From cruise ship performer to maritime attorney, Danielle Gauer took a leap of faith that landed her on the other side of the deck.
Gauer grew up performing and as a young girl she dreamed of being a Broadway star. Her specialty was dance and she was good at it. At the age of nineteen she landed a gig dancing for one of the largest cruise lines and from there she never looked back.
She traveled the world across oceans; making her way around the Americas, Europe, and Asia—she fell in love with the sea.
Talking to the licensed Canadian attorney now, it’s apparent that her career as a full-time dancer seems to her like a lifetime ago. “My interests have just continued to grow from the different courses I’ve taken, my summer experiences, the places I’ve worked…all these things have really expanded my interests,” said Gauer, who has developed a real passion for the maritime law industry.
Gauer is just one semester away from earning both a Juris Doctorate and an L.L.M. in Ocean and Costal Law. Specializing in Maritime Law, the 3L is a busy student stirring up waves and positioning herself to charter some new territory.
President of the Maritime Law Society, a member of the International and Comparative Law Review, intern for the Professional Responsibility & Ethics Program and the Miami STREET Law Program, a Dean’s Fellow and a Legal Intern at McAlpin Conroy P.A., Gauer has big dreams of promoting an interest in maritime law among her peers.
“There’s no reason maritime law can’t be pushed more at this school. We’re in Miami, the perfect location for this,” she explained. Gauer says her goal for the student organization is to connect Miami Law students to maritime practitioners working in the field.
Gauer herself is continually exploring the many facets of maritime law. This fall, Gauer presented a CLE Ethics Training to admiralty attorneys at the Southeastern Admiralty Law Institute’s Fall Meeting in Park City, Utah. Last spring she was a Legal Extern with the United States Coast Guard District 7 Legal which was a process covered in red tape for her as a Canadian citizen.
“Mine was the first of its kind, for a Canadian to do an externship with the Coast Guard,” said Gauer, who explained she had to undergo heightened screening in order to land the position.
“It was amazing, I was working on oil pollution cases and through that I got connected with people who work in the Miami port, those who do all the vessel inspections.” Gauer had the opportunity to go with the Coast Guard onto ships to ensure they were complying with U.S. regulations.
“It was bizarre because I was going back in this different capacity…I remember being asked all the same questions when I was a crewmember and suddenly I was on the other side of it.”
When asked if during her days as a performer she ever thought she’d one day pursue being an attorney in two countries, she confesses she had no idea.
“I was so young,” she remembers, “the possibility of that wasn’t even on my mind.”
It was after three years on ships that Gauer knew she wanted to pursue a career in law and that it was time to go back to school.
Gauer went to undergraduate school in her home country of Canada and majored in criminology, where she graduated with honors and was the recipient of the Gold Medal, the university’s highest honor. While earning her Bachelors she developed an interest in criminal law.
“Maybe I’ll do some criminal law work, I thought,” said Gauer, who had no idea the depth of the legal world she was stepping into. Her next goal was to finish law school in Canada and that’s when private international law began to interest her.
“Arbitration clauses, forum selection clauses, I just found it all to be really neat,” she said.
While in law school in Canada, Gauer interned at a law firm in Seattle that did a lot of maritime law work including cruise injury law.
“Cruise lines were familiar to me,” said Gauer. But the Seattle firm opened her eyes to the vast world of maritime law. The firm handled far more than cruise ship work and Gauer was introduced to the broad realm of commercial maritime law including vessel arrests, marine insurance, maritime lien and ship mortgage disputes, and vessel documentation, inspection, registration and flagging. “I found the experience to be so interesting, it brought in so many different facets of the law which I thought was really neat.”
Next Gauer interned at a firm in Miami that handled cruise ship litigation including plaintiff work. Gauer was able to understand the lawsuits from the perspective of the crewmembers—a role she had once filled.
After completing her Canadian Law degree, licensing, and articling in Toronto, Gauer thought about coming to the United States to expand her opportunities to practice. But Gauer’s course to Miami included some choppy water.
When it came time for the Canadian attorney to decide whether she would move to the U.S. to pursue maritime law, she was met with stern cautions and strong words of opposition.
“People were telling me not to,” she said. “’There’s not much work in maritime law,’ they were saying,’ which is ironic because now that I’m here everyone in the profession is telling me, ‘it’s a good thing you’re here because people are getting older and we need some new blood.’”
Gauer looked at a number of LLM programs before deciding on Miami Law with its LLM offering in Ocean and Costal Law. Already a licensed Canadian attorney Gauer needed to decide where to come to pursue an American J.D. and a career in maritime law and she did her research before deciding on Miami Law.
“Florida was the obvious choice,” said Gauer. “Litigation that has to do with cruise lines has to be filed in Florida.”
Gauer was looking for L.L.M. and J.D. programs that she could complete together in a condensed period of time. Discovering that renowned maritime attorney and former judge ad hoc of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Professor Bernard Oxman was part of the faculty sealed her decision on Miami Law.
After entering last year with advance standing due to the course work she’d completed in Canada and her status as a Canadian attorney, Gauer is one semester away from receiving her joint degree.
“My experience at Miami Law so far has only been positive and rewarding,” she said. “The contacts I have made in the maritime law field can be attributed to the guidance and support I have received from UM’s faculty, and of course being situated in Miami.”
With the globe opening up to her Gauer has countless options in front of her. One day she says she’d love to work as in-house counsel for a cruise line or shipping company, and until then, the world is her oyster.