Life outside of billable hours
As a child, E. Eric Mills accompanied his patent-at-torney father on research trips and looked through
paperwork from the likes of Thomas Edison and
the Wright brothers. The inside look got him
interested in patent law. He became a Coast Guard
reservist for roughly the same reason.
“My dad’s a former Navy guy,” Mills says.
“Around the late ’90s, I was approaching 30 and—
it’s a bit corny—but I just wanted to do my duty.
I picked Coast Guard over Army because I really
enjoy the water and wanted to do other things
besides training for war. I like the Coast Guard’s
role of being more homeland defense.”
Now that Commander (Select) and Judge
Advocate Mills is a patent and trademark attorney
in Raleigh, he mostly serves his “one weekend a
month, two weeks a year” as a legal adviser with
the First District legal office in Boston. “I don’t
get to go out on the patrols anymore—it’s more
administrative,” he says.
But when Mills first joined in 2000, he worked
with the Guard’s operations and engineering units.
“We did search and rescue, drug interdiction,
marine safety and environmental protection,” Mills
says. “Engineering involved shore infrastructure
and—it was right after Katrina—a lot of rebuilding
of Coast Guard stations.”
In 2003, Mills was called into service during the
military out load for the Iraq War. The call came
mere days after Mills and his wife, Tonya, found out
they were going to be parents. But he made it back
just in time for the birth of their son.
When Mills joins his unit in Boston, he’s either
training on different applicable areas of law or
advising commanders in areas like operations law,
the law of the high seas. He also had a role during
the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “There was a lot of
environmental work and property issues, dealing
with the spill and the aftermath of it,” he says.
A high-profile call came in 2015, when Mills as-
sisted in a surge operation to boost security for the
UN General Assembly.
“They had to beef up a command center, and
we had a lot of coordinating with Secret Service,
FBI, New York Police,” Mills says. “While they
have the UN General Assembly every year, this
particular event ended up being a much bigger
deal because you had the pope coming in.”
Mills worked security from the nerve center,
E. Eric Mills
Mission: Protect the Pope
Patent attorney E. Eric Mills discusses his role as a Coast Guard reservist
BY TREVOR KUPFER
packed with people on surveillance monitors, both
in preparation for and execution of the event. Once
he witnessed Pope Francis leave the Lower Man-
hattan helicopter zone for Kennedy International
Airport, Mills knew his mission was accomplished.
“The security presence, operating with all those
20”—at which point he’ll be eligible for retirement
agencies, the buzz, and getting an understanding
of the behind-the-scenes of all of it,” Mills says:
“It’s quite different from my day-to-day job.”
With just three years to go until he hits “his
and other benefits—Mills is giving some thought to
leaving the service.
His schedule as a reservist is flexible enough to
allow him to keep pace with his IP work. “I’ve been
doing it for 17 years now, serving my country and
maintaining my practice, so I’ve gotten pretty good
at it,” he says. “But I also have my family—my wife
and two kids. In October, I have to go to the UK for
my legal job and then fly back to Boston for my
Coast Guard job, and I’ll be missing my son’s 11th
birthday in the meantime. There’s sacrifices.”
While Mills digs the view of Raleigh from his law firm window, this view, of the
security forces necessary to keep the pope safe during a visit to New York, was
pretty cool, too. Mills took the photo as a member of the surge operation to
boost security for the 2015 United Nations General Assembly.