Alumnus of the Month
Q&A with Michael Wampold '96
Mike Wampold ’96 is one of the Evergreen State’s top trial lawyers. After graduating magna cum laude from Yale University, Wampold travelled to China to teach middle school on a two-year fellowship. He returned to the U.S. to pursue his law career, determined to fight for the “little guy.” Since then, Wampold has been named a Washington Super Lawyer for 10 years in a row and recently named one of the top 40 personal injury lawyers by Washington Law and Politics magazine. When he isn’t serving clients as partner at Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp (PWRLK), Wampold teaches trial advocacy at UW Law as an adjunct professor. The avid Law Firm Annual Challenge (LFAC) volunteer was also just voted onto the school’s Foundation Board. Last year, Wampold began raising funds for Camp Korey—a summer camp experience for children with terminal illnesses—by running in the New York Marathon. Now, he hopes to get his peers involved in the charity by incorporating a Lawyer Challenge into the marathon.
How has living and teaching in China for two years impacted your world view? Did that experience affect how you practice law today?
When I went there, from ’91 to ’93, it was very basic. Where I lived, there was no central heating. There was really no ability to make a phone call. There was no internet then or email or anything like that, and so you’re pretty isolated during those two years. Just living like that was kind of eye-opening.
But, I think the biggest part of what motivated me to go to law school was seeing how the government would do horrible things to people and they had no recourse. Like when they found out two college students had sex and they were transferred to the countryside, to a workers’ camp, never to be seen again. They had no recourse, no redress. I looked at that and really appreciated the fact that our legal system allows people to have some recourse and allows them control over their lives. That was part of what motivated me to do what I do. I represent the little guy.
One of the core values of PWRLK is to exceed the client’s expectations. Is there a case that you’re particularly proud of in that regard?
We had a case where a woman lost her seven-year-old daughter. Her mom and dad were divorced and the daughter was with the dad for the weekend. The dad let her go out on a boat with a friend of his who was drunk and on prescription painkillers. He crashed the boat and the 7-year-old daughter died. I was able to resolve that case without even filing a lawsuit.
As part of the resolution, I did a couple of things that were not just exceeding expectations, but were meeting needs the client didn’t even know she had. The drunk guy he had insurance. We made sure that he had to pay the money out of his own pocket instead and that he had to pay it over time. He had to write $50,000 checks every six months for two years. We wanted him to experience some pain himself for what he’d done. We also made it a requirement that he attend a drug rehab program within a certain amount of time and if he didn’t, he owed another $100,000.
Our client didn’t want this to happen to anybody else again and we felt this was the way to insure that. Lastly, we gave $50,000 of our fee to the client and asked her to donate it in the daughter’s name to any organization she wanted. She gave some of the money to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Boaters Against Drunk Drivers and to Children’s Hospital.
Often my days are hard because I have to listen to these horrible things that happen to people. But I take a lot of pride in being people’s champion at a time when they need a champion. A period like that—when you lose a child—there’s no time more important in life then when you need someone to step in and say, “I’m going to be your advocate and do what I can to get you justice.”
As an Adjunct Professor, you have inspired many students to follow in your footsteps. What motivated you to start teaching and how do you convey the appeal of a trial lawyer career?
I’ve taught several times already in life. By the time I started law school, I’d had about three years of teaching and when I graduated, I started coaching the mock trial teams at the law school. I found that I really liked teaching. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it and it’s one of those “win-wins” in life. I learn a lot from watching my students and I learn a lot from having to explain things simply. Also, I’m doing a good. I’m teaching skills to the next generation of trial lawyers and I think the biggest way I motivate students to look to trial law is just to be an example. They can see how much I love what I do. They can see how much I get out of it and what a passion I have for trial work.
You have volunteered much time and energy to the Law Firm Annual Challenge (LFAC). Why did you choose to get involved and would you encourage other alumni to do the same?
I believe there is this symbiotic relationship between law firms and the law school. I think the law school needs people like us to help raise money and to reengage connections. We all benefit by having good students come into our profession. It’s important for the law school to get our financial and professional support, whether it’s keeping them apprised of what’s going on in our practice areas or keeping in contact with professors so they know how to make scholarship relevant. It’s important that we stay engaged.