South Carolina Legal Services > Blog > Uncategorized > International Day of Women’s Judges: A Conversation with Judge Nichols-Graham

International Day of Women’s Judges: A Conversation with Judge Nichols-Graham

As we mark the International Day of Women Judges, it’s crucial to recognize the profound impact of women’s representation in the judiciary. Despite increased engagement in public life, women remain significantly underrepresented in decision-making roles, particularly within the judiciary’s senior leadership. The presence of women judges is essential for ensuring that courts represent their citizens, address their concerns, and deliver sound judgments. By breaking into historically exclusionary spaces, women judges contribute to a more transparent, inclusive, and representative judiciary.

Today, on International Day of Women Judges, we’re thrilled to share the inspiring story of one of our own— Judge Kimaka Nichols-Graham—formerly a Managing Attorney at SCLS, now a Family Court Judge. Elected in 2020, her journey to the bench is filled with challenges, successes, and a deep commitment to justice. In this interview, she generously shares insights into her path to becoming a judge, the impact of her time at SCLS, challenges faced as a female judge, mentorship in the legal field, and her ongoing support for initiatives beyond courtrooms.

Q: Tell us about your journey to becoming a judge.

I began applying for a judgeship in 2012 and was elected to serve as a family court judge in a joint session of the SC General Assembly on February 3, 2020.

My journey to becoming a judge on a trial court in the state’s judicial system was active and complicated. I was found qualified to serve on each level of the screening process every time I applied. Until 2016 or so there was a written test and I did well on the test each time. The journey affirmed my belief that I was qualified to serve.

Q: What impact did your time at SCLS have on your eventual judicial career?

Legal services gave me the opportunity to become a well-rounded children’s law attorney, to consistently practice family law, to participate in developing the practice of education law by representing students and parents and training other attorneys, to focus on access to justice and the administration of justice for over twenty years, to develop leadership skills, to develop skills that allowed me to successfully represent clients with limited financial resources facing stressful legal problems, to assist staff attorneys with identifying successful legal strategies with limited financial resources, and to communicate directly with applicants denied full representation to inform them of my efforts to fairly and consistently review every new application each week and decide which applicants would be offered full representation.

The experience I received while serving the public at SCLS positively impacted my ability to serve the public as a judge. My career path was purpose driven and intentional since I was in middle school but, I did not contemplate receiving an opportunity to serve on the bench until much later in my legal career.

Q: As a female judge, are there any unique challenges that you have faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

I have been a judge for a short portion of my legal career. My legal career began in 1998.

I am fortunate to have parents with phenomenal positive moral traits. Also I have a stable family background without multiple adverse childhood experiences. I grew up in a neighborhood where some of my ancestors have consistently resided since before 1840. I am not aware of any of my direct ancestors having a bachelor’s degree but my family is stable, dependable and well educated without formal bachelor degrees.

I believe that I have something that I did not earn that assists me with being persistent, having a positive attitude, and maintaining or quickly reclaiming a positive perspective when addressing challenges.

Q: Mentorship and support networks can be crucial for the advancement of women in law. Have you had mentors who guided you in your career, and how do you pay it forward to support the next generation of female judges?

I receive guidance and support from women and men who have more experience in the legal profession and in life, in general. I seek guidance and support from time to time.

Nevertheless, I avoid allowing other people to define me or the parameters of my career. I avoid creating a lot of conflicts of interest or situations that cause me to believe that I should recuse myself from presiding over cases.

I provide support to lawyers whenever it is appropriate to assume that role. There are limits. I can’t preside over your cases and be your mentor or best friend. As I implied earlier, you do not have to go to college, law school or become a judge to know the difference between right and wrong. If you routinely appear before me then you should select another judge to be your mentor or to ask about professional guidance. The judicial cannons require judges to avoid creating potential conflicts of interest.

Q: As a former Managing Attorney at SCLS, you understand the importance of holistic approaches to addressing legal issues beyond courtroom proceedings. How do you support initiatives that promote legal education, community outreach, and alternative dispute resolution methods to empower individuals with the knowledge and resources to navigate the legal system effectively?

I speak at legal seminars, at community programs, and with groups to provide assistance or feedback on issues related to the administration of and access to justice.

This International Day of Women Judges let’s celebrate individuals like Judge Nichols-Graham, whose journey from SCLS to the Family Court bench showcases dedication and resilience. Her commitment to mentorship, community outreach, and holistic legal approaches inspires us all. As we honor her contributions, let’s continue supporting women judges worldwide, knowing they’re shaping a fairer and more equitable future.