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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 15, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 15
New General Counsel Named

Kumiki Gibson in her office at Williams & Connolly LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm where she has been a partner since 1997.

Kumiki Gibson, former aide to Al Gore, will join JHU in January

By Dennis O'Shea

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 R. Brody.

"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 to accomplish."

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 University.

"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 them."

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.


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