Keynote speaker Charles T. Manatt, LLB ’62, urged the Law School grads to use their knowledge to benefit society.
By Jamie L. Freedman
Photos by Abdul El-Tayef, WPPI
The skies may have been gray, but nothing dampened the spirits of GW Law’s Class of 2007, who received their degrees at a festive University-wide Commencement May 20 on the National Mall.
Amidst the majestic backdrop of the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, nearly 700 graduates—including 582 JD recipients, 87 master of laws recipients, and one graduating doctor of judicial science—joined the GW community for the time-honored ceremony. Some 22,000 students and family members gathered on the historic Mall to celebrate Commencement and bid farewell to outgoing President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who will become president emeritus and university professor of public service in August after 19 years at the University’s helm.
Former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, JD ’77, enjoys daughter Patricia's GW Law Commencement day along with wife Christine (right) and daughter Meg, who will be entering GW Law in the fall. Barr now serves as executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon.
Addressing the crowd were honorary degree recipients Wolf Blitzer, acclaimed broadcast journalist and CNN anchor; Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences; Linda W. Cropp, former chairwoman of the Council of the District of Columbia; Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine; and Lowell P. Weicker Jr., president of the Trust for America’s Health and former United States senator and governor of Connecticut.
Following the festivities on the Mall, the newly minted Law School grads headed over to the Charles E. Smith Center for the Law School Diploma Ceremony, featuring keynote speaker Charles T. Manatt, LLB ’62. In his remarks, Manatt, outgoing chair of GW’s Board of Trustees, urged the graduates to use their knowledge to benefit society.
Dean Lawrence and Charles T. Manatt enjoy a laugh with members of the graduating class en route to the Law School Diploma Ceremony.
Each graduate was individually recognized at the event, which began with a procession led by faculty marshals Scott Pagel, Alfreda Robinson, JD ’78, and Joan Schaffner. After welcoming remarks by Trachtenberg, GW Law Dean Frederick M. Lawrence paid tribute to the Law School’s Stockton Guard, graduates from the Class of 1956 and before. Hon. Ruth C. Berg, BS ’45, JD ’50, served as grand marshal of the Stockton Guard.
As always, a highlight of the Diploma Ceremony was the awarding of honors to outstanding faculty members, staff members, and graduates. Professor Amanda L. Tyler received this year’s Distinguished Faculty Service Award, voted upon and presented each year by the JD graduating class. Adjunct Faculty Teaching Awards went to Stephanie Ridder, Sara Rosenbaum, and Andrew Steinberg. Herb Somers, foreign/international law librarian, received the Law School’s Distinguished Staff Service Award.
At the Law School Diploma Ceremony, Dean Frederick M. Lawrence conferred emeriti status on longtime GW Law Professors James E. Starrs (left) and Eric S. Sirulnik.
Dean Lawrence presented awards to three outstanding students. David A. Becker received the John Bell Larner Award for earning the highest cumulative grade point average in his class. The Anne Wells Branscomb Award went to James A. Menefee for attaining the highest cumulative average in the evening program. The graduating class voted Yusuf R. Ahmad the recipient of the Michael Dillon Cooley Memorial Award.
Lawrence also conferred emeriti status on longtime, distinguished GW Professors of Law Eric S. Sirulnik, LLM ’70, and James E. Starrs. Sirulnik directed GW Law’s Jacob Burns Legal Clinics for 31 years. Starrs, who held a dual appointment in law and forensic science, captured international headlines over the years for his scientific investigations of famous historical figures.
Other highlights of GW Law’s 140th Commencement weekend included an academic awards ceremony on Saturday, May 19, followed by a well-attended Dean’s Reception for graduates, families, and friends at the National Air and Space Museum.
Contributing to the Greater Good
Charles T. Manatt, LLB ’62
Forty-five years ago, Ambassador Charles T. Manatt, LLB ’62, walked across the stage at his GW Law School commencement—a newly minted lawyer ready to conquer the world. This May, he returned to the Law School graduation podium to address the Class of 2007 as keynote speaker.
“It feels very satisfying and humbling to be called upon to speak to the graduating class at my alma mater,” says Manatt, who regaled the graduates with tales of his entrepreneurial and public service journey during this year’s diploma ceremony at the Charles E. Smith Athletic Center. The chairman of GW’s Board of Trustees and devoted philanthropist shared the experience of launching and developing a law firm with the crowd, emphasizing that self-employment and independence lead to increasing opportunities to serve the community.
Throughout Manatt’s illustrious career in law, politics, and public service, he has served as a shining example of how to succeed in business while giving back to society. The founding partner of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Manatt has been strongly committed to public service and politics since his high school days. While at GW, he served as national college chairman of the Young Democrats and worked on John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.
“GW Law was an anchor and progressive outlet for me,” says Manatt, who worked for the Democratic National Committee as a law student. “When I was in Law School, the civil rights battles were on and a lot of the action was occurring within four to five blocks of the White House. More than once, I was quizzed by the cops for participating in civil rights protests. Being so close to the center of the action had a real magnifying effect on many of us.”
Deeply involved in the life of the Law School, Manatt fondly remembers working on the editorial board of The George Washington Law Review, serving as the Law School’s representative to GW’s student government body, and winning the moot court competition with classmate J.D. Williams, LLB ’62, who returned to campus in April to roast Manatt at a benefit dinner for a new endowed professorship.
After graduating, he launched his legal career at O’Melveny & Myers with a starting salary of $450 a month. “It was tough,” he states, noting that his wife, Kathleen, took a part-time teaching job to help make ends meet and that the couple shared one car—not an easy feat in Los Angeles, where Manatt says, “If you don’t have a car, you don’t move.”
Two of Manatt’s mentors at the firm got him hooked on finance, banking, and savings and loan law—and he quickly carved out a name for himself in the field. In 1965, he co-founded his Los Angeles-based law firm with GW Law classmate and fellow Iowa native Thomas J. Phelps, LLB ’63, to provide legal services to the financial services industry and corporate America. “We’d known each other for a long time, trusted each other, and knew each other’s capabilities, which is a blessing, and happily, 42 years later, we’re still partners,” he says of Phelps.
They started their practice in Van Nuys, Calif., in the San Fernando Valley and later moved their five-lawyer firm to Century City. “I was the oldest at the age of 33,” says Manatt. “We had lots of dreams but not a lot else.” As the firm expanded and flourished, Manatt and Phelps co-founded the First Los Angeles Bank—where Manatt served as chairman from 1973 through 1989. “Chairing a bank gave me a unique vantage point,” says Manatt, who also served as president of the California Bankers Association.
All the while, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips continued to grow in size and scope. Named partner Lee Phillips joined the firm as the head entertainment lawyer in 1977. “We now have more than 350 attorneys in nine offices worldwide, many of whom are young and active in the leadership of the law firm, as well as in pro bono work on health care issues, human rights, women’s issues, and many other things,” Manatt says. “It’s a very gratifying multiplier effect.”
As his career took off, Manatt simultaneously made a name for himself in politics, chairing the Democratic National Committee and co-chairing the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign. Early on, he was elected president of the San Fernando Bar Association and a trustee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. “When Tom and I started the law firm in 1965, I promised him and Kathy that I’d stay out of politics for five or 10 years, and that lasted for about two weeks,” he quips. At age 34, he was elected Democratic state chairman of California, which “really started the wheels turning on my political career,” Manatt says.
Strongly committed to public service, Manatt was the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic during the second Clinton term, where he was active on matters relating to election administration, business and commercial development, and the criminal justice system.
He also is a founder of the National Endowment for Democracy and served as the founding chairman of the National Democratic Institute and as chairman of the International Foundation for Election Systems. In 2002, Manatt founded an international consulting subsidiary to his law firm, Manatt Jones Global Strategies, with Ambassador James Jones.
A devoted community servant, Manatt serves on the boards of the Wesley Foundation, the National Legal Center for Public Interest, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Meridian House, and FedEx Corp. An anchor of the GW Board of Trustees since 1980 and its chairman from 2001 to 2007,
Manatt has left a far-reaching legacy to the Law School, including a scholarship fund, a lecture fund, a classroom, an endowed professorial lectureship, and most recently, an endowed professorship in international rule of law.
Manatt says that he’s enjoyed every minute of it. “The underlying theme is to evolve, to contribute to the greater good of society, and to try to write a script on a bigger screen—in my case, politics, democracy development, and public policy development,” he says. “It takes a while, but if you keep moving the ball down the floor, you’ll have more and more good days.”