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John B. Garry considered it a “windfall” when he learned he could, in a short amount of time, earn a masters degree in marine affairs while in law school as part of a new joint program between Roger Williams University Law School and the University of Rhode Island. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and at the time on active duty with the Navy, Garry was only initially interested in earning a law degree. But an environmental law course with RWU law professor Dennis Esposito piqued his interest. It was the way that Esposito taught the course from a hands-on practical perspective that Garry said attracted him, not just the subject matter. “The other courses were very academic in nature. But in this course, he taught us how to use the subject in the real world, including showing us the pitfalls,” Garry said. So, when the joint law degree and marine affairs program was created in the fall of 1998 two years into Garry’s law school courses, he thought it was too good to be true. “I was absolutely ecstatic and excited. This is a good place to develop personally and professionally,” he said. “This was a great opportunity to enhance and give a stronger name behind my law degree.” Garry, 31, is the first student to successfully complete the dual program since it was established. He is now a litigation associate at the Providence, R.I., firm of Adler, Pollock & Sheehan focusing on environmental law. Esposito, who is also head of the firm’s litigation department, said while he has worked with many talented students at the law school, he was impressed with Garry’s “enthusiasm, drive and motivation.” When looking at what distinguishes one graduate student from another, Esposito said he looked at Garry’s experience as a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, his completion of the Surface Warfare Officers School program and his work on a cruiser that deployed to the Persian Gulf after the war. “If he could drive a destroyer through the Persian Gulf, he’ll have no problem with environmental regulators,” Esposito said. Limiting one’s job opportunities by focusing on a narrow area of the law showed Esposito that Garry was dedicated enough to take that risk. TIMING IS RIGHT The timing is good to offer students a legal niche in law and marine affairs, Esposito said, noting that waterfront development, dredging concerns and pressures on marine infrastructures are prevalent today. Dennis Nixon, professor of marine affairs at URI and coordinator of the marine affairs program, said the idea for the joint program was hatched between him and RWU law professor Matthew Harrington. Nixon was already a lawyer when he took the marine affairs program at URI. “I thought it was a very powerful combination in a specialized area of the law,” said Nixon, noting that graduates could pursue careers with the federal government, the Coast Guard and in private practice in geographic locations where there are coastal ports. Under the joint program, students take classes at both universities. The program enables them to complete two degrees in a shorter time because credits earned in one degree program will satisfy some requirements of the other degree program. Elective courses include traditional admiralty law and practice, pollution and environmental regulation, coastal zoning, fisheries and international law of the sea. Currently there are 12 students who are joint degree candidates. Nixon said that having Garry as the first successful graduate was a “nice test case.” “He went through the inevitable growing pains of being the first one through the program,” Nixon said. “He was committed to successfully completing the program.” One unanticipated benefit of the joint program, Nixon said, was that the law students taking classes with regular graduate students at URI provided a resource for those students in legal research and methods. BRING ‘EM ON For Garry, combining the two degrees provided a challenging and interesting academic experience. With numerous courses under his belt such as ocean and coastal law, he focused his master’s degree research paper on the topic “Intertanko Returns Fire — It’s a Direct Hit: Rhode Island’s Marine Oil Transportation Policies in the Wake of U.S. v. Locke.” His paper will be published this fall in the Suffolk University Law Review. Garry’s paper analyzed the revocation of Rhode Island’s Tank Vessel Safety Act (TVSA) in view of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Locke and the Coast Guard’s recent promulgation of tug-tank barge regulations. His paper concluded that although the Locke decision and the new Coast Guard regulations have preempted the TVSA, Rhode Island’s authority to regulate the peculiarities of local waters has been preserved and could be exercised in the absence of congruent federal or international standards, affecting the operation of marine oil transportation vessels. Garry’s personal life also factored into his interest in marine affairs, including growing up learning to sail in Tampa, Fla., and having a mother who taught swimming through the Red Cross. He still sails today and lives in Bristol, R.I., with his wife, Andrea, a teacher at Pocassett Elementary School in Tiverton, R.I. Since joining Adler, Pollock & Sheehan a month ago, Garry has worked on a number of environmental cases, including Superfund and permitting issues. He has also handled other matters involving tax, employment and the Uniform Commercial Code. The time is right to be involved in marine and environmental affairs, he said, noting that there is more emphasis today on environmental compliance. “Environmental law clients realize that the litigation heydays of the ’70s and ’80s are gone. Clients are more sophisticated and educated about the litigation side of these issues,” he said. “They are trying to work things out and negotiate, rather than get involved in a knock-down, drag-out fight.”

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