Kim Keenan’s interest in the legal field began at a young age.
“I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” she states. “I just knew I could make a difference and I wanted to help people.”
She attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where she met some amazing people she is still friends with today, and she even teaches as an adjunct with one of her old professors at George Washington University Law School. This experience provided her with a strong foundation to continue on in her legal journey.
After law school, Keenan set her sights on being a trial lawyer and clerked for two years in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for the Hon. John Garrett Penn.
Early Career as a Trial Lawyer
Upon finishing her clerkship, Keenan’s first job was with Finley Kumble. “It was an amazing experience,” Keenan recalls. “We represented very high-end individuals in matters ranging from white collar crime to very complex civil litigation.”
Following that, she went to work at a boutique law firm, where she focused on complex civil litigation, medical malpractice and personal injury. She was very successful in the representation of her clients.
Introduction to ADR
While Keenan was at the boutique firm, she admired a senior lawyer who was a skilled ADR practitioner. “He really encouraged me to develop the skill set of ADR,” Keenan says. “And it always stuck with me that mediation was a solution that could work for so many people.”
She received training on both the local and the federal level to advance her understanding of ADR, which provided her with the right tools in working with parties to resolve even the toughest of disputes.
Identifying the Right Approach
Keenan finds that having a large toolkit works well for mediation and arbitration success. Everybody requires different styles, so one needs different communication skills for different people.
“The more ways that I can help people to see a bigger picture, the more options I have to help them to create a result that they feel comfortable with.”
A Diverse Set of Mentors
Keenan considers herself lucky to have had various mentors throughout her career. “I have mentors who are younger than me, and I have mentors who are more senior than me. This has been my lucky charm.”
She finds that mentors who are her peers give her second opinions that often mirror her own. “But if I choose a front row that is diverse—diverse with men and women and people of various colors—I can create a plan with more open doors.”
“The greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received,” Keenan says, “was ‘If you don’t have a plan, you’re part of somebody else’s plan.’ And as a Black woman, if I’m part of somebody else’s plan, I’m probably not going to be doing the things that I would choose to accomplish.”
Three Words to Live By
When asked to name three words that define her life, Keenan replies, “Grace, generosity and gratitude,” which are principles that she believes can get you through anything. “I try to react with grace. I try to be generous in spirit and outlook,” she says.
As for gratitude? “I’m always grateful,” she says. “Grateful for the opportunity to help people come up with a solution they might not have reached on their own.”
Keenan just finished a term as president of the International Women's Forum of Washington, D.C., which helps women excel in their careers. “We’ve really been able to uplift women from every aspect of personal and professional life.”
She also served as president of the District of Columbia Bar, which is the largest unified bar association in the country. When asked about community service, she speaks passionately about it.
“You have to commit to your community,” she says, “if you expect your community to be as positive and effective as you think it should be.”
She is proud to have found success in her career while also lifting up her community. She lives her life according to the philosophy that “community service is as much a part of what you do as doing what you do.”
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