Kim J. Askew, Esquire
2015 Professionalism Award for the Fifth Circuit
Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, Kim J. Askew has the charming gentility of the true Southerner. Daughter of a kindergarten-teacher mother and a father who was a contractor, Kim was the first lawyer in her family. Even while pursuing her undergraduate degree in business administration with a minor in history, Askew always knew that she would go to law school.
She selected Georgetown University, mostly because of its Washington, DC, location that afforded many part-time job opportunities, but also because the institution “had always been innovative with respect to gender,” Askew says. Entering law school in the early 1980s, she found herself a member of a class that was nearly 50 percent female and an abundance of female professors from which to learn.
“The profession was starting to open itself up to women lawyers and lawyers of color,” she says. “Although some of my best professors were women—and many went on to do great things—I found that I learned best from those who really enjoyed the law and showed us their vision of what the law could be.”
Although Askew’s ethics professors were the ones who talked overtly about professionalism and civility, “The great teachers were the ones who led by example and demonstrated through their own leadership what it really meant to be a lawyer others would respect and admire,” she says.
They also helped to open up new avenues of opportunity for the increasingly diverse student body. Askew remains grateful to professor Roy Schotland, who first talked to her about becoming a law clerk. “There were not many African American students applying; we received very little guidance,” she says. Upon graduation, Askew’s clerkship took her to Texas where she worked for former Chief Judge Jerry Buchmeyer of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.
Buchmeyer and his fellow judges taught Askew that “‘intangible’ qualities made the truly great lawyers—understanding a jury and the people around you, treating everyone in the courtroom with respect and dignity, and understanding that you were always a part of the system of justice. I did not think of those lessons in terms of ‘professionalism,’ but that is exactly what they were teaching us,” she says.
After her clerkship, she joined Hughes & Luce, now K&L Gates, in Dallas where she has been for more than 30 years. She has successfully tried cases to verdict in the commercial and employment law areas. Some were precedent setting and others involved large damages such as the successful take-nothing jury verdict she obtained on behalf of a Fortune 500 company in an $800 million breach of contract, tortious interference, and fraud case. She regularly conducts internal investigations of issues arising under federal and state employment laws for Fortune 50 companies and leading law firms.
Her work environment did much to encourage and develop a strong sense of ethics and professionalism:
“I think we really learn professionalism and civility through our practices on the job,” she says. “Excellent lawyers taught me how to take tough positions for clients without being nasty or disrespectful.” But there’s still a clear need for the formal training of the type espoused by the American Inns of Court.
Askew works now to impart the same sort of on-the-job professionalism training to the young lawyers in her firm and whom she meets through her long-standing membership in the Patrick E. Higginbotham American Inn of Court. “Mentoring keeps me working with wonderful young lawyers and gives an opportunity to lead by example. It’s how I was trained: You want the young lawyers who work with you to know you are available, accessible, and committed to the highest standards of practice.”
She has devoted herself to giving back to the profession. Askew was the first lawyer of color to serve as chair of the American Bar Association Section on Litigation. Serving as chair of the Board of the State Bar of Texas, she oversaw the implementation of a user-friendly website designed “to enhance the professionalism of lawyers in every practice setting by giving them equal access to the state bar’s wealth of materials, including free legal research,” wrote one person who nominated her for the award.
Despite having been recognized by several other organizations, Askew is especially grateful to receive the American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Fifth Circuit.
“Receiving this award is very meaningful, as it is the gold standard of the profession,” she says. “It is nice to know that I have had an impact, and only renews my commitment to live and breathe professionalism.”
Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer based in McLean Virginia.
© 2015 American Inns of Court. This article was originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.