Performing Arts

Litigator Jennifer Tomsen first learned how to win over an audience on the ballet stage

Published in 2023 Texas Super Lawyers magazine

By Carole Hawkins on September 15, 2023


Straight out of high school, Jennifer Tomsen took to the stage with one of the nation’s oldest regional ballet companies: Ohio’s Dayton Ballet. For five years she toured and performed in Dayton, including roles in Swan Lake and other full-length productions.

Tomsen was 4 years old when she started ballet classes. From the beginning, she was hooked. “I had long legs, strong feet and a long neck, so I had the look of a ballerina,” she says. “And I loved the discipline of it. I loved performing.”

Tomsen got an early start wearing costumes, like this princess one made by her grandmother.

She worked her way up through Dayton’s junior pre-professional company to join the professional company, exchanging Friday night parties and homecoming parades for the thrill of nailing a perfect arabesque.

The lessons learned could be tough. As a junior member dancing with the main company, she once lagged during a costume change at dress rehearsal. The director scolded her in front of the entire cast of professional members.

“His message was, ‘I don’t care if you have nothing on—you do not miss your entrance,’” she says. “I learned sometimes you need to just shut up and take it. And say, ‘I get it. I’ll never do it again.’”

Her most rewarding moments involved feeling a connection with the rows upon rows of shadowed audience members.

“It was a rush,” she recalls.  

When Tomsen began to feel sharp pains in her left knee a couple years into her ballet career, she sought help from a specialist experienced in training dancers. But despite having scar tissue removed, her pain never completely went away, and in 1989, she decided to hang up her pointe shoes.

Tomsen loved nature—she and her husband would spend their honeymoon in 1999 hiking 260 miles of the Sierra Nevada’s John Muir Trail and Mount Whitney—so she decided to major in biology at Cornell University. She progressed to a master’s and Ph.D. at Ohio State University before landing a job as a lecturer at Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences.

Again, she enjoyed engaging with an audience. She even snagged a grant to buy equipment so she could move her classroom outdoors and study stream ecology hands-on. But the research part of the job never appealed to her.

What she really loved, she realized, was teaching environmental law.

“Among the subjects that I covered were wilderness policy and wilderness legislation. It was fascinating,” she says.

Tomsen takes the stage with dancer Paolo Porcino (Courtesy of Dayton Ballet).

So, making one more career pivot, Tomsen entered law school. Upon graduation, she joined Greenberg Traurig’s Orlando office. But a recent stock market crash meant the firm mostly needed
help handling a flood of cases in which investors sued their brokerage firms over market losses.

Seven years later, when Tomsen’s husband, Chris Germaine, was offered a job as professor at Rice University in Houston, the couple moved there. Tomsen picked up a job with Greenberg Traurig’s Houston office and was soon offered the opportunity to work with a team that handles employment matters for the securities industry. Tomsen discovered her favorite part of the job was litigation.

“We’re often on the defense side of the case, and that means we’re usually painted as the bad guys,” she says. “I love flipping that script, so people can see it from the other point of view.”

She hasn’t forgotten her passion for the outdoors, which she nurtures by taking rigorous family hikes in the mountains and donating to a variety of conservation-focused organizations. Tomsen also does volunteer work as her office’s pro bono co-coordinator in Houston. Many of her cases involve helping young unaccompanied children achieve legal residency in the U.S. “Lawyers have a unique skill set that not everybody has, and we can use it to help people,” Tomsen says. “I enjoyed dancing and I love to teach. But now I’m in a career that melds the best of it all. I get to make a difference.”

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