By: Alex Gazikas J.D. ’17

I spent my January term interning at the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization in San Clemente seeking to preserve and protect the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches. Founded in 1984, Surfrider is a grassroots activist organization that seeks to advance environmental protection, ensure and expand public beach access, and manage local beach cleanup efforts. This advocacy is effectuated through lobbying, local volunteer projects, and litigation. Notably, Surfrider is currently involved in a beach access dispute in California in which the landowner purchased a public beach and has attempted to close it to the public. Surfrider prevailed in the California appellate courts, and the United States Supreme Court recently denied certiorari.

During my time with Surfrider, my primary work was to research a potential new legal theory to address the problem of outdated beach access laws in Massachusetts and Maine. In most states, the public has a right to access all land below the average high tide line for recreational purpose. In Massachusetts and Maine, the public literally does not have the right to walk along the beach because this land can only be used for fishing, hunting, and navigation. This limited right of access is rooted in a colonial ordinance from Massachusetts, but this ordinance has come to predominate beach access rights in both states. The legislatures of both Maine and Massachusetts have attempted to pass legislation expanding the public’s rights, but the supreme courts of both states have struck down the legislation as an unconstitutional taking.

As an intern, my role was to assess a potential new legal theory that could allow the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to expand public beach access. The research encompassed constitutional takings jurisprudence and the history of the public trust doctrine in Massachusetts. The goal of my research was to ultimately assist in changing the beach access laws, either through proposed legislation enacted through lobbying efforts or litigation by local counsel. Surfrider litigation is generally handled by local pro bono counsel, with the in-house legal team serving an advisory role. This opens up the interesting possibility for previous interns to actually represent the organization later in their careers in a pro bono capacity.

In addition to my work on beach access, I was also able to assist the legal team in operational tasks. This aspect of the internship was unique because it allowed me to get a sense of the normal daily operations of a nonprofit organization. In one such task, I was given sole responsibility to conduct due diligence about a Surfrider Foundation sponsor. Surfrider regularly conducts diligence about its sponsors and partners to ensure that the companies are not involved in “green washing” or otherwise attempting to use their Surfrider affiliation to conceal environmentally irresponsible business practices. It is essential that Surfrider regularly conduct diligence on these companies because any negative publicity about its partners would make it less effective as an advocacy organization. My work product was reviewed and then sent directly to the Surfrider executive staff to help them decide whether to continue the partnership with the company in question.

In addition to the due diligence project, I assisted in licensing agreements and other daily tasks typical of a nonprofit environmental organization. I was also able to participate in the annual Surfrider meeting, led by C.E.O. Chad Nelson, which is conducted at the start of each year and involves representatives from Surfrider chapters around the country.

I also had the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable culture at Surfrider Foundation and explore San Clemente and the surrounding areas. Because the organization is based in San Clemente, I had access to a variety of beaches and state parks. San Clemente is a great little town, but I also took time on the weekends to go into L.A. and San Diego. I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my final January term at HLS.

Filed in: Clinical Student Voices

Tags: Independent Clinical Program

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