Keith Wattley and Staff of Uncommon Law

On March 20, Santa Clara University School of Law faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends gathered in the Adobe Lodge at SCU to celebrate and honor the 2024 Alexander Award Winner, Keith Wattley J.D. ‘99, the founder and executive director of UnCommon Law.

First awarded in 2008, the Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize was created through the generosity of the late Katharine and George Alexander to bring recognition to legal advocates who have used their careers to help alleviate injustice and inequity. (See a list of past Alexander Prize winners

Katharine Alexander practiced law for 25 years as a public defender for Santa Clara County and taught law courses at San Jose State University. George Alexander served as a professor of law at Santa Clara University for 34 years and as dean of Santa Clara Law for 15 years. Katharine and George dedicated their lives to instilling in students and lawyers a commitment to justice.

Chip and Laurie Alexander with Keith and Sarah Wattley Chip, the son of George and Katharine Alexander, attended the evening with his wife,  Laurie. The evening included introductory remarks from Quincey Lowery 2L, welcome remarks from Santa Clara Law Dean Michael Kaufman, a welcome by Deborah Moss-West J.D. ‘94, chair of the Alexander Prize committee and executive director of the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center; a moving talk about his work by Keith Wattley; a Q&A moderated by Francisco Rivera Juaristi, professor of law and director of the International Human Rights Clinic; the presentation of the award by Deborah Moss-West, and closing remarks by Dean Michael Kaufman.


Keith Wattley ‘99 has been advocating for the rights of people in prison and on parole for more than 20 years. Before launching UnCommon Law in 2006, Wattley was a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley. At UnCommon Law, he has focused on helping people transform their lives and demonstrate to the parole board that they can safely be released from their life sentences. He also has engaged in impact litigation and individual cases involving unlawful prison and parole conditions, and he has trained hundreds of lawyers, law students, and others in advocating for the rights of incarcerated people.

In 2018, Wattley was selected as one of the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Fellows, recognizing his unique legal model and vision, and in 2020, he was awarded the James Irvine Foundation’s Leadership Award. Wattley has been active on several boards of directors and is co-chair of the Institutional Review Board (human subjects committee) for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. He was also a member of the Founding Board of Directors for the Prison University Project (San Quentin’s College Program) and a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Wattley currently teaches a course titled “California Prisons and Discretionary Parole” at UC Berkeley School of Law where he also supervises the Post-Conviction Advocacy Project.

He received his B.A. in Psychology from Indiana University and his J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law. Since graduation, Wattley has remained active in the Santa Clara Law community through speaking at graduation events and class seminars. 

“Keith Wattley exemplifies the compassionate and optimistic spirit that comes with viewing each person as a gift from God,” said Michael Kaufman, dean of Santa Clara Law. “We could not be more proud that this Santa Clara alumnus has devoted his legal talents to ensuring incarcerated people who have turned their lives around have a chance to contribute their gifts to the world. We are delighted to honor him with the Alexander Prize.”

“Like UnCommon Law, Santa Clara is training lawyers who fight for communities that have been harmed by our legal and justice systems,” said Wattley. “I am honored to receive this award from my law school, and look forward to engaging another generation of advocates leveraging the law to achieve justice for the thousands of people in our nation’s prisons.”

Keith Wattley, Dean Kaufman, and Santa Clara Law Faculty


In her welcoming remarks at the event, Moss-West shared some of the factors considered by the Alexander Prize award committee, which include a steadfast commitment to advancing human rights, the innovative nature of the nominee’s programs, the courage and self-sacrifice exemplified by the nominee, the sustainability of the nominee’s programs, and the number of people who have benefited from the nominee’s work. She read a quote by Professor Margaret Russell highlighting the powerful impact of Wattley’s work, “Keith took a bold step to create a space of compassion, impossibility, for people usually ignored and disrespected. His brilliance, innovative, effective, and deeply compassionate work makes an extraordinary contribution to changing lives and transforming the national narrative on violent crimes and recidivism.”

In presenting the award to Wattley, Moss-West stated, “It is my distinct honor to be able to be a part of the committee to help award Keith Wattley, my fellow alum, this year.”

In his remarks, Wattley outlined the harrowing experiences he has seen through his work with those convicted of violent crimes, pointing out that these people have had life-changing events in most cases, that led them to commit their crimes and that they are usually not the same people now as when they were convicted. The work he and his team undertake gives voice to those who are not heard and/or don’t understand what is being asked of them when brought in front of parole boards. Wattley’s work enables them to have a voice.

Dean Michael Kaufman thanked the Alexander family, honored the legacy of Katharine and George Alexander, and explained how Wattley fulfills their legacy, saying “Keith Wattley is a true bronco in every way…(he) embodies the spirit of the Alexander family, the Alexander Prize, and our Jesuit, Catholic mission as a law school, who has devoted his life’s work—more than two decades of work—his heart, his soul, his talent, his tenacity, and his tenderness, in service of others.” 

See a selection of photos from the evening.

Watch a recording of the evening.