Jason Kanner (WCL '97)

Alumni Can Help Boost WCL

Jason Kanner, SPA/BA ’94, WCL/JD ’97, is a high-profile finance lawyer and senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. He credits American University Washington College of Law for putting him in classrooms with exceptional faculty, helping him to understand the wide range of jobs in the legal field, and giving him the education that carried him to a job he loves.

“I got an excellent legal education at WCL. My professors were amazing,” Kanner recalled. “Jamie Raskin was one of my favorite professors and today I see him on TV teaching some of the same lessons to Congress. Ken Anderson had just started teaching and was my corporate finance professor. He was the first person to explain to me what a corporate lawyer practically did. He brought his experience at Sullivan & Cromwell and working for George Soros to the classroom in a way that very few professors did.”

Kanner now has over 25 years of experience advising major investment firms, among them The Carlyle Group, TPG, Warburg Pincus, HIG, Nordic Capital, L Catterton and numerous other high-profile private equity groups, as well as major corporations like Charter Communications, Stubhub, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Camping World, Birkenstock, and Univar Solutions. He has advised on financing transactions well in excess of $100 billion during that time.

Kanner gives high marks to Dean Roger A. Fairfax Jr. and is optimistic that the dean’s leadership will provide AUWCL’s business law program the boost it deserves to continue to rise in the rankings. He believes alumni can also play a strategic role in helping the school advance.

Kanner said alumni can elevate the school’s reputation by ensuring that skilled students graduate from WCL and go on to top jobs in a range of law specialties. To back up that reasoning, he has made a generous $100,000 gift to support the school’s business law program. The philanthropy covers a scholarship for a business law student and some operational funding for the business law program.

He said he hopes the gift will spark other alumni to follow with significant scholarship support of their own. 

Kanner sees his gift as a way to set talented students on a pathway toward high-paying jobs in corporate law, an area of strength that is often overshadowed by WCL’s better-known reputation for public interest law. In offsetting the “super insane” cost of a law degree, Kanner said scholarships can also lead to a more diverse student body.

Kanner enrolled at WCL because he was considering a career in politics, lobbying, or “something related to life in and around D.C. and government.” Regardless of what he decided, he saw a law degree as a step in the right direction. He worked for a judge after his first year of law school and then, in trying to identify the area of law that best suited him, he looked for experience with large law firms in New York.

“I did some litigation and then I did some corporate deal work. I decided I liked working on deals, negotiating and advising on complex business transactions” he said.  Kanner started his career in the New York office of Mayer Brown, in it finance group, largely representing banks.  Shortly after making partner, he moved over to the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis to help start the finance practicewhere he remains today.

At the time Kanner enrolled at WCL, the school was recognized for both business law and public interest law education. Kanner’s course load—mergers and acquisitions, securities regulation, banking, corporate finance—included classes taught by prestigious practitioners. He said it is time for WCL to reclaim its distinction in business law.

“I don’t think American University, for example, is feeding enough people into the New York legal system, into the leading firms,” he said. If the school can trigger more high-profile job placements, the rankings will rise, he predicted. Even better if those new lawyers bring more diversity to corporate law.

“People working in law firms at my level largely look just like me, and they shouldn’t,” Kanner said. “My law firm is working very hard to change that, and our first-year associate classes don’t look like the first-year associate classes of the past. They’re much more diverse and, frankly, much more talented and experienced.

“But we need to do more through our law schools to build a diverse talent pool,” he added. “It would be amazing if alumni could help make that happen. Open up your wallets folks, let’s all pitch in.”

Open opportunities and advance the aspirations of a new generation of talented students by supporting scholarships at WCL.