Commitment to Law and Learning

Judge Nancy B. Firestone to receive School of Law Alumni Achievement Award

The year was 1974, American society was in a state of flux, and a young woman – one of only 15 women in her law school class of 165 students – found her life’s inspiration at the UMKC School of Law.

“Environmental law was a brand new field. Congress had just passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. There were very few schools teaching classes on the new environmental statutes. I was very lucky to be exposed to those statutes in my environmental law classes,” said Nancy B. Firestone (J.D. ’77). “Environmental law is fascinating because not only is protection of the environment of fundamental importance for human health and welfare, but the practice of environmental law requires attorneys to develop an understanding of economics, statistics and complex scientific issues.”

Another factor that drew her to environmental law: as a child, she spent summers at a camp in the Berkshire Mountains, sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary.

“Environmental law was a great training ground for my ultimate career as a judge. It taught me the importance of understanding opposing points of view and reflecting that understanding when choosing among policy options,” Firestone said. “I trace my entire career to my exposure to environmental law at UMKC.”

Firestone developed sufficient understanding of those complexities and propelled herself into a career first as an administrator and judge for the Environmental Protection Agency, then as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice, and is now beginning her 29th year as a judge on the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC.

Environmental law was her specialty for much of her career, but it’s not what drew her to UMKC after earning an undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis. What sold her on UMKC was a combination of affordability and comfort. She says she was attracted by the relatively high percentage of women in the law school class for the time – a whopping 10 percent.

A long record of legal achievement has led to Firestone being chosen as the 2017 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from the UMKC School of Law.

Firestone was first appointed to the Court of Federal Claims by President Bill Clinton in 1998, and re-nominated by President Barack Obama in 2014. The court has jurisdiction over financial claims against the federal government. McClatchy News Service noted in an article earlier this year that the court is an “important but little-known DC-based court now juggling consequential cases that range from a Yosemite National Park trademarked name dispute to a demand for money from Northern California and Oregon farmers who lost irrigation water in 2001.”

She called her appointment to the court “my proudest professional achievement.”

“It is the responsibility of the judges on this court to weigh the government’s actions against the law and make sure that the government settles up when the government has breached a contract, violated a money-mandating statute or regulation, or is liable under a Constitutional provision,” Firestone said. “In 2016, nearly 2,000 cases were filed before the Court and the Court issued judgments totaling close to $1 billion.”

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Firestone and other outstanding alumni at the 2017 Alumni Awards Luncheon on April 20 on campus. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted more than 500 attendees and garnered more than $120,000 in scholarship funds.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 20, 2017, Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2017 Alumni Award recipients.

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