Melody Westfall L’09: Environmental Attorney Connects Students with Opportunities
Melody Westfall L’09 has spent most of her life with the splash of ocean water not far away. She grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine, near Acadia National Park, and reveled in the outdoors. After high school, she served in the U.S. Navy for nearly six years, working in public affairs while stationed in Guam and Okinawa. Today, as the managing attorney of Westfall Law PLLC, she lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she oversees offices in St. Croix and St. Thomas, as well as the firm’s headquarters in Syracuse’s Armory Square. “Syracuse is the only time in my life that I didn’t live on the ocean,” says Westfall, a Syracuse University College of Law graduate.
While island life is ingrained in her, it was in landlocked Syracuse that Westfall found the focus for her professional career, combining her interests in environmental issues and law. Before enrolling at the College of Law, she had worked as an executive search consultant for two years in Tokyo and earned a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Maryland Global Campus in Japan, taking mostly night classes while stationed there.
As a law student at Syracuse, Westfall embraced the opportunity to experience a full-time, on-campus academic environment for the first time. She became a member of the Syracuse Law Review, interned with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and participated in the Community Development Law Clinic. “We met with the nonprofits we were forming, and that was a big reason why I was interested in forming a small but diverse corporate practice,” she says. “It was a fantastic experience.” She also discovered the benefits of the collaborative relationship between Syracuse University and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).
Interdisciplinary Approach to Environmental Law
An innovative, interdisciplinary Earth sciences course in contaminant hydrogeology introduced Westfall to environmental law. Professor Don Siegel in the College of Arts and Sciences was teaching Earth sciences graduate students how to be expert trial witnesses, and he recruited law students to act as attorneys for a simulated trial. “Everybody got super into it,” Westfall says. “I learned that to be a good environmental attorney, I needed to know the science behind it and not just the law.”
The experience motivated Westfall to boost her law degree with a master’s in environmental science and hydrogeology from SUNY-ESF. With Siegel as her faculty advisor, she found herself in that course again—this time as a hydrogeology graduate student playing an expert witness. “I didn’t tell any of the law students that I was an attorney until the class was over. It was fun and a really great experience,” says Westfall, who also served as a SUNY-ESF instructor, teaching a course she developed on water law ...