VCPC Student Melds Real Estate and Environmental Law

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VCPC Student Melds Real Estate and Environmental Law

Thomas Russell combines environmental and real estate law while working on a title project as a VCPC student.

Thomas Russell.

Thomas Russell.

By Chris Patrick, staff writer

After undergrad, Thomas Russell was looking for a practical application for his philosophy degree when he realized that philosophy is essentially the study of arguments.

“That kind of lent itself to law school,” says Russell, who is now in his final year at William & Mary Law School. This semester, Russell is also a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC). While in the VCPC, Russell will be working on a title project for the Middle District Planning Commission.

In Matthews County, VA, there’s a system of drainage ditches along roads and in fields. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of the roadside ditches, clearing them out after storms. But water from the roadside ditches flows into ditches on or near residential property. Because no one maintains these ditches, they back up and cause flooding. It’s a paradise for mosquitoes, which lay their eggs in standing water. That’s not an ideal situation for residents.

To address the problem, Russell is trying to figure out who is legally responsible for the unmaintained ditches. Determining who owns property can be convoluted, especially in Virginia where records are sometimes very old. Russell says he sees this as a real-world challenge:

“It’s a really cool opportunity to get some practical experience,” he says.

Last summer, Russell did similar work for a title insurance company. He’d like to continue working in real estate law after graduation. He sees a lot of overlap between issues in real estate law and environmental law, like in his VCPC project.

“Anything that makes you a more well-rounded law student, like VCPC, is valuable,” says Russell.

Russell, a Pittsburg, PA native, received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pittsburg in 2013.

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.