JD Lavallee pursued his interest in coastal and ocean policy, even while attending a law school hours away from the nearest ocean. This pursuit lead him to summer coursework in New England, work with the Colorado Ocean Coalition, and eventually to his job with the U.S. Coast Guard. Pairing resources from Colorado Law with outside opportunities, Lavallee was rewarded for seeking out his interests.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I currently work as a staff attorney at the First Coast Guard District in Boston, Mass. The First Coast Guard District has a staff of six uniformed attorneys that provide legal advice to the District Commander as well as to subordinate Coast Guard units across an eight-state region in the Northeast that includes over 2,000 miles of coastline.
At the First Coast Guard District legal office, a typical day usually involves a myriad of legal issues. I might spend the morning advising a Coast Guard Investigative Service agent on investigating a reported sexual assault, the afternoon speaking with a Coast Guard commanding officer about a personnel matter, and the early evening discussing the legal authority for Coast Guard boarding officers to terminate a vessel's voyage. Recently, much of my work has focused on agency rulemaking for navigation regulations and the enforcement of environmental pollution laws. The Coast Guard is a maritime, military, multi-mission service and the practice of law for Coast Guard attorneys reflects this broad spectrum.
The Coast Guard's legal program reflects the service's missions. Judge Advocates frequently are involved in such diverse areas as military justice, trial advocacy, tort law, administrative law, maritime and international law, environmental law, labor law, procurement law, and law enforcement, among other areas. Depending on where a Coast Guard attorney is stationed, the day-to-day work may be more specialized.
How did you find your job?
In the fall of my 3L year, I attended the Equal Justice Works conference in Washington, D.C. for predominantly informational interviews. One of those informational interviews was with a Coast Guard attorney. Upon returning to Colorado, I went through the extensive application process and was selected as an alternate. After passing the bar, I reapplied. Although it was a lengthy process, seven months after graduating, I was selected to receive a commission.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
I took advantage of the services provided by the Career Development Office to sharpen my interviewing skills and tighten my resume and application materials. The relationships I developed with my professors were crucial to my job search as it progressed, and I sought advice on potential career paths. Ultimately, these relationships provided the foundation for strong letters of recommendation carefully tailored to my applications.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I think it is hard to overstate the importance of writing and interpersonal skills. As a junior officer and a lawyer, appropriately conveying legal advice to both senior enlisted leaders and senior officers is a necessary skill that relies heavily on interpersonal communication. At Colorado Law, I found an institution that instilled in me a culture of listening, critically assessing the information available, and respectfully engaging in open dialogue. These "soft skills," in addition to Colorado Law's strength in traditional academic instruction, have proved invaluable to me thus far.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
People skills are lawyer skills. The professional network I developed at Colorado Law was tremendously helpful in my job search and application. Despite being on the East Coast in Boston, I still remain in touch with classmates and professors.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
A demonstrated interest is integral to getting in the door. If there is a field of law or a certain type of organization you're interested in working for, do something to show you've already been working on what they're working on. While I did not want to leave Colorado Law, I knew I wanted to pursue a career dealing with ocean and coastal policy. As a result, I looked at opportunities both near and far to demonstrate interest in that subject. Over the summer of 1L and 2L year, I worked back in New England where I transferred course credits from an Ocean & Coastal Law class at a local law school. Locally, I joined the Colorado Ocean Coalition and did as much as I could to work on ocean and coastal issues, even while living in the Rocky Mountain West. In short, my advice is to pursue what you're truly interested in and not to simply do the things that everyone else is doing.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I often recommend that potential law students truly take the time and effort to determine if law school is the right choice for them. If it is, then I think Colorado Law offers a tremendous return on investment. I found that forging your own path can be unnerving—especially as someone who wanted to practice back East—but the support I felt from the Colorado Law staff, my professors, and my fellow students went a long way in making my Colorado Law experience worthwhile.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law because of its strength as an academic institution, coupled with its collaborative culture.
The greatest asset Colorado Law has are its people. The community developed amongst the administrative staff, faculty, and fellow students is truly something special. Law school in general is a challenging experience, and Colorado Law is no different. But given the relatively small class sizes and collegial student body, there really is an opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and fellow students. Outside the classroom, I found myself traveling with professors and classmates for moot court competitions, court appearances as a student attorney working in the Natural Resources and Environmental Law Clinic, and as part of my 3L seminar. On more than one occasion I was able to enjoy the beauty of Boulder's open space by going on a trail run with a professor. Law school rankings often measure more tangible metrics, and while Colorado Law lives up to its billing as a powerhouse in the Rocky Mountain West, the intangibles that make up the community truly set it apart.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts