For some, reading through a legal document that is 200,000 pages long could feel like corporal punishment, but Environmental Lawyer Tina Wallis said she finds it quite enjoyable. Her parents said that they knew from when she was a young age, that their inquisitive and hardworking daughter who loved to read would become a lawyer. They were right.
After years of schooling and a stint as a bike racer, Wallis began her law career and eventually landed a job in Sonoma County in 2001. She hasn’t left since. Most recently Wallis opened her own law firm.
“Environmental law is an innately interesting subject,” Wallis said. “I love the diversity and the intellectual rigor of doing this work.”
Wallis said that key mentors and invaluable work experience during her undergraduate experience at UC Davis helped to guide her down the path towards becoming a lawyer.
“I received an Environmental Studies Degree from UC Davis in 1993 and had experience working in the UC Davis Office of Architects and Engineers,” Wallis said. “My boss Randall Fleming was an amazing mentor. He set up an incubator that I had the opportunity to participate in. We took a parcel on campus and proposed ideas to develop it, came up with site plans, and eventually, the project we designed did get built.”
She said the combination of her coursework and firsthand experiences with land use and planning solidified her decision to pursue a law career. After graduation she decided to attended Vermont
Law School and for the first time in her life saw snow.
“I quickly realized that I needed a coat, long pants, and even a hat and mittens,” Wallis said. “We would cross country ski to school when it snowed.”
She received instruction from high caliber faculty members who did much of the groundbreaking work writing modern-day environmental laws.
“I got to take an endangered species class from the woman who personally litigated the seminal Endangered Species Act,” Wallis said. “The case that everyone still cites today is the one that she litigated and taught us about firsthand, it was really incredible.”
In 1997, after she graduated law school, Wallis’ career took an unexpected turn when, after she passed the California Bar on her first try, she decided to move to Oregon to pursue bike racing instead of taking a cushy job at a law firm.
“I was 25 years old, had no health insurance, and would call home and report to my parents how well I’d done in a race. My dad would ask me what I won, which was usually a t-shirt and a power
bar,” Wallis said. “Then he would ask me how many hours I’d trained for the race and calculate that I’d made something like .0003 cents an hour.”
Looking back, Wallis said that she is glad she pursued her passion for bike racing professionally. However, after a year she decided that her father was smart and having health insurance would be wise. So, she moved back to California and has been practicing land use and environmental law ever since. She began her legal career advising counties, cities, and special districts on land
use, public works, general government, airport, and landfill matters. During this time, she built a reputation as a fair and respectful problem solver.
In 2001, Wallis took a job with the County of Sonoma Counsel where she worked for Steven Woodside. She then worked at another law firm to get her feet on the ground in the private sector, before transitioning to own her own firm in 2016.
Today, she helps public and private sector clients successfully navigate permits and compliance with environmental laws in Sonoma County and throughout California.
“I help people get their entitlements and permits, comply with CEQA, bring unpermitted projects into compliance, and navigate the process as efficiently as possible. Much of my work involves the Endangered Species Act, surface water diversions, California’s Environmental Quality (CEQA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), land use entitlements, conservation easements and many water issues.”
Wallis has guided private and public sector clients through environmental review, securing permits for building and operations such as wineries, tasting rooms, luxury resorts, residential subdivisions and commercial subdivisions, to name a few. Some of her past projects include the Best Family Winery project, the Fort Ross Winery project, and the Buddhist Retreat Center.
Wallis said that she is passionate about practicing law because she loves problem-solving, facing challenges and learning new things.
“For CEQA, for example, we have about 40 case decisions a year so just from the courts alone the law changes just as many times in one
year. My work as an attorney is fast moving and there is always a lot to learn.”
Not only does Wallis bring experience and skill to the table, she also seeks to practice law with some humanity.
“We are counselors at law, so we are supposed to help people solve problems, in a reasonable, cost-effective and ethical way,” Wallis said. “I really look at whether I delivered good value, especially with contentious projects, because they can be really expensive. I really look at the person’s experience and keep the client in mind when I do billing.”
Wallis is a friend to the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. Not only is she a Premium Member and a frequent figure at Farm Bureau events, her office is also right next door. She said that she strongly supports Farm Bureau because farmers are the backbone of America.
“There’s going to be more and more conflict between urban or suburban areas because people need somewhere to live, yet we still need land for agricultural production,” Wallis said. “I really
respect the work the Farm Bureau has done to support farmers and ranchers.”
About 50% of Wallis’ clients are farmers and ranchers. She keeps her eyes on some of the biggest legal issues that affect farmers, ranchers and rural residents in Sonoma County.
“Overall, I love what I do,” Wallis said. “I think clients really appreciate my skill in the administrative proceeding and in the courtroom and I love the strategizing, writing, researching, and reading I get to do to help clients get the best outcomes.”
Not surprisingly, Wallis said that libraries are very important to her and she supports several in Sonoma County. In addition to owning her own firm, she currently serves on the Santa Rosa Junior College Paralegal Studies Advisory Committee and recently joined the Homes for Sonoma Board to help look at housing solutions for Sonoma County residents.
Wallis said that if someone thinks they may need her services but are unsure, to call the Law Offices of Tina Wallis at (707) 595-8681. She is happy to help connect you with the services you need.