WCL Alum Gear Up for 2021 Law Firm Challenge

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When Vanessa Burrows, WCL/JD ’06, heard about AU Washington College of Law’s first law firm Challenge, she jumped into action. She contacted Simpson Thacher & Bartlett colleagues she knew were WCL graduates then followed up with an email call-out within the firm.

“I got a great response. Then I sent a couple of reminders near the end of the Challenge to let people know that we were close to 100 percent participation of alumni within the firm,” said Burrows, who works in health care law.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and the alumni team from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft collected more than $3,000 each to clock in at first place in the amount of money raised. Burrows’ efforts also helped her team emerge as one of three—along with Bredhoff & Kaiser and Jacobson Burton Kelley—tied for highest alumni participation in the Challenge which, over six weeks, brought in $11,000.

Burrows is gearing up to put her firm in the winners’ circle again during WCL's Second Annual Law Firm Challenge, which kicks-off Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 29, 2021. The Challenge webpage allows alumni to direct gifts to any area of the law school they choose.

Seventeen firms took part in the 2020 Challenge. A weeklong Mini-Challenge in March 2021 raised an additional $9,000.

In the debut Challenge, firms competed in several categories, including highest individual donation. That distinction went to Jason Schwartz, WCL/JD ’09, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

“As chair of the WCL Business Advisory Council, I decided to provide a good example,” said Schwartz, who works in transactional tax law. “There are a few other attorneys at Cadwalader, including at least one partner, who are WCL grads. We recruit from WCL and currently the associate with whom I primarily work is an alum.”

Schwartz directed his donation to the Business Law Program. He underscored the bigger impact of giving to WCL.

“Going to law school is an investment in yourself but also an investment in the school that you ultimately decide to attend. All WCL alumni benefit from WCL continuing to maintain a good reputation,” Schwartz said. “It’s on our resumes forever, so I really want the law school to succeed and to be a feeder to law firms and government positions and other transactional practices.”

Burrows, meanwhile, emerged as second-most generous individual donor among the alumni in the Challenge. She earmarked her philanthropy for health care law.

“WCL didn’t have a health law program when I attended. I was pursuing administrative law,” Burrows explained. “After I graduated, I started working at the Congressional Research Service, with a focus on administrative law and Food and Drug Administration issues. FDA and health regulatory matters became the bedrock of my career.”

Beyond its fundraising goals, the Challenge is designed as a reminder that WCL, well known for its public interest law programs and alumni, also sees about a third of its graduates begin their careers in private practice. It lets WCL highlight firms where its alumni work and helps students know where there are networking opportunities. 

Not all Challenge participants were WCL graduates. Jerry Buckley, an adjunct faculty member at WCL and founder of Buckley LLP, also donated.

“The law firm I happened to found has a very large number of American University law school graduates, including some of our very best lawyers, as partners and attorneys in the firm,” said Buckley, who teaches consumer financial services law. 

Burrows is gearing up for the 2021 Challenge, saying she will build on last year’s momentum to rally her team. Although the Challenge is designed to support the school, she said it had the added bonus of continuing her connection to WCL.

“The relationships I forged at the school are longstanding. I maintain friendships with my law school peers and classmates. And I am grateful for the professors who helped me make decisions that shaped my career trajectory,” she said. “Now I’m able to give back and support current students.”

Check-out the firm rankings, and support the WCL fund of your choice through the Law Firm Challenge!