Attorney Ashley Kirkwood says H-F helped prepare her for the courtroom

Ashley Williams Kirkwood believes her passion for justice combined with skills learned at Homewood-Flossmoor High School helped her team win a pro bono case for a Wisconsin inmate.
 
  Ashley Kirkwood
Kirkwood, of Flossmoor, said she has “a personal drive for civil rights work” and she believed her client’s argument that he had been refused medical treatment for a serious injury he suffered while in prison. 
 
Her law firm, Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, was appointed by a federal judge in Wisconsin to represent Lawrence Northern, a convicted drug dealer, in the 7th Federal Circuit case. The Wisconsin Department of Justice wanted a $2,000 out-of-court settlement, but the Kirkland & Ellis team decided to go to trial in November. 

This was Kirkwood's second jury trial since joining the firm in 2016. She delivered the opening statement outlining for the eight-member jury how Northern was playing in a basketball tournament when he injured his foot. He complained immediately as his ankle swelled, but a nurse at the prison told him he could not see a doctor, and she refused to give him any medication.
 
A medical examination later showed that Northern had ruptured his Achilles tendon. The injury has left him prone to a re-rupture and he cannot stand for any long period of time. 

The case was presented over three days. The jury deliberated for two days coming back with a approximately $73,000 award for Northern.
 
“It was a pretty serious injury, a torn Achilles tendon. They (jurors) understand the pain and normally that’s something that would be addressed via surgery in as little as two weeks. For him, it took two months to be seen by a doctor” and another two months for surgery, Kirkwood said.
 
During the trial, Kirkwood cross-examined an orthopedic surgeon and a family practice physician. She recognized they had years of experience far beyond anything she has, but she felt confident in her questioning because of skills she learned in debate and speech activities at H-F.
 
“I think that those programs are so important because not only do they teach you confidence they show you where your skills lie and you can choose a career path that works with your skills,” the 2007 H-F graduate said. “I think speech, even more so than debate, shaped my confidence and gave me really the skills I need to perform well in a jury trial.” 
 
She recalls being in the impromptu speech competition for H-F in which she had to prepare remarks on a topic in minutes and then argue her point.  In Lincoln-Douglas debate she argued one-to-one against her competitor. And, being in speech’s play competition gave her the ability to read an audience’s reaction and adjust the presentation so that they were getting the play’s message.
 
“In our instance, we were on the plaintiff side and I thought we were really fighting for justice and it was easy to portray the emotions that I felt because I really believed in it and believed in him (Northern),” Kirkwood said.
 
After H-F, Kirkwood earned an international business degree from the University of Illinois. She had the chance to do study abroad in Jordan, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.  She worked for several years in business before deciding to enroll in law school.
 
She credits former Flossmoor resident Rory Smith for mentoring her law school ambitions.  She completed her first year at The John Marshall Law School and transferred to Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. She graduated in 2016. Her specialty at Kirkland & Ellis is commercial litigation, and she has on ongoing pro bono caseload.
 
She is married to fellow 2007 H-F classmate Christopher Kirkwood. She is the daughter of Keith and Valerie Williams of Flossmoor.

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