Former NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan ’87 Selected as Commencement Speaker

Kim Keenan

Kim Keenan served as general counsel and secretary of the NAACP from 2010-14. Courtesy photo

January 25, 2022

Kim Keenan, a 1987 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, will serve as the school’s commencement speaker for the Class of 2022 in May.

Keenan is a mediator, arbitrator and neutral evaluator at JAMS, a Washington, D.C.-based private alternative dispute resolution provider.

From 2010-14, Keenan served as general counsel and secretary of the NAACP. She provided legal advice related to governance, risk management, civil rights and discrimination litigation, and contracts, as well as defend suits for the NAACP, local NAACP branches and national state conferences. She was the youngest person to hold the position and the second woman to serve in that role.

Ansley Seay ’22 and Caroline Spadaro ’22, Student Bar Association Graduation Committee co-chairs, said in a joint statement that they sought a speaker who shared their ties to UVA Law and the Law School community, and one who could represent the myriad interests and goals of their classmates.

“Her career of advocacy has continued to create spaces for groups underrepresented in the legal field and is exemplary of the impact we all should strive to have after graduating from the law school — creating a legal community that fosters all those who wish to make a positive impact on society through the law, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or socioeconomic background,” they said.

Keenan currently serves as the first female co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance and was the first Black female president of the International Women’s Forum for the District of Columbia. She teaches trial advocacy as a senior adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School.

Keenan has also served as president of the District of Columbia Bar and the National Bar Association. In 2007, she founded her own law firm and was lead trial attorney focusing on catastrophic medical malpractice cases, mass torts and mediation. After law school, she clerked for Judge John Garrett Penn in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“The truth of it is if you learn some disappointment at law school, it’s preparing you to be a lawyer, because you’re going to lose something,” she told UVA Law students in 2013. “You’re going to win a lot, but you’re going to lose something. And it’s not about the win as much as what you do when you lose or when there’s a disappointment, it’s how you get back up when whatever it is slaps you down.”

Through the Law School Foundation, she has served on the Alumni Council and Law Alumnae Leadership Committee. She is also a lead donor to the Law Alumnae Scholarship and supported the Justice Thurgood Marshall Professorship.

“Both Kim’s distinguished career and her dedication to the UVA Law community have long been sources of pride for the Law School,” said Dean Risa Goluboff. “Our students are lucky that she will share her experience, wisdom and inspiration with them as they launch their own professional lives.”

Keenan earned her bachelor’s degree in international economics from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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