Q&A With Rising Star Kimberly Ann Olsinski
One bit of advice Kim Olsinski would pass along to a newly minted attorney: Saying no to the wrong clients can be as important to a successful legal career as saying yes to the right ones.
“There are times when you just need to say ‘no’ to a potential case or current client and turn down or get out of a case. This job is hard enough without having to deal with a difficult client. I remember early on, someone on the NCAJ Auto Torts Listserv telling me that I would not regret firing a client, only staying in a case that I wanted to get rid of. That person was right. Also, never be afraid to ask questions of a more experienced lawyer.”
Olsinski has been practicing law for 11 years. She joined her husband, Justin Olsinski, in The Olsinski Law Firm in 2011, where she focuses her practice on personal injury and wrongful death. She was named to the National Trial Lawyers 2014 Top 100 attorneys list and the National Trial Lawyers 2014 Top 40 Under 40, and is a frequent CLE presenter for NCAJ.
A native of Herndon, Virginia, Olsinski graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts from the College of William & Mary and earned her Juris Doctor cum laude from Hofstra University School of Law. She lives in Huntersville with her family — 5-year-old Gwen, 3-year-old Grant and Rosie, the rescue dog, a “true mutt” who goes to work with her every day.
Olsinski answered some questions for us about her practice, her life and how NCAJ has made a difference in her career.
Is there a case so far that stands out as particularly memorable, one that made you feel proud to practice law?
For eight years of my career, I handled criminal defense as well as personal injury cases. I did a little bit of indigent defense work early on for about a year, before I was able to get off the appointed list and only handle private criminal cases. I had one appointed DWI case from 2011 where I went to trial in district court. We lost, but I knew my client was innocent. We appealed to superior court, I hired two experts and I filed multiple motions. I spent hours researching and learned so much. I fought like hell for this client, and finally the state realized they were not going to win, and they dismissed the case in November 2016 right before trial. My client was so grateful to me, and I was proud that I had stuck with it and fought for her for so long. Many other attorneys could not believe that I was putting in so much effort for an appointed client who wasn’t paying me, but to me I had to keep fighting for what was right. So often our criminal justice system is anything but just; that time that I was able to fight (for almost five years) to make sure my client got the justice she deserved will always be special to me.
Why did you choose to become a plaintiff’s attorney?
I worked in Geico’s insurance defense department for more than a year at the end of law school. It was a good learning experience, but I hated that I was always working against the injured person and for the insurance company, trying to find ways for Geico not to pay a claim. That did not sit right with me, and I knew I wanted to do more to help people when I graduated. I also missed interacting with people, since in insurance defense normally I was only dealing with the insurance adjuster.
What made you want to settle in North Carolina?
My husband, Justin, and I met and got married while in law school in New York. We knew we did not want to stay there, so we started looking for somewhere to move. Charlotte kept popping out as an up-and-coming city, a good place to start a business, much more affordable than New York — and with good weather. We came to visit and liked it and decided Charlotte would be our new home. The day after we graduated, we packed up and drove down here to start studying for the bar exam, and we’ve loved living here. We consider ourselves North Carolinians now.
What prompted you to join NCAJ?
When I first started out, I was a solo practitioner, and I had no one to teach or mentor me. I leaned heavily into NCAJ and utilized the Listserv often — probably too often! The connectivity of the Listserv made me feel like there were people who had my back, and I learned so much from everyone who took the time to answer my questions.
Was there someone in your life who inspired you to pursue a career in the law?
I am the first lawyer in my family, so no one really inspired me to become a lawyer. However, I grew up with a Type-A focus on the rules and details. I think becoming a lawyer was definitely the best fit career-wise for my personality. Additionally, my mom was a great role model for me growing up; she was very strong and did not hesitate to stand up for herself and those she cared about. The strength that I both inherited and learned from her has helped me to become a zealous advocate for my clients and myself, and to stand my ground in difficult situations.
When you were 10 years old, did you want to be a lawyer when you grew up?
When I was 10, I probably wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t until eighth grade civics class when we had our first mock trial that I realized I had to be one of the attorneys in the mock trial. The desire stuck with me from there.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love reading. Historical biographies and historical nonfiction are my favorites. I love a good Netflix binge, like most people. I love being outside and going for walks and hikes in the woods.
Describe the perfect day off.
I would definitely be sleeping in with no alarm and no kids needing me. I would stay in pajamas all day, watch TV, read, but also get a good long walk in or workout, so I didn’t feel too lazy. I’d get food from my favorite restaurant, and sit and snuggle and watch a movie with my kids, husband and dog. Then I’d have dessert!