By RHETT REGISTER
In the long break between academic years, many first- or second-year law students participate in summer internships, jobs and fellowships. They hope to experience what it means to be a lawyer.
For those interested in coastal and environmental issues, a research fellowship at the North Carolina Coastal Resources Law, Planning and Policy Center exposes them to coastal law, and provides skills and contacts throughout the years.
“Our fellows aren’t just getting training on legal research and writing,” says Lisa Schiavinato, co-director of the center, “they’re really getting a bird’s-eye view on how policy is developed.”
The Center — a partnership between North Carolina Sea Grant, the University of North Carolina School of Law, and the UNC Chapel Hill Department of City and Regional Planning — considers the legal, planning and policy aspects of contemporary coastal issues. Recent projects include studies of offshore wind energy, emerging issues for the ocean and inner coasts, and waterfront access.
“I figured the next best thing to a summer on the beach was a summer learning how to protect it,” notes Will Hendrick, a 2007 fellow.
Hendrick spent a summer researching marine aquaculture, looking into its feasibility and legal restrictions in North Carolina and other states. He attended a national conference on aquaculture in Washington, D.C., and worked with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management to answer research questions.
Now legal counsel for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, Hendrick credits the fellowship as his first direct exposure to working with state agencies, while also helping him develop research skills.
“I think I learned a great deal. It generally made me a better lawyer,” he says. “I got a glimpse into the work of state politics through the interactions we had with the N.C. Division of Coastal Management and on a broader level, I learned a lot about legal research and how to best utilize the tools that are at my disposal.”
Erin Wynia was attracted to the hands-on nature of the fellowship. A fellow from autumn 2006 to spring 2007, Wynia researched issues for the Waterfront Access Study Committee, a group charged by the N.C. General Assembly to study the loss of diversity of uses along the coastal shoreline. She and other fellows conducted background research, helped write a report and presented their findings to the committee.
“Everything I did in law school, I wanted it to be experiential,” she recalls. “I wanted to make sure I was getting hands-on experience and I wanted it to be relevant to me getting a job in this policy world here in Raleigh.”
Wynia, who is now a legislative and regulatory issues manager with the North Carolina League of Municipalities, says the experience translated well to her current position.
“Learning the features of all the different ways that government financially supports our economic activity… you can translate that to any issue area that you are looking at professionally, so I have been able to do that,” she says. “It allowed me to hit the ground running.”
Michael Voiland, chair of the Waterfront Access Study Committee and executive director of Sea Grant at the time, describes the Center’s work for the committee.
“It was a win for guiding the state on the working waterfront and public access issue. It was a win for the students; they got to contribute in a significant and meaningful way to the discussion and to the deliberations of the committee,” Voiland explains. “I think it helped make the state’s response to the question and issue about working waterfronts and public access more real,” he adds.
TRYING IT OUT
Joe Kalo co-founded the Center in 2005 with then-Sea Grant law and policy specialist Walter Clark. They saw a need for an interdisciplinary research and outreach program that targeted the needs of the North Carolina coastal region. Because staff includes only the two co-directors and the research fellows, the aspiring lawyers are given a lot of responsibility from the start.
“We rely very heavily on these students to do accurate, good, solid research,” Kalo says.
Many of the fellows applied for a position after taking Kalo’s classes at the UNC School of Law where, until his retirement in July of last year, he taught environmental coastal and ocean law, and property law.
Ashley Erickson is among the students who cite Kalo as an influence. Though not a research fellow, Erickson helped with the Center’s annual Shape of the Coast conference and outreach event.
Through conversations with Kalo, Erickson learned about the Knauss Fellowship, a National Sea Grant program that matches graduate students with host offices in legislative and executive branches of government in Washington, D.C.
“It was really Professor Kalo that inspired me,” she says. “He told me about the Knauss Fellowship, told me to look into it and encouraged me to apply. The rest is history.”
Erickson received the national fellowship in 2010 and now works as an attorney with the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University.
In 2007, Clark retired from his positions with Sea Grant and the Center. That year, Lisa Schiavinato joined Sea Grant as the coastal law, policy and community development specialist and as the Center’s new co-director.
An adjunct faculty member at the UNC School of Law, Schiavinato will teach the environmental law course that Kalo developed. She also teaches a law and policy course in the Coastal Resources Management doctoral program at East Carolina University.
Schiavinato sees the Center as a chance for students to try out coastal law while learning skills, such as research, writing and legal analysis, that are applicable to any law field.
“A lot of them are trying different things to see what field of law really interests them,” she says. “This helps them decide: ‘Does environmental law click for me?’ ”
Sarah Rothecker, a 2012 fellow, used the experience as an opportunity to learn about the legislative process in North Carolina. Now she is an attorney and lobbyist with Brubaker and Associates in Raleigh. She says the fellowship was a good introduction to the world she is working in.
“It was great. It helped with what I am doing now because I got a much more thorough understanding of the legislative process,” she says. “I didn’t take a lot of those classes in law school.”
Other students have used the fellowship to draw together previous experiences with their law training.
Tyler Burgess was a wetlands scientist for 10 years before attending law school. She applied for the fellowship as a way to merge her professional career with environmental and coastal law.
“Just because I had the experience from the practical side doesn’t mean that I knew it from the legal side,” Burgess explains.
Burgess recently was hired by the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice through their Honors Attorney Program. There, she will employ what she knows as a wetlands scientist, UNC School of Law alumna and past Center fellow.
“The fellowship was a way for me to blend the environmental experience that I had before law school with learning about environmental law and coastal law particularly — and taking those two worlds and marrying them together,” she notes.
Burgess believes that her background melding different professions was one of the reasons the Department of Justice hired her.
While the students benefit from the program in terms of training, Kalo says that the work is collaborative rather than strictly superior-subordinate.
“It is a two-way relationship,” he says about the fellows. “They bring some real skills and information to the table. That is what we are looking for in the people that we hire. They make us better and hopefully, we make them a little bit better along the way.”
This article was published in the Summer 2013 issue of Coastwatch.
For contact information and reprint requests, visit ncseagrant.ncsu.edu/coastwatch/contact/.