Nikki Rovner, L’94, combined her loves for science and policy in a career in environmental law. Today, she’s making a difference through her work with the Nature Conservancy.

Her Law School Experience

“I came into law school entirely certain that [environmental law] was what I wanted to do,” said Rovner. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in wildlife science, Rovner knew she was passionate about the environment – and passionate about policy. Law school was an opportunity to meld those two.

Her summer internships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation solidified her plan: “I knew that I wanted to end up working for an NGO, and I also thought that it would make sense to work in government first,” said Rovner – because having a knowledge of how the government and legislation function would better inform her future work.  

Her Career Path

After graduation from Richmond Law, Rovner worked as an intern in the environmental law section of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office before landing a position as a staff attorney for the Division of Legislative Services’ Natural Resources Team. That internship was crucial: “It helped me get my job, but I also met some attorneys who I’ve known throughout my career,” said Rovner.

With the Division of Legislative Services, “you learn state law incredibly well by writing it,” said Rovner. “But you’re not an advocate. I knew I wanted to be an advocate eventually.” That desire drew her to a newly created role of Director of Government Relations for the Nature Conservancy. From there, she spent four years as Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources for Governor Tim Kaine before returning to the Nature Conservancy in 2010. Her responsibilities within the organization have grown, and she is now Associate State Director.

Her Job Today

At the Nature Conservancy, Rovner’s work focuses on building partnerships with government agencies and advocating for policy priorities. Her role is a non-partisan one – “but you can’t just ignore politics and pretend it doesn’t exist, because you won’t be an effective advocate,” explained Rovner. “Trying to balance that out is challenging.”

But the challenge is worth the reward for Rovner: “I like being the voice of conservation in the policy-making realm,” she said. “When you’re working with legislators, you’re working with people that make decisions that have a real effect on the environment.”

Her Advice for Students

“Climate change is the challenge of our time, and there are so many different career paths where you could have an impact on solving that problem,” said Rovner. The environmental community’s increased focus on policy work means more paths opening for legal careers in the field, she explained. “The policies that are needed for localities to be able to [help communities adapt to change] really do not exist,” said Rovner – making the environmental law field an exciting one. “There is still so much room to be on the cutting edge in that area.”