'Flying high' - Air Force veteran researches laws relating to cyberspace

U-M Law School alum Christian Robertson (center) served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. He is pictured with his USAF unit in South Korea, with a U-2 reconnaissance plane.    (Photo courtesy of Christian Robertson)

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

In his sophomore year at Miami University, recent University of Michigan Law School grad Christian Robertson was offered a full-ride scholarship by the U.S. Air Force ROTC detachment. Interested in the opportunity to serve, travel, and save money, he jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s been one of the best decisions in my life,” he says. “I worked with some of the finest men and women, traveled to amazing places, and served my country.”

Commissioned and trained as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, Robertson’s first duty station was at Osan Air Base in South Korea, working with the U-2 reconnaissance plane, collecting and analyzing imagery and signals and reporting critical information to national decision-makers.    

His next tour was at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, headquarters of the U.S. Army in Germany, where he worked with Tactical Air Control Party specialists (TACPs) trained to provide air support to ground units in hostile environments.    

His interest in the law was sparked during an assignment with the French Air Force on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. In a multi-national counterinsurgency exercise, he worked closely with U.S. and French legal advisers, refining rules of engagement based on simulated adversary threats consistent with the international law of armed conflict.

“States view some aspects of the law of armed conflict differently,” he explains. “Learning about these differences and gaining perspective from the other national participants was an eye-opening experience.”

Robertson made the decision to attend the U-M Law School, and graduated in May. He found his fellow students and the professors inspirational.

“Their accomplishments and drive inspire others to make the most of their experience at Michigan—I was a better student for it,” he says.

Robertson knew from his military experience that written and oral advocacy skills are always useful. With the aim of developing practical skills that would translate most readily to work, he joined the Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law and the Trial Advocacy Society.    

“While I grew as a writer and oral advocate, I most enjoyed working with and learning from the other members of both groups,” he says.   

Two summer positions provided invaluable hands-on experience. In 2016, he clerked at a firm in his hometown of Heath, Ohio, and participated in real litigation and transactional matters.

“From researching legal issues to reviewing contracts, I was exposed to a wide variety of practice areas,” he says.

Last year, Robertson was a summer associate at Ice Miller LLP in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended trials, hearings, and depositions.

“However, I found the research I did and the feedback I received to be the most rewarding part of my work,” he says.

He will move back to the Buckeye State this fall to join the firm’s litigation group.

“I want to serve the public—from the military to law, I take great pride in serving others and advocating on their behalf,” he says. “I look forward to getting involved in the community. Perhaps I might return to the government one day, but for now, I’m excited to work in my home state.”   

While his military background lends itself to his general interest in international law, Robertson is particularly interested in the laws as they relate to cyberspace.

“It’s the forum of my generation,” he says. “In today’s world, people share critical data and invest in valuable property online. Similarly, governments conduct essential functions, such as defense, over the Internet.    

“As we continue to relocate our assets and operations from the physical world to the virtual, we expose ourselves to new risks. With these new risks come new legal issues that have piqued my interest.”

One of five MLaw Cutler Fellows who headed to D.C. in February for the Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program in international law, Robertson presented his research on cyber due diligence—the idea that states can hold other states accountable when citizens launch cyber attacks across the globe.    

Currently working on publishing an article he penned about cyber-attack targeting laws under the law of armed conflict, he has kept in contact with Cutler program students and professors who continue to share ideas and perspectives.

“While I gained valuable perspective necessary for my own research, I was most amazed by the vast commitment to the global public,” he says. “I met numerous law students who cared deeply about creating a better world. These are students who—on top of their rigorous studies—decided to devote significant time and energy to solving or better understanding issues of international law. It was remarkable to share ideas with so many who not only wanted to serve their local communities but also the public worldwide.” 

In his leisure time, Robertson enjoys traveling and experiencing different cultures.

“Traveling to a new place and trying to order food in another language is one of my favorite things to do,” he says. “So far, I’ve visited 22 countries and I look forward to seeing Central and South America this year.”

Robertson apparently inherited his wanderlust from his grandmother. “On road trips, she used to have me navigate with one of those giant road atlases you’d buy at gas stations,” he says. “She taught me to appreciate traveling—or maybe that was to keep me quiet in the back seat.”

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