How Kristi Anderson Wells’ life as a Ford model paved the way to a successful family law practice
Published in 2017 Colorado Super Lawyers magazine on March 15, 2017
Since its inception in 1946, Ford Models has been credited with launching the careers of actresses Kim Basinger and Lindsay Lohan, and supermodels Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley.
Now add a Super Lawyers selectee.
Kristi Anderson Wells, a family law attorney at Gutterman Griffiths in Littleton, didn’t exactly “meet cute” with Ford co-founder Eileen Ford. In 1980, Ford saw the 14-year-old Seattle ballet student at a modeling audition and told her: “You will never be a model. You’re too short, and your calves are too big.”
The comment galvanized Wells. After high school, she spent two years with Ford affiliates in Milan and Paris before joining Ford in New York City, where she landed contracts for Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and L’Oréal.
“As it turns out,” says Wells, “I probably passed up some really good opportunities on the way to Ford Models. Elite Model Management wanted me and I turned them down because I had this big chip on my shoulder about how I was going to be a Ford model. If it was the best career decision, I don’t know, but it makes a good story, right?”
It also shows how determined she was.
“Ah yes, ‘determined,’” she says. “That is definitely true.”
Wells was raised in Medina, Washington, where her father was an insurance broker who specialized in insuring ski areas. She describes her parents—and herself—as “stoic Dutch-American: very put your head down, work hard and get your stuff done, show up 15 minutes early and be the one who stays 15 minutes late.”
As a teenager, Wells did secretarial work in the underwriting department of her father’s insurance brokerage. “I’m sure I was a complete mess,” she says. “But I learned to type, I learned a lot about insurance defense work and how lawyers work. That’s part of why I wanted to go to law school. The lawyers who worked with his company got to ski and look at accident sites on mountains. I thought it was going to be a very glamorous profession.”
After her own glamorous life as a model, Wells got both a J.D. and a master’s in federal taxation.
“I used to work for one of the largest firms in the world doing Fortune 500 executive compensation work,” she says. “About seven years ago, we were in the middle of the downturn and my work dried up. I had to recreate myself, and the only thing I had to hang my hat on was my own bad divorce and this executive comp thing—which, it turns out, is a really good fit with high-end divorce.
“There are a lot of people out there who, even during the downturn, the biggest asset they had was their pension or stock options, or restricted stock, or some other piece of executive compensation, which made it worthwhile to have someone who understood how those things worked. And that has been sort of the creation of my career as a divorce attorney. Who knew?”
Her own divorce took seven years, she says, “with everything being appealed, the other side going through three attorneys, and eventually getting to the point where you win everything, and by winning everything you’ve lost everything.” That’s why, while she does litigate, she focuses on collaborative divorce. She prefers to work with people on resolutions.
A mother of two, Wells still describes herself as a “hopeless romantic,” who has been in a domestic partnership for five years. She’s also happier as an attorney than she ever was as a model.
“It’s much easier to be a hard-working attorney,” she says. “You can be a hard-working model, show up on time, take good care of your skin, be professional, and all those things, and still not be successful because you don’t have the right look.
“But it was a good living. I got to travel to amazing places and do things that even now I can’t imagine. I mean, shooting on the streets of Calcutta? I shot in Red Square when it was still the Soviet Union. The deserts of North Africa. That experience just can’t be replaced. Now when I look at my vacations, it’s like, ‘Oh let’s go up to San Bernardino.’”