John Watson

John W. Watson

Baker & McKenzie LLP


John W. Watson chairs the Firm’s North American Environmental Practice Group and leads the coordinated Global Environmental Practice, consistently recognized as the largest environmental practice of any law firm in the world. Mr. Watson has been advising industrial enterprises on managing environmental risks and liabilities arising out of their domestic and international operations for over 25 years.

Practice Focus

Mr. Watson’s practice focuses on providing counsel to US and multinational companies to address the environmental challenges associated with their industrial and manufacturing operations. His work ranges from strategic advice on the development and implementation of global corporate environmental compliance programs and sustainability initiatives to recurring counsel on day-to-day compliance issues at individual operating facilities. Mr. Watson actively defends industrial concerns in federal and state enforcement cases and government and private cleanup and cost recovery actions across the United States. He also works with companies on the assessment and proactive management of environmental risks arising in corporate transactions and the purchase and sale of industrial real estate portfolios and individual assets.

Representative Legal Matters

  • Strategic counsel on the scope, substance and implementation of global environmental compliance programs, comprehensive corporate audit initiatives and the development and implementation of environmental sustainability policies.
  • Day-to-day advice and counsel on environmental compliance issues at foreign and domestic manufacturing facilities, including matters involving air emissions, water discharges, the management and disposal of waste, worker health and safety concerns, and the content and permitted use of toxic substances in products.
  • Vigorous defense of industrial concerns in federal and state government multi-media enforcement actions and cleanup orders under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and state corollaries.
  • Defense and prosecution of citizen suit and private cost recovery and contribution claims involving soil and groundwater contamination arising out of historical industrial operations and waste management and disposal activities.
  • The implementation and defense of National Environmental Policy Act Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements involving mining, port and infrastructure development projects.
  • Comprehensive counsel to address complex self implementing and government mandated remediation obligations under major U.S. EPA and state cleanup programs, including the management of RCRA corrective action and Toxic Substances Control Act PCB remediation initiatives at industrial sites from California to New Jersey.
  • The effective management of environmental risks and liabilities implicated by domestic and cross-border corporate mergers and acquisitions, including the pursuit of innovative strategies to allocate transactional liabilities through environmental insurance and other risk transfer mechanisms.
  • Regular representation of leading industry trade associations and industry interests on U.S. EPA advisory committees and in federal and state legislative and rulemaking proceedings addressing environmental issues and regulatory initiatives of import to industrial enterprises, including matters involving the development of risk-based remediation standards and state voluntary cleanup programs, the bounds of CERCLA’s innocent landowner defense and bona fide prospective purchaser exemption and accompanying All Appropriate Inquiry regulations, and the evolution of RCRA’s definition of solid waste.
  • Oversight and advice as coordinating counsel for U.S. companies in the resolution of environmental issues and challenges in emerging markets across Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

Professional Honors

  • Band 1 in Environmental Law, Chambers USA 2013; 2015
  • USA Ranking - Environmental Law, Legal 500 2015
  • US Lawyer Ranking, 2015 List of the Nation’s Top 10 Environmental Lawyers
  • Listed lawyer, International Who’s Who of Environmental Lawyers 2015
  • Listed lawyer, Who's Who Legal: Environment 2015
  • Leading Environmental Lawyer/, Leading Lawyers Network 2015
  • Listed Lawyer in Environmental Law, Best Lawyers in America 2014; 2015
  • Super Lawyers - Environmental Law 2013; 2015
  • AV Preeminent Lawyer, Martindale-Hubbell 2015

Professional Associations and Memberships

  • American Bar Association - Section of Natural Resources, Energy and Environmental


  • Illinois~United States (1988)


  • Chicago-Kent College of Law (IIT) (J.D. Joyce Foundation Environmental Law Scholar) (1988)
  • St. Olaf College (B.A.) (1985)


  • English

“Municipal Water and Wastewater Systems - Riding the P3 Wave,” ABA Section Newsletter, July 2015

"Illinois Homeless Youth Handbook," 2015

“China Wages War on Pollution,” Eye on China Webinar Series, December 2014

“Environmental NGO Engagement: Conflicts and Collaboration,” Baker McKenzie International Environmental Conference, June 2014

“Remediation Challenges: Vapor Intrusion Risk - an Emerging International Phenomenon,” Baker McKenzie International Environmental Conference, June 2014