University of Colorado Law alumnus Matthew Douglas has made a difference to many. As a partner at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, he has been lead counsel in a variety of cases, from environmental and product liability matters to the constitutionality of school voucher programs.
Douglas’s interest in practicing law surfaced at a young age. “As a history major in college, I learned about lawyers who made a difference,” he said. “I also worked with nonprofit environmental groups.” His interest in the environment, coupled with his college studies and experience with his high school debate team, led him toward a legal career.
Douglas made the move from Texas, where he completed his undergraduate studies, to Colorado for law school. He chose Colorado Law for its strong overall academic program and cutting-edge environmental law program. “At the time, very few law schools had environmental law programs,” he said.
While he continued to focus on environmental law throughout law school, he noted that courses outside of his interest area helped his legal career. “Although I focused my electives on environmental law classes, I found Complex Civil Litigation with Professor [Chris] Mueller to be one of the most useful courses,” he said. “Federal Courts was also a great class, and it helped me immensely with my future practice.”
Douglas fondly remembers his time participating in the Rothgerber Moot Court Competition. “Moot court was the closest experience to the actual practice of law that I had in law school,” he said. “There is an intensity in working on preparing a work product that is as close to perfect as possible.”
For current students, Douglas stresses the importance of extracurriculars and internships that give insight into the practice of law. “Take advantage of any chance you have to see the inner workings of a courtroom or law firm,” he said. “You get to see how everything plays out in the real world.”
His original plan was to work for the environmental enforcement section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Although his career path took a different direction, he continued to practice in environmental law.
“I first clerked for the chief judge of Colorado’s Eighth Judicial District in Fort Collins, and afterward, I practiced at a small firm for a few years,” he said. “I mainly did civil and family litigation. It was a unique experience because as a young attorney, I was the first chair at trial and depositions in a variety of litigations. It’s not that easy to get that type of hands-on experience as a young attorney.”
He began working at Arnold & Porter only a few years later, likely in part due to his early litigation experience. One of his most interesting and challenging experiences while working at Arnold & Porter was serving as counsel to BP during the Deepwater Horizon litigation and internal investigation.
“I spent five months at the site. It was very intensive work.” he said. “I learned so much about the technology and science related to deepwater drilling during that time in order to assist the investigation. That case also involved cutting-edge legal issues regarding oil spills since this was the largest spill since the enactment of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.”
While the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion was his most challenging case, Douglas’s most rewarding experience was more local. “The Colorado school voucher program case is probably my proudest legal career moment. We argued that case in the Colorado Supreme Court, and we won on a tight vote. The decision will affect education in Colorado for decades and may even have a national effect,” he said. “That was a case where I felt I made a difference, and it was extremely rewarding.”
Outside of work, Douglas stays active in the Colorado Law community. He interviews current students during On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) for Arnold & Porter. He also frequently attends the Rothgerber Moot Court Competition and the Colorado Law Alumni Awards Banquet and serves as a Colorado Law Alumni Ambassador.
In his spare time, Douglas also enjoys being with his family. “There’s a significant amount of juggling in order to have a career in big law and to play a big role in my children’s lives,” he said. For Douglas, parenthood has been his most rewarding experience, and he knows prioritizing is important to being a happy and well-rounded individual.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
I think this one has grown fonder over the years because it was very intimidating at the time, but I still vividly recall the intensity of the questioning in Professor David Hill’s 1L Property class about the reading assignments/cases each day. Professor Hill had the Socratic method dialed in but had a particularly witty and sarcastic flare in how he applied it. If someone was called on and clearly hadn’t read the materials or hadn’t given much thought to the issues, he would make them pay for it by carving them up in front of the entire class. It was exhilarating and definitely drew me deeper into the mindset of law school and being a lawyer…even though I, like everyone else in the class, looked down and never made eye contact when Professor Hill was looking around to decide who to call on each day.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
I wish I had taken more classes in different areas of the law to get a broader exposure, rather than focusing as much as I did on taking everything that was going to be on the bar exam. The practice of law is far more varied than I understood when I was in law school, and exposure to a wide variety of areas, even ones where you think you would never practice, is both interesting and eye opening, as is any clinic, workshop or externship that gets you hands on experience with the actual practice of law.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Keep an open mind about what you want to do with your career. There are so many directions you can go with a law degree, so many different opportunities that may come your way, and so many surprises that you could never anticipate. The relationships you will develop as a young lawyer, with your clients, coworkers, co-counsel, and even opposing counsel, will be important ones throughout your career, so treat every single one of them with the utmost respect and professionalism.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Judge John-David Sullivan (’57), who I clerked for after graduation. He was not only a very accomplished, smart and hardworking judge, he went out of his way to make my clerkship a tremendous learning experience. After every trial or hearing, we would sit in chambers, and he would start by asking me for my thoughts on how the lawyers did in presenting their case, what evidence was most compelling, and how I thought the case should be decided. He would then give me his thoughts and his reactions to my thoughts, and we would have a lengthy discussion of the issues and how the case should come out before starting to draft an opinion. I learned a tremendous amount about the practice of law during that year, from laying the foundation for an exhibit to effective closing arguments, which allowed me to jump right into trials and depositions immediately after the clerkship.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
I was lucky enough to be able to get involved with a significant pro bono matter that started in 2011. The case was a challenge to the Douglas County school voucher program that had been implemented that year. The case went up through the Colorado Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court and back, over more than six years of litigation in state and federal courts. I argued the case in the Colorado Supreme Court, which was a highlight of my career. The opportunity to work on a case that had a significant impact on education in Colorado, likely for decades, to work with a team of lawyers who put a tremendous effort into the case over six and a half years, and to achieve the desired result in the end, is my proudest accomplishment as a lawyer.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
One thing I would say to young lawyers is that I was a little busier than I would have liked to have been when taking on a new, significant matter. When the school voucher case first came in, and I almost turned it down because of that. But I decided it was something I believed in strongly and wanted to fight for and that I would make time for it. I’m so glad I made that choice and would have regretted it if I had turned the case down.