By Sheila Pursglove
After graduating from the University of Toledo College of Law, Susan Sadler took a position with a traditional defense firm.
A few short months later she began her career of representing corporations in complex environmental disputes and litigation.
Even as a junior associate she defended companies, in one of Michigan’s first environmental emergencies that addressed concepts of strict liability for off-site waste disposal.
“The science behind environmental law and the idea that it’s always changing is very interesting to me,” said Sadler, a founding member of Dawda, Mann, Mulcahy & Sadler in Bloomfield Hills and head of the firm’s Environmental, Energy and Sustainability practice group, concentrating her practice on a broad spectrum of environmental issues.
Since the early 1980s, she has provided counsel on compliance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Wetland Regulations, Endangered Species Act, and state environmental statutes and permitting requirements.
“When I began practicing, there were almost no reported environmental disputes,” Sadler said. “Today, there are thousands of court opinions on chemical handling, disposal, and storage, air, water, waste, and land impact. The number of cases and disputes in this field grows every year.”
An experienced counselor, Sadler frequently defends corporations in administrative proceedings and environmental litigation brought by citizens groups, attorney general offices, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Her legal expertise includes representing corporations in toxic tort litigation brought by individuals claiming damage and physical injury from exposure to chemicals, and representing individuals, corporations, municipalities and business entities in all aspects of environmental regulations.
She also has experience in negotiating settlements with insurance carriers regarding pollution claims.
The legal specialty has provided some fascinating cases, including one in which Sadler helped a client settle a dispute with the Justice Department, pertaining to the illegal importation of a protected endangered species (long nosed saw shark) that was seized at the airport.
“I’ve worked on cases relating to the Great Lakes water protection and preventing excess runoff from industrial properties from entering our waterways, and over the last five years, indoor air quality issues have become more of a concern and I’ve assisted with many cases pertaining to this,” she said.
As a leader in environmental law, Sadler is one of a few attorneys in the nation to hold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credentials.
“LEED accreditation gives insight into how we go about truly quantifying products, materials, manufacturing processes, as well as meeting measurable sustainability goals,” she said. “This expertise has given me greater insight into what are real attributes or ‘green’ products, services and construction.
Sadler said the certification “is something I’m proud to hold and allows me to go above and beyond for my clients.”
A board member of the Great Lakes Center for Legal Studies, Sadler participates in the American Bar Association’s Litigation and Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental Law Section, has served as vice chair of the ABA’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Committee, and holds similar positions within the Michigan Bar Association.
A frequent author, she has made significant contributions to the Detroit College of Law Review, the first and second edition of The RCRA Practice Manual (published by the ABA), and Environmental Law for Contractors.
She also is a lecturer for the ABA and State Bar of Michigan and has been a faculty member of the Law Institute Program of the Defense Research Institute.
“Teaching is a good intellectual exercise and forces me to keep up on current topics in environmental law,” Sadler said. “By having discussions with colleagues, I’m able to refresh my memory of old topics, and also build on my skills in new legal matters. There’s no better way to learn the law then to actually practice in the field and also teach it.”
Sadler looks back with satisfaction over her 22 years with the firm she co-founded.
“I’ve had great experiences with our knowledgeable team and the client-focus of the firm has brought us great success,” she said. “I continue to learn from my colleagues and they challenge me every day.”
An alumna of Albion College, with double majors in history and political science, Sadler was introduced to the legal profession at an early age — her father practiced law at Ford, and her grandfather was a lawyer and law professor at the University of Michigan.
“And I always enjoyed finding solutions to story problems,” she said. “Those are three major reasons I decided to pursue a career as a lawyer.”
The Grosse Pointe native now makes her home in Bloomfield Township, where she enjoys reading, doing needlework and journaling, and summers in her swimming pool. She contributes time and resources to her alma mater, Albion College, and other charitable organizations.
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