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Wiley Rein L.L.P.
A “Navy brat” who moved “pretty much every year” until high school, Kimberly M. Melvin, a partner with law firm Wiley Rein L.L.P. in Washington, graduated with a B.A. from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., and obtained her law degree from George Mason University School of Law in Fairfax, Va. While she originally considered becoming a criminal defense attorney, she ended up as a first-year associate with Wiley Rein, and has been there ever since. An insurer attorney, she focuses on professional liability insurance and has carved out a niche in the convergence of insurance and bankruptcy law. Ms. Melvin, who has been described as having a “wicked legal mind” by an admiring insurance official, has served since 2011 as co-chair of her firm's women's forum, which provides mentoring opportunities to help female associates to advance and female partners to expand their practices.
What's your advice for women entering this field?
I would say identify and declare your goals and go after them relentlessly and unabashedly, and be strategic. You've got to understand all the internal and external goals to your plan and develop a plan for addressing them head-on. But look for role models who have tackled similar situations, who are seeking to achieve similar goals, and find support from sponsors and mentors. A corollary to that is: Take time to reflect on the goals you've chosen, to make sure they still make sense as you go along, and do not be afraid to change gears if needed and as appropriate.
What attracted you to this industry?
What attracted me to these types of cases is there's so much that's on the cutting edge and sort of ripped from the headlines that goes on in this industry, and that you get an opportunity to be part of. The subject matter of my cases is very interesting and very topical, and that was attractive to me, particularly as a younger attorney. What initially kept my interest, kept me involved and kept me wanting to practice in this area is the sophistication of my clients and the sophistication of the parties on the other side. In a lot of ways, while we're fighting legal issues, we're also tackling business issues and, as lawyer, I find that interesting and exciting. It keeps getting me up every morning, helping to solve my problems and doing that in a way that makes sense from a legal perspective, but also keeps in mind business interests.
What aspects of your job give you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
I would say there are two: First is client focus, being able to serve my clients' interests and to do so broadly, to satisfy both their specific goals in a given case as well as to meet their broader business goals. The second aspect would be more internal to my firm: I enjoy serving as a mentor — hopefully as a role model for the associates in my firm generally, but particularly for the female associates in my firm. It's a rewarding experience to try to help attract, develop and promote the talent within Wiley Rein. That's been a significant part of my focus as a lawyer and my career here at the firm, and hopefully will be going forward as well.
What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
The importance of developing and sustaining a strong reputation early on with your supervisors if you're in a law firm, or your boss if you're outside of a law environment. For them to trust you and give you the opportunities, you have to quickly earn their respect and earn their trust through developing that strong reputation. It's very critical. And then as you advance, you have to maintain that reputational capital to allow you to be an influence, whether internally at your firm or externally with clients or opposing counsel or other courts or agencies, whomever the external partners are.
Outside family, what woman has been your role model?
It's a partner at my law firm. Her name is Dot (Dorthula H.) Powell-Woodson. She started at Wiley Rein as a lateral partner around the same time I started as a first-year associate, and she was somebody who for a long time was a role model for me. I didn't have a real direct relationship with her, but over time have developed one, and she is someone who is strong in her convictions but diplomatic in her approach. She advocates for herself and others, and is someone whom I respect very much and look up to.
What's at the top of your bucket list and why?
I would love to go to all the Grand Slam tennis torments. I've been to the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, but have never gone to Wimbledon, the French Open or the Australian Open. I'm an avid sports fan and play tennis, but I also enjoy traveling, and it would be fun to align both interests.
What's your secret vice?
It may not be all that secret to people who know me. My secret vice is television. I love watching television. I don't know if it's escapism or if it's looking for just pure entertainment, but I enjoy a whole range of televisions shows. Having to work a full-time job as a partner has impacted the time I spent watching television, but I still enjoy it.
Business Insurance's annual Women to Watch feature recognizes women who are doing outstanding work in commercial insurance, risk and benefits management, and related fields, including consulting and law.