Meet Clinic Alumna Andrea Willis-Johnson, the new Managing Attorney of the GW Law Clinics

April 26, 2022

Photo of Andrea Willis-Johnson

In 2021, Clinic Alumna Andrea Willis-Johnson, Esq. returned to GW Law’s Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics (GW Clinics) as its new Managing Attorney. Mrs. Willis-Johnson brings with her years of corporate and transactional experience. She is no stranger to GW Law. Mrs. Willis-Johnson began the evening JD program in 2015, while supporting the Law School’s Adjunct Program and the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. She later joined the Career Center.

In this interview, Mrs. Willis-Johnson discusses what initially attracted her to GW, and the exciting new ways she has already begun collaborating with Associate Dean Laurie Kohn and Administrative Supervisor Milagros Tudela to strengthen the sense of community among current student attorneys, Clinic alums, and other programs within the Law School.

Q: What initially attracted you to GW Law?

The GW community stood out to me long before I entered the JD program. My grandmother, Ruth Nixon (formerly Ruth Barnes) graduated from George Washington University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with an Urban Learning Concentration in 1971. She dedicated 30 years to teaching in the DC Public School System and another 15 years as the owner and operator of an SBA-certified small business that privately tutored students. I joined the GW community in 2013, as a member of the Academic Affairs team and quickly noticed that the Law School’s administration had the same heart for public service and commitment to students that I saw over the years in my grandmother and many others in my family. I was encouraged to apply to the JD program, was accepted, and GW’s early investment in me is something I’ve never forgotten. I’m proud to return home, continue my family’s legacy of public service, and it is my joy to pay it forward.

Q: Please tell us about your experience as a GW Law student – what are some of your favorite memories?

Collaborating with my colleagues and being of service to my clinic clients are two of the most meaningful experiences I had in law school. I also appreciated the flexibility of the GW Law program which allowed me to enroll as an evening student while I transitioned my responsibilities with my employer at the time and concluded my term. As a law student, my time in the GW-Oxford Human Rights Law Program also helped energize me to use my career to serve as legal counsel to social enterprises (which are mission-driven organizations that exist to achieve measurable social impacts). In my final year at GW, I joined the Small Business & Community Economic Development Clinic directed by Professor Susan Jones, where I represented my first two social enterprises - a minority-owned organic feminine care company and a survivor-led non-profit organization committed to ending human trafficking. These were great experiences both personally and professionally.

Q: Could you tell us about your career path and experiences that led you to this position?

I was drawn to the social impact of the GW Law Clinics and the entrepreneurial nature of the Managing Attorney position, which I can appreciate from years of serving as a business attorney for social enterprises and other organizations. In my work as an associate in a large law firm and as in-house counsel for a fast-growing technology start-up, my work was extremely dynamic. At Miles & Stockbridge, P.C. I routinely analyzed business compliance matters and partnered with tax counsel to strategically plan the best structure for our client’s merger or acquisition deals. At Morning Consult, I led the contract negotiations which closed transactions at the height of the Pandemic between my company and one of the world's leading COVID-19 vaccine providers which needed access to our data analytics product to increase public confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine.

I believe what I’ve learned from my previous experiences with GW Law and other innovative organizations will help me enhance the Clinic’s social media and web presence, help our Clinical Program continue to develop strategically and in compliance with all certifications, and enhance office efficiencies.

Q: What excites you about your role as Managing Attorney of the GW Law Clinics?

I am thrilled to continue to work closely with Dean Kohn and our Student Advisory Council (SAC) to enhance the Clinics. Chaired by the Student Director, SAC is comprised of student representatives from across each of the clinics. Participating in the governance of the Clinics, the SAC provides information and feedback on various policies and engages in a variety of service opportunities. This team effort generates many great ideas for improving the overall functioning of the Clinics, and I look forward to collaborating on ways to strengthen the sense of community among students and with Clinic alums.

Q: What kinds of programs or services do you plan to develop for students?

During the Pandemic, there have been fewer opportunities for student attorneys from across all clinics to socialize and become better acquainted with the work of their peers. Our extremely talented administrative team has already begun planning to offer live events in Fall 2022 to welcome new clinic students and community-building opportunities for students across various clinics.

We have also already established an online community for clinic alums and current student attorneys. This LinkedIn group provides a central place where current students and alums of the GW Law Clinics can come together for networking purposes and celebrate the work of the GW Law Clinics. In six months the group grew to 138 members and continues to grow. Here, alums share job opportunities, and mentorship relationships between current students and Clinic alums have already been established. My hope is to build upon this and have the Clinics continue to leverage and advance our use of technology to connect our students with alums all over the globe through a myriad of virtual programming.

Q: How do you plan to work with our alum community?

As a Clinic alum myself, I can speak to the fact that each member of the GW Law community that invested time in my personal and professional growth while I was a student made a lasting imprint. With this in mind, I’ve been able to partner with Dean Kohn and the Development & Alumni Relations Office to create platforms designed to celebrate the work of current students and deepen the Clinic's relationship with alums and their organizations. To honor the Clinic’s 50th anniversary, we’ve been thrilled to connect with Clinic alums around the globe and feature over 50 members of our stellar community of Clinic alums on our website.

Our staff team will continue to build relationships with alums who are interested in networking, sharing job opportunities for our graduating student attorneys, serving as panelists at events with current students, and joining our Clinic Advisory Board.

Q: What is a favorite hobby or off-work activity that you enjoy?

I really enjoy hiking. Before DC, I spent four years living in southwest Virginia while attending Virginia Tech, so every few months my wife and I retreat to the Blue Ridge Mountains for the stunning views of hills, cascades, and valleys. I also enjoy supporting local artists and attending live storytelling events. Some are surprised to learn this, but the ancient storytelling tradition that existed long before the Epic poem The Iliad was passed down orally exists today in Washington DC through communities like “Story District” and “DC Moth.” If you are looking for a good laugh or just a fresh perspective on an interesting topic, I highly recommend attending an event.

In recent months I’ve also picked up genealogical research as a hobby. I know how fortunate I am to have multiple grandparents between the ages of 80 and 91, including GW Alum Ruth Nixon (MA ‘71) who I mentioned earlier. I find so much joy in listening to their stories and knitting them together with historical context to better understand my family’s history.

Q: What are you reading currently or what podcast are you enjoying?

I enjoy reading articles in The Economist’s “Impact Investing” section, and my background is in psychology, so I tend to read a lot of non-fiction books. The best book I’ve read in the past few months was “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World” by John Mark Comer.

I’m a bit of a podcast junkie. I still really enjoy listening to “How I Built This with Guy Raz,” since the extremely innovative companies and entrepreneurs featured remind me of my clients. As a fan and supporter of Bruce Springsteen and President Barack Obama’s work, I’ve recently enjoyed their podcast “Renegades: Born in the USA.”