Asked and Answered

Nicholas Schroeck on Expansion of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

By Steve Thorpe

The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center has hired additional attorneys to meet what it calls the growing need for public-interest environmental law and policy expertise in Detroit and the state of Michigan. Because of the addition of personnel, the center has opened a new office at the Green Garage in Midtown, located at 4444 Second Ave. Nicholas Schroeck is executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. He is also  director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University Law School, where he is an assistant professor. 
Thorpe: Tell us a bit about the recent expansion.
Schroeck: The GLELC is still a relatively young organization. We were founded by Wayne Law Professor Noah Hall in 2008. Since then, we’ve been able to transition from an all volunteer group of attorneys to a professional staff model. It became clear over the past year or so that we needed more attorneys to serve the community on environmental law and policy matters. We receive many requests for research support and legal services from around the state and region. Our hope is that we will be able to serve more clients while continuing to be a strong public interest voice for the environment.   

Thorpe: Give us some background on new team members.

Schroeck: Our new Staff Attorney Stephanie Karisny was most recently in private practice at a law firm in Troy. She is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University Law School, where she was a student in the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic and a member of The Wayne Law Review. During law school Karisny interned with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago. She is especially passionate about regional water issues and has been published by The Wayne Law Review, Michigan Environmental Law Journal and Case Western Reserve Law Review on articles related to hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.

Nick Leonard will be joining the center later this summer as an Equal Justice Works fellow. During his two year fellowship, he will assist the GLELC in providing legal counsel and transactional services to non-profit entities, community organizations and low-income persons working in various phases of urban agriculture in Detroit. After spending his first year of law school at Wayne State University, Leonard transferred to the University of Michigan Law School. During his time at Michigan, Leonard was a student-attorney with the Community and Economic Development Clinic, where he worked with numerous non-profit clients in Detroit. His article, “Utilizing Michigan Brownfield Policies to Incentivize Community-Based Urban Agriculture in Detroit,” will be published in the upcoming issue of the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law.

Finally, Benjamin Houston, an associate attorney at Charles O. Houston III P.C., has joined the center as of counsel. He graduated from Kalamazoo College, earned a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School and completed a master of laws degree at Lewis & Clark Law School, where he worked as a clinic student in the Earthrise Law Center. Houston brings a wealth of expertise in the areas of environmental and water law.

Thorpe: What changing conditions prompted the move?

Schroeck: Through the strong partnership between the center and Wayne Law, Transnational Environmental Law Clinic students work under the supervision of center attorneys on a variety of environmental law and policy matters. As the Clinic has grown at Wayne Law, the GLELC continued to take on more matters and it got to the point where we desperately needed more attorneys. We’ve been involved in recent high profile environmental matters from Asian carp to petroleum coke piles along the Detroit River, and that visibility has lead to more requests for legal assistance. And while we were looking for a new office, some space opened up in the Green Garage and it seems like the perfect community for the center.  

Thorpe: Because of the Great Lakes and the waterways that connect them, Michigan is of particular interest to those in public-interest environmental law. Tell us about that.

Schroeck: The Great Lakes are a massive commons. The Lakes are bordered by eight states and two Canadian provinces, with Michigan and Detroit at the heart of the system. They truly are an international treasure, containing about one quarter of the world’s fresh surface water. This massive resource is a part of our identity and we depend upon it for our economy, navigation, recreation, and literally our lives - as drinking water. Millions of people depend upon the Great Lakes, and because the Lakes face serious threats, it is an area ripe for public interest law and scholarship. So many critically important areas of the law and water resource management - the public trust doctrine, invasive species law, wetlands, the Great Lakes Compact, etc. — were either created here or have been influenced significantly be folks here in the Great Lakes region. We’re proud to be a small part of that, and to make sure that the public interest is represented in the Great Lakes conversation. 

Thorpe: Your organization has a website. What’s the address and what information might someone find there?

Schroeck: The website is Our website has more information about our staff, board of directors, and some of the projects that we are working on. As a not for profit organization, we depend upon public support and there is a link for secure online donations. We also have a GLELC Facebook page that we update regularly. Those interested in the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne Law can find more information at

Thorpe: Do you foresee additional expansions down the road?

Schroeck: As we continue to grow and evolve I anticipate more changes in the years ahead. Right now we are simply thrilled to be able to serve more clients and to work on behalf of the environment and public heath here in Detroit and the state of Michigan.



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