Law students take deep dive into Coast Guard summer internship program
When Tiffany Maggiore signed up to participate in the Charleston School of Law mock interview program, the last thing she expected was to get paired with Lieutenant Commander Andrew P. Taylor, a staff judge advocate for the United States Coast Guard Maritime Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA).
“I saw the pairing and thought, ‘This will be interesting. I’ll get to learn about the Coast Guard,’” she thought.
“Anytime you’re having a conversation with a lawyer – even in a mock interview setting — you may not be sure of where the conversation will go but you’re getting to have a conversation with a practicing attorney. Someone who has a lot more years of experience than you in life and in the career that you are wanting to pursue,” she said. “It is such a great opportunity to ask them questions.”
She asked a lot of questions about the U.S. Coast Guard, its program and shared her desire to work as a general counsel after law school. “He (LCDR Taylor) told me that is pretty much what I do, but for the Coast Guard,” she said. “He started talking about legal assistance, wills, trusts, and contracts. The more I heard about what he did, I became interested. At the end of the conversation, I took a chance and asked, ‘Are you taking summer interns?”
“Yes,” said Lieutenant Commander Taylor. “Email me. Let’s keep talking.’”
“At that time, I had no idea this was even an option,” said Maggiore. “But I knew that I could work for an organization that is missional-minded and always ready to help serve others.”
Zachary Pairman, a Bluffton native and graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was looking for a summer internship that would “challenge” him and feed his passion for service. But like his colleague Tiffany Maggiore, an internship through the U.S. Coast Guard was not on the radar.
“That was before I met Lieutenant Commander Taylor,” he said.
“I was ignorant of what the Coast Guard did,” he continued. “I always just thought of rescue missions. People don’t really realize that the Coast Guard helps with the protection of ships, protection of commerce, drug and migrant interdiction, protecting commercial lanes of transport, methods of transportation. It’s a truly diverse mission and culture. I was blown away by how much the Coast Goard does. My hour long tour ended up being three hours.”
Simisola Ojo is a 3L at Charleston School of Law. She was one of three Charleston Law students who were offered a clerk internship position as a Staff Judge Advocate with the U.S. Coast Guard over the summer.
“I met Lieutenant Commander Taylor at a career fair,” she said. “We were talking, and he mentioned international military justice. In my personal statement in application to Charleston Law I focused on military justice, so it was super cool because they do a lot of things that touch the seas.”
After touring the base, meeting the team and learning more about the position, Ojo believed her passions aligned with the program.
A TEACHER AT HEART
The architect of the U.S. Coast Guard internship program is Lieutenant Commander Andrew P. Taylor.
Taylor serves as the Staff Judge Advocate for the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy (MLEA). His experience is deep and wide. Before joining the USCG, Taylor was a criminal defense and general practice attorney in Tennessee. Now, in his role, he provides legal advice on academic questions related to law enforcement, natural resource management and maritime jurisdiction. Taylor also provides command leadership with counsel on ethics, military justice, policy, and discipline.
According to their website, the U.S. Coast Guard Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) program is “centered on empowering students and building an earned confidence in the work they will do … The holistic approach allows the Coast Guard to uniquely create experiential learning initiatives that center on finite, accomplishable projects. This style not only educates students on how to confront real-world problems, but also creates a framework for them to work together in a facilitative way to accomplish those goals.”
During the onboarding process, Taylor told Pairman, Maggiore and Ojo that he was “training them to be my colleagues,” he said. “Encouraging them to learn and ask questions is very important to me. I want them to develop skills and learn while they are here.”
“I don’t think that any of us expected that we would be treated like colleagues,” said Ojo. “Internships can be rewarding, but in most cases, they are limited because they don’t always get to see the outcome. But the Coast Guard wanted us to see the whole process and feel valued and that inspired all three of us, because we want to do different things. It was eye-opening for us that we all got to touch on different areas.”
“Typically, you only get a puzzle,” added Maggiore. “What I love about this internship was the fact that all three of us were able to see an investigation from beginning to end and what it looked like – and for me – what the counsel role was. What I loved about this internship was that all three of us were able to observe an investigation from start to finish. And for me, I was able to gain insight into the responsibility of the counsel role.”
“He is a teacher at heart and that helped me, having a person there that encouraged me to ask questions,” said Pairman. “The entire command team was very welcoming to student interns.”
“What we are trying to do is find opportunities for interns to come and learn about the Coast Guard, and use that time wisely,” said Taylor.
“We were assigned substantive work,” said Pairman. “We were able to see things from start to finish. A lot of internships, you’re doing research and doing client intake. You just see a small piece of it. But Lieutenant Commander Taylor created an environment where we would be able to see a project from start to finish. You get a front row seat on the strategy and decision-making process.”
“My biggest takeaway is that I can pursue a general counsel role in more places than I thought,” added Maggiore. “The legal experience — observing multiple wills, power of attorneys, sitting through the legal advice side, researching assignments involving military justice, and participating in investigations – was invaluable. On my second day, Lieutenant Commander Taylor tasked me to review a new policy, and then meet with an investigator to summarize the changes that had been made from the prior policy.”
“Tiffany has incredible poise and professionalism,” said Taylor. “Her leadership skills are impressive.”
“When I started the internship we had a military justice case that fell on our lap,” added Ojo. “I was immediately put in an investigation. I learned a lot about the process. The actual judicial proceedings in the military. I was assigned to transcribing interviews and I got to watch the whole adjudication process within the military system and how they investigated and determined the charges. Fortunately, this did not rise to that level, but I still got to see the whole process of how they decided the punitive measures. The fact that I got read the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), see how it’s interpreted and look up case law that had to deal with like military courts was super interesting.”
Ojo coincidentally was also taking a summer course in public international law class at Charleston Law while serving as an intern.
“I talked to the Commander about universal jurisdiction and crimes against humanity,” she said. “What do you think about the intersection between forced labor and illegal fishing (unregulated fishing on the high seas)? I was super interested. Would you mind if I did my class research on this subject?”
“I thoroughly enjoyed Simi’s academic knowledge,” said Lieutenant Commander Taylor. “It’s a conversation that we don’t typically have in the Coast Guard, we are often focused on the operational component. Simi married the two – academic and operations – and it was a tremendous asset.”
The Coast Guard internship program is “not shy about putting you to work and giving you practical experience,” said Maggiore. “Not only did I come out confident in this general counsel pursuit, but I also came out thinking I could do this with the Coast Guard. There’s a place for my personality, my strengths, and how I see my legal identity.”
When considering a summer internship, Pairman made experience a priority. “I recognized that I needed to broaden my experience, my knowledge, my skillset, which is why I’ve decided to do more litigation this year versus focusing on policy,” he said.
“I know I want to work in government,” said Pairman. “I’ve always had an interest in public service. I always had an interest in the dynamics between countries and the Coast Guard is one of the biggest branches with a focus on policy. That really opened my eyes to the potential that I can have in the organization, but also just what I can do in terms of broad skillsets.”
Lieutenant Commander Andrew P. Taylor encourages law school students to think strategically about internships. “As a law student, your 1L year pursue an internship that will help give you a perspective and explore what you like and don’t like” he said. “Your 2L summer internship, my rule of thumb is you should be really looking for an opportunity at a place you’d like to work for. 3L year you are studying for the bar exam.”
“Be curious and explore,” said Maggiore. “I would’ve never thought of the military in a million years, but I am glad I pursued this internship. I can’t speak for everyone else but try to prove yourself wrong. To really figure out what you want to do, you should also try to figure out what you don’t want to do. So much of your legal experience is transferable and the skills I developed this summer are already paying off.”
“I think it’s very important to be open-minded,” said Ojo. “It’s easy to shut yourself off and get tunnel vision. I was pleasantly surprised. I think it’s kind of just allowing yourself to be limitless. You don’t necessarily know where your inspiration will come from, and even if you don’t like your experience is, you’re still rubbing shoulders, you’re still being exposed to people, you’re still making connections.”
Charleston School of Law experiential learning opportunities sends students from the classroom to the front lines of the professional legal system. Students participate in externships, internships, pro bono service, clinics and community service projects. The experience provides the next generation of legal professionals with practical, hands-on skills.