Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Elizabeth Kliesch '98: Living the Dream

Elizabeth and brother Doug
Elizabeth and brother Doug on Jack's Bay Trail on St. Croix

For five years, Liz Kliesch, '98, has called the U.S. Virgin Islands home.

"I enjoy living in an environment and culture that is different from the one in which I grew up," says the Athens, Ohio native. "This is a place where people have a special appreciation for life."

Last December, Liz joined the law firm of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, L.L.C. The firm, having 21 offices nationwide, specializes in labor and employment law. At the St. Thomas location, Liz handles employment and general litigation, as well as overseeing all court-appointed pro bono cases. "I'm enjoying the job and the new challenges and experiences it provides."

"It is definitely a contrast to working behind the scenes," Liz says, referring to her previous employment as a federal district court law clerk. She first moved to the islands to clerk for Chief Judge Raymond L. Finch at the District Court of the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Croix. Liz knew she wanted to clerk upon graduation from law school. When Judge Finch offered her the job, she jumped on it. "I felt like the luckiest person in the world," she says.

Liz now divides her time between the islands of St. Thomas, where she works, and St. Croix. She travels between the two on weekends, by seaplane or ferry.

She admits that there are challenges to living in the islands. Within three months of moving to St. Croix, a major hurricane hit. But it didn't drive her away. "I still love it here," she says. "Although this is a small community, it provides many of the opportunities of living in a big city. Plus, I've always loved the ocean."

The U.S. Virgin Islands is an American territory comprised of three main islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John. There are no country codes needed for phone calls, and the U.S. dollar is the local currency. Although there are only 120,000 people in the territory, it is home to many large businesses including hotels, an oil refinery, and two international airports.

Like the community Liz has embraced, the office in which she works has the same big-small dichotomy. While it is part of a large firm, the branch has only four lawyers--something Liz likes.

The Virgin Islands are not the first location most law students think of upon graduation, but Liz suggests they hold many opportunities for lawyers. "Many people don't know that we have an American system of law here," she says.

There is a federal district court and a territorial court. Cases that start in the territorial court can be appealed to a special "appellate division" of the district court, which is unique to the territory. They then go to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which serves as the territory's supreme court. The federal and local courts in the Virgin Islands see many of the complex legal issues seen in mainland cities. This, Liz says, is part of what makes the place so valuable to her - the chance to do work she might wait years to handle in larger firms or bigger cities.

And then, there are the sun and the sea. An active scuba diver and a competitive sailor, Liz values these as much as other opportunities in the islands. "This is a beautiful place. I am always encouraging people to visit or move here," she says. Friends wishing to take Liz up on her offer can contact her at Elizabeth.Kliesch@ogletreedeakins.com.