A Q&A with Professor Thornton

Professor Karen Da Ponte Thornton discusses her upcoming role as Director of the Government Procurement Law Program.

Karen-Thornton
March 17, 2017

Karen Da Ponte Thornton, LLM, '01, has been part of the Government Procurement Law community since the earliest days of her legal career. She earned her LLM degree as a part-time student, while serving on active-duty in the Army JAG Corps, assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chief Counsel's Honors program. After eight years at the Corps, she moved to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, where she served as Deputy Assistant General Counsel to the Defense Capabilities and Management team, providing legal counsel on numerous DOD procurement program audits requested by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. In 2008, she responded to Professor Steve Schooner's invitation to serve as an adjunct to the Public Contract Law Journal and found her true calling. Since joining the full-time legal writing faculty as associate director for upper level writing in 2009, Professor Thornton has trained and supported dozens of JD, LLM, and MSGC students as they write and publish in the field of government contracts law. Her own scholarship has resulted from significant study of the pedagogy related to legal professional development. She is a frequent presenter at legal writing and professional development conferences.

Can you discuss your position and what will be some of your responsibilities?

It's my dream job. As program director, I'll be responsible for administering the LLM Program in Government Contracts and supervising student work in the Program, assisting with the administration of the Master of Science in Government Contracts program, coordinating alumni outreach and advancement, organizing and participating in the numerous conferences, overseeing student competitions and award, and assisting in the management and supervision of the Public Contract Law Journal and Journal of Contract Management.

I'll wear many hats, which means I'll have the pleasure of collaborating with our peerless faculty and staff in the library, career center, admissions, alumni office, and more. I know my colleagues share my goal of making the Government Procurement Law experience one that shapes our students into leaders in the legal profession. And of course, building partnerships with our alumni, advisory board, and professional network will be a big part of that.

What are you most looking forward to in this position?

For me, becoming program director is like coming home. I've never been shy about saying I have felt more connected to the law school community here, during and after my years as an LLM candidate, than I do to my JD institution. There is something undeniably special about GW Law's community and within that, the Government Procurement Law community is one of the most well-established and generous in its mentorship and support of current students and alumni. I'm very excited to champion this program.

How does the program connect to the law school at large?

Government procurement is a piece of GW Law history! We've been part of the law school community for nearly 60 years. With that history comes a responsibility to preserve the program's integrity while exploring new frontiers. I see lots of opportunities to build programs and events with the directors of GW Law's other programs to show our students the exciting intersections between government procurement and national security issues, as well as environmental and intellectual property issues, and, it goes without saying, international and corporate law issues. When I talk to students about the path they’re forging for themselves in law school and beyond, I always emphasize that the power of procurement is that it can take you anywhere, across the full spectrum of legal study and practice.

How will your previous experience in Government Contracts and at GW Law impact the program?

Over the past eight years, I've found great fulfillment in researching, writing, and teaching at the intersection of professional development and legal writing. I've especially enjoyed my work with the student members of the Public Contract Law Journal, whose writing, editing, and production team management experience builds the professional qualities employers value most.

The ABA recently published new requirements for experiential learning, a space I've been writing and teaching in for years. I'm excited to partner with our full-time and part-time faculty to integrate experiential learning opportunities into our government contracts course offerings and help create new courses, to include a skills course focused on written and oral advocacy before the courts and boards of contract appeals.

How do you envision the program in the next five years?

I'm thrilled to have been entrusted to take the program into its next generation. The pillars of the program that Professors Nash & Cibinic created still stand strong in the 21st century marketplace. Among other things, I'm keen to explore the online learning space and demonstrate that with the pedagogical strength of our faculty, we can leverage technology to provide all the rigor and analytical training of the traditional classroom through an online LLM degree. I see limitless opportunities to partner with state universities and local governments and grow our community through the use of technology.

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