In 2019-20, the University of Washington School of Law bid farewell to five retiring members of its community.

In celebration of their impacts on the legal community and countless students, learn about Helen Anderson, Robert Anderson, Jacqueline McMurtrie, Cheryl Nyberg and Lea Vaughn as share their stories and reflect back on their many years at UW Law.

Helen Anderson

Helen Anderson

Professor of Law

Part of the instructor’s job is to get students used to critiques and revisions. There’s no room for sensitive ego.

When Helen Anderson taught her first class at the UW School of Law in 1994, she typed up her syllabus, made copies and distributed them to students on the first day.

Today, her skill set as a law professor has expanded to include video curator, website content strategist and PowerPoint designer. More recently, she added online course provider to the list in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In short, yes, a lot has changed in 26 years.

Anderson grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. Nearly every summer, she and her family visited Seattle where her father’s family lived. With a history degree from Minnesota’s Carleton College, she moved to Seattle where a friend encouraged her to explore the law.

“I enjoyed studying and was good at writing,” she says, “so it seemed like a good fit.”

After graduating from UW Law in 1984, Anderson clerked for a state court of appeals judge and discovered an affinity for appellate criminal law.

“Their stories were compelling,” she says, “and the stakes were so high. A lot of writing and research precede a courtroom appearance, and I enjoyed the oral arguments. It was the right mix of research and human interaction for me.”

Years later, Anderson still thinks about the cases she argued and individuals she represented.

“When you prepare an appeal, you read the transcript to see what they’ve done and then you meet them,” she says. “The trial transcript and the actual person often paint very different pictures.  I think of all my accomplishments — having children, getting tenure — and then I think about some of my clients still living out life sentences. It’s sobering.”

When Anderson joined UW Law, her former professors became her colleagues. “It was a bit intimidating at first,” she says. “There were also very few women in the tenure track when I started, but that has changed.”

During her first years, she taught the first-year legal writing class. She eventually created and taught a persuasive writing course, which is still very much in demand.

“Both writing classes are hard to teach,” Anderson says. “You spend a lot of time going over student writing to see how they can better frame their points for maximum impact. You work closely with each student. A big part of the instructor’s job is to get students used to critiques and revisions. There’s no room for sensitive ego.”

Besides legal writing, Anderson teaches and writes about criminal law and procedure. Her final class is first-year criminal law. In addition, she is an editor and contributing author of the Washington State Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Deskbook and a founding member of the Washington Appellate Lawyers Association.

Transitioning to online instruction was not the way Anderson envisioned ending her teaching career, but it is one more challenge that she — and the law school — successfully tackled head on.

“Academia usually moves so slowly,” she says, “but the school moved to all-virtual classrooms in just a few days. I’m incredibly proud of our dean and the school leadership for their quick actions.”

She had hoped to be doing a lot of traveling when she retires in June, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, she’ll be bicycling or hiking with her husband, Howard Goodfriend — a member of UW Law’s Class of 1984 — and trying to learn Spanish. 

Bob Anderson

Robert Anderson

Charles I. Stone Professor of Law
Director, Native American Law Center

Being in the classroom and being able to teach the students who are really interested, helping them with papers and articles, and most importantly, helping them get jobs — those interactions just can’t be beat, and that has been the most rewarding for sure.

Over his distinguished career at the vanguard of American Indian law, Professor Robert Anderson has helped reshape a field that today is bigger and more complex than ever.

With his retirement from the UW this spring, Anderson adds another milestone to his legacy — one defined by leadership in the federal government, in academia and as a mentor to countless students.

“I’m so happy about the time I have spent here,” Anderson says. “The UW gave me a lot, and I think I have given back as much. After 19 years in practice and government service, and the next 19 years at UW Law, it’s time for a new chapter.”

When Anderson began practicing Indian law in the early ‘80s, he knew, or could name, just about every lawyer in the field.

Those days are long gone. Today, Indian law garners immense respect within the mainstream legal establishment, and from Seattle to Washington, D.C., multifold firms operate specialized Indian law units — something unheard of when Anderson started out.

Much of this progress can, in no small way, be attributed to the work he has been a part of over his career. Among his years with a law firm, two presidential administrations and top U.S. law schools, Anderson has approached issues facing Indigenous and marginalized populations from a multitude of angles.

“I was grateful being a professor because it helped from a neutral standpoint in giving advice to political candidates,” Anderson says. “The flipside is how much students appreciate how I can relate to the practical knowledge of what happens in practice. So, it has been a really great cross-fertilization of practice, academia and teaching that has been so mutually beneficial.”

Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Anderson experienced a groundswell of activism around Native American and Indigenous rights issues. Anderson, who is a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, knew he wanted to focus his efforts in this space early on. When he graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, he headed to Alaska by way of Colorado to practice as senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund.

His career trajectory changed in 1995 when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt appointed Anderson to serve in the Department of the Interior in the Clinton Administration. He started as associate solicitor for Indian affairs before moving to counselor to the secretary of the interior, a position he held until 2000. He would eventually return to D.C. in 2008 as part of President Obama’s transition team, in which he was instrumental in shaping the Department of the Interior agenda for the new administration.

Upon leaving the Clinton Administration, Anderson moved to Seattle to teach at UW Law. He would go on to succeed the late Ralph Johnson, who founded and directed the UW Native American Law Center (NALC) for 44 years. UW Law the first law school in the country to offer a course in American Indian law, and the Native American Law Center was firmly established at the time Anderson joined the law school.

“Indian law really became a mainstay of the curriculum,” Anderson says. “I loved being in the classroom with the students. UW Law is renowned for great teaching, and professors have really worked hard to make sure we're delivering a stimulating intellectual product to students while also preparing students for practice.”

Anderson also worked to bring Indian law issues into his popular classes in water, public land and first-year property law, and under his leadership, the Native American Law Center grew into an even greater network of scholars, practitioners. Today, it is a nationally recognized model for law schools across the country.

Anderson says he is especially pleased with the role he and the center played in a substantial number of federal court amicus briefs. Perhaps even more significant and lasting was low-profile work with tribal government leaders, tribal attorneys and others to advance tribal rights and understanding of federal Indian law. The annual UW Law Indian Law Symposium, now in its 33rd year, became an extremely well-attended conference and features prominent national and local attorneys, scholars and policymakers.

Anderson is leaving the UW but not Indian law altogether. Now in his 12th year as a visiting professor at Harvard, he plans to continue his scholarship work and will teach in some capacity at other law schools.

As he sets sights on what’s ahead, Anderson reflects fondly on the work he has done with students who have grown into the next generation of leaders at a time when there is still so much work to be done.

“I have been fortunate to have so many research assistants and friends among the students who have gone on to do really great things, and that was one of the things I loved the most about the UW,” he says.

“Being in the classroom and being able to teach the students who are really interested, helping them with papers and articles, and most importantly, helping them get jobs — those interactions just can’t be beat, and that has been the most rewarding for sure.”

Jacqueline McMurtrie

Jacqueline McMurtrie

Betts, Patterson and Mines Professor of Law
Clinic Faculty Director, Washington Innocence Project

These are incredible students who come to our law school, and we're just so fortunate to be able to work with them and launch them into these careers where they've undertaken and fought for reforms and changes around the world.

As a public defender, Jacqueline McMurtrie saw the cracks in the criminal justice system. She understood how legal professionals could make mistakes. Most importantly, she knew people were behind bars who didn’t deserve to be.

These experiences stuck with McMurtrie as she transitioned to legal education, where she continued to seek justice for the innocent. Now thirty years later, she retires as the architect of one of the most important experiential education efforts ever founded — and as a beloved educator who impacted the lives of countless students.

“I feel lucky to have been part of so many students’ lives,” McMurtrie says. “These are incredible students who come to our law school, and we're just so fortunate to be able to work with them and launch them into these careers where they've undertaken and fought for reforms and changes around the world.”

Hailing from Midland, Michigan, McMurtrie earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan before taking a job as a public defender in Seattle. She quickly fell in love with both the Pacific Northwest and her work with clients who had few other avenues to pursue.

McMurtrie was drawn more to behind-the-scenes work rather than the courtroom. In 1989 after seven years as public defender, McMurtrie felt the call to teach.

When she joined UW Law to teach the Criminal Law Clinic on a one-year contract, the educational landscape was vastly different. For starters, she was one of a select few women teaching in law school. Furthermore, legal clinics were just starting to creep into law schools, with UW Law being one of the earliest to prioritize the program.

“Certainly the rise in the recognition of the importance of clinical legal education is something that has been very meaningful and powerful for me, because whatever clinic a student is in, you will hear them say it's the best experience they had in their law school career because it brings together the theory and puts it into practice,” she says.

McMurtrie parlayed her initial appointment into a senior lecturer position before hitting the tenure track. She continued to grow the Criminal Law Clinic before founding what would become one of the biggest parts of her legacy, the Washington Innocence Project.

Formerly Innocence Project Northwest, the project was one of just three in the country at the time dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners, remedying causes of wrongful conviction and providing hands-on legal work for students.

Since its beginnings as a volunteer effort in 1997, it soon evolved into a clinic and then a statewide nonprofit. Years later, McMurtrie served as a founding member of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of nearly 70 organizations from all over the world performing innocence work.

To date, the Washington Innocence Project has exonerated 15 individuals who collectively served more than 100 years in prison.

“Back in 1997, I don't think anyone actually realized the extent of the problem of wrongful convictions,” McMurtrie says. “I've been really fortunate to be in at the beginning to watch the movement grow throughout the United States and the world as people start looking at errors in our convictions, helping innocent people get out of prison and engaging in reform.”

For her pioneering work as an educator and champion of criminal justice reform, McMurtrie has amassed a wealth of accolades: She received the University of Washington Outstanding Public Service Award in 2012; The ACLU of Washington bestowed its highest honor, the William O. Douglas Award, upon her in 2013; In 2019, the UW honored her with the University Faculty Lecture Award, which recognizes faculty whose achievements have had a substantial impact on their profession and society as a whole.

The praise is all well and good, McMurtrie says, but at her core, her proudest accomplishments have been helping students blossom into the next generation of legal professionals on the frontlines of the fight against injustice.

“Even though I've been doing this work for more than 30 years, there's so much more left to be done,” she says. “We have a system that is in dire need of reform because of overincarceration and disproportionate treatment of people of color, and those issues need to be squarely addressed.

“I'll still be involved in advocating for those individuals, and I’ll also take time to do the other things that I love to do: Traveling, cooking, reading, spending time with family and friends, working in the garden — and, of course, continuing to watch the incredible work of my students as they move forward into their careers.”

Cheryl Nyberg

Cheryl Nyberg

Librarian, Digital Initiatives

Reading was my passion. It made a difference in my life and I’d like to pass along that value to the next generation.

A love of reading and several enthusiastic mentors helped Cheryl Nyberg find her path in life as a law librarian. In fact, it was such a good fit that Nyberg has spent more than 40 years in the field, including 25 years at UW Law’s Marian Gould Gallagher Law Library. She retired in March.

As a freshman English major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Nyberg needed a job. Two were available: washing test tubes and other lab equipment or working in the law library. She chose the library, where she was mentored by Robert C. Berring, a national leader in law librarianship.

She discovered she had an aptitude for information sciences and went on to pursue a graduate degree. While working as a graduate assistant in the library’s circulation department, Nyberg was surrounded by several “creative, productive and excellent role models,” she says.

With a master’s in library science in hand, Nyberg began her career as an assistant law librarian, first at the University of Kentucky Law Library and then at the University of Illinois. In 1995, she joined the Gallagher Law Library as a reference librarian, helping not only faculty, staff and students but also the general public.

“We often have people walk in off the streets,” she says. “Maybe they are writing their own wills or feel discriminated against and want to see what their rights are. Over the years, the variety of questions I got helped me improve my information-retrieval skills.”

In 2017, Nyberg became a digital initiatives librarian and administrator for UW Law’s new Digital Commons, an open-source platform that makes digital resources available without a paywall.

In the past, law firms and court libraries relied on expensive subscription services, such as WestLaw and Lexis-Nexis, but these are generally not available to the public. The open-source movement provides outstanding legal scholarship to all users at no cost. From June 2017 to March 2020, more than 6,700 items were posted on the UW Law Digital Commons with more than 104,000 downloads.

Nyberg’s expertise in information retrieval has reached beyond campus. She was an expert witness in U.S. District Court on the ease of finding bomb-making instructions online, and she also testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on a Government Printing Office project.

With retirement ahead, Nyberg still plans to remain active in the field. Since 1986, she has been the sole author of the annotated bibliography series Subject Compilation of State Laws. This comprehensive reference source, which is released annually, identifies state laws on different subjects and how they vary. The series has more than thirty volumes to date, and in 2009, the database version received HeinOnline’s AALL Best New Product Award.

Of course, law research won’t take up all her days. She recently completed training to be a foster mom for cats and kittens, and she will also volunteer at a local literacy program — a continuation of a lifelong passion that led to a long, rewarding career.

“I was one of six kids growing up in central Illinois and the only one to go to college,” Nyberg says, “Reading was my passion. It made a difference in my life and I’d like to pass along that value to the next generation.”

Lea Vaughn

Lea Vaughn

Professor Emerita of Law

As she finished her last year at Princeton, Lea Vaughn considered going for a graduate degree in education and moral development. Thankfully for hundreds of her future law students, her mentors convinced her otherwise.

Vaughn is part of a bridge generation of sorts, one in which women raised with traditional expectations went on to become doctors, lawyers and leaders in other prestigious professions. At Princeton, she was surrounded by inspiring women whom she looked up to, and when they encouraged her to buck gender stereotypes and pursue law, she listened.

In spite of — or, perhaps, because of — the barriers she faced as a mixed-race woman in a field dominated by white men, Vaughn went on to serve 35 years as a one of UW Law’s most celebrated educators and scholars. She retired in June 2019.

“My dad raised me to engage in service, and I have always tried to integrate those ethics into my career,” Vaughn says. “I truly believe that academic research should be public and accessible to all people, and as an educator, you need to be of service to others.”

Vaughn is a third-generation Seattleite through and through, now living a block from her mother’s family’s home in Sunset Hill. She grew up on Capitol Hill and learned to swim in Lake Washington. Her father worked as a riveter at Boeing before attending the UW for engineering school, although as an African American with a college degree, he had faced years of discrimination before coming to Boeing.

In 1968, Vaughn found herself on the frontlines of the state’s integration efforts as part of Seattle’s first voluntary bussing program. The experience was difficult to say the least — “I had some people say some pretty unimaginable things,” she says — but proved formative as she forged lifelong friendships and took an interest in philosophy and literature.

If Vaughn’s deep ties to the Pacific Northwest shaped her into the legal professional she is today, her experiences at college were equally as important.

Vaughn earned a concurrent secondary teaching certificate while completing her undergraduate degree at Princeton, and she got her first taste of teaching as a student-teacher for seventh grade. She would carry the hands-on approach into her career in legal education, which began when she enrolled in the University of Michigan School of Law.

It was not a great experience. She found the teaching style unnatural, and she often felt alone and alienated in a profession where minority women like herself were disproportionally underrepresented. To Michigan’s credit, she says, it had a very strong minority admissions program.

“I just remember how difficult law school was for me then, and I swore to myself to not have students in my class go through what I was going through,” Vaughn says.

It didn’t get easier when she began practicing. Still, she knew she had found her calling in labor law and employment relations, specifically working on behalf of unions, and she dedicated herself fully to her work.

“Labor law was amazing, and it all just clicked for me,” Vaughn says. “On the union side, you’re thrown into it the minute after you pass the bar, and I was doing pretrial and motion work barely a couple months after starting my job.”

After a few years, Vaughn took a job as assistant dean for student affairs at what is now the Detroit-Mercy School of Law. She says in addition to the challenges of balancing academic work, she felt added pressures given how few teachers there were in the legal field like her. That, of course, did not dissuade her from forging her own path.

In 1984, Vaughn returned to Seattle to teach at UW Law, and by 1991, she was a tenured full professor who had established herself as an influential advocate for her colleagues.

In 1999, University President Richard McCormick appointed her to serve for six years as secretary of the faculty for all three UW campuses, and in 2007, she became associate dean for faculty development at the law school. She accomplished all this and more while teaching a full course load, raising a family and helping students nurture their own passions for labor law. In the past ten years, she has explored the relationship between law and neuroscience.

Vaughn is the archetype of a scholar whose life experiences and ethics shape their lifelong work — and vice versa. She made it a priority to pass on the same ethical standards her father instilled in her to the myriad students whose lives she has impacted over her 40 years in academia.

As she begins the next chapter in her life, her connections with students remain among her proudest accomplishments.

“I tell students to practice the mirror test every day: Can you look in the mirror, think about what you have done or are doing, and be happy with yourself?” Vaughn says. “Hearing from former students, continuing those relationships and seeing what they end up doing and where they go — that is just something that is so incredibly rewarding, and that’s all on them. But I like to think here and there I made a difference.”