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Finding higher ground.

Byline: Matt Chaney

Imagine climbing along a ridgeline on one of the tallest mountains in the world as 30 mph winds whip around you, with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees below zero and steep drop-offs on either side.

This is the life that Camden environmental attorney, professor, and expedition leader Thomas Mullikin lives. He spoke with South Carolina Lawyers Weekly from his rural office just a week before setting off on his next expedition: A trip to the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal to scout Mount Everest in preparation for a future ascent.

"I want to see how I feel and get the nerves out with the hope and expectation that by 2020 we'll join an expedition to summit Everest," he said.

It's all part of his plan to become the first person known to have ever scuba dived in all five oceans and summited the tallest mountain on each continent. To date, he's already done all the requisite dives while summiting Mount Elbrus in Europe, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, and Mount Aconcagua in South America.

All that remains is Mount Denali in North America, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, and the highest mountain of them all, Everest.

Mullikin, who retired from commanding the South Carolina State Guard earlier this month, said he didn't initially set out to accomplish such lofty individual goals. In actuality, he said, his expeditions began as a result of his law practice.

"I wanted to learn from scientists who were doing work in fragile ecosystems around the world," Mullikin said. "I started climbing these summits to study the recession of glaciers."

In over 32 years of environmental and corporate law practice, Mullikin said he's come to find that there's less difference between people than the social-media-driven public dialogue often assumes.

"There's so much more common ground between industry and communities that people never think about because they run in their narrow lanes," he said. "I believe I've spent my life trying to find that higher ground between environmental sustainability and business, and those two go hand in hand."

Mullikin said that the skills he's gained participating in and leading expeditions has carried over into his law practice.

"Put into the context of my law practice, what I do is help balance resolutions on complex environmental matters," he said. "I can communicate with people left of center and it gives me a perspective I wouldn't have just representing clients It's just a different sort of practice."

Beyond communication, he emphasized the importance of teamwork and focus for success in both the law and in mountaineering.

"On a rope line, you need to trust and understand what the person in front and behind you thinks," he said. "Summiting is very difficult, or at least, it has been for me. But you get confidence from it, and a skill set of being able to focus during stressful times."

Prior to going into private practice, Mullikin served as a senior partner at a national law firm and as a Judge Advocate General Corps officer with the Army Reserve's 12th Legal Support Organization. He also served as an International Legal Officer for the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade. He said it was there that he first began focusing his practice on the environment.

Since then, he's run for state office, advised presidential candidates, and served as vice president of public affairs for an international environmental services company. He's also made documentary films about and lectured on climate change, leading to his being named a fellow in the Explorers Club and a member of the Royal Geographical Society.

While much has changed in his 32 years of practiceMullikin said that the majority of existing environmental law was written in that timehe said he still is just as excited about his work as he's ever been. While looking forward to the next trip, he said he's also looking forward to time spent at home.

"I've traveled all over the world and I've never experienced anything more beautiful than my home state of South Carolina," he said. "I'm looking forward to spending more time in our own outdoors, working to protect that."

Follow Matt Chaney on Twitter @SCLWChaney

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Title Annotation:Camden environmental attorney, professor, and expedition leader Thomas Mullikin
Author:Chaney, Matt
Publication:South Carolina Lawyers Weekly
Article Type:Interview
Date:Dec 19, 2018
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