Brian Mulhall, From the Navy to the Law
Brian C. Mulhall, who is graduating from the Law School, learned a lesson in a middle school summer wrestling program that became central to the way he approaches life. You cannot always control opportunities, his coach told him, but you can control your attitude and what you do with whatever comes your way.
In five years of military service in the Navy and over the past three years at Columbia Law School, Mulhall has made great use of opportunities that have landed him a job in the National Security Division at the Justice Department after he graduates in May.
Mulhall in front of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a stop at a Marine Corps base in Al Anbar Province, Iraq
“I’ll be working alongside many of the country’s best trial lawyers, and I know I have my work cut out for me,” he said.
The job comes on the heels of a law school externship this past semester in Washington, D.C., in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department. Mulhall worked there on international law enforcement issues, including extradition cases and treaty research, as well as employment law in the diplomatic field.
“It was incredibly interesting to me to see the prominent role that lawyers play in helping policy makers navigate the intersection of foreign policy, international law, domestic law, and a whole host of other competing interests,” he said.
Mulhall is understandably reticent about talking about his governmental work due to its confidential nature. He has no such qualms about discussing his law school experience. “Being in an environment with classmates and faculty who are performing at such a high level made me strive to meet expectations,” he said. In his first year, he was named a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and in his second, a James Kent Scholar, both given for exceptional academic achievement.
One particularly influential course he took was a national security seminar with Professor Matthew C. Waxman that featured prominent guests such as the judge advocate general of the Navy, Vice Admiral James W. Houck.
During his second year, Mulhall joined the Environmental Law Clinic, where he headed to Harrisburg, Penn., to attend a hearing over hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas, also known as fracking. He met there with parents who told how toxic wastewater had sickened their children. “I was proud to represent the towns that were willing to stand up to the oil and gas interests for the sake of their kids’ safety,” he said.
Mulhall was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. The college canceled classes and held an outdoor mass for over 10,000 people. “In the days and weeks afterward, that event got me started thinking about military service,” Mulhall said.
In his senior year at Notre Dame, he turned down an offer to work in investment banking at Citigroup, hoping to become an intelligence officer in the Navy instead, but wound up joining as a logistic officer.
His post-college military training was arduous. He recalls challenging field exercises with his Navy construction battalion, and joked that he was glad he never joined the aggressive water polo games that attracted the likes of Navy SEALs and other special warfare operatives. “I probably would have ended up getting pulled out from the bottom of the pool.”
His interest in law school increased when he witnessed his boss, Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Brundidge, preparing for negotiations with Iraqi officials over certain terms in the U.S.-Iraq security agreement. “During those preparations, a mid-level military lawyer gave a really tactful and persuasive presentation. He gained my boss’s attention in a way that was unusual for his rank,” he said. Mulhall was in Baghdad assisting Brundidge, who was the senior communications and information systems officer for coalition forces in Iraq.
With his work in the law and military, Mulhall has witnessed power up close, and never more so than when he was one of a small group of service members selected to stand behind President George W. Bush in Al Faw Palace in Baghdad when the commander in chief gave a farewell speech near the end of his presidency.
Mulhall was also present when President Barack Obama (CC’83) made his first trip to see the troops in Iraq. “There was no podium and there was a rock band playing,” recalled Mulhall. “He had more of a rock star persona having just made history on the campaign trail.”
The pressures of military service will likely be good preparation for working in the executive branch and perhaps this time, meeting the president while in civilian clothes.
—by Gary Shapiro
|Two Engineers Harness Solar Power to Help Sandy Victims
Rob van Haaren and Garrett Fitzgerald built solar arrays they could tow behind them in small trailers to harvest the sun’s energy in order to bring electricity to those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
|After 60 Years of Public Service, Diplomat Finally Earns His Ph.D.
At 83, the former ambassador to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia has completed his dissertation in Slavic languages and literatures and is graduating from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
|Nursing Graduate Well Schooled in Cancer Care
Alfredo Axtmayer II will have a unique perspective to share with his patients when he becomes a nurse practitioner with a specialty in oncology. In 2008, when he was 27, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is now in remission.
|College Graduate Starts Volunteer Program to Comfort Elderly
Ashley Shaw, whose major is biology with a concentration in art history, started the “At Your Service Volunteer Program” for Columbia students at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center.
|Software Developer Combines Technology Skills With Journalism in New Dual-Degree Program
Rashmi Raman, along with three other dual-degree candidates, will become one of the first graduates of a two-year program with Columbia Engineering that aims to teach professionals the technical aspects of both digital media and news production.
|Medical Student Helps Build Bridges to Neighboring Community
In her last year of medical school, Camila Mateo, the daughter of two Dominican-born pediatricians, created a website to help others at the medical school better understand the community around them.
|Royal Navy Officer Becomes Journalist
After four years and a day in the Royal Navy, Christopher Harress pursued a bachelor’s in journalism and landed an internship with the Edinburgh Evening News before being accepted to Columbia Journalism School.
|Physical Therapist Learned Benefits of Program Long Before Graduation
Nashwa Khalil knew the benefits of physical therapy long before she enrolled in the doctor of physical therapy program at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She began physical therapy as an infant after a birth injury in her left arm.
|Brown Institute for Media Innovation Grand Opening|
In Memoriam: Joseph F. Traub
Professor Joseph F. Traub, founder of the Computer Science department, died Monday, August 24, 2015 in Santa Fe, NM. He was 83. Most recently the Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Computer Science, Traub was an early pioneer in the field.
Traub's work on optimal algorithms and computational complexity applied to continuous scientific problems.