Partner Ana Reyes immigrated to the United States when she was 5 years old. She doesn’t remember much from her life before moving to the U.S., but she recalls well the difficulties of integrating into a new culture without knowing the language. Ana struggled with speaking English and was falling behind in class. Her first-grade teacher vowed to help her learn and went above and beyond, coming in early each day to help teach Ana to speak, read and write in English. “That was life-changing,” Ana said. “To this day, I don’t know how far behind I would have been if no one had done that.”
Ana went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Transylvania University, graduate from Harvard Law School, and earn her master’s degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University. She is now co-chair of Williams & Connolly’s International Disputes practice group and a member of the firm’s 6-member Executive Committee. With all of her accomplishments, Ana has often wondered whether her career would have been possible if someone had not spent that extra time to help her learn English.
For many years, Ana looked for a way to get in touch with her teacher, but she didn’t recall her name. Finally, in November 2020, with the help of the Kentucky Department of Education, Ana was able to reconnect with her first grade teacher, Ms. Pat Harkleroad, to express what a huge impact she had on her life. The reunion was filmed and reported on by The Washington Post, the Kentucky Teacher, the ABA Journal, People Magazine, and Good Morning America. “I think it made a big difference in my life in that one of the first interactions I had was with someone who was volunteering and giving their time and absorbing that that is how one should behave,” Ana said. “It has made a big impact on how I try to help others and how I try to think about the world. It wasn’t just about teaching me English, it was teaching that we should all help each other and do what we can for each other. That was an important lesson, too.”
Drawing upon Mrs. Harkleroad’s example, Ana has devoted a substantial portion of her practice to pro bono work, representing refugee organizations and refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has retained Ana for representation in numerous appellate matters and commissioned her to draft a comprehensive report on asylum law in the United States. Ana was appointed to the Honorary Board for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which has written: “Ana represents the very best of the legal profession: an accomplished and skilled litigator who provides the same high quality zealous advocacy whether she is representing an international corporation, a foreign government, or a refugee child.” In 2016, Ana was honored with the Legacy Award by Unlikely Heroes for her work on behalf of young women escaping persecution by a regional terrorist organization. Her work on behalf of refugees has also received recognition for distinction from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (2004, 2008, and 2010) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (2009). In 2017, Ana was named as the D.C. Women’s Bar Association’s Woman Lawyer of the Year in recognition of her international litigation practice and for her efforts in representing the rights of those seeking asylum in the United States.
Click here for the story in The Washington Post.
Click here to read the coverage by People Magazine.
Click here to read the full story by the Kentucky Teacher.
Click here for the ABA Journal coverage.
Click here to see the coverage by Good Morning America.
For the full video of Ana and Pat Harkleroad’s Reunion, please click here.