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Kimberley Motley

The laws are ours. No matter what your ethnicity, nationality, gender, race—they belong to us.

First Foreign Litigator in Afghanistan, 2014 TED Speaker

Kimberley Motley | First Foreign Litigator in Afghanistan, 2014 TED Speaker
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Kimberley Motley is the only foreign litigator working in Afghanistan. Armed with an unwavering determination and a passion for justice, she navigates the country’s punitive and capricious legal system with unprecedented success. In keynotes, she talks about the global human rights economy, and how and why we should all pay attention to—and take full advantage of—the rule of law. 

Affectionately nicknamed “911,” Kimberley Motley is the first and still only Westerner to practice law in Afghanistan’s courts. She is also currently working on cases in Uganda, Dubai, and the United States, and is expanding her commercial and human rights practice. She spends nine months of the year living in Afghanistan, defending foreigners to the country, Fortune 500 companies, embassies and ambassadors, and women and children in human rights cases, which have involved everything from accusations of drug trafficking, battery, and murder. This former beauty queen, crowned Miss Wisconsin in 2004, has independently won freedom for countless victims, such as a six-year-old child bride, a 15-year-old girl raped and imprisoned, and a British ex-soldier accused of bribery. Motley is a registered attorney for more than 20 embassies, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany, as well as an attorney for the French, Italian, U.A.E., and U.K. embassies and ambassadors.


“Many NGOs have valiantly taken on [helping Afghan women] in the last decade, but no Western woman has actually gone on to litigate for them in the courtroom. [Kimberley] Motley did. She would take on desperate cases, often making them high profile by means of clever publicity and social-media tactics. She works these cases pro bono and has not lost a single one.”

Vanity Fair

The feature documentary about her work, Motley’s Law, was released in the fall of 2015, and won the Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC, New York’s Documentary Festival. Her expert legal work and legal research and precedent has earned international attention with segments on CNN, the BBC, NBC, and Dan Rather Reports, as well as articles in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among many others. Motley has also published several articles on juvenile justice and contemporary legal issues in Afghanistan. She is currently penning a book chronicling her experiences as a Western attorney in the Middle East. In her lectures around the world (including at TEDGlobal), Motley shares her breadth of international law and her experiences handling criminal, commercial, civil, and human rights issues. She is the daughter of a North Korean refugee mother and an ex-military African American father, and initially served as an attorney with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, where she litigated hundreds of criminal, civil and juvenile cases ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.   

Speech Topics

Social Justice
The Rule of Law How One Attorney is Building a Global Human Rights Community
“The laws are ours,” says Kimberley Motley. “No matter what your ethnicity, nationality, gender, race—they belong to us.” In this powerful talk, Motley shares stories from her law practice in Afghanistan, and the way her work is impacting global human rights. In countries where much of the law is unwritten, where judges are unable to read or write, and where church and state are still deeply intertwined, the legal system is a complicated and murky one. But if we take the time to read and understand the law, we can often find the solutions we’re looking for—and we can make an impact. “We can all be contributors to a global human rights economy,” says Motley. “We can create a culture of transparency and accountability to the laws, and make governments more accountable to us as we are to them.”