“Sometimes it seems like all the statistics are against me succeeding in life. But I’m not a statistic. I’m a role model,” said Lynnyetta Keller in her video submission on the theme of Black Excellence. The video garnered her the spot as commencement speaker for the campus-wide Black student graduation at the University of Washington (UW) in 2016.

Keller (B.A. ‘11, J.D. ’16) is a “Double Dawg,” co-founder of three companies and a practicing attorney. All told, she is a formidable example of what a person with innate intelligence and drive can achieve with unconditional support from family, mentors and a UW education.

Keller got pregnant her senior year of high school and attended Bellevue College following the birth of her son Jaylyn. She had a personal epiphany when she transferred to UW on a full-ride Husky Promise scholarship. “At that point, I knew that I could do anything,” she said — and she hasn’t stopped since.

Now an associate attorney at Perkins Coie LLP working on technology transactions, Keller graduated in 2011 from the UW Foster School of Business and completed her J.D. degree in 2016 from UW Law.

Her ties to UW run deep: Keller hails from a family tree of Husky legends. Her cousin, Greg Lewis ‘93, was running back for the Washington Huskies with All-American honors, later playing for the Denver Broncos. Her uncle George Fleming ‘64, former Washington State Senator and civil rights leader, helped the Huskies secure back-to-back Rose Bowl wins in 1960 and 1961.

Lynnyetta with Jalyn at her undergraduate graduation.

After graduating from Foster with her bachelor’s degree in business, Keller took a job in contract management at Republic Services, a waste recycling and waste disposal services company, following her marketing internship there. At Republic, local employees (not attorneys) across different cities worked on contracts, so Keller developed strong negotiation and relationship-building skills by working for a Municipal Relationship Manager. Her current role as a technology transactions attorney at Perkins Coie builds on those experiences in contract management.

From Matlock to Law Schools in Spokane and Seattle

Growing up in Seattle, Keller watched the legal drama series, Matlock, on television with her maternal grandmother, a pastime that influenced her aspirations to become a lawyer. Keller credits her mother, a teacher, for her warmth and encouragement, and her father, a patient educator, for always pushing her to work hard. Her father instilled in her the work ethic to pursue her goals, even giving her Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) exams to practice when she was in junior high school.

“My dad believes that [in order to achieve] anything we want, we need to work hard towards it every day,” Keller recalls. He follows Keller’s career closely and continues to encourage her to strive daily toward excellence. “My dad is still very strict. He will call me and ask about my billables [at the firm], remind me that I signed up for all of this and ask, ‘What are you doing to make sure you're staying on your chosen path?’ He reminds me not to rely on the firm’s partners to give me work and just asked me today, ‘Have you reached out to any of your clients that you've worked with before?’”

With experience in contract management and a keen interest in transactions, Keller headed to Spokane on a second full-ride scholarship to the Gonzaga University School of Law. Upon arrival, she discovered that she was one of only two Black students in the entire school, something she describes as a lonely experience (though she still maintains contact with friends from Gonzaga). Her parents kept her son in Seattle so Keller could focus on her legal studies, but by the end of the year, she decided to return to Seattle and the UW.

Jaylyn was in second grade when his mother transferred to UW Law in 2014. He is now the eldest of five children — which today include twin boys, a little girl and a baby boy.

A New Season for Extracurriculars and Study Abroad

With a young child at home during Keller’s undergraduate years, she did not have the traditional college experience. She and Jaylyn lived at home with her parents and Keller did not take student leadership roles.

“In my undergrad years, I was somewhat of a hermit who went to class, went to work and went back home to Jaylyn. I didn’t want my parents to think that I was taking advantage of them watching Jaylyn, so that I could pursue my dreams. But in law school, I became more intentional,” she says. “I wanted to have a different experience and get involved in everything I could.”

Keller joined five student boards, which included roles as transfer student representative to the Student Bar Association (SBA), 3L liaison to the Women’s Law Caucus and board member of UW Law Parents Attending Law School (PALS). She also served as Journal Chair/Editor-in-Chief of the Education Law and Policy Society.

Deeper extracurricular involvement was also possible at UW Law because Keller was allowed to integrate her son, who was in primary school at the time, into her educational experiences.

Keller and Jaylyn moved into UW graduate student housing at Blakeley Village, where they made friends among other students who lived there with their families.

“I read Jaylyn my legal cases as bedtime stories, because that way I could do my reading for class and tuck him in with a story,” she remembers.

One day in Professor Hugh Spitzer’s Constitutional Law class, Jaylyn raised his hand with a question about a legal case that impressed the classroom. “Professor Spitzer asked if anyone had questions and Jaylyn had one,” Keller remembers, adding, “It’s amazing how many of my classmates and professors still remember Jaylyn and ask about him.”

“Wow. I sure do remember Jaylyn!” said Professor Spitzer in an e-mail. “Does he have his Ph.D. yet? He’s one bright kid!”

Keller also fondly recalls traveling with Jaylyn, her mother, and younger sister to Rome, Italy with UW Law professors Anita Ramasastry and Walter Walsh for a UW program that brought together undergraduates and law students called LSJ Italy: Comparative Law & Politics in Rome. Students and faculty visited with attorneys, academics, government officials and NGOs based in Italy.

Jalyn in Italy. 

“I remember asking for permission to bring my son, which had never been requested before, but Professor Ramasastry helped me find a way to make it work, and even brought her family as well,” Keller recalls. “I was able to find private housing with my son and I brought him to classes. He learned Italian and was fully a part of the program — everyone in Italy loved him.”

Keller’s inquiry opened doors for both her and her family, giving her exposure to Italian law and politics and extending an unforgettable cultural experience to her son. “A lot of people don't know that they really can do these things unless they ask,” she said.

Formative Experiences and Mentors

Keller’s identity as a black law student was formative in her years at UW Law. In her 3L year, Keller became co-president of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA). “We were really trying to build the BLSA and grow it even more,” she says, remembering outreach efforts to Black law students that she and others could identify. That year, BLSA sent a team to a moot court tournament at the BLSA regional conference in San Diego, California.

As a law student, Keller worked for two judges: Judge Madeline Haikala of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama and Chief Justice Stephen González of the Washington Supreme Court.

Lynyetta Keller with Jalyn and Chief Justice Gonzalez

Through the Just the Beginning Foundation, a pipeline organization which offers programs to underrepresented students intended to inspire careers in the legal profession and judiciary, Keller landed two externships and a federal clerkship. 

After law school, Keller clerked for Judge Victoria A. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, with whom she found favor. Keller remembers the selection process in Washington, D.C., where 12 judges congregated from around the country to interview and hand-pick candidates.

“It was important for all Judge Roberts’ clerks to have a story that resonated with her, much more than high grades or that they worked on the law review,” Keller says. “I had been told that securing a federal clerkship would be rare,  but she opens doors that would typically not be accessible.”

That personal touch in the selection process made for a “tight-knit family” atmosphere among the court staff, including with the judge herself, who has become Keller’s mentor and family friend.

Lynnyetta Keller with Judge Victoria Roberts and husband Dominic Harris

It was Judge Roberts who picked Keller up from the hospital after an emergency surgery, took her home and nursed her back to health. In 2022, Judge Roberts officiated Keller’s wedding to husband Dominic Harris in Cancún, Mexico.

“I’m always amazed by her,” Keller says. “I named my daughter, Cali Victoria, after Judge Roberts, following my mother’s tradition of naming a daughter after someone that personally means the world to me and is the epitome of the woman I want my daughter to become.”

Looking Toward the Future — and Reaching Back

After graduating from UW Law, Keller stayed in Detroit for a couple years as associate attorney for a firm. In 2019, she came back to Seattle and joined Lane Powell as an associate attorney. Keller credits her year-long role as seconded attorney at Microsoft for landing her an associate attorney role at Perkins Coie, where she practices technology transactions and privacy law.

Lynnyetta Keller with her family

With a bustling family of seven in Newcastle, Keller believes she’s now arrived at a realm of personal stability where she can focus on her career. Along with her sister and husband, she flexes her entrepreneurial side as the co-owner of three businesses centered on apparel, printing and cosmetics. Keller is an active UW Law alumna, frequently appearing on panels for Diversity Week, New Student Orientation and judicial clerkships.

“I had mentors who were so helpful to me that it is important to give back,” she says. “I needed help to get to where I’m at, so it’s important for me to help others achieve their dreams and be a resource by investing my time in students who are the future.”

“One of my greatest mentors is [General Counsel for Sound Transit] Desmond Brown. When I was a 1L summer associate at Sound Transit, Desmond pushed me to be a better writer and encouraged me to dream big,” Keller recalls. He is the reason why I applied for a federal clerkship. He let me know that it was attainable.”

She is excited about the 125th anniversary of UW Law in the 2024–2025 academic year and the opportunity to recruit more diverse attorneys to law firms. “The pipeline really starts at the undergraduate level, maybe even high school,” Keller said. “I think reaching students in diverse clubs is a good start. Students need coaching to figure out what they love, major in anything, get great grades and take an LSAT prep course, if possible, for the best chances of success.”

Her advice to current law students comes readily. “If there’s a board with no students of color, get involved. Get to know your professors and go to office hours. Even with people who look like you but may not mesh personally, ask to forge connections with alumni or friends of the school. Build your own sense of community.”

As for Jaylyn, he’s now in high school with aspirations of becoming a professional athlete, similar to some members of his family tree. If he needs to pivot from that path, engineering and law school are on the short list. He and his siblings have a strong role model in their mother.

“I’m living proof that perseverance is the key to success,” Keller said in her 2016 video submission, in a voice resonating with a self-assuredness that comes from the power of resilience. “‘Black excellence’ is not letting others dictate your life but striving to make a difference. It’s paving the way for others to achieve their goals and dreams. It’s embracing the skin that you’re in. I’m proud to be a Black woman — and excellent.”