Erica Kirkwood
GMA Construction Group
Construction and real estate law
40 Under Class – 2020

Erica Kirkwood has been an invaluable asset to GMA Construction Group, routinely negotiating national multimillion-dollar contracts. She's also provided executive-level oversight on everything from corporate transactions to litigation and business development. 

While working at the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, Kirkwood helped draft and negotiate the $20 million Illinois Pay for Success contract. Pay for Success is an initiative designed to improve the lives of youths who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. She also negotiated an intergovernmental agreement between DCFS and the Cook County sheriff to form an enhanced Child Rescue Unit.

While with the City of Chicago, Kirkwood was the lead investigator into vacation rental enforcement practices, which resulted in six-figure settlements for the city. 

Today, Kirkwood is leading the effort to expand GMA's operations to Africa\. 

"In all that she does, Erica leads with honesty, passion and dedication," said Gray Mateo-Harris with Fox Rothschild LLP. "She gives 100%of herself to each and every project, which has no doubt led to her stellar reputation and success."

As a Black woman, Kirkwood negotiates high-value construction contracts and joint venture agreements in a construction industry still overwhelmingly dominated by white men. This, Mateo-Harris said, is a significant achievement.

Kirkwood also coordinates summer internships at GMA for high school girls from Epic Academy, a school serving students from disadvantaged communities who are interested in construction and STEM careers. She serves as the Diversity & Inclusion Advocacy Chair at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and is a Chicago Urban League IMPACT Leadership Program Fellow. 

"Erica is an exceptional human being," said Kalia Coleman with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. "She is intelligent, kind, incredibly hardworking, innovative and dependable."

Coleman worked with Kirkwood when Kirkwood was president of the Black Women Lawyers' Association of Greater Chicago. She said Kirkwood impressed everyone with how much she was able to accomplish during her term. Kirkwood created the T.E.A. Director's Institute, a program designed to increase the participation of black female attorneys on corporate boards. 

In addition to her dedication to her community and profession, Kirkwood is also a stellar attorney. Some of the multimillion-dollar contracts she's negotiated for GMA Construction Group include those for the National Park Service's Pullman National Monument Visitor Center, the University of Chicago's New Student Wellness Center, Northwestern University's Black House and the North Carolina Air National Guard's C-17 Simulator Facility. 

"Erica is a problem-solver," Coleman said. "In my opinion, that is the most essential skill a lawyer should possess."

LeDeidre Turner, commissioner with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, said Kirkwood is a prime example of an attorney who has not only built a thriving career but has made a positive difference in her community as she's done so.

"Erica is the embodiment of 'lifting as you climb,'" Turner said.