Willamette Lawyer | Spring 2014
WUCL – Home of the Northern Lights: Deemed “Alaska’s Law School,” Willamette’s College of Law has a surprising number of grads putting their law degrees to work in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
A Willamette alumnus reflects on ‘Alaska’s Law School’ On the path of whales It’s a frigid January day in Alaska, but Anchorage attorney Robin Brena JD/MBA’83 has his short-sleeve-shirt-clad arm out the open car window. It’s part of his “grand experiment” – to spend two months on Maui while maintaining his law practice back home. Brena, founder and owner of Brena, Bell & Clarkson PC, is heading to his Wailea home, where he looks for humpback whales from his lanai overlooking Maalaea Bay. “The whales have got it pretty well figured out,” Brena says. “They’ve been migrating between Alaska and Hawaii for tens of thousands of years, so maybe I ought to give it a try as well.” Here, he tells his story and how it was shaped by a historic saloon along the Klondike Trail and a joint JD/MBA degree from Willamette University. At 17, Brena left his home in the historic southeast Alaska town of Skagway to earn a psychology degree. After earning his B.A. from New College in Sarasota, Fla., Brena realized that he wanted something more — and different. Practical considerations told him that solid legal, financial and business skills would allow him to translate his ideas into reality, so he kept studying. After two semesters of pre-law courses at the University of Washington, Brena was determined to attend the Willamette University College of Law. Willamette appealed to him not only because it was the best known law school among Alaskans and had many prominent, accomplished alumni (today this includes U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the late federal District Court Judge James M. Fitzgerald), but also because it had a reputation Robin Brena JD/MBA’83 at his vacation home in Hawaii. 10 | Willamette Lawyer