For those who wish to pursue a degree in law, the ability to pay for law school is often a limiting factor. But James F. Humphreys seeks to break down these walls in addition to helping students at the George Washington University Law School achieve their dreams. His scholarship fund at GW Law helps students from low-income families in West Virginia attain their goals of studying and practicing law.
Two of the latest recipients of the James F. Humphreys scholarship are from Wheeling, WV. Emilee Woodfin graduated with a JD in May 2018 and now works as a law clerk at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. Amanda Witt is a second recipient in her final year of school and will graduate in May 2019. Ms. Witt works as an associate at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP in Washington, D.C.
Both students received financial aid from a scholarship fund set up by James Humphreys, JD ‘78, of Charleston, WV. While in law school, he worked as a consumer advocate for Ralph Nader and a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator John Glenn, the beginning of his long career in helping people.
In 1979, Humphreys returned to his hometown of Charleston to establish his own law firm, James F. Humphreys & Associates. Over the years, the firm has helped thousands of victims receive compensation in cases ranging from asbestos exposure to product liability. His firm has been considered one of the nation’s most prominent when it comes to litigation and Humphreys credits GW Law for his success.
“GW Law was the key to my career,” said Humphreys. “The education and encouragement I received there enabled me to pursue a lifetime dream of helping consumers and victims. I have been very fortunate financially and it is right and proper that I should pay back and support the institution that made my career possible.”
In 2012, Humphreys donated $1 million to GW Law to endow the James F. Humphreys Scholarship Fund. The scholarship is a merit award and available to all GW Law students, with preference given to students from West Virginia.
“Sir Isaac Newton once said, ‘If I achieved greatness, it’s because I have stood on the shoulders of others’,” said Humphreys. “I strongly believe my success is due to the foundations laid by those who came before me so it’s my responsibility to help make the pathway easier for others coming down the road.”
Humphreys grew up in a blue-collar family; his mother ran a small store and his father was a garbage collector. He says their values shaped his social conscience and taught him to respect working people and the struggle they go through to create a good life. Through these lessons, he came to believe that the law could be a tool to improve the lives of working people and he has dedicated his career to this effort. More importantly, he’s chosen to make it possible for others with backgrounds like his to receive a quality education.
“Education has become something out of reach for middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans,” said Humphreys. “No one should be denied an education because of their race, gender, or financial circumstances.”
In addition to his scholarship fund, Humphreys has donated several other times to GW Law, including a student lounge in Stockton Hall, an amphitheater classroom in Stuart Hall, and $3 million to help build the Humphreys Complex Litigation Center and an Endowed Chair.
The Humphreys Complex Litigation Center offers information about complex case litigation to legal professionals and policymakers. Roger Trangsrud was named the James F. Humphreys Professor of Complex Litigation and Procedure and considers Humphreys a good friend.
“Jim is a personal friend of mine, but more importantly, he is one of the best friends this law school has ever had,” Trangsrud told one of his classes.
“To have my name associated with a man like this is - for me - the greatest professional honor of my life.”
Despite his success, Humphreys has never forgotten where he came from.
“My father was a garbage collector, and he could not have imagined the financial security that his son and grandchildren would have and it’s directly attributable to the education I received at GW Law,” said Humphreys. “You’ve got to give something back, you can’t just keep taking out.”