Kumiki Gibson: A Lifelong Enthusiasm for Law
Some of Kumiki Gibson’s most vivid memories are of the many nights when her father, a criminal defense lawyer, would leave the warmth of his bed to bail a client out of jail. His dedication left an indelible impression in his daughter’s mind. She decided that if one were called in the middle of the night to be someone’s “savior” — as she describes it — that the law had to be a worthwhile calling, an honorable profession. And thus began Kumiki Gibson’s lifelong enthusiasm for the law.
Recently appointed vice president and general counsel of The Johns Hopkins University, the second in its history, Gibson directs a staff of eight attorneys and is responsible for advising the institution’s president, board of trustees, and executive officers on legal issues affecting the school.
While her management style is to delegate as much as she can, she does maintain a close watch. “I am respectful of my staff’s skills and talent, but I am very involved with what is going on,” Gibson says.
Educated at Harvard and Northeastern Law School, Gibson clerked for a federal judge after graduation. Knowing she wanted to litigate, a year later she joined Arnold & Porter, a Washington, D.C. firm with a reputation for handling important and ground-breaking cases.
Next, the Buffalo, N.Y. native worked for the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney prosecuting violations of federal civil rights laws, including police brutality cases and hate crimes, a job she describes as one of the most satisfying. “I really felt that I was helping people then, that I was making a difference in the civil rights cause,” Gibson emphasizes.
But a call from a former colleague at Arnold & Porter resulted in an offer she couldn’t refuse. In April 1993, Gibson accepted a position at the White House as an attorney for the vice president during the first term of the Clinton administration. “I don’t think anyone should turn down the opportunity to work in public service, particularly at that level. It was an incredible experience. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to serve the country and the administration in that way,” Gibson enthuses. After leaving the White House in 1996, she joined the D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly, devoting her practice to managing and litigating complex civil cases.
While a move from politics and corporate law to academia might seem counterintuitive, Gibson explains, “I have always used my education and experience as a lawyer to help people. To serve a university whose mission is dedicated to education and research fulfills that test for me. I spend every day working for my clients who are trying to better the world. I share their mission and am proud to be working on their behalf.”
Although Gibson’s professional rise has been relatively hitch-free, she believes the profession still presents many challenges, including offering work that “feeds your soul and stomach.” However, to attorneys entering the profession, Gibson advises them to always seek work for which they have a passion. “Never ever let money drive an employment decision. At the end of the day, it’s the least important thing. If you truly enjoy what you do, you can only be successful.”
Donna Dick is a freelance writer from Monclair, New Jersey.
From the July/August 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®