Roger Williams University School of Law has quietly become a national leader in the field of marine law, a specialty whose importance is highlighted by the massive oil spill in the Gulf.
The Bristol law school is one of only a few in the country, professors say, that offers students the opportunity to concentrate on ocean law, earn a joint degree in the law and marine affairs, and become research fellows at government agencies in Washington, D.C., that will shape maritime policy for years to come.
The law school is one of just “five or six” in the country that focus on marine and coastal law, according to Susan Farady, director of the Marine Affairs Institute at Roger Williams, and one of only three universities that offer joint degrees in the law and marine affairs, the latter with the University of Rhode Island.
It is the only law school in New England to be part of the national Sea Grant Legal Program, which hires law students to conduct legal research for businesses, nonprofits and government entities, according to Farady.
“Because we’re one of only a few in this field, students interested in marine affairs seek us out,” she said, estimating that 10 to 15 percent of each incoming class “come here just for the Marine Affairs Institute.” Each law school class averages about 200 students.
Other issues besides the mammoth oil spill in the Gulf demand the attention of attorneys fully trained in marine law.
Fisheries management is undergoing a “revolution” nationwide, Farady noted, while offshore energy uses such as wind power increasingly dominate national discussions. Matters involving the ocean are like “the last canary in the coal mine of environmental law,” she suggested. “There has never been a greater need than right now” for well-qualified environmental attorneys.
Furthermore, two recent law school graduates – Kathleen Haber and Christina Hoefsmit, both 2010 graduates – were among 43 in the nation recently designated Knauss Fellows. Named after the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) chief John A. Knauss, the fellowship program matches qualified college graduates with government agencies specializing in maritime law.