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A Foundation for Success

Lisa Kelley

“I didn’t realize what a great foundational education I’d received from Cal Western until I worked with attorneys who had gone to other schools where there was little attention paid to the practical realities of working in the legal profession.”

So says Lisa Kelley ’91 as she summarizes the true impact the California Western programs and faculty had on her career on leaving law school and beyond.

“The internship program that gave me experience at the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, the Trial Practice program that gave me the training I needed to pick up a caseload when I started to work as a lawyer were all hugely influential,” recounts Kelley. “Add to that the Supreme Court Simulation Seminar taught by Professor Glenn Smith, where we each took on the role of a justice and considered a case that was pending at the U.S. Supreme Court—all of this and more really taught me to think,” continues Kelley.

Kelley recently rejoined the Washington State Attorney General’s office after taking a 10-year break to raise a family, which also meant she had to pass the Washington State Bar exam for a second time!

Kelley had initially joined the Attorney General’s office after graduating from Cal Western and passing the same State Bar exam the first time around.

“I joined the AG’s office as an entry-level attorney in the Labor and Industries Division,” says Kelley. “Washington is one of the few states with a state-run workers’ compensation and worker safety system, so I picked up a litigation caseload immediately. I felt well-trained to handle hearings and trials, having learned Trial Practice from Professor Jane Siegel.”

Fifteen years later, Kelley quit her job, in what she describes as “a fit of cockeyed optimism and trust in a benevolent universe,” to be a full-time, stay-at-home, homeschooling mom.

“I worked as a yoga teacher, on an organic farm, and taught history and civics classes at their homeschool co-op—worlds away from my attorney work,” says Kelley.

In 2015 with her children old enough not to require all of her time, Kelley went back to work as a paralegal.

“I hadn’t set foot in an office in ten years, but after about six months, I realized I could probably still do attorney work, so I signed up to take the bar exam,” says Kelley. “The exam was much more difficult than the first time as Washington has adopted the Multi-State Bar Exam, which was incredibly challenging. But I studied hard after work and on weekends, and I passed.”

Today, Kelley represents the Washington State Department of Health in an eclectic mix of cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including challenges to the state's temporary worker housing regulations.

“Agriculture is a huge industry in Washington, and advocates for farmworkers and housing operators each have challenged the rules for different reasons,” says Kelley. “My division also advises health care licensing boards that confronted issues like telehealth, licensing requirements, and disciplinary enforcement in the pandemic.”

Kelley has no plans to retire anytime soon. She loves her work at the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and appreciates the opportunities and facets of attorney work required of her.

“As long as I am learning new things and being of service, I envision continuing with the AGO,” she says.

Kelley has some heartfelt advice to current Cal Western students, which she has followed throughout her long legal career.

“Listen more than talk, ask questions, and keep learning to improve your craft,” she says. “Be the kind of advocate you’d want to have on the other side of a case, and extend professional courtesies always.”

Moving from Seattle to San Diego to go to law school was a huge culture shock to Kelley, but she has never regretted her choice despite getting acceptances to schools in Texas and Florida.

“I am so appreciative of the education I got from California Western. It was practical, real, and useful.”