Assistant U.S. Attorney
U.S. Department of Justice
Grand Rapids, MI, USA
Industry: Government/Public Service
Field: Civil Litigation
“We don’t represent just anybody, we represent the United States,” says Agnes Kempker-Cloyd, assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorneys’ Office of the U.S. Department of Justice. “If you are going to govern, you have to govern fairly.” For the past 35 years, Ms. Kempker-Cloyd has held fast to this philosophy, always searching for a resolution that best meets the needs of both parties. When it comes to litigations and settlements, you should “try to build a bridge instead of creating more tension,” she says.
Throughout her career in law, Ms. Kempker-Cloyd has gained experience in many different areas of the field, including criminal law, which is where she spent her first decade, and cases regarding bankruptcy — she is one of only two or three individuals who have experience in this area in her office. Although she has more than three decades of experience and has become skilled in civil litigation, it was no easy task for her to go into the field of law. When she first entered law school, women were given a hard time because it was not a common field for them to pursue a career in. However, she was persistent in obtaining her law degree and graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law with a JD.
A seasoned professional, Ms. Kempker-Cloyd understands that when working with her clients, it takes time, experience and maturity to be able to make a reasonable offer. “You have to try to remember that even though you may think that the case is small, to the person involved, it’s a big deal.” The most gratifying aspect of her career is when she is able to litigate a case successfully. In order to keep herself fresh, she is an avider reader of the Michigan Bar Journal. She also supports many charitable organizations, including Circle Theater, Home Repair Services, Senior Neighbors, the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and Sierra Club.
Ms. Kempker-Cloyd originally wanted to pursue a career as a buyer and maintains her hobby of fashion design. When she needs a break, she is able to bring out her creative side, working as an independent fashion consultant for Jockey Person to Person.
Conversation with Agnes Kempker-Cloyd
Worldwide Publishing: On what topic(s) do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Agnes Kempker-Cloyd: Because I work for the government, I take cases that I’m assigned, so I represent the United States, its agencies and employees, which encompasses a huge amount of cases. However, the majority of cases that I take regard bankruptcy.
What characteristics help to separate you from other lawyers?
The fact that I understand that most lawsuits are a problem that cannot be solved by the individuals involved and that because I work for the federal government, I know that we are here to do justice and sometimes justice means solving a problem or settling a case, instead of trying to beat up the other side we are going up against. I am more compassionate and reasonable.
What motivates you?
Understanding that these are people who have a problem and trying to see the other side. Because all the pieces are so different, it’s interesting — it’s harder, but it keeps things fresh and interesting.
What lessons have you learned as a professional in your field?
I have learned to be more patient. When you are younger, you want to see change immediately and are impatient. However when you get older, you realize that some things take a little bit more time. I have also learned that you need to be true to yourself.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
I am an independent fashion consultant for Jockey Person to Person, which lets me bring out my creative side. I hope to one day retire from government and pursue this venture full time.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
At first, trying to get into law school was hard because it wasn’t something that a lot of women were doing. It was just not common for women to go into law at that time. It was a challenge to break through that.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
The perceptions that people have of lawyers; they’re thought to be like your legal pit bull verses the older perception of being a trusted counselor. I think that the media, the way some lawyers highlight the need to win over justice, and the economy have changed that perception.
What are some questions that an individual interested in your services can ask to ensure a more productive relationship?
It will be different for everyone, but I try to make the person, whether my client or a witness, feel relaxed and I try to convey to them that they can ask me anything. Each person will have different issues, and my job is to give them confidence.
Did you ever consider pursuing a different career path or another profession?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a buyer of clothing. I also wanted to be a Catholic priest, but they don’t allow women in that profession.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
Meeting all of the different types of people who I wouldn’t know otherwise. I learn about different things every day.
What is your favorite or least favorite work-related task to do and why?
My least favorite part was working with sentencing for criminal cases — there were some sentences that I thought were very hard to work, such as when they regarded illegal aliens. However, I don’t do it anymore. My favorite part is coming to a settlement where all sides are really happy. That way you know that it is a very good resolution.
What advice can you offer fellow members or others aspiring to work in your industry?
You should pick things that you are good at. There are so many jobs in the legal field; it doesn’t all entail litigation. There is counseling and jobs for problem solvers. I think that people have a specific stereotype of what it is to be a lawyer is and it is totally wrong.
What changes have you observed in the legal field since you started?
I think the field is more open and accepting to women. I also think that it has become more creative in the problem-solving approach and has become more diverse in its thinking. There are many different ways to look at a problem.