Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP has its roots in the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States. In 1970, when there were no environmental lawyers in the country to speak of, no environmental law courses in law schools, virtually no environmental advocacy groups, and only a few environmental organizations, Bruce Terris, who had just hung out his shingle as a public interest sole practitioner, got a call from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Terris, an experienced Supreme Court advocate from his years in the Solicitor General’s Office, but not then an environmental lawyer, was asked to write an amicus brief in Sierra Club v. Morton, the landmark standing case. Terris agreed to write the amicus brief on behalf of the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth, and the Izaak Walton League.
The brief was distinctive because Terris included photographs of Mineral King, the beautiful natural area within the Sequoia National Forest, that was at risk for significant “land modification, earth moving, and possibly stream channel changing” by the proposed Disney development that the Sierra Club was challenging. The Supreme Court’s opinion begins with a description of the natural beauty of the area. Even though the Supreme Court affirmed Sierra Club’s lack of standing, Sierra Club v. Morton was an important victory for the environmental movement because it established that environmental and aesthetic harm are enough to show an injury-in-fact for standing. Furthermore, based on Terris’ alternative argument, the case was remanded whereby Sierra Club was permitted to amend its complaint to include the allegations the Supreme Court deemed necessary and the district court again enjoined the project.
After Sierra Club v. Morton, Terris became an environmental lawyer. As a result of that case, environmental work came Terris’ way. Both national and local environmental groups brought their litigation work to Terris. Terris’ firm handled environmental cases from Maine to Florida to Alaska.
Over the years, Terris and his partners built a law firm, that in all likelihood, is the biggest private environmental litigation firm in the country, even though it has under a dozen attorneys. Most of the firm’s work is environmental.
The firm’s employment and civil rights practice began with the case of Alison Palmer. Ms. Palmer, a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department, claimed that she had been discriminated against in assignments and promotions because she was a woman. Eventually, her claim became the basis for a class action that alleged that females were the victims of discrimination in the hiring, promotion and assignment practices of the Foreign Service. The case was ultimately successful and resulted in broad reforms that led to a substantial increase in the number of female Foreign Service Officers and their promotion to the highest levels of the State Department.