John Watson

John W. Watson

Baker & McKenzie LLP


John W. Watson chairs the Firm's Global Environmental Practice Group, consistently recognized as the largest environmental practice of any law firm in the world. John has been advising industrial enterprises on managing environmental risks and liabilities arising out of their domestic and international operations for over 30 years.

Practice Focus

John'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. John 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, waste disposal, worker health and safety concerns, and product regulation.

  • 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, OPA, RCRA, CERCLA 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.

  • 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

  • Chambers USA 2020 - Band 1 in Environmental Law
  • Legal 500 USA Ranking 2020 - Environmental Law
  • US Lawyer Ranking 2020 - List of Nation's Top 10 Environmental Lawyers
  • International Who's Who of Environmental Lawyers 2020
  • Who's Who Legal: Environment 2020
  • Leading Lawyers Network 2020 - Environmental Law
  • Best Lawyers in America 2020 - Environmental Law
  • Super Lawyers - Environmental Law 2020
  • Martindale-Hubbell - AV Preeminent Lawyer 2020


  • Illinois~United States (1988)


  • Chicago-Kent College of Law (IIT) (J.D., Joyce Foundation Environmental Law Scholar, Recipient of 125 Alumni of Distinction in 2013) (1988)
  • St. Olaf College (B.A. English) (1985)


  • English

John frequently speaks and writes on environmental legal and regulatory issues and developments affecting industrial business operations around the world. Recent work includes:

  • Ramboll/Baker McKenzie Webinar Series - Perspectives on the New Reality for EHS Leaders in a Post-COVID World (September 2020)

  • X International Conference for Multinationals (Brazil) - ESG and Sustainability Performance - Evolving Reporting and Disclosure Regimes for Global Businesses (August 2020)

  • Ramboll/Baker McKenzie Webinar Series - Examining Opportunities to Address and Minimize EHS Risks and Liabilities During Corporate Restructuring Initiatives (July 2020)

  • Baker McKenzie 2020 International Environmental Conference: Transboundary Waste Shipments - Navigating the Regulatory Morass and Managing Liabilities (July 2020)

  • Baker McKenzie 2020 International Environmental Conference: Disaster Preparedness - Implementing Effective Global Emergency Response Programs (June 2020)