Faculty Spotlight

photo of professor david strifling

Meet David Strifling, associate professor of law and director of the Water Law and Policy Initiative

“The university is trying to help solve the world’s water problems, and we at the law school are part of the effort,” said David Strifling, associate professor of law and director of the Water Law and Policy Initiative.

Strifling is currently working on several research projects, including one focused on PFAS, the dangerous “forever” chemicals found in plastic, cosmetics, food packaging, and many other substances. “The question is how to control them when they’re already released in the environment.” 

He often takes an interdisciplinary approach when working on projects, as many are technical in nature. “They often involve aspects of engineering, so I hire both engineering and law students as research assistants on the same project team,” said Strifling. “I work on grants and projects with faculty from many parts of the university – engineering, biology, economics, political science, education. I’m always here to talk and help move conversations forward, whether that’s around water, student success, career opportunities, or anything else.”

Strifling graduated from Marquette University in 2000 with a degree in environmental engineering. As an engineer, he worked on wastewater treatment, water distribution, and site design projects. “I was familiar with water from a technical perspective. I just decided that I wanted to broaden my horizons and look at things from a policy standpoint.”  That led Strifling to obtain his law degree from Marquette in 2004; he later received an LLM from Harvard Law School.

With his water and environmental engineering expertise, Strifling felt it was only natural to go into water and environmental law “There is a lot of similarity between the two fields in terms of attention to detail and problem solving.” Strifling adds that engineering and law allow him to easily converse with others who also have technical backgrounds, which can help a project come together.

This semester, Strifling is teaching an environmental law class focusing on pollution control laws. “My teaching style is collaborative. We work together as a group, and the students work with each other. I want to hear them talking as much as I do, if not more.”

Strifling also works on water-related research projects. One involves preventing chloride pollution of water sources from road salting and water softeners. “No one has really studied legal and policy strategies to reduce chloride pollution, so two students and I are working with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on that.”

Another project focuses on water reuse policies and their legal, technical, and sociocultural aspects. “Water reuse is a more direct route where wastewater is treated and put right back into the system,” says Strifling. “There are a lot of concerns from a health and regulatory standpoint, so we’re looking at technologies and the governance framework needed to make that safe and possible.”

In terms of advice he provides to students to prepare for the practice of law, Strifling encourages students to make their network as big as they can. “Go to events, interface with members of the State Bar and people who are already in the field. You want to broaden your horizons, and the more connections you make the better. You never know where it will lead.”

Strifling advises students to focus on what’s in their control and to be themselves. “If you do your best and you’re well prepared, you will be fine. Be you. We grow up trying to imitate other people and that’s not the best strategy. You’ve got to play to your strengths and pursue your own dreams, and not worry too much about what others may think.” The world is constantly changing, he says, and students just need to keep going, even when it’s tough.

Strifling has been teaching full time at Marquette since 2015. He says he decided to pursue teaching because of the freedom to pursue his own research and because he enjoys working with students. “Over my time here, I’ve had many students and research assistants, both engineering and law students, and it’s just been rewarding to help them advance their careers and move on towards bigger things. Even if I don’t change the world, I’m helping those who come after me to make good things happen.”