On March 1, 2013, the University of Richmond School of Law presented the William Green Award for Professional Excellence to the Honorable Harold Hongju Koh at its thirty-first Annual Scholarship Luncheon. University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue presented the award to Professor Koh at the Jepson Alumni Center at the University of Richmond.
Koh is the Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. From 2009 to 2013, Professor Koh served as Legal Adviser to the United States Department of State. From 1998 to 2001, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Before joining Yale Law, he practiced law at Covington and Burling and at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.
Professor Koh is a leading expert on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights. He has argued before the United States Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice and has testified before the U.S. Congress more than 20 times. He has been awarded 12 honorary doctorates and three law school medals and has received more than 30 awards for his human rights work.
The School of Law's Green Award honors Judge William Green, one of the three distinguished members of the original Law School faculty at Richmond College. In her introduction, Dean Perdue said Judge Green is remembered for an address he gave in 1870 to the first Richmond law school class wherein he defined the pursuit of excellence as "the ceaseless struggle to realize one's own potential and always try to do better than one has done before." She added, "Our honoree today has achieved extraordinary professional excellence and certainly would meet Judge Green's criteria.”
Professor Koh also spoke on the importance of professional excellence. He said, "Professional excellence is something you always aspire to but never really achieve, and your main rival, as William Green said, is yourself." He described professional excellence in terms of caring, attention to details, development of skills, and adhering to one's principles.
Professor Koh began teaching at Yale Law School in 1985 and served as dean from 2004 until 2009. Dean Perdue commented, "Professor Koh has never been one to keep his teaching energies confined to the classroom. In addition to being a traditional classroom teacher, he co-taught a human rights clinic at Yale Law." In 1992, under Koh's direction, the clinic took on a case involving Haitian refugees who qualified for political asylum and were being detained at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. She added, "Working tirelessly with his band of students, Professor Koh sued the government and ultimately prevailed."
Koh is the recipient of the 2005 Louis B. Sohn Award from the American Bar Association International Law Section and the 2003 Wolfgang Friedmann Award from Columbia Law School for his lifetime achievements in international law. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and an Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College Oxford, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He was also the editor of "The Justice Harry A. Blackmun Oral History Project" (1994–95).
He is also author or co-author of eight books, including The National Security Constitution, which won the American Political Science Association's award in 1991. He has published more than 150 articles on international human rights, international business transactions, national security and foreign affairs law, international trade, international organizations, international law and political science, and procedure.
Koh concluded his speech by saying, "The question I ask myself everyday is a simple one: 'how should I live my life as a lawyer?' Now it's 'How should I live my life as a lawyer—as a professor, as a human rights activist, as a government official, as a law dean?' And now in all of those, I make sure that I preserve the values that I came with, that I live up to my principles, and that I choose the right principals."
Maggie Bowman, L'13, recipient of the James D. Rowe Memorial Scholarship, also spoke at the Annual Scholarship Luncheon. She reflected on her experiences at the law school and thanked her professors and scholarship donors. Bowman said, "I'm reminded on a day like today that at every step in my legal career—and every step in my life—I will be grateful to those whose incredible generosity has allowed me to attend law school." She added, "[Donors] have the ability to walk into almost any courthouse in the Commonwealth of Virginia, any law firm, any legal office, and look around and know—even if you don't recognize a face or a name—that because of the dedication of your time, and your talents, and your monetary resources, someone there is making a difference."
Having received scholarships throughout junior high, high school, college, and law school, Professor Koh also expressed his gratitude for the donors. "Those of you who have been so generous, I thank you for all you've done for the students and this law school."
Past recipients of the Green Award include Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, United States Supreme Court; Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico, Virginia Supreme Court; Attorney Oliver W. Hill, civil rights activist; Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy, Supreme Court of Virginia; Timothy M. Kaine, United States Senator, Commonwealth of Virginia; and Roger L. Gregory, Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.