June 2013 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Jenny Durkan

Ground Breaker, Difference Maker

By Jeffrey Robinson


The client was accused of seven crimes and the trial was on the front page of the Walla Walla newspapers every day. The courtroom was packed with observers, and after four days of trial all that was left was closing on Friday.

I was feeling good that Friday morning while walking in the sunshine to the courthouse because my co-counsel had the job of doing the closing. My peaceful walk was interrupted when my co-counsel turned to me and said, "You realize I have not done a closing in five years, don't you?"

Well, I didn't realize that. I turned to my co-counsel with a bit of rising concern, but she was smiling and composed. She proceeded to give one of the best closings I have ever heard. The client was acquitted of all seven counts, and I thought, "What was I worried about?" From that day forward, I never worried about the performance of my co-counsel when my co-counsel was Jenny Durkan.

Durkan was born into a large family. Brothers Jamie, Matt, Tim and David combined with sisters Kathy, Ryan and Megan to create one of the largest Catholic families in Seattle this side of the McKay family. Martin and Lolly Durkan loved and nurtured their children and raised them in the finest traditions of American citizenship. Stand up for what you believe in. Obey and respect the law, but don't be afraid to challenge it if it is not just. You have been given much; pay it forward with your actions in the community.

She and her sister Ryan were always concerned with fairness. When they had disagreements about sharing a room, they drew a line down the middle and each sister had her own half. Ryan showed the instincts of the land-use lawyer she would become by claiming the half of the room that had the door. After climbing in and out of a window to get in and out of her room, Durkan did not give up, but learned the value of compromise.

After college, Durkan taught school in a remote Alaskan village. Depending on whom you talk to, you will hear one or more versions of a "moose story." Some versions claim Durkan assisted a Catholic nun in skinning and carving a moose for food (true), while some versions of the story have her stalking and hunting the moose (?).

The most telling thing about this episode of her life is that at an early age Durkan was willing to move outside her comfort zone to take on a challenge, and at the heart of that challenge was the opportunity to do something for others and to improve other people's lives.

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