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Harvard Law School Professor Wendy B. Jacobs, Who Pursued Environmental Law to ‘Make a Difference,’ Dies at 64

Harvard Law School professor Wendy L. Jacobs, who founded the Law School's environmental law and policy clinic, died Feb. 1 at age 64.
Harvard Law School professor Wendy L. Jacobs, who founded the Law School's environmental law and policy clinic, died Feb. 1 at age 64. By Courtesy of Asia Kepka / Harvard Law School
By Emmy M. Cho, Crimson Staff Writer

When Seema Kakade assumed her role as the director of the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic, Wendy B. Jacobs welcomed her with open arms.

“She specifically sought me out, welcomed me to the community of clinic directors, told me it was the best job in the world, told me it was an extremely hard job, and really challenging to battle priorities,” Kakade said. “I just really appreciated that, the welcoming of somebody new into a community exemplifies who she was.”

Jacobs, a professor at Harvard Law School and the founder and director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, died on Feb. 1 after battling an illness. She was 64.

In her research work, Jacobs focused on a wide variety of professional projects, including legal and policy-oriented initiatives, drafting legislation, regulations and ordinances, and pursuing administrative trials and appeals.

“She didn’t want to do routine projects,” said Shaun A. Goho, deputy director of the Emmett Clinic. “She always felt like if you were going to be doing something, do it because it’s going to make a difference. You don't do it just for the sake of doing it.”

Goho added that Jacobs was “a remarkable package” as an educator, who rigorously pushed her students and supported them in every way possible, often well beyond their HLS career.

“Students have talked about how she invited the student and the student’s family to have dinner with her and her family,” he said. “Or they’d go for a picnic together in the summer, and she would have very frank conversations with them about challenges of getting ahead in your career as a lawyer.”

To Law School professor Richard J. Lazarus, Jacobs’ kindness and drive for environmental justice defined her character.

“Professor Jacobs wonderfully combined personal kindness, unqualified pride in her students, and fierce lawyering on behalf of protecting the environment and promoting environmental justice,” Lazarus wrote in an email.

Jacobs also created and taught the Law School’s Climate Solutions Living Lab course, where students from across the University’s graduate schools collaborated to devise solutions to make institutions more environmentally sustainable.

Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 said in an interview with Harvard Law Today that Jacobs worked tirelessly to actualize the positive influence of the law, particularly in the realm of environmentalism.

“Wendy had a deep faith in, and worked hard to realize, the positive role law can play in protecting the environment, addressing climate change, and preserving the earth for generations to come,” Manning said.

Jacobs’ influence extended far beyond Harvard Law School, particularly in her dedication to maintaining and strengthening the partnerships between different environmental law clinics.

“I could just see in the room, how many people in the clinic director community really looked to her as a role model,” Kakade added. “What she had built in the Harvard Environmental Law Clinic I think was really exemplary.”

Mindy Goldstein, a professor at Emory Law School and the director of its environmental law clinic, described Jacobs as being incredibly “generous” with the knowledge she had amassed while directing the Law School’s environmental clinic.

Above all, Goldstein said Jacobs was a trusted friend who was always willing to spend time with her colleagues, even outside of their clinical work.

“She was a good person, and she was willing to share her time, her thoughts, her insights,” Goldstein said. “She was also willing to laugh with you, to joke around, to just talk, to just kind of pick up the phone and have a good talk.”

“Her friendship is what made her such a remarkable colleague and friend,” she added.

A website commemorating the life of Jacobs featured the messages of people who knew her, including students, faculty, and clinic colleagues.

“Although there were — and continue to be — so many negative news stories when it comes to our environment, Wendy’s environmental law clinic was also a bright, hopeful place because of her commitment to the work and her care for all of her students,” John D. Cella ’08, a former clinic student, wrote on the website.

Byron H. Ruby, a former student of Jacobs, wrote on the website that meeting her in the elevator during his first week of law school was “a bit of a celebrity moment.”

When Ruby asked whether it was possible to allow a first year law student to enroll in one of her filled classes about renewables, he wrote Jacobs surprised him by reciprocating the same sort of enthusiasm.

“Her eyes lit up immediately when I mentioned the class and her clinic,” Ruby wrote. “It didn’t matter that it was overbooked, she said, she would find a way. And it didn’t matter that it wasn’t really for 1Ls, she said, she would find a way. And when I called her Professor Jacobs, she said, ‘just call me Wendy.’”

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at

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