Law360 Profiles Philanthropy Roundtable’s First General Counsel Jenny Kim

Law360’s “On the Spot” feature interviewed the Philanthropy Roundtable’s new Vice President of Operations and first General Counsel Jenny Kim. Read on to learn about Kim’s new role at the Roundtable.

Jenny Kim finds inspiration and creativity from a scarcity of resources. And she’s drawing on this ability in her first general counsel role.

In May, she became not only the first general counsel at the Philanthropy Roundtable but also its only lawyer. Kim, whose title includes vice president of operations, said her work in reentry and criminal justice reform helped prepare her for various aspects of her current role. At her previous employer, Koch Industries Inc., Kim worked on reentry initiative Safe Streets & Second Chances, which helps former inmates find jobs and a second chance at life while reducing recidivism.

What are some benefits of being the first general counsel at an organization?

I think people have no expectations about what a general counsel needs to look like. I think the other thing is when you’re the first general counsel, you have to think about how you’re going to be an actual person — a real live living person, as opposed to being molded.

The Chinese proverb that the paper is blank, and then everyone leaves the fingerprints on it — that’s what it feels like when you’re the first general counsel. You gain so much information. It’s exciting because you’re developing a new template and new programs. You can experiment with things that you learned during the COVID quarantine, for example, about systems and processes.

We are the best of our systems, and our weakest links are our systems and processes that make sure everything is kept in check and how to constantly improve them and how to always look out for inspiration from other areas. Whether it’s the arts, whether it’s diet and exercise books, whether it’s public speaking, it’s how to find that inspiration from all over the country to make a more robust, interesting organization that is compliant with the law.

But it’s not just about the law. The law is a reflection of us. It’s not this random thing that just exists to keep everybody in check. It’s a reflection of our hopes, our dreams and our worst fears. How do we move past that so we can actually do something that moves philanthropy forward, capitalism forward, in the right direction, so that it helps all people to the extent that they want to continue to dream and hope?

Without dreams and hopes, we wouldn’t be where we are, frankly. There would be no iPhone, there would be no computer, there would be no Richard Branson [Virgin Group founder] up there in outer space. And that fundamentally is what makes us I think probably different. Also, to use Brené Brown, understand that we are feeling beings who happen to think, instead of thinking beings who happen to feel.

Are there downsides to being the first general counsel?

Some people would say that you have to really prioritize when you’re the first GC and the only lawyer in the organization. Again, I’ve used scarcity in terms of abundance. Fear equals opportunity, as my friend Dan Greenwald [founder of ThirtyTenZero] would say. The human brain is wired to keep us safe, but how do we get past our safety and challenge ourselves so we stretch and grow? You can play the devil’s advocate and say you can’t get everything done that you want. I think probably what I would say is that you’re never going to get everything done. You will never catch up on email. But you really have to be focused and focus on your priorities. What are the risks you need to address today? Or to [use] the Eisenhower Matrix, what is both urgent and important, and what is not urgent but extremely important? Those are the things you have to focus on.

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