Besides a broadly shared vision, what’s something the Hon. Anthony Foxx (17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation), Janette Sadik-Khan (NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner), and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (longtime congressional leader on transportation) have in common?
They’re all lawyers by training.
In April 2020, Professor Gregory Shill of the University of Iowa College of Law hosted an ask-me-anything/Q & A for folks interested in urbanism and contemplating law school. A lightly edited compilation appears below. Those interested in the topic may enjoy Prof. Shill’s past work on transportation and urbanism, including here, here, and here. All views represent the personal opinions of Prof. Shill only.
Let’s start out by sketching a few domains of careers for those of you wondering if there are careers in legal urbanism (good news, there are!).
On the transportation side, there are a wide range of agencies that have lawyers (some of them big teams of lawyers). The big employers are US Department of Transportation and state DOTs. Some big cities have DOTs too. Then there’s transit agencies and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).
The private sector and nonprofits have law jobs in transportation too. You have car companies obviously, plus rail, shipping, insurance, aviation, and new mobility technologies. The degree of appeal to urbanists is perhaps variable. But there are opportunities.
Cities themselves also have lawyers representing them directly—perhaps tens of thousands nationwide. The New York City Law Department has around 1,000 lawyers. Iowa City, where I live and work as a law professor, has a City Attorney and four assistant City Attorneys.
Public health departments also need lawyers. There’s a growing overlap between public health and urbanism that predated COVID-19, and if you’re finding yourself more interested in public health lately there are opportunities at the intersection with law and urbanism.
Q: What areas of urbanism can a lawyer work in?
A: Housing (public, private, finance, etc.). Transportation (same). Land use. ADA and other laws concerning public spaces and accommodations. Representing cities. Policy and legislation.
Q: What do you mean by urbanism?
A: When I (and many others) use the term “urbanism,” we’re talking about people in places, not just cities. Human geography.