Legal briefs and swim trunks

Brian Spielman ’06The word lawyer, for some, can bring to mind images of someone in a dark suit toiling over stacks of legal briefs in a wood-paneled office. For Brian Spielman ’06, however, the legal profession has taken him to one of the most beautiful places in the world—the sun-drenched Republic of Palau, an island located in the western Pacific Ocean.

Last September, on the recommendation of his wife’s friend, he accepted a job as court counsel for Palau’s Supreme Court, and now he gets to practice law amid sandy beaches, hundreds of tiny islands, and the best scuba-diving spots in the world.

Spielman describes his role as “part judicial clerk and part in-house counsel. Like a judicial clerk, I draft proposed opinions to resolve trial and appellate motions. Like an in-house counsel, I advise the court on a wide range of legal questions, including the creation and administration of court rules and procedures.”

Adjusting to his new job has been relatively easy, since Palau’s legal system is modeled after American federal courts, and the Rules of Procedure in Palauan courts are nearly identical to their American counterparts. Despite the similarities, however, there are also major differences between Palauan and American jurisprudence. Since Palau is a much smaller nation, with only 21,000 citizens, they have only three major courts, and the Supreme Court serves a dual role, conducting important trials and being the court of appeals. Also, the Palauan Constitution gives equal weight to unwritten cultural traditions as it does to written statutes.

As he explains, “In essence, the courts recognize that practices that have been followed for centuries may, under certain circumstances, have the same force as law.”

A political science major at Wheaton, he credits Wheaton for developing some of the skills he uses as a lawyer.

“I am often called upon to think quickly and then write or speak clearly,” he said. “These are skills I developed in Wheaton’s small classes, in which writing and oral advocacy were required on a regular basis.”

Additionally, he credits Professor Jay Goodman’s “American Political Systems” course for preparing him for law school, since the format of the class is very similar to a law school class.

—Brian Jencunas ’14