Kirsten Wilkerson is Deputy Director, Torts Branch, Civil Division, at the U.S., Department of Justice. She joined the Federal Tort Claims Act Office in 2013. Prior to that, she was a Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of Environmental Torts, also in the Civil Division.

After graduating from law school at St. Louis University, Kirsten served as a law clerk for a Federal District Judge for two years. She then joined the Department of Justice through the Honors Program.

Kirsten currently serves as the Vice President of the WBA Foundation. She joined the Board in 2017 serving first as a Director, and then as Treasurer before her current position.

Kirsten tells us, “I am currently the Vice President of the Women’s Bar Association Foundation and am LOVING it! I am also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Both organizations are focused on volunteering in various ways to support and uplift the community.”

At DOJ, Kirsten has handled a wide range of cases at both the trial and appellate levels. Most of those cases, such as Stevens v. United States, involved complex scientific issues and expert testimony. Stevens was the main case brought by people injured in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. She was the lead attorney in charge of fact and expert witnesses related to psychiatric and biochemical issues. She recently served as the reviewer overseeing the United States’ defense in litigation arising out of three separate mass shooting incidents. All of these matters were very high-profile and involved complex legal matters, difficult facts, and thorny matters of public policy. Those cases were: the Charleston, South Carolina shooting (Sanders v. United States (D.S.C., No. 16-cv-2356)), in which Dylan Roof shot attendees of a church; the Parkland, Florida litigation (Guttenberg, et al. v. United States (S.D. Fla. No. 18-cv-62758), in which the gunman shot attendees of a high school; and the Sutherland Springs, Texas litigation (Holcombe, et al. v. United States (W.D. Tex., No. 5:18-cv-00555)), in which a former member of the Air Force shot church members. Kirsten recently received the Civil Division Perseverance Award for serving as the reviewer on litigation arising out of these mass shootings.

Kirsten is currently the reviewer for a number of tort suits brought by and against various federally elected officials. In addition to her litigation responsibilities, she devotes a significant amount of time to recruiting and mentoring. She has been a member of the Honors Program Hiring Committee since 2000 and currently serves as the Honors Program Coordinator for the Torts Branch, Civil Division. She is also the Chairperson of the Civil Division’s Diversity Committee.

When did you join the WBA?
June 2016

In what committees/forums have you been involved?
I’ve been a member of the Government Attorneys group. As a Foundation Board member, I have worked the WBA Foundation table at most Stars of the Bar events.

Why did you join the WBA?
This answer is simple. After attending a few events, the WBA simply felt like home. Having been a member of other bar associations and organizations, I realized that the WBA offered the opportunity to get involved in a variety of initiatives, rather than focusing on one thing.

What benefits do you get from being a part of the WBA and why do you think others should join?
The diversity represented among the membership really appealed to me. I found people I could relate to in both the private sector and the public sector, those who have been working in the field for decades and those who were new to the profession. I could not believe how welcoming everyone was when I met them.

People, including men, should join the WBA because it offers a safe space to connect with others in the legal profession or in related professions. The WBA offers the opportunity to both serve as a mentor and to be mentored. There are so many different committees and initiatives that members are sure to find a committee or activity that speaks to and motivates them.

What words of advice do you have for women new to the profession?
It is crucial to develop a support network beyond your family. Everyone needs a group to which they can go in order to express concerns, get advice, and celebrate accomplishments. No one succeeds in a vacuum.

What is the best advice you have received?
This is a tie between:

  • Don’t waste your energy arguing with a crazy person; and
  • Give yourself grace when your carefully thought-out plan goes awry.