GW Law on the Move

May 22, 2023

Dean Matthew with 2022-2023 new faculty members

By Mary Dempsey

GW LAW HAS BEGUN A HIGH-IMPACT buildout of its faculty, adding new tenure-track professors, expanding the full-time faculty in its standout Fundamentals of Lawyering Program, and bringing on three new assistant deans in influential areas of legal education. Since her arrival at GW Law in 2020, Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew has announced five new endowed professorships, a pivotal tool in attracting and retaining top-level scholars.

“A law school is as strong as its faculty. Faculty is what draws students, builds reputational strength, and attracts the attention of the kind of judges and lawyers that recruit graduates,” says Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew. “GW is attracting the best new scholars to continue its historical strength as a home for intellectual giants in the legal academy. Our newest faculty members match our history of great classroom teachers and our vision for a tightly knit scholarly community.”

“We are hiring faculty because we are on the move.”

The dean says the new tenure-track doctrinal faculty—Associate Professors Heidi Liu, Kathryne Young, and Tania Valdez—will advance GW Law’s research agenda, inform national policy, “and inspire students in the classroom.”

"GW is attracting the best new scholars to continue its historical strength as a home for intellectual giants in the legal academy."

Dayna Bowen Matthew
GW Law Dean and GW Law Dean and Harold H. Greene Professor of Law


“These are excellent scholars who have the ability to influence the direction of a field of study and still have impact on the ground,” Matthew says.

Liu conducts empirical research into what she calls “forbidden information” in the law, or occasions when legal decision-makers have access to information they should not know or apply. As examples, she points to jurors who hear testimony they are instructed to disregard or employers who are told to turn a blind eye to demographic details they already know.

Left to Right - Tania Valdez, Katie Young, Heidi Liu

“There’s a long legacy at GW Law of research that impacts policy,” Liu says. “I’m excited for the opportunity to learn from colleagues who are at the forefront of law and policy conversations and who are deeply engaged with the real-world impact of their work.”

She adds that she’s eager to have students work with her on her research.

Young, meanwhile, joined GW Law in 2022 to teach criminal law and procedure, access to justice, the sociology of law, and 

evidence and professional responsibility. She is an associate editor of Law & Society Review and secretary-elect of the Law and Society Association. In 2020–2021, the American Bar Foundation named her an ABF/JPB Access to Justice Scholar.

“Lawyers have the potential to increase economic and social equality by understanding that they are not merely cogs in a legal machine, but crucial members of an enormous ecosystem of legal issues—only a small slice of which end up making it to formal legal resolution,” Young says. “Understanding this broader context of legal practice can give rise to new collaborations, innovative designs for justice provision, and the just resolution of a broader swath of legal problems.”

Young looks at civil justice problems and a combination of factors—from employment and housing to age, gender, and class—to see how they affect people’s experiences with the law. She is also the author of How to Be Sort of Happy in Law School, which is standard reading at dozens of law schools across the country.

The third new tenure-track faculty member, Tania Valdez, is an immigration scholar who has focused on noncitizens’ interactions with administrative agencies and federal courts, with a lens on the differences in procedural and substantive protections offered to immigrants. She joined GW from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where she led the Immigration Law and Policy Clinic and supervised law students appearing before the immigration agencies, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Valdez’s scholarship has been published in the Notre Dame Law Review and the Washington University Law Review.

She began her legal career as a clinical instructor at Berkeley Law’s East Bay Community Law Center. She later served as a staff attorney for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, clerked for Judge Kristen Mix at the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, and litigated civil rights cases at a boutique law firm in Denver.

Fundamentals of Lawyering Distinguishes GW Among Law Schools

Ten full-time faculty members also joined the innovative Fundamentals of Lawyering Program in the fall, solidifying the centerpiece of the most significant reform of the law school’s first-year curriculum in a generation. With these hires, the program stands as a leader in the legal academy and a model for other schools who wish to train “practice-ready” lawyers beginning on the first day of law school.

Associate Professor Brooke Ellinwood McDonough, like some other new permanent hires, had already been teaching as a visiting faculty member in the program.

Right to Left - Robert Parrish, Robin Juni, Cori Alonso-Yoder, Brooke McDonough, Jennifer Pusateri, Leslie Callahan

She says Fundamentals of Lawyering, which has drawn the attention of other law schools, is “revolutionary in its focus on developing lawyers who can hit the ground running and be practice ready after graduation.”

“Our focus on developing the practical skills necessary to represent clients is unique to GW Law. It’s our response to the simple fact that legal employers expect more from law students these days, and it enables GW Law to differentiate its graduates from those of other law schools,” says McDonough, who received her undergraduate and law degrees from GW.

The program concentrates on students’ professional identity formation, instilling the core competencies that prepare them to excel when they graduate. GW Law’s approach supplants the outdated Legal Research and Writing Program model taught by part-time faculty, and it dovetails with GW Law’s award-winning Inns of Court Program, which puts students in contact with advisers who help them develop their careers.

Fundamentals of Lawyering assigns students to small cohorts that engage in legal work for a fictional company. Not only do students build experiential learning, but professors in the program bring their experience from work in private practice, government agencies, and nonprofits to help students think through their career aspirations.

“The Fundamentals of Lawyering faculty focus on leadership and professional identity formation. That focus and our concentration on individualized skill and value building is putting us ahead of the academy,” Matthew says. Brooke Ellinwood McDonough

"Our focus on developing the practical skills necessary to represent clients is unique to GW Law. It’s our response to the simple fact that legal employers expect more from law students these days, and it enables GW Law to differentiate its graduates from those of other law schools."

Brooke Ellinwood McDonough
Associate Professor of Fundamentals of Lawyering

The new faculty members work under the guidance of the program’s Interim Director Iselin Gambert, whose scholarship crosses several areas, including critical animal studies, critical race theory, food law and policy, and feminist legal theory; Associate Director Anita Singh, who has extensive experience with the Department of Justice, including in national security; and Interim Associate Director Erika Pont, who serves as the Fundamentals of Lawyering liaison to the Inns of Courts Program and directs the Dean’s Fellows Program.

Cheryl Kettler, one of the new full-time associate professors, has been involved with Fundamentals of Lawyering since its launch. She also taught in the prior Legal Research and Writing Program. “Having been in practice for many years, including as a partner in law firms, and having been a recruiter for a company that sought partners to relocate to other firms, I have been in a lot of discussions about what preparation students need,” Kettler says. “I think Fundamentals of Lawyering is definitely the wave of the future, and GW Law is really at its forefront. Other schools are now trying to stake out their place, but we’re ahead of them. To my knowledge, there is no other program like this.”

According to Kettler, what the program does better than its predecessor is create a more accurate experience of what it is like to be in practice. In the past, students practiced writing memos to clients. Now they are assigned to hypothetical clients with a problem that must be solved. They use information from websites created for the clients, and other documents, to come to understand the business they represent and how best to help their clients—before and during litigation.

“We used to talk about… things that go on in the trial. Now we talk about what happens pre-trial. We talk about discovery, problem solving, consultation with the client,” Kettler says.

The program also gives students more mentoring and one-on-one access to faculty and dean’s fellows, helping them build better networks and positioning them to attract better job offers. McDonough says upper-level professors have noticed improved performance from students coming out of the new program.

Alumni Gifts Underpin Professorships

Generous alumni provided support to recruit, reward, and retain faculty at GW Law, including three new endowed professorships.

“I am delighted to celebrate the awarding of three endowed professorships in our renowned Intellectual Property and Technology Law Program,” the dean says.

Daniel Solove, one of the nation’s leading scholars in the field of data privacy law, was named named the inaugural Eugene L. and Barbara A. Bernard Professor of Intellectual Property and Technology Law. The professorship was made possible by a gift from the estate of Eugene Bernard, JD ’51.

Dawn Nunziatro, an expert on free speech and technology, was tapped to become the Theodore and James Pedas Family Professor of Intellectual Property and Technology Law. Nunziato is a First Amendment expert who has been breaking ground with her collaborations across the university, including with the GW Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics.

Professors Nunziato and Robert Brauneis, who is co-director of the Intellectual Property Law Program, have been awarded a large grant to study tech solutions that advance fairness and content integrity in providing marginalized and underrepresented communities with access to justice and educational resources.

The Honorable F. Scott Kieff was named the Stevenson Bernard Professor of Law. An internationally renowned scholar specializing in the interface among law, technology, business, and international trade and security, Kieff is a former commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

A fourth faculty position—the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professorship—will be held by Spencer Overton, who follows Roger Fairfax in the role.

“We are thrilled to welcome Professor Overton back to our faculty following a leave of absence during which he successfully led the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies,” the dean says. “Professor Overton’s research agenda will build on his scholarly work in voting rights with a project titled The Multiracial Democracy Project that will expand the work of the Equity Institute.”

The project will undertake research, develop a new course at GW Law, bring together academic and government leaders for dialogue, train experts to testify at legislative and agency hearings, and organize groups to write and file amicus curiae briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the first time in more than a decade, the school also is broadening its Jacob Burns Legal Clinics. In December, Dean Matthew announced the appointment of two full-time faculty to lead new clinics.

Subject Matter Deans Set GW Law Apart

The law school has also hired three new assistant deans who are experts in expanding specialty fields where GW Law is highly regarded. Dean Matthew said these preeminent additions will raise the school’s visibility and provide new opportunities for students.

Randall Abate was named assistant dean for environmental law studies, an area where GW Law has been at the forefront for half a century. He joined GW in the summer to guide the program’s expansion to include local, national, and international challenges facing the planet.

He brings to GW three decades of experience in academia. Dean Abate was a full-time faculty member at six U.S. law schools and joined GW from Monmouth University, where he served from 2018 to 2022 as the inaugural Rechnitz Family and Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy.

"We’ll be working with environmental law, working with the public interest program, looking at property law. Animal law can be found across the curriculum, and one of my goals is to help provide resources for other faculty members to see where animal law touches their programs."

Kathy Hessler
Assistant Dean for Animal Law

Donna Attanasio, who had served as senior adviser for energy law since 2013, was also named an assistant dean, overseeing the Energy Law Program. Attanasio founded and directs the Sustainable Energy Initiative, a thought-leadership platform for developing energy policy that takes into consideration equitable economic growth, public health, and the environment. She and Dean Abate co-direct the school’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

“There is certainly a new generation of law school students seeking experiences with a justice focus so, to a certain degree, we’re following a national trend in legal education. But I think GW is better positioned to become prominent in a very competitive legal field,” Abate says. “GW is at the frontline of environmental law education, with distinguished leaders in environmental and energy law scholars in its programs.”

Abate characterizes the school’s environmental and energy programs as two sides of the same house, noting the importance of students receiving training in both fields to enhance their skill set and marketability after graduation. In response to that overlap, he developed the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Distinguished Lecture on Global Climate Change and Energy Law, which launched Nov. 17 with a lecture by Dr. Damilola Olawuyi of Hamad Bin Khalifa School of Law in Doha, Qatar.

The environmental and energy law programs are deepening connections with other areas at GW Law—including international and comparative law, government procurement law, animal law, national security law, and business and finance law—and are strengthening long-standing partnerships across the university, most notably with Sustainable GW, GW Climate and Health Institute, the Environmental and Energy Management Institute, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Attanasio draws on her 24 years of experience in private practice, and decades of involvement with the Energy Bar Association and GW Law’s extensive alumni network, to ensure the energy law program remains responsive to employer needs.

Left to Right - Kathy Hessler, Randall Abate, Carmia Caesar, Aram Gavoor

“I also have the privilege of working with an extraordinary group of adjunct faculty, including former commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and current government and private practitioners,” Attanasio says. “The depth of expertise in Washington, DC, enables us to teach courses that many other schools cannot. These include specialty areas like atomic energy law, offshore wind, energy commodities, and emerging technologies.”

She says these courses complement and build upon fundamental energy law courses that address regulatory work before federal and state commissions in electricity, natural gas, and oil.

Internationally, Attanasio has helped the school finalize a collaboration with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands to introduce an LLM program. Students in that program will take courses at both schools over two semesters and, at the students’ option, a summer. They end up with two LLM degrees—one from each institution.

Rounding out the team of new deans is the inaugural Assistant Dean for Animal Legal Education Kathy Hessler, who will help develop a new Animal Law program—building on existing expertise within the school—and an animal law clinic. Hessler’s position grew out of a collaboration with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is providing funding to the school.

“Part of my interest in animal law is as a larger social justice interest and a developing area of the law. I see it as a unique lens on the law,” says Hessler, who received her undergraduate degree from GW. She says the program dovetails with innovative work taking place at GW Law and provides another opportunity for the school to stand out in an emerging area of law.

“It’s also a good example of intersectional work,” she says. “We’ll be working with environmental law, working with the public interest program, looking at property law. Animal law can be found across the curriculum, and one of my goals is to help provide resources for other faculty members to see where animal law touches their programs.”

Hessler helped develop the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis and Clark Law School, directed the Aquatic Animal Law Initiative, and co-created World Aquatic Animal Day.

Clinical Program Pushes Forward with Bold Expansion

The Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics has brought on two outstanding new professors, continuing an ambitious expansion—the first in a decade—at what is already one of the nation’s largest clinical law programs. The new hires are part of a scale-up of tenured faculty.

Emily Benfer has been appointed to direct the Medical Legal Partnership Clinic, while Lula Hagos joins the law school to direct the Criminal Defense and Justice Clinic.

“One goal is to expand our clinical practice areas to respond to community need, student interest, and to create more synergies with our curricular strengths,” says Jacob Burns Foundation Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Laurie Kohn. “The other critically important goal is to provide clinic seats to all students who want to take clinics.”

The clinical program has added four clinics in the last year and a half, and an Intellectual Property and Technology Law clinic will open in the spring. The expansion will bring the number of legal clinics at GW Law to 16, with as many as six more in the pipeline. Currently under discussion are future clinics focused on environmental justice, veterans’ affairs, business startups and innovation, racial justice and equity, policy and legislation, and animal law.

Before joining GW, Hagos served as an assistant federal public defender with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, representing indigent clients, including in complex fraud and terrorism-related offenses. She also worked for seven years in the Trial Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

She came to GW Law in 2021 as a visiting professor to launch the Criminal Defense and Justice Clinic along with Friedman Fellow Ilan Friedmann-Grunstein, a former assistant public defender in Miami. The clinic represents individuals charged with misdemeanors in DC Law students appear on behalf of clients, from arraignment through to sentencing or acquittal.

“Professor Hagos is the ideal hire to become the permanent director of the newly launched Criminal Defense and Justice Clinic,” Kohn says. “Her substantial experience as a criminal defender at both the state and federal levels gives her a rare perspective on the criminal justice system and the practice of criminal defense. She is an innovative and compassionate teacher, a top-rate litigator, and a scholar with insight into the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.”

The Medical Legal Partnership, meanwhile, was established by four students who laid its foundation with Benfer’s leadership in fall 2022. It is on track to open as a capstone clinic this fall.

Left to Right - Lolita Darden, Emily Benfer, Drake Hagner

Medical-legal partnership clinics take an integrated approach to resolving health problems caused by social and legal issues, such as respiratory distress that results from exposure to mold or infestations in substandard housing or even the negative health effects of an eviction or lack of access to food. Students in the clinic work closely with graduate students and residents at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

This spring, the clinic is partnering with Bread for the City, a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides low-income DC residents with food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services. In addition, the clinic is expected to collaborate with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, which was founded in 2006 at Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“Students in the clinic learn firsthand how access to justice affects every facet of life, especially health and well-being,” Benfer says. “Through collaboration across professions and integration into the medical home, clinic students become effective problem-solvers with the ability to diagnose and solve the root of a client’s problem and advance health equity and social justice.”

Benfer has founded and directed numerous award-winning medical-legal partnerships, and she served as a senior policy adviser to the White House and American Rescue Plan Implementation Team on eviction prevention and housing policy. She says the new clinic’s first focus is likely to be on housing law and policy and service to residents of DC Wards 7 and 8, where asthma rates are the highest in the city and the average lifespan is 15 years lower than in wealthier areas of the district.

The Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic, meanwhile, is slated to open its doors this spring under the direction of Lolita Darden, a registered patent attorney whose scholarship focuses on intellectual property rights for under-resourced creators and inventors. Darden previously directed Suffolk Law School’s Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic, which offered pro bono counseling and legal services to new businesses. She brings deep experience in clinical teaching, patent and trademark law, and public service to the clinic and to GW Law’s Intellectual Property Law Program.

Darden was recently appointed to the Public Advisory Committee of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where she will join a small committee of private-sector intellectual property experts who will advise the office.

"One goal is to expand our clinical practice areas to respond to community need, student interest, and to create more synergies with our curricular strengths."

Laurie Kohn
Jacob Burns Foundation Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs

An innovative new clinical model has broadened the expansion of the Jacobs Burns Legal Clinics. GW Law’s Civil Access to Justice Clinic features a slate of faculty with varying areas of expertise who collaborate teaching a seminar centering on access to justice, equity, change lawyering, and client counseling skills. The model’s flexible design allows the clinic to agilely respond to student interest, community need, and faculty availability.

The model also enables student-attorneys to develop their practical skills while investing a more limited amount of time to clinics—a recognition that not all students are able to devote the credits necessary to enroll in a capstone clinic. This two-credit model provides professional development, lawyering training, and identity formation opportunities to a broader population of GW Law students.

Three divisions of the Civil Access to Justice Clinic have operated over the last year: Family Law, Employment Law, and Medical Legal Partnership. Later this year, it will add an Educational Equity Clinic under the direction of Assistant Dean for Pro Bono and Advocacy Programs David Johnson.

Kohn, who directs the school’s Family Justice Litigation Clinic and Civil Access to Justice Clinic, says the latest academic year saw 380 students apply for 196 clinic openings. GW Law’s strategic goal is to guarantee by 2025 a clinic experience to every law student who wants one.