January 2015 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Karen Willie

'Water Witch'

By Virginia Gleason


Karen Willie is a solver of puzzles. Psychologists believe that those who have this exceptional aptitude also possess an extraordinary capacity for inductive reasoning. She is a polymath - a person who comprehends a notable number of subject areas and can synthesize these complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

Karen Willie, the puzzle-solving polymath, uses her considerable ability to solve the legal problems of her clients. As notable as her legal skills may be, Karen is a dedicated, thoughtful, personable and compassionate person. She appreciates the human condition, values her clients as individuals, and strives to make the life of each person she meets better than it was before that person met her. A formidable trivia competitor, Karen also reveals a wonderful sense of humor when the occasion calls for it.

Karen grew up poor in the Midwest in a hard-scrabble, blue-collar family. She put herself through college - earning her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch University. After graduation, she spent time experiencing the freedom of living off the land in Minnesota. Eventually trading farm life for urban life, she worked as a counselor with heroin addicts in New York City. Karen then received her Juris Doctor from Fordham School of Law and moved west, settling in Seattle.

In the process, she added to her polymath resume. She taught creative dramatics in the Cumberland Mountains on a National Endowment for the Arts grant for about a year. She lived in Germany for two years after graduating college, and worked for the Army, setting up a battered-woman's shelter and handling child abuse cases. "I worked closely with JAGs and got more and more interested in law," she says.

Karen worked for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, first as a criminal deputy in the Special Assault Unit and later in the Civil Division, representing the Surface Water Management Division. Some attorneys would find the change from high-profile criminal cases to land-use regulatory cases dull. Not Karen; she seized the challenge and immersed herself in regulatory processes. She was one of the chief drafters of the King County Surface Water Manual - known as the "bible" of surface water regulation.

I first met Karen shortly after I tried to fill her shoes at the SWMD. I immediately found that her former - and now my - client had high expectations for their lawyer. After Karen, they were used to a high-energy lawyer with excellent legal skills ... and an offbeat sense of humor.

After five years in public practice, Karen left to work at a private firm, eventually taking on the challenge of starting her own firm, which she managed for 14 years. In 2011, she joined Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie, where her practice continues to focus on water-related property cases, including an emphasis on litigating and mediating landslide cases.

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