Environmental Law Institute Ocean Program
Palo Alto, Calif.
David Roche transitioned to a staff attorney in the Environmental Law Institute’s Ocean Program after first serving as a Public Interest Law Fellow with the non-partisan advocacy group. The Ocean Program, he explains, has the overarching goal of supporting healthy ocean ecosystems and coastal communities.
“We do not litigate or advocate,” Roche says. “Rather, we provide information, research, education, and outreach to the public, the regulated community, and government. While a specific result or resource management decision may be optimal from the perspective of a particular group, we think it is important to balance competing interests to achieve the best resource management decisions.”
In early summer, Roche moved from ELI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters to the Bay Area, to help open its first regional office. His work focuses on the coastal areas and waters of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico that, he says, have much in common in spite of their geographic separation.
“Both have thriving coastal communities that rely on the ocean for their economy and culture, both have rich ecosystems teeming with environmentally and economically important resources, and both face large-scale development challenges, especially related to the oil and gas industry,” he says. “In the Gulf, billions of dollars are funding post-Deepwater Horizon restoration and recovery. Our position is that the local communities need to have their voices heard, and to help them do that, we conduct in-person seminars, distribute materials on the various processes, and generally make ourselves available to answer questions as they arise.
“In Alaska, native communities face unique challenges to their traditional cultural practices as well as to their economic future. We aim to facilitate positive interactions between Alaska Natives, the regulated community, and the federal and state governments.”
Roche, who balances his legal career with another as a champion trail runner in U.S. and international competition, credits “the amazing opportunities and resources at Duke” for building skills essential to his current work.
“First and foremost, my job is about positively interacting with people with diverse backgrounds,” he says. “Duke's emphasis on community gave me experience with that from day one — in the classroom, the library, and even at 1L softball.
“Second, I need to be able to see the many sides of complex issues. Jim Salzman's classes, from Property to Environmental Law to upper-level International Environmental Law focused on understanding the complexity of resource management decisions. He changed the way I think, and I wouldn't be able to do my job without channeling his approach to problems.
“Third, my job requires accuracy and precision. The Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum taught me that the little things matter, and that being a good lawyer means working with colleagues to accomplish difficult tasks that you could never accomplish alone.” As a 3L, Roche served as the DELPF editor-in-chief.
“Fourth, ELI requires good research and writing skills. Countless classes at Duke emphasized the ability to write, and not just in traditional brief format. Rather, Jonathan Wiener's Climate Change and the Law and other classes like it taught me to construct complex documents in a readable and interesting way.
“Finally, my job requires open-mindedness. I think that is one of the many things that stood out about my Duke experience. I learned to abandon pre-conceived notions and understand the perspectives of others with different backgrounds. Jed Purdy's classes in particular made me question how my own background and experiences influenced my perception of reality, both legal and personal. In that way, Duke Law made me a better, more flexible lawyer. But most importantly it made me a better, more empathetic person.”