What Keeps You Up At Night: Elizabeth Forsyth

by Mina Manchester

Today is Earth Day, and let me tell you, one thing keeping me up at night is worrying about the state of our planet. In life it seems there are so very many things to worry about, from the minutiae of managing daily schedules to long-term life goals like traveling, saving for retirement, and caring for aging parents. The hardest thing for me about the state of our earth is that I feel so powerless as only one person to do anything meaningful to impact or change it.

Enter Elizabeth Forsyth, force of nature. Elizabeth is the wife of one, mother of two (Josie, 3-1/2) and Tim (born March 1st!) and the biggest advocate for the earth. She is literally working to save the planet one case at a time.

Read on to hear about Elizabeth’s work, and to find a little list we’ve compiled of cool ways to get involved with Earth Day happenings…

On being a lawyer for the planet:
I’m at Earthjustice, which is like ACLU for the environment. Earthjustice is the largest environmental law firm in the country with more than twelve offices nationwide, including regional offices that focus on regional issues, and different divisions for energy, wildlife and healthy communities—and I feel very lucky to be here. It’s my passion.

Our client ultimately is the planet! I’ve wanted to do this job since I was thirteen years old.

Over the last two years, have you seen more mobilization from ordinary citizens fighting for political causes?
Yes, definitely, the current administration has really mobilized more people into action, not just for environmental issues, but also for social issues, from immigrant rights to LGBT and women’s’ issues, the list goes on. There is a high fervor in general. What we see is that when a major environmental issue comes up, more people will get involved.

Is there an example from your work of the public making a difference?
One recent issue I worked on is reducing the risk of dangerous oil-train derailment in California. Local groups have been largely successful in stopping new projects from shipping crude oil by rail into California, and it has been exciting to be a part of that movement.

How does the earth pay?
Ha! Earthjustice tackles the most pressing environmental problems for the country. We are mostly donor and foundation funded. We don’t charge fees, but we often recover our attorney fees when we win. Lately, most of our work has involved suing the Trump administration, and I’m proud of that. Over the last two years the courts have been the last stand for the rollback of environmental protections. We have been successful at stopping a lot of the bleeding. We’ve won 94% of the major challenges against the Trump administration.

Who helped you to get here?
My family, and especially my mom. I feel super privileged as a woman to have a mother who is a lawyer. She’s actually downstairs practicing law right now! It’s a little annoying now that I’m on maternity leave, as she has conference calls all day long and can’t go to lunch! Seriously though, she is the definition of “doing it all;” she was the first chair in a major tort case in Washington State (where I’m from), and during that time she was flying back and forth from LA where she was helping me care for our newborn daughter to gear up for trial. My mom doesn’t suffer fools—she’s a very “red pen” person, which was demoralizing at times growing up, but really helped improve my writing and toughen me up to be a litigator. I find myself now doing the same thing with our daughter. Her toughness, in hindsight, was actually love and it made me better.

On being a female lawyer:
The legal profession really is a male-dominated profession, and I’m so grateful to all of the women who blazed a trail. I don’t think I would have become a lawyer if my mom hadn’t been one. She went through the sexism of the ’70s and ’80s firsthand. Personally, I have never faced or encountered overt sexism, but I think that’s because I came into the profession at a time when there is a huge spotlight on the issue.

Describe your typical day.
We’re up pretty early around here! At 5:45 am, we get up and I bike to the train station and then my husband Michael takes our daughter Josie to school and commutes by train to his job in Santa Monica. I love the short bike ride to the train station because I get to be outside and it clears my head on the way into the office and also on the way home. It helps me transition from family life to work and back. My clients are spread across the country, so I’m on conference calls all day long. Sometimes I travel for court, but most of my time is spent doing legal research and writing.

How do you and your husband Michael make decisions about childcare responsibilities?
I’m also lucky in my partnership. Michael stood by my side during graduate school, a clerkship, and then through a fellowship as I established my career. I’m really grateful for that. Once I had a toehold in my career, we moved to Los Angeles so he could be closer to the center of the film industry, where he is a writer and director. We split everything evenly to the extent that we can.

In your work/life balance what ends up getting cut out?
I have a regimented day, and biking to the train station is my only exercise unless we go for a hike on the weekends. I don’t have time for a gym membership. Not commuting by car is basically how I keep the balance, and weekends at home with family time keep me sane. One thing I miss, having a toddler and a newborn: I don’t really have time for hobbies, and I’m looking forward to that (and going to bed later than 8:30) in the future!

What is the best thing and worst thing in your life right now?
Losing cases is always hard, but sometimes losing is invigorating, because we can appeal. We’ve been able to turn around a few losses with success on appeal. Knowing we have another chance helps me maintain perspective. The best thing in my life is my family—spending time with our son, who is almost two months old, and our daughter, and my husband—who light up my life.

What keeps you up at night?
Right now, our infant son is keeping me up every two hours. But honestly, I sleep pretty well. I have such long days and sometimes I worry about work, especially if I have a big hearing or something high pressure.

One thing I think about is that it’s more complicated today for families when both partners have careers. In previous generations, where there was an expectation that one partner was devoted to taking care of the kids, the house, and everything else, there was less pressure on both people. The hardest part of our life now is when one of us has to travel. It puts more work on the solo parent’s shoulders. We get through it by trying to get as much extra help as we can, but we’re still really busy.

So, dear readers, what keeps you up at night?

And happy earth day! Here are some ways to get involved: 

Find out how you can take environmental action through Earthjustice.
The official Earth Day website has ways to get involved locally.
PBS has this cool list of Earth Day crafts for kids.
Add up how much energy your appliances are using with this free energy calculator.
Check out the A Sustainable Mind podcast for stories and information to get your environmental activist inspired.
Californians: see a complete list of Earth Day happenings.
And don’t forget to pick up a copy of one of Book Authority’s top environmental books for 2019 compiled by Arianna Huffington: Here’s the full list.
Lastly, remember to vote! It’s one way you can make a difference about how land use is allocated in your area.

Thank you, Elizabeth! Congratulations on the birth of your son, and thank you for all that you do! 

Interview and series by Mina Manchester. Mina Manchester has worked in PR for eleven years, and writes fiction. Her short story was published in The Normal School  this summer, and she in the process of revising her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. 

Related posts:

Travel Guides

Browse By Category