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When DL Sanders (`85) walks into work at the Office of the State Engineer (OSE), where he serves as chief counsel and director of the Litigation and Adjudication Program (LAP), he looks around at his staff and sees a veritable reunion of UNM School of Law alumni, especially when he adds in his contract attorneys. Of the 30 lawyers in the office and at the Interstate Stream Commission, 12 are UNM law graduates, and even more alums regularly handle work on a contract basis.
"When someone comes from the UNM law school, they understand that the history of water is the fabric of the state," he says. "They come with a desire to apply pure law for the benefit of the state's citizens."
Arianne Singer (`98) brought an anthropology background to law school, where, during her second year, she discovered water law and embraced it immediately.
"I loved the fact-based aspect to water law and how much science was involved," she says. "A lot of what is wrapped up in water is value — economical and cultural — so we talked a lot about lifestyles, which all fit into my anthropology background."
These days, Singer is the managing attorney of the OSE's Northern New Mexico Adjudication Bureau, where she oversees four attorneys, a cadre of contract attorneys and handles her own caseload. Sometimes she finds herself arguing against the professors who taught her water law: Em Hall and Chuck DuMars, both retired from the school.
"Every day the job is challenging," she says. "With adjudications going on for so many years — some started in the 1960s — and thousands of defendants, I'm always learning."
Essentially, lawyers in the State Engineer's Office prosecute all water right adjudications brought on behalf of the State of New Mexico in state and federal courts. They also provide legal representation to the Water Resources Allocation Program in all water right administrative hearings and to the state engineer in appeals of his decisions to district court.
Christopher Lindeen (`03) and Uday Joshi (`04) are around the corner from each other in the OSE's Administrative Litigation Unit, where, unlike Singer's long, drawn-out projects, they regularly resolve cases in nine months. And their jobs have been equally interesting.
Bringing to the job an understanding of water law and the history of water law gained from UNM, Lindeen spent his first few years in adjudications, processing hundreds of files, deepening his understanding of procedure and water law in southern New Mexico. He even served as the lead attorney on the Santa Fe River Adjudication.
A year ago he moved to the litigation arm and has been enjoying the nuts-and-bolts practice of water rights.
Joshi, who earned a dual degree: a J.D. and a master's in water resources, along with a Natural Resources Certificate, has been with the litigation unit since joining the office four years ago. He also worked on the Natural Resources Journal (NRJ).
"I like the diversity of the issues of public welfare, conservation and hydrology/geohydrology," he says. Joshi, who admits he is wired for science and math, loves that he gets to combine them with the law.
Two floors below, Charles Kinney (`07) has carved out his own niche as the office's only ADR officer, a position he proposed after conducting a successful pilot mediation program in 2006. To avoid any conflicts, he reports directly to State Engineer John D'Antonio.
In the year he has been offering mediation to consenting parties, Kinney has resolved 17 cases through mediation and has 12 more cases pending mediation.
Kinney, with previous graduate degrees in public health and business, was a software engineer and project manager for 30 years before heading to law school, choosing UNM specifically to study water law. He worked on the NRJ and earned a Natural Resources Certificate, and throughout law school, he kept his focus on mediation.
"UNM gave me the appropriate background for this job, from the NRJ to water law and mediation," he says. "It's useful to have the perspective of a lawyer when confronting a case for mediation."
Sanders, who is part Cherokee, came to the UNM law school to study Indian law, but soon discovered that water permeated many of his courses and captured his attention. Guided by Al Utton, DuMars and Hall, it wasn't long before his focus turned.
He was one of the first students to earn a Natural Resources Certificate and was a member of the NRJ editorial staff. In 1990, he joined the Office of the State Engineer and became director of LAP in 2001. He now oversees 78 employees, including not only lawyers, but engineers, surveyors and technicians.
Sanders has worked on every river in the state and argues all cases that are appealed to the state Supreme Court. "New Mexico is very sophisticated water-wise and it's been exciting to have taken a role in many agreements, such as those involving adjudications of the Pecos River, Navajo Nation, Aamodt and Taos. " he says.
He cites DuMars for passing along his mechanical understanding of how case law and statutes go together, Hall for how he brought water law alive and Utton for his broader view of water law as huge influences on his preparation as a water lawyer.
Now in a leadership position, he welcomes the opportunity to work with the school's Natural Resources Program.
"If it weren't for the UNM law school, I wouldn't be where I am and I enjoy coming back as a guest lecturer and making available whatever experts I can to do the same," he says.
He regularly hires summer clerks from the UNM law school and sets up externships, with a goal to formalize an ongoing externship between his program and the law school.
"The more we get people acquainted with water law, hopefully the more people will want to practice it," he says.
Last year, Professor Reed Benson joined the UNM law faculty and already has begun to build on the school's strong tradition in water law.
"Water law is such an important field, particularly in New Mexico, and with many of our students interested in making a career of it, we are excited to prepare them to succeed, at the State Engineer's Office or anywhere else they choose to practice," he says.