Matthew Slater, ’83: An International Law Practitioner Committed to Promoting Equal Opportunity

Matthew Slater wearing black suit and blue tie
Matthew Slater, ’83

A few years ago, Matthew Slater, ’83, took on the status of senior counsel at Cleary Gottlieb Steen Hamilton LLP, the firm where he began working in 1985. “Being senior counsel means I no longer have the demands and pressures of partnership, but I continue to be associated with the firm, advise on matters where people might want my input, promote pro bono work, and do other things for which I didn’t have time as a partner,” he said.

His input would prove very valuable to many people. He is an expert in complex matters of international law, he served with distinction in a high-level government position, he has been deeply engaged in pro bono work, and he has served for many years as a board member at two prominent social justice organizations.

He joined Cleary Gottlieb’s Washington, DC, office after a US Court of Appeals clerkship and a year at a West Virginia firm. His practice has been focused on international arbitration and domestic litigation involving parties from outside the US, often foreign governments or foreign-government-owned instrumentalities.

Among many other things, he was counsel for Argentina before the US Supreme Court in the first case the Court heard involving an arbitral award made under an international investment treaty; he represented the government of Japan in proceedings brought by Australia and New Zealand under a trilateral fishing treaty before international judicial and arbitral tribunals constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; and for the German company Robert Bosch GmbH, he led many years of multijurisdictional litigation and investigations associated with alleged deceptive diesel-vehicle emissions testing.

Slater said that his time at the Law School affected not just the course of his career, but also of his life. “I got a fabulous legal grounding in my classes, and I learned a lot at the Law Review [where he was editor in chief] about what is truly required for first-class legal thinking,” he said. “And it was a Law School classmate who introduced me to the wonderful woman who would become my wife, Faith Roessel. Roessel is Navajo, and a lawyer, and she was already dedicating her talents to advancing American Indian causes when we met. It didn’t hurt our first conversations that I had taken a class at the Law School on American Indian law.”

Roessel’s appointment in 1994 as deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the US Department of the Interior prompted Slater to seek his own opportunity for government service. “I always had an interest in public policy,” he said. “Seeing the impacts of Faith’s work reinspired me, so I put the word out that I was interested.”

The offer he received surprised him: to become principal deputy general counsel of the US Air Force. “It’s not something I would have thought to put myself forward for, but I trusted that I could learn and I could help,” he said. For his help in many areas, including overseeing major litigation concerning national security information and the military and state secrets privilege, Slater was awarded the Air Force Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service, the highest award granted by the Secretary of the Air Force to civilian employees.

Reflecting his belief that lawyers have a special responsibility to ensure equal opportunity under the law and to combat our country’s legacy of racial and other forms of invidious discrimination, he has served for more than 20 years on the board of directors of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and previously provided more than 20 years of service as a board member of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. A pro bono highlight was working with Roessel (and now DC Circuit Judge Patricia Millett) on a Supreme Court amicus brief for a coalition of national child welfare organizations in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and he had recent success in a pro bono criminal appeal in the Fourth Circuit. As a member of the American Law Institute (ALI), he has been involved with many of ALI’s restatements of law, including US law of international commercial and investor-state arbitration.

His current activities outside Cleary Gottlieb include helping to support his wife’s nonprofit, which collaborates with Navajo communities and non-Native communities to support Navajo youth, families, and education; participating in pro bono matters and in more ALI working groups; and beaming with pride at the accomplishments of his three sons, Carl, Aaron, and Sam, all of whom, he says, are “doing very good work to try to make the world a better place.”