Kate Ides Comes Full Circle at AECOM

Born in Los Angeles, Kate Ides, AECOM’s corporate vice president and assistant general counsel of litigation, followed her passion for education to New Orleans and back

Kate Ides, Corporate Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of Litigation, AECOM Photo by Andrew Zinn

Growing up in Los Angeles, the daughter of a law professor, Kate Ides admits she had no interest in following in her father’s footsteps toward a law career.

“But people had always suggested and intimated that it might be a field that would interest me,” shares Ides, now the corporate vice president and assistant general counsel of litigation at AECOM.

In college, she played Division I basketball. Although the sport was a big focus throughout the early part of her life, she acknowledges that it was not something she saw herself professionally engaging in, either as a player or coach.

“I had been interested in education—even as a young child—and in my senior year of college, I decided to apply for Teach For America and got into the program,” Ides recalls. “I was placed in New Orleans and spent four years there mostly teaching, except for an interruption from Hurricane Katrina.”

Through her teaching experiences, Ides reached the conclusion that having good teachers in the classroom could only do so much. Her students’ outcomes and the city’s troubled schools were the result of systemic problems that could be addressed through policy or impact litigation.

“That’s where my own interest in the practice of law started,” Ides says. “I went to law school with a very different path in mind, thinking I would practice in the public interest field, perhaps focusing on education reform or juvenile justice.”

But as she learned, the best-laid plans are often foiled by circumstance. The economy tanked while she was in law school, and the narrative around public interest was that it was impossible to get a job in that field at the time.

“I went to law school with a very different path in mind, thinking I would practice in the public interest field, perhaps focusing on education reform or juvenile justice.”

Ides shifted gears and spent her 2L summer at a big law firm, O’Melveny & Myers, choosing it because of her Los Angeles roots and its plain commitment to pro bono work and the city.

“O’Melveny’s commitment to Los Angeles and all its members was palpable during my 2L clerkship,” she says. “I loved it. I also loved the work and the clients on whose behalf I worked. And as I expected, I was surrounded by partners and senior associates who impressed me.” Accepting a full-time job offer from the firm was an easy call.

In April of 2017, after more than six years at O’Melveny & Myers, Ides followed her mentor Carla Christofferson to AECOM. While previously the managing partner of the O’Melveny & Myers Los Angeles office, Christofferson had been hired as the executive vice president and chief legal officer of AECOM, which provides planning, consulting, and architectural and engineering design services for civil and infrastructure construction to public and private clients in more than 150 countries.

“When the opportunity arose, I chose to take it, in part, because of my respect and admiration for Carla. She played a critical role in my development as a litigator, and the prospect of teaming up again won me over,” Ides says. “Not to mention, I was also intrigued by the prospect of moving in-house and learning the ins and outs of a thriving Fortune 500 company while still continuing to serve my clients (now internal) as a litigator. Plus, AECOM is one of the few Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Los Angeles, and I wanted to keep that LA connection.”

Now in-house, Ides is a “thought leader on litigation strategy for some of the company’s highest-risk disputes,” Ides says. Her day-to-day responsibilities include managing resolution of a “docket” of the company’s highest-risk disputes across the globe, from California to Sydney, Australia.

“Because of the nature of the dispute, there is sensitivity around the subject matter or costs that will be spent to protect the company’s interest,” Ides explains. “My objective is to resolve each dispute so as to enhance and protect the company’s profitability and reputation.”

“I’m trying to continue to use my job to expose me to new aspects of business and operations so if an opportunity arises, I am confident that I can step into it.”

But Ides hasn’t forgotten her original passion. She continues to engage in education issues outside the company by serving as a board member for two nonprofit organizations and acting as a mentor through the Los Angeles–based Motivating Our Students Through Experience (MOSTE) program.

“It partners professional women with girls in LA from underresourced public schools to encourage them to be college ready,” Ides says. “In 2011, I was paired with a seventh grader (also named Karla) who is now a senior in college. My aim is to be her sounding board.” These days, Ides and her mentee mostly collaborate on next steps as Karla exits out of college.

Ides feels she’s at a point in her career where she is looking to perfect her current role while staying open to opportunities that could help her advance to different in-house roles.

“I’m trying to continue to use my job to expose me to new aspects of business and operations so if an opportunity arises, I am confident that I can step into it,” she says.

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Vinson & Elkins LLP:

“Kate quickly grasps complex issues and provides keen strategic insights. I consider her an integral part of our litigation team. She is also a delight to work with—quick to respond and calm under pressure.”

– Marisa Secco, Partner