Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic

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by James Andris, Class of 2015

Originally from Philadelphia, James graduated from Elon University, North Carolina, with a B.A. in psychology. He currently serves as a William & Mary Law Review staff member, National Trial Team member, and Benjamin Rush Scholar.

As a third-year law school student, I have lost track of the number of legal professionals who have offered me career advice. Their counsel generally consists of three parts: a heated opinion concerning the efficacy of specializing in a single practice versus the utility of studying multiple legal fields; horror stories relating to professors or classmates (sometimes both); and the unassailable conclusion that students should break free from academic atmospheres and experience the law through internships, externships, and clinics. Apart from fortifying resumes and expanding rolodexes (yes, some lawyers still use rolodexes), they explained that work outside of the classroom teaches students how to advocate through interactions with clients and real-world problems. With this advice in mind, I enrolled in William & Mary’s Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic (VCPC), serving as a clinic intern for the 2014 fall semester.

My time with the VCPC was superb. Every week Roy Hoagland, the VCPC Director, invited a guest speaker to present on scientific principles that impact environmental disputes or legal issues. As such, I met James Redick, Director of Norfolk’s Department of Emergency Preparedness & Response, Commander Mark P. Nevitt, of the U.S. Navy JAG Corps, and the Honorable Tayloe Murphy, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and former member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Additionally, Roy scheduled several trips for the clinic.  For example, we traveled to Richmond to attend the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission Meeting. Afterwards, the clinic socialized with the Governor and the Secretary of Natural Resources during the reception hosted at the Governor’s Mansion. The clinic also traveled to Norfolk for a recurrent flooding tour and to Newport News for a bay tour. Both trips highlighted climate change’s impact on the local economy and ecosystem.

Yet, as a clinic intern I did more then shake hands and explore the tidewater region. At the beginning of the semester, Roy assigned each of us to projects submitted by local military, government, and business leaders. I was tasked with evaluating a lawsuit filed by the Farmers Insurance Group against the City of Chicago for failure to adapt to climate change. In a white paper I authored for the VCPC, I identified and applied Farmers’ legal principles to Virginia floods. One month into the semester, Roy informed me that I would present my findings at William & Mary’s Adaptive Planning for Flooding and Coastal Change in Virginia Conference.

On December 5, following U.S. Senator Tim Kaine’s keynote address, I acted as the final speaker for the conference’s panel on flood insurance and local government liability. Standing in front of over 150 lawyers and community leaders, I explained the differences between Illinois and Virginia legal environments and applied Virginia case law to the relevant liability theories. After I finished, audience members approached me, complimented my presentation, asked me questions, and gave me their business cards.

The VCPC provided me with the opportunity to navigate political channels, explore the real world application of academic principles, and learn about pressing environmental issues. The clinic and conference were incredible experiences, and I look forward to working with the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic in the upcoming semester.

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