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K&L Gates Remembers Bill Gates’ Lawyer Father

Sept. 16, 2020, 5:50 PM

K&L Gates mourned the death of founding named partner William H. Gates Sr., who had a long legal career before helping his famous son build a worldwide foundation.

“His impact on our firm, the legal profession, the Seattle region and the world cannot be overstated and will be long remembered,” K&L Gates global managing partner Jim Segerdahl said in a statement.

Gates died Monday at 94, according to Bill Gates Jr.’s family office. The cause was Alzheimer’s disease.

The University of Washington Law School graduate began his legal career in Seattle in 1951, joining with two other lawyers to create Shidler McBroom & Gates in 1964. That firm later combined with the Preston law firm to become Preston Gates & Ellis. That firm later joined with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham to become K&L Gates.

His practice included corporate, technology and disputes. He also was a past president of the King County Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association.

Gates was contemplating retirement in 1994, but agreed to help his son, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates, Jr., evaluate a growing number of appeals for charitable contributions that he was receiving.

The effort turned into a foundation with Gates Sr. writing the first check to a local cancer program. He managed the foundation, which grew into one of the world’s largest philanthropies for improving health and education and alleviating poverty in the U.S. and in other countries.

In 2000, three family foundations were combined and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was started with Gates, father and son, and Melinda Gates as co-chairs.

In accepting the ABA Medal, the profession’s highest honor, in 2009, Gates Sr. noted that “One thing sets lawyers apart from other professions is they take responsibility for the institution in which they work. Yes, we earn a good living. Yes, we do well for our clients. But there is an additional obligation: to serve justice. That is the North Star of our profession. Ours is not the commercial rule that the customer is always right.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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