Hanging Their Own Shingles
Who’s the boss? Four area lawyers told us how they turned the answer into “I am.” They left other legal jobs—or never really had them to begin with—and mustered up the courage to go it alone. Their firms are dreams realized, but entrepreneurship also means figuring out accounts payable
Published in 2009 Missouri & Kansas Rising Stars magazine
on October 19, 2009
Updated on November 18, 2009
Anne E. Post
The Post Law Firm
If you really want to understand family law, “stop watching so much TV,” family law attorney Anne Post recommends. A significant part of her practice requires guiding clients’ expectations, often influenced by divorce and custody cases depicted on TV, she says.
“I explain how the law works,” Post says. “[I tell them] you can pick fights, file motions, but why don’t you try to be reasonable and work past the emotional parts.” The law is there to protect both people, she tells them. “I believe my job is to make decisions in their own best interests,” Post says. “You tell me what you want for your life, in the confines of the law.”
One of her law professors inspired her to pursue family law, but it was her own experience witnessing her parents’ divorce, which was “the best that it could be,” as she says, that helps her relate to her clients. Post says she’s had a lot of great cases, but can’t go into detail because they are under seal.
As for her private practice in Liberty, “I took the jump and never looked back,” she says. “A lot of women are doing the same thing, having great success on our own or in small groups,” she says. Practicing family law helps Post, who is married and has two boys, appreciate her own family life. “It makes me go home at night and [be] grateful, from what I hear all day.”
The Travis Law Firm
When people ask Jessica Travis, a criminal defense attorney who focuses on sex cases, how she can defend “criminals,” she has an answer at the ready.
“Everyone has the right to [be defended]. Not everybody is guilty. It kind of ticks me off,” she says.
Her passion for advocacy has helped her make changes at the appellate level and create another defense for rape defendants, she says. So it’s not surprising that one of her trial rituals is to choose a theme song for it. “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty was a recent one.
Her degree in psychology helps her understand some of the issues her clients face. “Few defendants are genuinely ‘evil,’” she says. “There are those with drug addiction, mental health issues, social disadvantage, product of circumstance, and of course, the truly innocent. Most don’t set out to purposefully hurt others but make poor choices or have disregard that lends to crime.”
Her ease with talking to a variety of people is key. She credits growing up in a small town, Independence, and her largely blue-collar background for her common sense and values in education and equality, all of which carry over to her work, she says.
Travis’ path to law was nontraditional. She was working on an assembly line when she realized she “was supposed to have finished school by then.” She gave her boss notice and two weeks later she was back in college.
Travis worked as an associate at Carl Cornwell and as a partner in the firm Keck & Travis before she opened her private practice in Olathe in September 2008. “The business end of private practice was a learning process, but there is great liberation in running a criminal practice in a way that adheres to your own personal standards,” she says.
One of her high-profile clients was an arson case with Dr. Debora Green, who had been convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison for setting a fire that destroyed her home and caused the death of her two children. Green pleaded no contest to those charges, as well as to poisoning her husband with ricin. In 2004, Travis and another attorney, Angela Keck, tried to get Green’s plea withdrawn, citing new research in fire investigation that cast doubt on the original arson conviction.
Ultimately, in 2005, a judge denied the request for a new trial, but, whether Travis is working with small stakes or a front-page case, she always tries to concentrate on the reason she chose law over psychology.
“[After graduation] I realized I could go four more years, get a doctorate, tell people how they should improve their lives and hope they do it—or go three more years, get a law degree and be more proactive in helping people,” she says.
Gaddy Geiger & Brown
Matthew Geiger will be the first to say his white collar criminal defense boutique firm has a David versus Goliath mentality. Just in case there’s any doubt, he carries a brown-bag lunch of PB-n-J during trials. It sends a message to jurors that “we’re there to work,” Geiger says.
The strategy is paying off if the firm’s $14.7 million verdict in a partnership dispute between developers last May is any indication. “The case in May proved to me that you have to go to trial to win big, to be taken seriously by clients—by everyone, whether you’re fresh out of law school or practicing for 30 years,” he says. “I don’t think it’s possible to get good settlements. To go to trial, you have to make the risk clear.”
Geiger and his fellow partners—Brian Gaddy, Walter Brown and Ben Prell—have come a long way since the day before opening their Kansas City firm, when they were making crucial decisions about office supplies. “You think you’re big time [and you’re wondering], do we need to spend this much on a three-hole punch or can we live with one $20 cheaper?” he says. They quickly realized the value of a good office staff, especially when they stopped to add up the hours spent shopping.
The partners put a lot of thought into branching out on their own and were determined not to burn any bridges. “I left with Charley [German’s] blessing; he was the first to know,” says Geiger, who worked at Rouse, Hendricks, German, May in Kansas City. “Brian went to his mentor [to tell him]. We spent a lot of time doing it the right way, not just the ethical way. We got lots of referrals and lots of advice.”
Their goal was to strip away big-firm bureaucracy and focus on client results. “I saw the real financial benefits of starting a boutique firm,” he says. Within the first month, they were financially successful, he says.
Recapturing business opportunities for clients—such as minority clients or a small business stepped on by big business—gives Geiger professional satisfaction. But going to trial gives him the biggest thrill.
“I haven’t experienced any of that kind of competitive thrill since I was a kid,” he says. “There’s nothing like it.”
Law Office of Talia Ravis
Talia Ravis decided to go solo in employee benefit-related health insurance, an area where the federal law is “very unfavorable for claimants,” as she delicately puts it. Other lawyers are more straightforward. They just ask her if she’s crazy.
These attorneys ask: How do you do it? “I do it in bulk, also consulting. I do more private insurance,” says Ravis, who has an office in Leawood.
Along with the insurance work, she deals with disability and life insurances claims. “I’ve helped HIV, AIDS and cancer patients. I work with people who never expected to be denied benefits,” she says.
Ravis earned her law degree five years ago. Before law, she explored careers in journalism and mental health and ended up graduating with a degree in psychology. Eventually she did some work translating legal opinions into “something readable” for a legal paper, which sparked an interest in becoming an attorney. “I would ask lawyers, ‘What do you like about law?’” says Ravis.
So how would she answer her own question today? “It’s a great feeling to tell clients that insurance is paying,” Ravis says. “If I can get the insurance company to accept a claim, that’s my best day. I don’t want to sue.”