For Washington, For the World, UW Law is a Force for Change

By Katherine Hedland Hansen

From her office at Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson in downtown Seattle, Ryan Durkan ’81 can look out her window and see how her practice has transformed the city. Durkan has served as land use counsel for projects that changed the skyline and the economy of Seattle, from the State Convention Center over I-5 to the Pacific Place Mall. One of the state’s leading land use and environmental law attorneys, Durkan is a go-to lawyer for major development projects in the Puget Sound area, making sure that development thrives while community concerns are protected.

Across the country, Andrea J. Menaker ’84 serves as counsel in complex international arbitration cases involving contentious political issues and millions of dollars. A partner at White & Case in Washington, D.C., the world’s top-rated international arbitration firm, her work has taken her to Singapore and Paris, London and Abu Dhabi. She has handled huge cases, including representing the Republic of Uzbekistan in a dispute over mines, successfully defeating more than 99 percent of the claimant's $1.3 billion claim.

It’s critical to have a society or a regime in place where the rule of law governs. You need to have confidence that disputes, whether civil or criminal, will be fairly applied. Andrea J. Menaker ’84, White & Case, Washington, D.C.

Greg Simon ’83 has a mission that no one could put a price on. He works to cure cancer as the executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force. He was appointed by Vice President Joe Biden to lead the efforts to make more therapies available to more patients and improve cancer detection.

Durkan, Menaker and Simon are just three of the 8,500–plus alumni of the University of Washington School of Law who show why law matters. As the University of Washington embarks on its most ambitious philanthropic campaign in its history, UW School of Law continues to lead the way in educating lawyers for the global common good.

“Our law school has a pervasive influence on the complex problems of the world,” Dean Kellye Testy said. “We reach broadly, and we reach deeply. Every day, this law school makes a difference from China to Chelan and everywhere in between.”

As a part of the campaign, the University of Washington has established goals centered on transforming the student experience, driving the public good, expanding the UW's global impact and empowering innovation.

Those goals coincide with the law school’s high aspirations. At the heart is a deep belief that law matters and a steadfast dedication to providing leading-edge student experiences that empower students to make a difference in their careers and their communities.

Testy, who this year serves as president of the influential Association of American Law Schools, chose the theme “Why Law Matters” for her presidency, and it’s something she has proudly proclaimed for years.

“Law is often seen too narrowly, and its fundamental role in creating the foundations for human flourishing is insufficiently understood,” Testy said. “Law is a critical partner with every other discipline in effectively addressing societal problems. As our world grapples with increasingly complex social challenges, law is a force for positive change.”

UW Law stands squarely at the center of this conversation. Students, faculty and alumni work with clients around the world on all types of issues. They work for justice at home and abroad, spur economic development, protect the environment, strengthen global health, advance technology, set policy, make laws and advocate for the vulnerable.

In an ever-changing world, a legal education and those trained at UW Law specifically are called to the table for counsel on matters of critical importance. At risk are civil liberties, national security, public health, education and safe communities for families and children. With their education at UW Law, alumni provide a strong bulwark against the erosion of law, moving on to careers in law, diplomacy, human rights, politics and business.

Menaker is but one example of the global reach of UW Law grads. She has extensive experience in matters involving treaty-based claims, international investment protections, public international law, sovereign immunity and the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.

You develop skills and you don’t yet know how they will apply to your career. Ryan Durkan ’81, Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson, Seattle

She represents both claimant investors and respondent states in arbitrations before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the International Chamber of Commerce and other arbitral institutions, as well as in ad hoc arbitration under the Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). 

Menaker's list of achievements includes being one of the Top 250 Women in Litigation, according to Benchmark Litigation, for the last four years. She previously served as chief of the NAFTA Arbitration Division for the U.S. State Department and has worked in countries rife with corruption and no uniform legal standards.

“It’s critical to have a society or a regime in place where the rule of law governs,” Menaker said. “You need to have confidence that law, whether civil or criminal, will be fairly applied.”

Closer to home, Simon has used his legal education to work in different fields, mainly health care. A former pharmaceutical executive and founder of the not-for-profit FasterCures, he is also a cancer survivor. He previously served as an aide to Vice President Al Gore and worked at Poliwogg, a New York-based financial company that works to increase investment in health care. When President Obama put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the cancer initiative, Biden turned to Simon.

“With his amazing breadth of experience, both in the public and private sector, he will bring an invaluable knowledge of the health care landscape to the task force,” Biden said in a statement.

Like Simon, Durkan could not have predicted where her law degree would take her. She had not planned to go into land use, but she has excelled and said her law school education helped her navigate a practice area that was emerging as she began. Students considering or entering law school don’t have to know exactly what they want to do with their law degrees.

“You develop skills and you don’t yet know how they will apply to your career,” Durkan said. “The skill sets translate so well to other careers and practice areas.”

Land use decisions are about much more than permits and plans. Developers and their counsel consider constitutional issues, environmental impacts, social justice issues and even technological impacts as they go through the process, Durkan said. 

In addition to the downtown projects, she has represented Amazon on its multi-block office developments in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, permitted the redevelopment of Seattle's Union Station for over one million square feet of office space including a rezone and serves as land use counsel to the University of Washington.

A recipient of the 2015 University of Washington Law Review Distinguished Alumni Award, she has chaired the WSBA’s Environmental Land Use section and the state’s Land Use Study Commission.

“To me laws and rules are everything,” Durkan said. “Rules are the constant that protect us in changing times, and we certainly are experiencing changing times now.”

In addition to her land use and environmental work, Durkan is passionate about education and opening doors to all students to earn a degree.

Our law school has a pervasive influence on the complex problems of the world. We reach broadly, and we reach deeply. Dean Kellye Y. Testy

“I believe education has the power to change lives,” said Durkan, who also serves on the Board of Regents for Washington State University, where she earned her undergraduate degree. “And I strongly believe in the importance of public education. We have a chance to transform lives and give everyone an opportunity for equal access.”

While there admittedly remain many gaps in access, in terms of education, wealth, equal justice and other societal ills, Testy has boundless optimism that the education UW Law provides will continue to narrow those gaps.

“Our graduates make a difference every day on matters of great importance to our community and the world,” she said. “They prove why law matters and why UW Law matters.”