Kimberly McCoy Summe, '96: Focusing on the Positive with Far-Reaching Results

Appeared in Record issue: 
Spring 2010

Just five years after she had graduated from the Law School, Kimberly McCoy Summe, '96, was named general counsel of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), where she interacted with attorneys from nearly 100 countries regarding those complex financial instruments. It didn't hurt her accelerated career path that before she began her studies at the Law School she had earned a graduate degree in economics from the London School of Economics and a law degree from Cambridge University (and an undergraduate degree from Oklahoma State).

In 2008, after almost seven years at ISDA, she accepted a position as managing director in the prime brokerage unit of Lehman Brothers. Within a matter of months Lehman was a bankrupt casualty of the financial-services meltdown, its prime brokerage operations had been sold to Barclays, and Summe and her colleagues were left wondering what was going to become of them.

Life may have handed her a Lehman, but Summe was determined to make lemonade. "Time is a gift," she says, "and I sometimes had a lot of time on my hands during the handoff of the brokerage unit-quite often the computer networks weren't even functioning. When my work for Lehman or Barclays was done for the day, I could have joined in fearful conversations at the water cooler, but instead I closed my office door and focused on something I could do that mattered."

She used her time to form the nonprofit she named Paladin Connect, which arranges pro bono legal services for microfinance institutions- nonprofit organizations that provide small loans, often under a hundred dollars, to entrepreneurs in developing nations.

"The idea behind Paladin was something I had thought about since my husband and I became involved with a Chicago-based microfinance organization, Opportunity International," she recounts. "I had developed a large network of relationships with top-flight law firms through my work at ISDA, and I also knew that many microfinance organizations were in need of legal help to reach their full potential. It made sense that I might be able to match the resources with the needs."

"I think it was a project propelled by University of Chicago Law School values, because you see so many classmates, alumni, and faculty making innovative ideas work in so many spheres, and you just say, 'Why not me, too?' " Summe says. In its first year of operation, Paladin Connect arranged legal services for more than 30 microfinance organizations. For one, which seeks to expand economic ties between Israel and Palestine, she found lawyers to create for-profit economic development funds in those two jurisdictions; for another (the world's largest nongovernmental organization), she enlisted attorneys to register it as a charity in all 50 U.S. states and all ten Canadian provinces; in a third instance, she arranged legal services to help create a bank holding company in central Asia.

In March she assumed her current position as general counsel at Partner Fund Management, a private investment management company in California, but she still puts in ten to twenty hours each week on Paladin matchmaking. She does all that while joining with her investment-banker husband in raising their three children, and she also finds the time to teach at Stanford Law School. Last year she served on a Hoover Institution team headed by former Treasury Secretary George Shultz that produced the recently published book Ending Government Bailouts As We Know Them.

"When I came to the Law School," she recounts, "I didn't really know exactly what kind of career I wanted. Then I took a course in banking law and I was quickly hooked by the way it combined real-world significance and great intellectual challenge. Other graduates might find their passions in other disciplines, but I think we all have benefitted from the unique Chicago genius of combining pragmatism with deep intellectual investigation. I know I have."