After working for the U.S. Department of Justice and in private practice in Washington, D.C., Joseph Sax began teaching law at the University of Colorado in 1962. In 1966, he moved to the University of Michigan, where he became the Philip A. Hart Distinguished University Professor. He joined the Boalt faculty in 1986.
Sax has been a visiting professor at Stanford University and the Universities of Utah and Paris, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is currently a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his awards and citations include the Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award from the University of Michigan, the Elizabeth Haub Environmental Prize of the Free University of Brussels, the Audubon Society's Conservationist of the Year Award, the William O. Douglas Legal Achievement Award from the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Quality Award of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Sax has served as a consultant or board member of 19 different environmental public service organizations and was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the Illinois Institute of Technology. His major books include Mountains Without Handrails; Water Law--Planning and Policy; Water Law--Cases and Commentary; Defending the Environment; and, most recently, Playing Darts with a Rembrandt: Public and Private Rights in Cultural Treasures (1999).
From 1994 to 1996, Sax served in President Clinton's administration as the counselor to the secretary of the interior and deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of the Interior.