Veteran Lawyer Lands in New Sea with Maritime LL.M.


Dawn breaks quietly in the Atlantic Ocean on the edge of the warm and swift Gulf Stream current off the coast of Lighthouse Point, Florida. Wavelets slap at the sides of Doug Gaston’s Game On!, a 40-foot Cabo Express, as bait joins hooks and rigs fly off the stern in hopes of fish flirtation.

Boats figure in many of Gaston’s happiest memories: fishing with his grandfather in the Delaware Bay, landing a 160-pound tarpon off Marco Island, Florida, and coming into a school of king mackerel in the Florida Keys, having them hit as fast as he could get a line in the water.

As Gaston’s career grew, first as a television producer then as general counsel for Comcast, both his time on the water and the fish stocks in his favorite spots were on the decline. Rarely seen were striped bass, and Delaware’s state fish—the weakfish—had virtually disappeared. Effective fisheries’ management helped the striped bass make a comeback, but years of failed conservation show that weakfish populations are still depleted, and Gaston wants to understand why.

Gaston even completed his PADI open water diving certification, “so I can get a firsthand look at what is happening under the water.”

Now, with two careers in his wake, Gaston is on the cusp of the career equivalent of a treble hook. Whether it will be as a lawyer or in the policy world advocating for conservation efforts with his newly minted LL.M. in Maritime Law, it will assuredly involve water and fish.

The Maritime Law LL.M. has its core in admiralty, law of the sea, and coastal law. Electives span interests from marine insurance law and maritime personal injury law to oil and gas contracts and negotiations to marine ecology, environmental law, and climate change. Courses such as ocean policy and coastal zone management are taught at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, one of the leading academic oceanographic and atmospheric research institutions in the world.

“Pursuing an LL.M. at Miami Law was a very fulfilling experience. The ability to take classes at the Law School and at RSMAS provided me with a balance of law, policy, and science,” Gaston says. “That combination gave me a broad perspective on the issues I’m concerned with—such as sustainable fishing, marine protected areas, and the effects pollution and rising sea temperatures are having on our oceans and fisheries.”

Professor Bernard Oxman, who recently represented The Philippines in the arbitration of the South China Sea dispute, chairs the Maritime Law LL.M. program. Professor Daniel Suman of RSMAS, whose work focuses on coastal management, teaches Marine Affairs and Policy.

“Professor Oxman is a walking encyclopedia on the law of the sea,” Gaston says. “His lectures breathed life into the text of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by sharing details from his experience negotiating the treaty on behalf of the United States. It gives a unique insight in helping students understand the legal, policy, and political challenges that come about in connection with the negotiation of an international, multinational treaty.”

“All of my professors were excellent—knowledgeable and personable—they challenged students to not only analyze and understand the legal issues but to consider the issues within the context of the real world we live in,” he says. “Our oceans and fisheries are under stress from multiple sources. The issues are complex and intertwined. The solutions will have to be multifaceted and nuanced as well. I absolutely feel that the program has provided me with the tools I need to pivot back into the professional world and use my skills and experience to engage in challenging and meaningful projects.”

Gaston has never before tried to meld his professional life with his personal passion for fishing and the water. After graduating from Temple University in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in Radio, Television, and Film, the Pennsylvania native went into television production and programming.

In 1989, Gaston entered the J.D. program at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law. Before graduation in 1992, he wrote for the Law School’s publication The Docket, made the Villanova Law Review, and was chair of the Villanova Black Law Students Association.

After clerking for a federal judge, he spent his next few years out of law school negotiating and drafting documents for multi-million dollar debt and equity securities offerings, public merger and asset purchase, and sales transactions as an associate at Morgan Lewis and Bockius in the Business and Finance Practice Group.

In 1996, Gaston joined Comcast Cable Communications, first as assistant deputy general counsel and, over the next two decades climbed to senior vice president and general counsel, where he directed a team of attorneys supporting the company.

For the past six years, he has taught as an adjunct professor at Villanova, developing and teaching a curriculum for a 2L and 3L course on principles and practice points for the in-house counselor.

Gaston says his year spent at Miami Law was invaluable.