The university's new vice president and general
counsel says her job is about more than just bailing Johns
Hopkins out of hot water and winning lawsuits.
"My job is to assist each of our university clients in
achieving their own specific mission. That means not only
giving them advice on the law but doing so with a full
appreciation of what their mission is and a genuine
sensitivity to what they are trying to accomplish," said
Kumiki Gibson, who was appointed to the Johns Hopkins
position by the board of trustees last week on the
recommendation of President William
"I'm here to minimize the risks, hopefully eliminate
the risks, for the university," Gibson said, "but at the
end of the day I'm going to gauge my success on how happy
my clients are, by how much of their agenda they are able
Gibson, a former counsel to Vice President Al Gore,
has been a partner since 1997 in the Washington, D.C., law
firm of Williams & Connolly LLP. She will begin work at the
university early next year.
She is a litigator who has prosecuted criminal civil
rights violations as a Justice Department attorney, and
both tried and managed complex civil cases in her private
practice. She also represented law school deans who
intervened as friends of the court in the recent University
of Michigan affirmative action cases; arguments on academic
freedom raised in her amicus brief and others were echoed
in the Supreme Court's majority opinion, written earlier
this year by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Gibson is a 1985 graduate of Harvard University and
earned her law degree in 1988 at Northeastern
"Ms. Gibson comes to us with a well-earned reputation
as a bright and articulate advocate, a strategic thinker, a
talented manager and an engaging colleague," President
Brody said in a message last week to faculty and staff.
Gibson worked in the White House for four years during
the Clinton administration, serving as associate counsel
and then counsel to Gore, for whom she handled both legal
and policy issues.
"My political experience made me more sensitive to the
'small p' internal politics and to the outside politics
that one has to be attentive to," Gibson said. "Perception
really is reality, and it drives so much of how the outside
world treats you — whether it be a court or
regulators, alumni, potential students or potential
faculty. Realizing this made me a better lawyer," she said,
"because it made me understand that no matter how many good
things my clients might be doing, and no matter how
persuasive my arguments to a judge or a jury might be, it
is difficult to counter negative publicity or a bad
reputation, whether deserved or undeserved. We, as lawyers,
need to be sensitive to that."
Gibson said she was attracted to Johns Hopkins in part
by the opportunity to work in a nonprofit setting.
"I really was interested in working for a client with
a mission in which I believe," she said, "and there is no
more important mission than the educational and research
mission of a place like Johns Hopkins."
Other factors that interested her, she said, were the
opportunity to handle a broad range of issues and sort out
competing priorities and the chance to work with highly
intelligent and motivated people. She also liked what she
considered to be a good fit between her, President Brody
and the rest of the senior leadership.
"As I came back for additional interviews, I kept
asking myself, Is this a place where I will be happy to
come to work every day? And the answer was yes," she said.
"I just liked the people and liked seeing and being around
Gibson said she is fully aware that she will be the
university's first new general counsel in 28 years,
succeeding Estelle Fishbein, a confidante of generations of
university leaders and a nationally prominent attorney in
her field. "Estelle's shoes are big shoes to fill, and I
was worried about being able to fill them," Gibson said,
adding that the "incredibly talented and dedicated" lawyers
and staff in the general counsel's office have allayed her
fears. "They're first-rate lawyers, committed to serving
their clients, and they have been incredibly warm and
welcoming," she said.