Richardson: A Passion To Work

June 30, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Attorney Kimberly Richardson knew at age 17 that if she was knowledgeable, prepared and clear about what she wanted to do in life, the world would be her oyster. Just two years out of law school, this young associate attorney at Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett is already shaking things up. 

Richardson has made a mark since joining Varnum in September 2006. She conceptualized and drove a number of diversity initiatives at the firm, some of which were noted when Varnum received the 2008 Law Firm of the Year Award from the Diversity Services Office of Michigan State University College of Law and the Wolverine Student Bar Association. She also organized a breakfast series to bring minority construction business owners together with some of the area’s largest contractors. 

Richardson describes herself as a “prudent risk taker” who is very analytical and likes logical reasoning. She’s quick to label herself “a talker,” too. She’s not one to waste time: Just 31, she already has a “bucket list” and is determined to check off every item on it. She writes poetry, is working on a novel and plays the guitar — a skill she recently acquired. Learning how to play the guitar was one of the “to do” things on her bucket list.

Richardson earned a B.S. degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1999 and went to work for Watson Wyatt & Co. in the metro Detroit area. There, she did annual actuarial valuations and complex data analysis for defined benefit retirement and retiree medical plans. The company was great, she said, but the work was a little too staid for the outgoing and energetic Richardson.

As time went on, she became more and more involved in Watson Wyatt’s regulatory advisory committee, where she kept tabs on legislation and new cases coming out of various circuit courts — not to provide legal advice to clients, but rather to give them a heads up on what was coming down the pipeline.

Three years later, she enrolled at Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, with a particular interest in employer-employee relationships and the issues that arise within those relationships.

A native of Flint, Richardson didn’t apply to any law schools in Michigan. 

“I just wanted to get out for a little while,” Richardson recalled. “When I started law school, I really did not intend on coming back to Michigan at all.” An opportunity at Varnum later changed her mind.

Richardson served as a teaching assistant for one semester while in law school and did a summer internship with the Wayne County Department of Labor Relations, where she assisted with contract negotiations for the county’s 19 labor union locals. She also worked as a “summer associate” at Varnum in both 2004 and 2005. Richardson distinguished herself among her law school classmates by winning the Sherman Minton Moot Court competition in the 2004/05 academic year and by being inducted into a national honor society for courtroom advocacy known as the Order of the Barristers.

She received her Juris Doctorate degree in 2006 and joined Varnum as an associate attorney in its labor and employment practice group in September of that year.

“The people here are absolutely amazing. It was an opportunity for me to learn from exceptional attorneys who were willing to teach and take the time to mentor — and that’s not necessarily something you get everywhere,” Richardson said.

“The other thing is that the firm’s clients are not just based in Michigan or the Midwest. That was really exciting to me and something I really didn’t anticipate, coming back to Michigan.”

At Varnum, Richardson reviews employee handbooks, looks into complaints of unlawful conduct, and counsels clients on employee relations, wage and hour laws, K-12 and postsecondary education law, traditional labor law and the Employment Retirement Income Security Act. She represents clients in state and federal court, in arbitrations, and before state and federal administrative agencies.

Richardson has co-authored papers and made presentations on the legal implications of Proposal 2, which Michigan voters passed in 2006. The amended constitutional framework did away with preferences based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin and gender in public contracting, education and employment. In fact, she was the only representative of West Michigan to serve on the Proposal 2 Impact Project, a statewide panel of lawyers assembled to analyze the potential impact of Proposal 2 on nonprofit organizations.

Leading up to the election of November 2006, Richardson began looking into the Proposal 2 issue in depth to ascertain how it might affect Varnum’s public sector clients and what they could do to be fully prepared if it passed. She did extensive research into California law and the after-effects of an identical measure that passed there in November 1996.

She has helped Varnum clients re-draft policies that enable them to continue to meet their diversity goals without overstepping the boundaries of the new state law. As a result of her background, she has more or less become the go-to person at Varnum for questions about the impact of Proposal 2. 

“It has been work as well as a passion,” Richardson said.

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