Joy Purcell, J.D. ’08, and her husband Kevin Roach, J.D. ’08, have many things in common. Both found their legal calling while earning their degrees at Miami Law. Now, both attorneys work for the federal government and are committed to making a difference through public service.
Roach, who is a senior attorney at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is also dedicated to service. “My wife is an inspiration to me,” he said. “Joy devotes a huge amount of time and energy to helping vulnerable people. As for me, I feel very gratified to play a part in improving environmental outcomes for our country.”
GROWING UP TOGETHER
Purcell and Roach grew up in Marietta, Georgia. They met in middle school and shared the same homeroom in high school, where they attended senior prom together and began dating. But they waited until 2012, when they were settled in their legal careers, to get married.
In 2001, Purcell and Roach applied separately to New York University as undergraduates and were both accepted. “I was a dancer and always wanted to go to the big city,” Purcell said. “I was also very interested in world affairs, and earned a double major in politics and Latin American studies.” While taking a class on Caribbean politics, Purcell began studying Cuba and became interested in human rights. “That was the genesis of my desire to go to law school, and the University of Miami was a natural step,” she said.
Like Purcell, Roach became interested in politics and Latin American studies at NYU. “No one in either of our families had been lawyers,” he added. “But I was always more interested in words and arguments than in mathematics. I also recognized that the legal profession allowed you to gain access to the levers of difference-making in the world.”
After earning their bachelor’s degrees, Purcell and Roach enrolled at Miami Law in 2005 to study in the de facto capital of Latin America. They realized quickly that it was the right choice. “I applied for the Summer Public Interest Fellowship Program after my first year,” Purcell said. She interned with the Dade County Bar Association Legal Aid Society and began to focus on public interest law. “That was my first experience in providing direct legal services to people in poverty,” she said. “I loved working with my clients there and knew I was doing important work, even as a student. It helped me understand the chronic issues facing our community, and I knew I wanted to take my career in that direction.”
The following summer, Purcell served as a HOPE Fellow with the Harlem Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society in New York. Back on campus, she also volunteered at the school’s Community Health Education Clinic, the precursor of the Health Rights Clinic. “This was a medical-legal partnership with Jackson Health System,” she said. ”I worked with clients from the HIV/AIDS clinic and represented them in a variety of issues.”
SUPPORTING CIVIL RIGHTS
After graduation, Purcell joined the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., where the majority of her caseload involved helping families access special education programs. For instance, she used her knowledge of the law to obtain an appropriate special education placement for a 17-year-old student who had been improperly served for years. When he enrolled in a vocational education program, he learned practical skills that helped him obtain employment and build self-esteem.
Three years ago, Purcell was hired by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as a compliance attorney, and she and her husband relocated to New York. “My experience with health and education issues at Miami Law helped me get the job,” she said. Today, Purcell investigates civil rights complaints by individuals against schools, colleges, universities, and trade schools that allege discrimination based on race, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
“We strive to remedy compliance issues so students can receive the services they are entitled to under federal law,” Purcell said. “But something that can be a challenge is addressing compliance issues within school districts facing fiscal difficulties. We recognize that a school district can’t just create a speech therapist out of thin air, so we need to try to come up with creative solutions to resolve issues.”
FOCUSING ON ENVIRONMENTAL LAW
Roach’s interest in a pubic service career also began at Miami Law. “Both of my summer fellowship positions were in public interest organizations, and I developed a deep interest in environmental law issues,” he said.
While a student, Roach joined the Environmental Law Society and served as president, spending one summer with the Environmental Defense Fund. “Those experiences in law school definitely helped me when applying for jobs in the public sector,” he added.
After earning his J.D., Roach joined the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he is now a senior attorney for new reactor programs in the Office of the General Counsel. “Our mission combines both engineering safety and environmental protection,” he said.
For the past several years, Roach was lead attorney on a licensing review for a proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Florida Progress Energy had filed the initial plans to build and operate the two-reactor project, and the NRC’s review continued after Duke Energy acquired Progress Energy.
In October 2016, the NRC approved the issuance of two licenses for the estimated $20 billion Levy County plant, although Duke Energy has not yet made a decision to move forward with the project. “It was very gratifying to complete the regulatory work, ensuring that the NRC was satisfied from a legal and safety standpoint before granting a license,” Roach said.
Reflecting on the formative role of his Miami Law experiences, Roach advised today’s students to pursue their legal passions, wherever it takes them. “Find a field that calls to you, take the relevant courses, and get involved in student and professional organizations,” he said. “For me, it was an interest in science, as well as the law, that let to a rewarding career in public service.”