Get to Know Us | Klaus Metsä-Simola, Specialist Partner, Environment & Natural Resources, Helsinki
16 April 2018
How did you end up as an environmental law expert?
Towards the end of my law studies in 1998, I had to make a decision as to which advanced study module to take. I had always been interested in real estate, and I knew that environmental law was not that popular among students so I thought that there would be demand for experts in that field. At the time, the most popular subjects were company and commercial law, but for me they were not that interesting, neither was working as an attorney. Based on my thoughts and largely also on my intuition, I ended up choosing environmental law.
My Master’s thesis dealt with the regulation of bank-side construction work related to zoning, in other words a topic that is close to Finnish people, the construction of summer houses in the close vicinity of waters. During my studies, I also did an internship in state administration at the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment for Central Finland. Thus, I took my first step into becoming an environmental law expert already during my studies - both through my studies and my work experience. After finishing my thesis, I had not yet applied for any other jobs, when Erkki J. Hollo, Professor of Environmental Law, offered me an opportunity to continue my studies in the field of environmental law and to become a full-time environmental law researcher in the Faculty of Civil Law at the University of Helsinki. I took up the offered opportunity and I worked as an environmental law researcher and assistant lecturer until 2004, after which I moved on to the Environment Institute of Etelä-Savo in Mikkeli where I worked as an environmental lawyer being responsible, for example, for the zoning control of the municipalities and the official duties related to environmental protection and conservation. During my time there, I was responsible, for instance, for the zoning work of eighteen municipalities and cities. After this, I felt that it was time to move back to Helsinki, and I moved on to the Ministry of the Environment, where I worked as legal affairs officer responsible for zoning legislation. In 2010, I took a step into the lawyer world, and I am currently heading and developing Hannes Snellman’s environmental practice. In other words, I have now worked for some 20 years with environmental law and I am still happy with my choice.
What kind of differences are there in your current job as an attorney and your previous jobs?
My current job description does not differ from my previous jobs as much as people often think. In the public sector, I used my experience mainly for the purpose of granting permits, and we concentrated on the projects whenever it was possible. Even now, I am still almost always representing the permit seeker. My experience in the public sector has proven to be very useful for me in my current job. When providing counsel to our clients, it is really important to understand the public sector’s point of view, and how things are expressed and handled on that side. On the permit side, a permit is either dismissed or accepted based on the wording of the law. As a permit manager in the public sector, I also applied a project-positive interpretation, but I also expressed it clearly, if the requirements of the law were not met and there were no alternatives other than to dismiss the application. However, it was clear that in the public sector things should be handled objectively taking into consideration the intent of the legislator, in other words, no single entity could be favoured at the expense of another. In a law firm, it is the client’s interest that we are after, but it should be remembered that it is also in the interests of the client to say it upfront if a permit issue or project is unlikely to be successful.
What kind of matters are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I deal with projects related to renewable energy and wind energy. In addition to these, I also deal with real estate development and take care of environmental liability issues, which usually relate to either transactions or disputes. Besides me, our environmental law practice includes two associate lawyers, and we work in close cooperation with our real estate transaction, finance, M&A, and dispute resolution groups. Depending on the day, my working days include either providing counsel or something more project-like.
What are the skills required of a good environmental lawyer?
A willingness to learn and to stay up to date with the latest trends in the field of environmental law, which keep constantly changing, are necessary qualities in my work. Changes just keep coming all the time. An understanding the authorities’ standpoint is very useful in my work. My working languages are Finnish and English. For example, in projects, technical and scientific experts are often involved, wherefore it is important that you are able to ask them the right questions even if you do not understand their substance in detail.
What is the best and what is the most challenging part of your job?
The nicest thing about my job is taking care of a project in cooperation with the client’s experts and realising that the end result includes both the client’s technical and scientific substance knowledge and our legal expertise. It also feels good to see projects, in which you have been involved, being completed and implemented. Probably the most challenging part of this job is always keeping an eye on legislation and sustaining your substance knowledge.
Do you have any time for hobbies?
Yes, I do, and it is important that you do make time for hobbies. I personally like to spend my free time with my family, outdoors or otherwise.
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