My name is Paul Wildes and I’m currently a third-year law student at the University of Georgia. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental economics and management from UGA. During my undergrad classes I was introduced to the topics of environmental law and policy, which had a major influence on my decision to go to law school. I currently serve as a Georgia Sea Grant legal fellow for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Serving as a legal fellow the past seven months has been a rewarding experience, as it’s given me the opportunity to work on cutting-edge legal issues with enthusiastic and intelligent people.
As a legal fellow, I apply skills learned in law school to help the Carl Vinson Institute of Government answer legal questions. These skills include reading and writing about legal issues. Law students spend an inordinate amount of time researching cases, statutes and secondary sources related to issues that professors, legal journals or advocacy teams have asked us to address. The issues vary based on the area of law the student is focusing on. For example, a student studying environmental law, like myself, may be asked to research regulations that protect threatened species in the state of Georgia. This work teaches us how to correctly identify legal issues and research the issues efficiently. Through writing classes and extracurricular opportunities, I’ve learned how to write legal opinions that are clear, logical and useful. Being a legal fellow has allowed me to use these skills outside of the classroom and in a field that is extremely interesting to me.
Although I help with a variety of projects, most of my work concerns the legal issues surrounding the actions that counties and municipalities are taking, and will take in the future, to adapt to raising sea levels. As sea levels rise, coastal communities in Georgia will face difficult decisions concerning changes to their infrastructure, like public roadways. Due to rising sea levels, public roads in low-lying areas on the coast are seeing more damage due to frequent flooding. Rebuilding or repairing damaged roads comes with a price. One of my main goals as a legal fellow is to identify and analyze legal issues that arise when counties and municipalities are faced with decisions about maintaining or abandoning public roadways that are impacted by these hazards. I then convey my findings to decision makers to help them make informed decisions.
I feel like my work also helps residents of coastal communities. Residents have certain legal rights related to public roads. My work will inform decision makers of these rights and help ensure that decision makers always consider the public when deciding how to adapt to sea level rise. Currently, I am working with my supervisors on a white paper for publication, which will convey my findings to the public. Last November, I presented my research at a climate conference hosted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In March, I will be presenting at the American Society for Public Administration. These experiences have strengthened my research, writing and communication skills, which will prove invaluable to me as I begin my career as an attorney.