Life is good in the heartland

BY KRISTY KIRKPATRICK

When asked about my summer work experience, the first question most people ask is, “Why Kansas City?” I grew up in California, went to school and worked in Washington, D.C., and now live in Boston — to most of my acquaintances, Kansas City seemed like an eclectic choice. My decision wasn’t completely arbitrary, as I have family there that I looked forward to seeing over the summer. But my original plan was to spend just a few months in the Heartland, and later look to one of the coasts for permanent employment. But after just one summer there, I am convinced that the Midwest has the best of both worlds – an exciting, ever-expanding legal market with a small-town feel.

I worked for Blackwell, Sanders, Peper Martin, a fairly large firm that has offices in many major Midwestern cities, as well as offices in D.C. and London. The firm has equally strong corporate and litigation departments, and its clients range from large international corporations to local school districts. The diversity of clients is due in part to the very nature of Kansas City’s central location, as many large national companies prefer to work with a centrally located law firm. Many of the attorneys I worked with travel extensively as part of their job, but many do not. The firm allows attorneys to choose practice areas and work levels that fit in with their interests and talents. Additionally, the firm has a strong pro bono practice, and actively encourages its attorneys to get involved in public service projects.

But quality of life is arguably the most compelling reason to consider a legal career in the Midwest. The vast majority of attorneys in my firm work normal business hours, and most had significant outside interests, including service organizations and extracurricular sports. The firm prided itself on its family-friendly policies; maternity leave was generous and it was not uncommon for attorneys to leave work early to attend a child’s soccer game or dance recital. The firm sponsored many events that encouraged attorneys to get to know each other and their families in a social context. Perhaps the best part of working at this firm was knowing that the lawyers not only worked well together; they genuinely liked each other and enjoyed socializing together after the workday was done.

While my experience so far is limited to firm life, the Midwest is also an excellent place to do public interest work. I know law students who’ve had great experiences working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and non-profit groups in Kansas City. Many of the attorneys at my firm were involved in politics before entering private practice, and several have left to become state and federal judges.

In the end, perhaps the best endorsement I can give is this: I’ve spoken to numerous law students who also spent their summers in the Midwest, in places as diverse as Indianapolis, Chicago, Omaha and Idaho. Without exception, all had incredibly positive experiences and plan to return in the future to pursue their legal careers there, myself included.

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