“Technically, I’m a space lawyer.”
Daniel Porras ’07 has a somewhat unique story. Currently, Porras heads up the space-security portfolio at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I knew I wanted to be involved in international law, but I wasn’t quite sure in what area,” recalls Porras. “When I got to California Western, talking with people like Prof. William Aceves and Prof. Jamie Cooper, my head was filled with ideas of representing people before
the International Court of Justice. But as soon as I found that there was such a thing as space law I knew that was the area for me.”
While at California Western, Porras volunteered at the Supreme Court of Argentina where he dealt with white collar crime.
“As great a time as I had in Argentina, it became obvious pretty quickly that I was not terribly thrilled about being a law clerk,” says Porras.
During his final year at California Western Porras researched, applied for, and set up an externship for credit through the Clinical Externship Program with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna. Porras spent his externship preparing materials for the committee on the peaceful uses of outer space such as exploration and research.
His work was impressive. So much so that one of the papers he had written while there became his first publication.
Following law school, Porras did stints in Washington, D.C. and Rome. He ended up at the UN in Geneva in 2012 working on a project for the European Union developing an international code of conduct for space activity. Two years later Porras went into the private sector before returning to Geneva earlier this year as head of space security.
“The specific department that I work for is an independently funded organization within the UN that provides research on disarmament and a variety of security issues,” says Porras. “We deal with everything from nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, all the way down to small arms and cybersecurity.”
Porras and his department are trying to set up rules or norms for the way people carry out activities in outer space. Some of these are rules, while others are political agreements.
“All of these things take place within the international legal framework,” says Porras. “So, for example, at the moment I’m preparing a briefing to a group of governmental experts discussing the legal framework around which there is arms control in outer space.”
For all of this, says Porras, you need to have mastery of the law.
According to Porras, right now a lot is going on in the space security side of politics and negotiations. “I just happened to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time.”
Porras remembers his time at California Western with fondness recalling a relaxed, supportive atmosphere and believes that externships for students are absolutely critical.
“I can’t possibly stress enough the importance of having a good mentor,” advises Porras. “A person who actually shows you what the work is, how the work is done, and what it does to you personally—how it impacts us as human beings.”
There are few places in this world where you can work in space law and Geneva is one of them—exactly where Daniel Porras wants to be.