s leading boutique environmental law firm, provided me the foundation for opportunities both at the EPA and the private sector coming out of law school. I joined Gardner, Carton & Douglas, where I practiced for 18 years and then moved to Baker & McKenzie 7 years ago to capitalize on the firm’s global perspectives and reach.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
Developing a select group of loyal clients that view my work and counsel as essential to the advancement of their businesses.
What advice would you give to young attorneys just starting out today?
View yourself as a “problem solver” first. Clients want answers to their business challenges and come to us seeking a strategy for resolution.
How did Chicago-Kent prepare you for your present success?
Kent’s mix of substantive teaching and work opportunities provided the foundation for launching my career and the background and experience to be successful.