John A. Duff

Marine Law Professor
John A. Duff

University of Massachusetts at Boston

I love the fact that my job requires that I go out and work with people from different walks of life that do a wide variety of things. I get to do a lot of interesting things that most lawyers would never dream of doing.


  • B.S., Business, University of Lowell
  • M.A., Journalism, University of Mississippi
  • J.D., Law, Suffolk University
  • LL.M., Law and Marine Affairs, University of Washington Law School


$80,000 - $100,000


What is your current job and what does it entail? 

I am a faculty member in the School for the Environment at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. My role in the department is to design and direct research projects dealing with the laws and policies that govern the use of ocean and coastal resources. I also teach a series of courses dealing with environmental law, coastal zone law and ocean resource policy. On any given day this means that I may be in the classroom, in the library researching legal cases, or out on a boat trying to gain a better understanding of the resources governed by the laws.

What was the key factor in your career decision? 

After I graduated from law school, I looked for opportunities to work on environmental issues. This led to some work for law firms and organizations involved in environmental and marine resource conservation. As I got more involved in ocean and coastal matters, I met a lot of folks (scientists, economists and other lawyers) who had dedicated their lives to working on marine-related matters. Jim Broadus, who was the director of the Marine Policy Center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, pointed me in the direction of the Law and Marine Affairs Program at the University of Washington. As a result, I went back to school to get a master of laws (LL.M.) degree. The work experience after law school and the additional education helped me get my foot in the door in a job that allowed me to design and direct ocean and coastal legal research projects as well as gave me the opportunity to teach.

What do like most about your career? 

I love the fact that my job requires that I go out and work with people from different walks of life that do a wide variety of things. I get to do a lot of interesting things that most lawyers would never dream of doing. I've helped out on whale disentanglement and marine mammal rescue missions. I've taken the pulse of a whale. And I've been out on an oceanographic expedition as part of a scientific team that was monitoring deep sea volcanic activity in the North Pacific Ocean. I also get to teach, which is challenging and rewarding.

What do you like least about your career? 

Any meeting that lasts more than ten minutes.

What do you do to relax? 

I love the water, particularly the ocean. As a result, anything that gets me close to, on, or in the water is usually fun and relaxing. Even some of the indoor activities that I enjoy seem to have a link to the ocean. Many of the books that I read have a marine- or nature-related theme to them. And the next time you go to a museum, take note of the number of scenes that incorporate the ocean -- and nature in general.

Who are your heroes/heroines? 

Any person who has the courage to do something difficult and worthwhile and is willing to risk failure. If you talk to anyone who has accomplished a great feat, I can guarantee you that he or she will tell you that success only came after a series of initial setbacks and failures. Few great things are accomplished by luck. I think another category of people who have influenced my life are those people who have caught my imagination or opened my eyes to a new way of looking at things. I have had some great teachers -- from grade school to graduate school -- who have done this.

What advice would you give a student who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in your field? 

Try to study a mix of things that truly interests you. If you're interested in legal and marine matters, take courses that will give you a good fundamental basis for understanding the nature of laws (political science, government, etc.) as well as the laws of nature (biology, geology, oceanography, chemistry, physics). Don't be afraid to throw in some economics, psychology, philosophy, geography, English, anthropology and mathematics along the way. Beyond courses and textbooks, read the works of Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau and Lewis Thomas. Finally, look for some opportunities to talk to people who have a passion for what they're doing in the field you're interested in. You'll find that in most cases, those folks created their jobs rather than applied for them.

Are career opportunities in your field increasing or decreasing and why? 

Opportunities in the field of marine resources law are evolving. People trained in law who develop an expertise in ocean and coastal matters may find themselves in government positions, private law firms, or conducting research and teaching. I think that as human beings demand more from our ocean and coastal areas, there will be an increasing demand for people who understand the issues. And degree programs that didn't exist when I was in school are emerging to train folks for important professional science management positions (e.g.,

What will you be doing 10 years from today? 

More of the same of what I've been doing for the last few years. I also hope that as my career evolves, I'll be able to continue to convey some of what I've learned and experienced to students (and others) who are interested in learning more about how laws work to help us govern our oceans and coasts.