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Question & Answer: Shari Shapiro, green-building lawyer

A daughter to two lawyers, Shari Shapiro said she "fought for years not to follow in the family business."

A daughter to two lawyers, Shari Shapiro said she "fought for years not to follow in the family business."

And then, in 2002, she applied to law schools.

Evidently, there's only so much a person can do to resist the gene-pool undertow.

With a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Shapiro joined the Center City office of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel L.L.P. in June 2005.

What a life turn it was. The onetime product assistant for Federated Department Stores, where Shapiro tracked sales and priced the cost of new products in intimate apparel, set out to master the male-dominated field of environmental and construction law - specifically, the "green" building sector.

In a recent interview, the mother of one with another child on the way said she was lured into green building law in part because she has always been an environmentalist. A blog and efforts to start a think tank have followed. Now her goal is to get more women to join the green building cause - both in construction and law.

Question: What are the emerging issues in green building law?

Answer: You have breaches of contract: I said that I was going to develop a LEED silver building; it only came in as LEED certified. There is product liability. There are lots of new technologies and building practices. To the extent that those fail to live up to their promises, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, that will be a liability for the product manufacturers, for the installers, for the architect or contractor who recommended use of those products.

You also have false advertising. You'll see a lot of claims about the environmental friendliness of products that may or may not be substantiated.

Q: When would you say your efforts at green building law began in earnest?

A: In 2007 I got my LEED AP [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional certification from the U.S. Green Building Council].

Q: LEED certification. People think of that for planners or architects. Why a lawyer?

A: If I was to learn ins and outs of green building practice and to be able to help my clients with that and create contracts with their architects, with their design professionals, or resolve conflicts around green building projects, I was really going to have to know the material. Moreover, it gives me a common language to talk to design professionals, owners, engineers, and so forth, which, I believe, makes me a better lawyer.

Q: And the blog, where did that come from?

A: I was having more thoughts and more information on green building, more than could be published in a normal publication cycle of [print journals]. I wanted to also reach a broader audience. I can have a conversation with my readers in real time and it puts me on the leading edge of people who are thinking about these issues. It's very much a young and up-and-coming field, and most of those people are strongly linked in to technology, the Internet world.

Q: Those readers, can you characterize them?

A: They are lawyers, government officials, architects, planners - that's really the majority.

Q: Has anything about the blog surprised you?

A: What has surprised me most is actually the influence that it has had. I've received comments and had discussions on my blog with thought leaders in the field. Government officials from major municipalities - Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, and so forth, with other leading journalists in the area, and have been invited to speak to the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Architects, National Association of Home Builders, and so forth, all as a result of the thought leadership that I've shown on the blog.

The reality of the situation is I'm an associate, I'm at the beginning/midlevel of my career and have been able to have a lot of reach and thought leadership on this subject that I might not have had.

Q: Has that translated into business?

A: Yes, in fact I get a pretty steady stream of new clients. From a presentation I gave, I just received a new architect client who needs contracts, and wanted to integrate sustainable design provisions into her contracts. I'm hoping that, really, once we come out of this terrible recession that we're in and the building trades get their feet back, it will result in an even greater degree of work.

Q: Tell me about the green think tank that you're also involved in.

A: I am working on creating a green building policy institute. There's been a lot of policy made in this area over the past two years, and not a lot of policy analysis on whether the regulations being put in place are good regulations, whether they're effective in achieving environmental goals. Whether they are costly, inhibitive to development. There's just not a lot of data. So, I am in the process of trying to bring together resources and educational institutions in support of this effort. That will happen, I think, over the course of the next year or two.

Q: You say you're one of the few women working in this field.

A: The green field, just like the construction field, is really very male dominated. And it's really a tragedy in that this is a growing area of business. This is where good both middle-class and upper-class jobs are going to come from, and women need to be a part of that in order to better serve their families.

Shari Shapiro

Title: Environmental law associate, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel L.L.P. in Center City.

Age: 33.

Education: B.A., Brown University, 1997;

J.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2005.

Other work experience: Product assistant for Federated Department Stores; management consultant in PricewaterhouseCoopers retail strategy group.

Residence: South Philadelphia.

Family ties: Married to Seth Shapiro, director of planning and urban design

at Barton Partners in Norristown; mother

to a daughter, Sylvie, and another child due in December.

Her blog:

On the future of green buildings: "Green buildings are by no means the cutting edge. So, even if today's green buildings become tomorrow's code, I am very much insistent that we have to keep pushing the envelope about what our built environment can do to help the environment."EndText

Join "green" lawyer Shari Shapiro in a live chat today at 3 p.m. at www.philly.comEndText