“Without a doubt, I can draw a direct line between my work today and specific leadership and volunteer opportunities made possible by the Park Scholarships,” Anderson said.
Arnold & Porter handles cases from all around the globe, but is probably best known for representing Clarence Earl Gideon in the famous Gideon v. Wainwright case, in which the Supreme Court held that all criminal defendants, regardless of their financial status, are constitutionally guaranteed the right to an attorney.
Arnold & Porter is well-known for its pro bono work. The firm emphasizes a sense of social obligation to do the right thing, and Anderson said he is very proud to be able to help contribute to the firm’s tradition.
“I could not have imagined that my work as a so-called ‘corporate lawyer’ at a big law firm would provide so many opportunities to work on worthy and fulfilling causes—for our pro bono and paying clients alike,” Anderson said.
Last year, Anderson worked on a landmark adoption case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which went to the Supreme Court and became quite emotionally charged.
“Our clients, the adoptive parents, had raised their daughter from birth until she was two and a half years old,” Anderson said. “There was no dispute that they were ideal parents. Yet, in 2011, a South Carolina court ordered them to hand over their daughter to her biological father, whom she had never met, under an obscure federal law called the Indian Child Welfare Act. We took the case to the Supreme Court, and, in June, the Court ruled in favor of our clients.”
When it became clear that there would still be legal battles to enforce the Supreme Court’s order in South Carolina and Oklahoma, Anderson and his colleagues stuck with the case until their clients’ daughter “returned home in September and [she] is doing great.”
In 2011, Anderson was appointed to the firm’s pro bono committee. He has represented a wide variety of clients, including Hurricane Katrina victims, an inmate on death row, an injured war veteran, and a federal employee claiming workplace discrimination, among others.
For Anderson, doing pro bono work isn’t just part of the job, it is a “moral obligation.” And working for a firm that shares his sentiment adds an extra sense of fulfillment, he said.
“It goes without saying that my corporate and governmental clients deserve fairness and justice just like everyone else. But when a client lacks the resources to protect his or her rights, you have the extra element of helping someone whose voice might otherwise go unheard. These cases are among the most meaningful of my career, and they remind me of the reasons I became an attorney,” Anderson said.
But before Anderson came to NC State as a Park Scholar, he didn’t even know that he was going to be a lawyer.
“Coming out of high school, I planned to pursue a career in science or engineering, but I also enjoyed the humanities and didn’t want to give that up,” Anderson said. “Fortunately, the Park Scholarships encouraged interdisciplinary studies from day one, and no one ever tried to steer me away from one interest in order to focus on the other. It was a perfect fit.”
Anderson said that he always had an interest in a variety of things, and he never outgrew his desire to be a “generalist.”
“Fortunately, being an appellate lawyer lets me remain a generalist,” Anderson said. “My cases in the past few years are as diverse as I could have imagined…”
Anderson’s cases have run the gamut from cryogenics to sunken treasure.
“I learn something new every day,” he said.
Anderson said that, as a lawyer, it is important to remember that representing a client is more than just a job; you are advocating for their rights and trying to “set things right.”
“The cases we handle tend to get media attention mainly because we are arguing before the Supreme Court, which always attracts a public spectacle,” Anderson said. “We took four cases to the Supreme Court last year on a wide range of issues—discrimination, debt collection, interstate water rights, and adoption. Each one generated attention in different ways. But it’s important to remember that behind the headlines are real people with real problems they hope the law will solve.” (Arnold & Porter won all four cases.)
Anderson said that he encourages anyone who wants to help others to consider law school.
“At the end of the day, most of us are problem solvers in one way or another,” Anderson said. “Folks considering law school should take the time to research what kind of lawyer they want to be and then go talk to a lawyer who has a similar practice. If you go in understanding that law is not just what you see on television, but that there are many ways lawyers can help people, businesses, and society, you will be better prepared for law school.”
Anderson said that being a Park Scholar at NC State really paved the way for a lot of his successes.
After his graduation from NC State, Anderson studied international affairs at Trinity College in Dublin. Anderson had already spent time in Ireland as an undergraduate – an experience funded, in part, by a Park Enrichment Grant – and his time there contributed to his decision to return to the country.
He then went to Yale Law School where he worked on asylum and indigent rights cases. These, he said, hearkened back to the community service work he did as a Park Scholar.
“But most importantly, in 2006 I married another Park Scholar, Brooke Williams ‘03, and we have a wonderful life together with our son Cord,” Anderson said, adding that his son will be a member of the NC State graduating class of 2031.
This spring, Anderson will be relocating his practice with Arnold & Porter to Denver, as his wife will be joining the faculty at Colorado State University.
Story by Jason Katz