Detroit attorney goes to bat on environmental law issues


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News
Before going to law school, Ben Houston worked with non-governmental/nonprofit organizations in Croatia, an eye-opening experience for the future attorney. 

“While I was there, the Croatian Parliament passed a law that essentially made it impossible for a lot of these groups to continue their work,” he says. “I realized pursuing a career in the law would be an invaluable tool for the kind of civil society advocacy I was doing in Croatia. I ultimately ended up going into environmental rather than international law, but my time in Croatia really opened my eyes regarding the possibilities of law as a tool for effecting positive social change.”

Now in private practice in Detroit, Houston also recently was named Of Counsel at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit. He has known GLELC founder Noah Hall, and its current executive director, Nick Schroeck, since his own days as a first year student at the University of Michigan Law School, and continued working with Hall and Schroeck as he finished up his law degree and LLM. 

“When I moved back to Detroit it seemed obvious I would keep assisting GLELC with its important work protecting the Great Lakes and the environment in Michigan,” he says. “I look forward to working with the center on pressing environmental matters and continuing my service as a volunteer supervising attorney for students in the Wayne Law Transnational Environmental Law Clinic.”

He and Hall also teamed up to write the 2012 article, “Managing Demand for Water” for The Law of Adaptation to Climate Change: U.S. and International Aspects, from the American Bar Association.

Houston, who brings a wealth of expertise to GLELC in the areas of environmental and water law, earned his juris doctor from Michigan Law in 2011. 

“I appreciated the rigor and the quality of instruction, but what I enjoyed most were the friendships and professional relationships I developed during my time there,” he says. “My first environmental course at Michigan Law made sense to me in a way that other classes did not and the professor of that course, David Uhlmann, was also one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I’ve stayed in this field because I think it’s vital to protect the environment for future generations, a task which is becoming increasingly important as the effects of climate change begin to worsen.”

Houston then completed a master of laws degree at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., where he worked as a clinical student in the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center (now the Earthrise Law Center) – one of the largest environmental law clinics in America. He participated on a variety of environmental litigation cases involving the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, water rights disputes, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.  

“I wanted to get a deeper background in environmental law, especially water law and policy,” he says. “Working with PEAC was without a doubt the most rewarding and exciting experience I had as a law student. Our professors gave us a lot of responsibility and I felt like I was participating in PEAC’s cases as a full colleague.”

While at Lewis & Clark, he worked on a case involving water quality and temperature standards in all the rivers in Oregon. 

“PEAC won that case while I was still there, so although I only worked on the home stretch of the litigation, it was still very gratifying to be a part of a major victory for water quality in Oregon,” he says. 

For the past two years, Houston has worked as an associate at his father’s practice, Charles O. Houston, III P.C., in Mount Clemens; the two primarily work in transactional and corporate law, real estate, and estate planning. 

“Each of my individual projects is interesting in its own way – I especially like helping local Detroit businesses get off the ground, which I’ve had the chance to do several times since I moved back to Michigan,” he says. “I’m really excited to return to my home state to practice law with my dad. I feel really fortunate to have him as a teacher and mentor and there’s definitely a unique kind of satisfaction in taking over and carrying on the family business.”

Houston, who put himself through school by working for landscaping services, and editing translated documents for the Association for Civic Education and Social Development, and Academy for Educational Development, earned his undergrad degree in English and history at Kalamazoo College, spending his junior year in England at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College. 
“It was a really wonderful, formative experience – I’m pretty sure I managed to visit all of London’s museums and a significant portion of its theaters,” he says. “But I think what I liked most about my time there was simply getting to know the city, becoming a regular at the pub down the street from my apartment, and eating lots and lots of excellent Indian food.”
A native of Grosse Pointe Shores, Houston makes his home in Detroit, where his interests include opera, playing in a Detroit neighborhood soccer league, and hunting. “My best friend is a forest ecologist and he and I took up hunting a couple of years ago,” he says. “I also love getting out on the water in northern Michigan.”
His enjoyment of the water might be tempered by his knowledge of the problems facing the Great Lakes. 
“I hope a solution will be found to the problem of Asian carp and other invasive species in the Great Lakes,” he says. “I’d also like to see some stronger protections prohibiting diversions of water out of the Great Lakes basin as climate change leads to greater and greater water scarcity.”