Young alumni Kenneth and Jennifer Imo keep close ties to law school community

Kenneth Imo (’02) speaks about Wake Forest University with a reverence rooted in the school’s culture of community, in particular the way it fosters interaction among students and professors.

It was his first home in North Carolina, a place where he learned to become a lawyer and a place where he formed and nurtured life-long relationships with faculty and staff.

“I had a wonderful experience at Wake Forest,” says Imo, director of Talent Diversity for WilmerHale in Washington, D.C. “Attending the law school is one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.”

For many reasons.

The Wake Forest University School of Law is also, after all, where Imo met his wife, Jennifer (’00), a partner at The Ferguson Group.

Jennifer Imo, of Charlotte, joined the firm in 2002. Before that she worked as a litigation associate for Moore and Van Allen PLLC of Charlotte.

Jennifer and Kenneth Imo are lawyers, though neither is practicing law, or at least not in the traditional sense.

“We’re two examples of having law school degrees and stepping outside of the box, and using those skills in other areas that can make you very successful,” Jennifer Imo said.

In her role with The Ferguson Group, Imo provides strategic consulting and advocacy for local governments representing their interests before Congress and the executive branch, according to the firm’s website. She helps clients establish partnerships with federal agencies and congressional members and staff to address local issues, and she develops strategies to support or oppose legislative and policy initiatives that affect local governments.

Jennifer Imo is also federal director for the National Association of Towns and Townships and executive director for the General Aviation Airport Coalition, a national effort in response to a lack of representation for this sector of general aviation.

“I deal with a range of issues, but the core of it all is local government.”

She often feels right at home.

“I meet a lot of people from North Carolina, and we have a lot in common,” said Jennifer Imo, who earned a bachelor’s in political science and technology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I’m still interacting with people from my home state all the time.”

The Imos share of love of music, and their first date was a concert by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. But that date, during the final rounds of the 2000 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, almost didn’t happen.

It was the Final Four, you see, and Tar Heels were still alive .

“If Carolina were playing I was not going to be (at the concert).”

Carolina lost.

Jennifer and Kenneth have three children: twins Cecilia and Juliet, who are almost 2, and Olivia, who is 4.

Kenneth Imo is the Director of Diversity for WilmerHale. Imo lives and works in Washington, D.C., but he oversees diversity programs for the firm, which has more than 1,000 lawyers in 12 cities in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

“The changing demographics of the country have made diversity a critical issue for all employers, including law firms,” he says.

Part of Imo’s job entails finding ways to link diversity to the firm’s key business objectives, such as recruiting, retaining and promoting a diverse group of lawyers. Imo joined the firm in 2008 as the Career Development Attorney and before that practiced as an associate at Davis Wright Tremaine in its Corporate Diversity and Crisis Management Group. 

Since then, the firm has won the prestigious Thomas L. Sager Award, which is “given to law firms that have demonstrated sustained commitment to improve the hiring, retention and promotion of minority attorneys,” according to the website of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

Sager (’76), who is a law school  Board of Visitors member,  is senior vice president and general counsel for DuPont Legal. He helped pioneer the DuPont Convergence and Law Firm Partnering Program and continues to have oversight responsibility. Through his leadership, this program has become a benchmark in the industry and has received national acclaim for its innovative approach to the business of practicing law, the DuPont website says.

Imo began his legal career in October 2002 as an officer in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps. He served in the JAG Corps for four years and was stationed in Oklahoma and southern Virginia.

But he wanted to work in Washington. 

“I love D.C.,” says Imo, who served an internship in the city while a junior at SMU. “When I got to law school, one of my goals was to work in Washington — which wasn’t unique to me because a lot of students were attracted to the nation’s capital. I think it’s great that the law school now offers the Washington Externship program.” 

Imo does not come from a family of lawyers, but he was intrigued by the courtroom drama that he saw in movies and on television. 

“All I really knew about law school is what I saw on TV,” he says. “I thought, ‘I can do that; I can try cases.’”

Jump back a few years, and what Kenneth Imo really wanted was to play professional football. It was, after all, a realistic goal.

Imo, a Houston native, was a starting strong safety in a Division I program — Southern Methodist University — and he realized some early success.

But, as often happens in life, things changed.

Imo continued to get a lot of playing time for the SMU Mustangs, although he lost his starting job. For Imo, an NFL career became less of a goal and more of a dream, which blurred slowly, fading enough around the edges to expose a new reality.

“Fortunately, I realized early that I didn’t have a future in football, so I became more committed to achieving academic success.”

Majoring in economics and history, Imo became more studious. More driven, even.

He will never forget a conversation he had with Tim Davis, his mentor and a law professor at SMU.

Davis said he was leaving SMU to teach at Wake Forest Law School and that, maybe, just maybe, Imo should consider continuing his academic career in Winston-Salem, even though Imo had never visited North Carolina.

“I met Ken when he appeared at my office door at SMU,” said Davis, the John W. and Ruth H. Turnage  professor of law at Wake Forest. 

“Ken’s history professor had suggested that he talk with me about the type of college record required to be admitted to a highly regarded law school. During that first conversation and throughout what developed into a highly enjoyable mentoring experience for me, I was struck by Ken’s intellect, determination and sense of humor. 

Imo applied to the Wake Forest School of Law, as well as several other law schools.

Guess which one he chose.

“I was delighted when Ken was admitted into Wake Forest,” Davis said. “It was an even greater pleasure to have the opportunity to continue the mentoring relationship that began at SMU and to witness Ken’s development as a lawyer.  Although Ken still seeks my advice, what began as a mentoring relationship has developed into a friendship.”

The Imos’ affinity for the university extends far beyond the Worrell Professional Center. Far beyond the law school.

“I knew I needed a small environment for law school, and Wake fit that criteria,” Jennifer Imo said. “Having a small group of people in your section and getting to know those people … those are my friends for life.”

At Wake Forest, Kenneth Imo lived on campus, equating the experience to a second life as an undergraduate. He worked as a hall director who supervised seven resident advisers.

“It’s a great institution that’s very supportive of its students,” says Imo, who maintains a close relationship with Davis, who, along with law professor Charley Rose, attended the Imos’ wedding.

 “I remain very connected to the law school,” he says.

Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Jennifer Hudson asked Imo to participate on the Young Alumni Board, and Imo didn’t hesitate before answering. “Sign me up, I’ll do it,” he told her.

The alumni group, Hudson says, was created to increase engagement and to develop future leaders of the law school. The group serves as liaisons to the law school, providing feedback and information on what types of events might interest young alumni and how they might become more involved in the law school. The board, as of December 2011, included 18 members from the Triangle, the Triad, Charlotte, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The board is working to enhance the number of young alumni donors to the law school’s annual fund.

“We’re trying to keep recent graduates more connected to the law school,” Kenneth Imo says. “We’ve found most people that stay connected to the law school are those who graduated in ’70s and ’80s.

“We’re one of  the least expensive private law schools in the country, and alumni contributions help keep tuition costs down. Another endearing characteristic of the law school is the low student-professor ratio. The smaller classes enabled me to forge great relationships with professors; they knew me and I felt very comfortable approaching them. And, let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to hide in an intimate setting, so I decided to make the most of this arrangement.”

And neither the Imos nor Wake Forest will forget that unique relationship.