The Listener

Laura Clark Fey's secret weapon: her ears        

Published in 2008 Missouri & Kansas Super Lawyers — November 2008

A successful defense attorney can't be a shrinking violet, but that's just how Laura Clark Fey describes her younger self. And until recently she didn't realize just how outgoing she had become.

"When I was a kid, I was actually really shy," says Fey, partner in the Kansas City office of the international law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. "I think some of my childhood experiences still affect how I view myself. So when I recently took the Meyers-Briggs test, I learned that I was extremely extroverted. It was a surprise. I didn't expect that I would come out quite as strong on that front as I did."

Extroversion has served Fey, 41, well in her legal career, propelling her to the top of her profession in a specialty that is still dominated by men many years her senior.

Early in her career at Shook, Fey became the first woman selected as trial counsel for one of the major tobacco corporations. She was only the second woman in the history of tobacco litigation to have a trial role examining witnesses on behalf of any tobacco company.

"I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to represent the firm," Fey says. "I was a senior associate at the time and I had to make my case to the client as to why I should be allowed to represent them at trial. One of my senior partners and I set up a full-day meeting with the client. Thankfully, the meeting went well, and, in the end, the in-house counsel told me that they wanted me to try the case. It was a great opportunity."

In her two tobacco cases that went to trial, Fey obtained complete defense verdicts.

Fey may possess the extroverted confidence of a successful defender, but she does not have the arrogance that often seems to be part of the job description. She considers her extroversion to be based in a natural inquisitiveness, in an interest in hearing stories and relaying facts to others.

"I'm the person who will get on a plane and the passenger next to me will open up and tell me deeply personal things," Fey says. "It's not that I'm fishing or anything like that. It just happens. I think people just want someone to listen to them, and I like listening to people more than I like talking."

The same thing often happens in the courtroom. "I'm not the bulldog lawyer who is going to try to crucify someone in a deposition," Fey says. "Somehow I am able to establish a rapport in order to get people to open up."

Fey completed her J.D. at the University of Kansas and, after a three-year stint working at the U.S. Department of Justice through its prestigious Honors Program, she and her husband then moved to Kansas City. When she first got to town, Fey worked for a short time at another firm before joining Shook, Hardy & Bacon in 1996.

She praises the firm for the support she was given early in her career. "Bill Ohlemeyer, a [former] partner at the firm, took me under his wing soon after I started," she says. "He believed in me, and taught me invaluable lessons about litigating and trying cases. He also taught me to constantly push myself to do more, better, faster."

Lately Fey has found another way to capitalize on her naturally outgoing nature. Last year, through the recommendation of a former colleague, she became a legal commentator on Fox News. She has made a number of appearances on the national cable network, weighing in on legal issues that range from politics and celebrities to  tort and freedom of speech.

"I love it," Fey says. "You show up at the local studio at the appointed hour and they just start firing questions at the panel. It's great fun, a wonderful way to meet people—which, I now realize, is one of my favorite things to do."        

 

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