By Sydney MaHan, Student Correspondent
With over 27 years of experience, Vanessa Valldejuli, a William & Mary law alum, has done everything from working in private practice to local government. As the current City Attorney for Hampton, VA, she advised students of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) during her visit this fall that “Local government attorneys are really the legal counsel for city government.”
She added, “We represent the members or the Board of Supervisors for counties; we represent the City Manager or the Town or County Administrator. We are their law firms, so to speak.”
Valldejuli works on various planning, zoning, and environmental law statutes and regulations. For example, she has helped to establish a civil penalties provision in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.
The Bay Act work highlighted the role of compromise in the legal practice arena. Valldejuli noted that she and colleagues had to do a “lot of wheeling and dealing” to get members of both the House and Senate of Virginia’s General Assembly to support legislation to allow localities to impose civil the penalties for provision.
“I learned the art of the compromise,” says Valldejuli. “You have to learn how to compromise if you’re going to get anything done in the General Assembly.”
“I love having the opportunity to hear speakers like Ms. Valldejuli describe their roles, and their perspectives,” says VCPC student Sarah Edwards. “The way that she described her role was particularly meaningful to me, because of the passion she portrayed for the people she represents.”
Valldejuli’s presentation also helped Edwards to visualize herself as a future local attorney.
“I value having a close, personal relationship with the cause that I advocate for, so I can easily see myself advocating for a locality and having the same passion that Ms. Valldejuli showed,” Edwards says. “Before her talk, I had not considered a career as a local government attorney, but now I will definitely consider it in my career planning.”
Fellow classmate Michael Killius agrees that learning about the work done on a local level was a positive perspective to have, especially when it comes to seizing opportunities.
“[Valldejuli] was a great perspective to have visit,” says Killius. “I would love to have had more time to pick her brain about what it’s like to interact with state and other localities at the local level.”
Killius adds, “I also think Vanessa has a wonderful story about seizing a passing opportunity to get involved in environmental law while in private practice; this semester I’ve gotten a taste of how steep that learning curve can be.”
An extension partner of Virginia Sea Grant, VCPC at William & Mary Law School provides policy and legal analysis to its partners on coastal resource and community issues in its mission to educate and train the future lawyers and leaders of tomorrow.