Vice Chancellor and General Counsel, Washington University in St. Louis
In the mid-1970s, when a teenager from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, named Monica J. Allen first set foot on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, she had dreams of being a marine biologist. She did not think, at the time, she would one day be the school’s general counsel. More than 40 years later, she is.
“I do care about this institution,” said Allen. “I’ve learned more about how this university functions. It’s a very complex place in a way that’s not immediately obvious if you just walk around campus.”
Even as an undergraduate, Allen decided to forgo the scientific path. Instead, she began focusing on comparative literature and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Wash U in that field. Upon the advice of her mother, she applied to law school. It was a practical move, she felt. But Allen ended up being fascinated by the material, engaged by the professors and “drawn in.”
“There were many words I didn’t understand,” she said, “but I realized that the law is how we as a society try to organize ourselves to create some common understanding about how we’re going to interact with one another as human beings.”
Upon earning her law degree in 1992, she clerked for U.S. District Judge Jean C. Hamilton, then spent a year as a litigator at what is now Shands, Elbert, Gianoulakis & Giljum. In 1995, she accepted a position at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, but when she found out that a pair of former law-firm colleagues — Robert Haar and Pete Woods — were striking out on their own, she asked if they needed help. They welcomed her into the fold, assigning her a wide variety of litigation work.
“I enjoyed learning new things to Bob Haar’s satisfaction,” said Allen.
During her years at the firm, she also taught at Wash U on the side as an adjunct professor. The law school asked if she would teach a course on litigation ethics. Allen, whose father was a physician and mother a nurse, pitched a different idea, which the school adopted: A course called “Comparative Professional Ethics: Law and Medicine,” which explored similarities and differences between the ethical codes governing lawyers and physicians. She taught that course from 2001 to approximately 2007.
The school was also a client of Haar & Woods. That’s how she got to know its general counsel, who eventually broached the subject of Allen coming to the university to work in-house.
“It was a really, really hard decision,” Allen said, “but I decided that this presented the opportunity to take on some new and different challenges.”
She joined as senior counsel in February 2006 and began as GC in 2016. Now she leads a team of 14 attorneys serving an institution that has total operating revenue of more than $3.5 billion, receives more than $700 million in annual research support, employs more than 15,000 faculty and staff, and enrolls a similar number of students. It is a place that has changed much, she said, since she arrived as an aspiring marine biologist.
“I know that when I leave eventually, I’ll be leaving a place I’ve been tied to for a long time,” said Allen. “It will always mean a great deal to me, this institution.”