Three San Diego-area environmental lawyers who spend their free time surfing the water they’ve filed suits to protect have teamed up in an effort to balance public service and profitable business practice.

Three San Diego-area environmental lawyers who spend their free time surfing the water they’ve filed suits to protect have teamed up in an effort to balance public service and profitable business practice.

Earlier this year, solo attorneys Rory Wicks, Gary Sirota and Marco Gonzalez formed the Coastal Law Group. They’ve opened an office about a half-mile from Encinitas, Calif.’s famed Moonlight Beach, the site of the water filtration plant the city built after Gonzalez sued them. San Diego BayKeeper v. City of Encinitas, 99-CV-1402US (Dist. Ct. S.D. Calif.).

“We’ve been helping each other out for years as a network of sole practitioners,” Wicks said. “We think we can get more done for the environment and also put our kids through college if we work together as a firm.”

Gonzalez said the idea of forming the firm grew out of his commitment to the legal clinic at San Diego BayKeeper, where he trains young lawyers to be clean water activist litigators. Wicks, similarly, teaches environmental litigation at California Western School of Law. Their junior partner, Todd Cardiff, and two associates all trained at BayKeeper.

“We’ve all been turning away important public service work because we’ve got to make a living,” Gonzalez said. “This gives us more people to do the paying work we can bring in, [and] gives us a chance to expand and have a sustained pro-environment and nonprofit practice.”

Steven P. McDonald, one of the state’s top environmental defense lawyers, called the firm “a welcome development.” “San Diego has not had a firm capable of bringing environmental prosecutions, unlike Los Angeles, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and San Francisco, with the Environmental Defense Fund,” said McDonald, of San Diego’s Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps.

Along with cutting-edge environmental lawyering, each partner brings other skills to bear. Wicks has been handling construction, trusts and contract matters for 20 years.

Sirota, an experienced land use and real estate attorney, acts as counsel to foundations involved in international nonprofit work, including a $50 million water treatment project in Mexico and anti-malarial work in the South Pacific.

Gonzalez, who did postgraduate work in biology before he went to law school, has a thriving clientele in the action sports industry. He represents the Quiksilver Foundation and D.C. Shoes Inc. Foundation, which builds skateboard features into community parks.

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