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No day is typical for this alumnus on a small island nation

Friday, October 16, 2015  /  Rate this article:
One day, David O’Brien is drafting an amendment to a bill. And the next, he’s speech-writing or working on creating a diversion program for juvenile offenders.

On the small island nation of Palau, where lawyers are scarce, O’Brien ’11 is a legal jack-of-all-trades. As Senate Legal Counsel, O’Brien’s official job duties include advising the Palau’s Senate as well as acting as its General Counsel, drafting legislation, and writing committee reports and legal opinions.

However, because of the Senate’s relatively small staff compared to larger countries, he often juggles many more tasks, such as writing and editing senators’ correspondence, drafting contracts and other transactional work, and, occasionally, writing a speech.

“Because I work on such varied topics, most of the classes I took in law school have proven useful to some extent,” O’Brien said.

And “varied” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Recently, O’Brien has devoted time to work on bills in a vast array of areas, such as creating a diversion program for juvenile offenders, creating a new corporate code,
setting national standards for day-care centers, and working on anti-hate crime legislation. Other highlights from the last few months include work on committee reports for a new bill regarding privacy standards for government-stored personal information and hearings for a legislative overhaul of national credit union law.

“I have to learn about new topics constantly, which keeps things interesting,” O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, I never took legislation – although Professor (Kevin) McMunigal spent a lot of time on statutory construction in my 1L Criminal Law course, for which I am grateful – but the classes I took on subjects like constitutional law, for example, have been extremely useful.”

O’Brien’s other legal work has proved to be useful as well. His previous work experience in research is relevant to
many of his daily tasks and his litigation experiences are helpful when determining how his bills will be interpreted and applied as part of Palau law.

“One of the most directly relevant experiences I had was a clerkship at the City Law Department
of Parma, Ohio my 3L year,” O’Brien said. “That may seem strange, considering I work for a national legislature now, but keep in mind that Parma's population is probably four or five times that of Palau's.”

If the Senate is in session, O’Brien may be called in to draft a floor amendment for bill under debate, or offer some advice as to procedural questions. Most other days, he researches and writes bills, drafts legal opinions in response to senators’ questions, and writes committee reports regarding changes in legislation pending before the Senate. O’Brien’s schedule is also full of meetings, whether it’s with a group of senators, colleagues
in other Palau governmental offices, or personnel and consultants from large non-governmental organizations like the IMF or the Asian Development Bank.

Away from the office, he serves as the Chair of the Palau National Code Commission, the national body that oversees the country’s codification process once legislation has been passed and is prepared for integration into Palau code.

Dean Michael Scharf collaborated with O’Brien to create a brand new internship program with O’Brien’s office and the Palau Senate. Because there are no law schools on Palau, this internship will be the first of its kind on Palau. The Senate leadership, and O’Brien’s office, welcomed rising 3L Ashlyn Carroll for summer 2015. Much like O’Brien’s work, Carroll’s will depend on what is on the legislative agenda. O’Brien expects that she, and
future interns, will work on bills and committee reports, as well as substantive research.

“We have a small office, so she will probably end up working on a little bit of everything,” he said.

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