Lead Attorney Sarah Stokes presented by Alabama Lawyer – Advice Eating

Sarah Stokes, a senior attorney at SELC’s Alabama office, was recently fired by the Attorney in Alabama Issue of women in law. The profile cites Stoke’s longstanding commitment to clean air and water across the state. Below, learn more from Sarah about the journey that led her to SELC and what inspires her to continue her work to ensure a healthy environment for all in Alabama.

Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes takes time out to go on the Cahaba River with family.

Stokes was previously named Cahaba Conservationist of the Year by the Cahaba River Society and a River Hero by the Alabama Rivers Alliance. In 2018, she was recognized by the University of Alabama School of Law as a Profile in Service recipient, and she was also selected for the 2021-2022 Alabama Leadership Initiative Class.

For the past 12 years, Stokes has worked tirelessly to advocate for clean air and clean water in the Alabama courts and legislature. In addition to serving as the leader of the organisation’s stormwater work, she also oversees the internship program in the Birmingham office.

Stokes received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law. In law school, she worked for Rosen Harwood PA and was a research assistant to Dr. Norman Singer in Ethiopia. Prior to law school, she worked for former Alabama Chief Justice Lyn Stuart and served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay as an environmental educator.

When asked for advice that might help future law students, Stokes said: “Successful collaborations are more productive than successful individuals. Use your woman power to build successful partnerships. Choose a supportive partner, practice resilience, and train.”

Read or listen to the full profile Attorney in Alabamapresented by the Alabama State Bar, here.

Over the past 12 years, which cases have been more challenging or rewarding?

I have enjoyed our work as a representative for GASP (Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution) as we seek to reduce harmful air emissions from Birmingham’s coking plants. This work has tangible benefits for neighbors who breathe toxic air every day. Beyond our comparison with ABC Coke, Bluestone Coke has ceased operations. If Bluestone were to resume operations, they would have to do so in compliance with the Clean Air Act and with consideration for the safety and well-being of the surrounding communities. It is fulfilling to see this impact in the daily lives of families.

Alabama Bureau members hike Ruffner Mountain.

Second, our work with Coosa Riverkeeper in solving storm water problems in construction across the state has been rewarding. After we sent a company a letter of notification about a particularly harmful construction site, they decided to implement better environmental practices at all of their sites. Even if it costs them more in the short term, they would rather do it right, which saves them money in the long run. They even sent a letter to homebuyers explaining the environmental practices that go into the construction of their homes. It’s fulfilling to know that together we were able to help find a solution that protects our streams.

Eventually it comes to mind to help block Cahaba Beach Road. Upgrading the road near Lake Purdy would endanger Birmingham’s drinking water. Along with the Cahaba River Society and Cahaba Riverkeeper, we spoke to Birmingham City Council, who passed a resolution against the road and informed the Federal Highway Administration that Birmingham does not want the road.

Which mentors have you supported in your career?

Sarah Stokes and her family at Moss Rock Preserve.

My mother was a trailblazer in her career as a successful lawyer while raising three children. Despite her relentless support of my dreams—she stayed up late helping me prepare for debates while I was in high school—she also cautioned me about the challenges of being a lawyer. She still tells me, “There’s nothing wrong with hard work!” I’m grateful to have an incredible example to guide me.

What special place inspires you?

My family lives near Hoover’s Moss Rock Preserve, a 350-acre nature preserve that has become a special place I return to weekly for reflection and healing. Whether I’m centering alone or spending time with my sons, the four-mile loop reminds me of the natural beauty of Alabama and what’s at stake if we don’t protect it.

When did you first discover your love for the environment?

I was fortunate to come from a family that loved being outdoors and probably owned the first Prius in my neighborhood. On spring break we went swimming in Little River Canyon and camped in Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness, so my inspiration came from both of my parents. After being an environmental educator in the Peace Corps, I received my Masters from the London School of Economics, where I learned that institutions and the rule of law affect people’s happiness. I became a lawyer to help build institutions and laws that would make the world a better place.

SELC is committed to protecting the people and places of Alabama.

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