William H. Gates '50 (photo courtesy of the American Bar Association)
William H. Gates, Sr., alumnus of the UW School of Law and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was awarded the American Bar Association Medal, the ABA's highest honor, on August 3 at the organization's Annual Meeting in Chicago.
The ABA Medal recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer to the cause of American jurisprudence.
In nominating Gates for the medal, several prominent ABA members described him as "a learned lawyer who always knew there was more to the profession than just serving your clients well. He knew that (lawyers) have a responsibility to give something back to the community and to the justice system." Another colleague said, "Bill is the personification of professionalism and the standard for unselfish, tireless dedication to justice and community service."
Gates' legal career began working in private practice and serving part-time as City Attorney for Bremerton.
He joined a prominent Seattle law firm, and after 12 years in practice he formed a new firm with two partners.
As managing partner, Gates helped grow the firm and today it is known as K&L Gates, one of the world's largest law firms with 1900 lawyers in 32 offices.
Gates retired from the firm, then known as Preston Gates & Ellis, in 1998 after 48 years in the practice of law.
In 2005, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $33 million to the UW School for the creation of the William H. Gates Public Service Law Program, named in honor of Gates, Sr. on his 80th birthday. The program provides full scholarships to five full-time law students in each class enrolled at the UW for the next 80 years.
The ABA Medal is given only in years when the ABA Board of Governors determines a nominee has provided exceptional and distinguished service to the law and the legal profession.
Among previous recipients are legendary justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Thurgood Marshall, William J. Brennan Jr., Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy.
Other recipients include Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, human rights activist Father Robert Drinan and Judge Patricia Wald, member of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.
As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.