Image: Deborah J. Schmall

Deborah J. Schmall

Partner, Real Estate Department


Deborah Schmall is widely recognized as one of the leading environmental law practitioners in California. She recently served as the Co-Chair of the Global Environment and Energy Practice at Paul Hastings. She is ranked Band One in Chambers for California Environmental Law.

Starting with her career at the U.S. Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section, where she prosecuted civil and criminal enforcement matters under a range of federal environmental laws, Deborah has practiced environmental law for decades. Her specialty areas include:

  • Government enforcement actions and citizen suits.
  • Complex, multi-party remediation driven by federal or state agencies or private parties and related dispute resolution proceedings.
  • Hazardous materials or waste regulatory compliance and permitting.
  • Water quality regulatory compliance and permitting.
  • Facility closure regulatory compliance and permitting.

In addition, clients turn to Deborah for her strategic counsel at high-profile Brownfield developments, including Mission Bay in San Francisco, a proposed new MLB stadium in Oakland, and a pending mixed-use development over a regulated landfill in Santa Clara. Deborah also has led environmental negotiations in connection with large M&A transactions for petroleum and pharmaceutical companies, mid-market divestitures and acquisitions, and more than 100 real property transactions.

Deborah’s practice spans a range of industries: pharmaceutical, technology, telecommunications, natural resources, and residential and commercial development. Her representative clients include AT&T, BHP Petroleum, Cargill, Genentech Inc., Prologis, the Oakland Athletics, and Western Digital Corporation. In 2021, Chambers noted her clients described her as “absolutely phenomenal” and that her “retention of detail is precise and unmatched. Her dedication is unwavering, and her advice is strategic and thoughtful."

Over her career, Deborah has been active in environmental policy matters. She was one of the founding members of the California State Bar’s Environmental Law Section (now a part of the California Lawyers Association) and served on its first Executive Committee. She has also served as an invited member of a private-government collaborative group focusing on Brownfield regulatory reform, and is on the board of directors of the Center for Creative Land Recycling, a national non-profit organization promoting progressive governmental policies and funding for Brownfield developments.


  • Ranked in Chambers USA for California Environment (2004 – present); current Band 1 ranking
  • Listed in Best Lawyers in America, Legal 500, and International Who's Who of Business Lawyers
  • Named Best Lawyers’ 2023 San Francisco Environmental Law "Lawyer of the Year"
  • Named Best Lawyers’ 2015 San Francisco Environmental Law "Lawyer of the Year"


  • Georgetown University Law Center, J.D., 1977
  • Pomona College, B.A., 1974


  • Representing Prologis and its corporate predecessor in a CERCLA remediation case led by the U.S. Department of Interior at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, including successful efforts to expand the group of Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) and ongoing efforts to reach cost allocation agreement and to obtain changes to the response measures demanded by DOI.
  • Defended AT&T in state-wide investigation by the California Attorney General and four District Attorneys into its hazardous waste handling practices at over 250 facilities throughout California, culminating in a 2014 Consent Judgment that was the state’s third largest environmental settlement. Deborah and her team subsequently obtained the termination of the injunction five years later with the consent of the prosecutors, which is rarely given.
  • As part of an ongoing seven-year representation, Deborah and Paul Hastings’ partner Gordon Hart assist The Related Companies with complex environmental regulatory and land issues associated with its planned redevelopment of a 240-acre closed municipal landfill into a nine million square foot mixed-use development in Santa Clara across from the San Francisco 49ers football stadium. Together they obtained necessary approvals and permits from the S.F. Regional Water Quality Control Board, CalRecyle, the air district, and the local enforcement agencies.
  • Represented Genentech and Roche in over twenty regulatory/remediation matters and six corporate divestitures, including serving as lead outside counsel spearheading the company’s RCRA corrective action at one of the most complex groundwater remediation sites in New Jersey. In 2020, Deborah led the team whose four-year effort to obtain approval of the scope of the groundwater clean-up finally achieved state approval.
  • Representing Western Digital Corporation in proceedings with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control under its new Voluntary Scoring Program over the company’s efforts to obtain a renewal of its hazardous waste facility permit for its disc manufacturing facility.
  • Representing Prologis and affiliate in defense of precedential Regional Water Quality Control Board administrative penalty asserted against passive landowner for water discharges arising from fire at tenant's warehouse.
  • With partner Navi Dhillon, defending a telecommunications company in a citizen’s suit in federal district court alleging Proposition 65 and RCRA violations arising from abandoned cable in a major California watercourse.
  • Representing the Oakland A’s in a range of environmental issues and negotiations required to obtain government approvals for changing the industrial land uses at Howard Terminal adjacent to the Oakland estuary into the A’s new Major League Baseball stadium and associated mixed use development.
  • With partner Jill Yung, providing strategic advice and representation to the world’s largest solar salt production company regarding the federal and state permitting (including updated CEQA equivalent assessments) for its production facility on San Francisco Bay, and strategic advice regarding business/disposition alternatives.
  • Represented BHP Petroleum in its divestiture of four subsidiary companies in Hawaii (with assets including a synthetic natural gas plant, bulk fuel storage facilities, and a propane utility) and in the subsequent sale of its former 80 year old manufactured gas plant.
  • Represented the City of Rialto in its CERCLA cost recovery action against Goodrich and other entities for groundwater contamination threatening the municipal water supply from the former Goodrich Superfund Site in Rialto, California.
  • Represented BHP Petroleum at the Honolulu Harbor State Superfund Site, including in mediation proceedings over cost allocation among the PRPs and in negotiation of the scope of remediation and the terms of a final settlement with the Hawaii Department of Health.

Engagement & Publications

  • Panelist, Yosemite Environmental Law Institute, October 2020, CERCLA at 40.
  • Moderator, Bar Association of San Francisco, April 2020, Impact of COVID on Environmental Business and Transactions.
  • Panelist, Environmental Law Institute, March 2019, Federal and State Chemical Regulation.
  • Panelist, California Land Recycling Conference, October 2018, Developments on Landfills.
  • Panelist, Yosemite Environmental Law Institute, October 2014, Developments in Environmental Enforcement.
  • Panelist, Yosemite Environmental Law Institute, October 2012, Talking with the Government.
  • Panelist, Bar Association of San Francisco, February 2012, Basics of California Hazardous Waste Law.


  • Member, Executive Committee of Board of Directors, Center for Creative Land Recycling, 2016 to present.
  • Former Executive Committee member and one of the founding members of the Environmental Law Section, California State Bar (now a section of the California Lawyers Association), 1990 – 1994.  
  • Former member, Executive Committee of Board of Directors, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, 2015 through 2020.
  • Former member, Advisory Council, Sustainable Conservation.

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