THESE LAW-SECTOR RAINMAKERS NOT ONLY SET STANDARDS FOR PERFORMANCE, THEY’RE ELEVATING KANSAS CITY’S REPUTATION AS A CENTER FOR LEGAL EXCELLENCE.
The word has applications in political fund-raising, investment banking and ad agencies, among others, but in legal circles, a Rainmaker is someone who brings to the firm more business than he or she can handle alone. The value of that trait goes well beyond a firm’s top line revenues: It bespeaks a nearly unmatched level of legal skill that runs rich and deep, and people skills that build instant and enduring connections. What they bring to a firm makes its brand.
As a concept, rainmaking can—should—apply to almost any other business, because at its core, it’s all about producing. There is a value to top-tier performance that shows up in the bottom line, for certain. With legal Rainmakers, though, it can’t easily be discerned in the calculus that gets you to that number.
They bring millions of dollars’ worth of business to their firms—in some cases, double-digit millions—and are well worth the considerable stacks of coin they earn in compensation. Yet spend a few minutes with any of them, and you immediately sense the down-to-earth qualities that underpin their connection-building successes. They are, in a word, genuine.
Consider this observation about Rainmaker status from Jim Ash of Husch Blackwell: “I don’t think of myself as a big hitter,” he says. “I think of myself as someone who’s been incredibly fortunate over the years to have some very good mentors and opportunities to grow, along with some clients that put their faith and confidence in me and allowed me to get a lot of really good, top-notch corporate experience early in my career.” See? Genuine.
Hard work and experience, these Rainmakers say, puts you in the right position to meet potential clients, opening the door to demonstrate the legal skills needed to meet their needs. Some of it is luck, some of it is being in the right place at the right time, but all of it comes down to putting in the hours at the office and the service in the community to build lasting, meaningful connections.
Twelve years ago, Ingram’s introduced you to eight of the Kansas City region’s premier legal rainmakers. Interestingly, and reflective of what’s gone on in national and regional law circles since then: While all eight are still practicing today, six are with firms that have merged with others. And the two others are with firms that have retained their nameplates, but grown through small, selective acquisitions, rather than merger.
Since then, we’ve profiled four other high-flying lawyers in subsequent installments of our Rainmakers feature. Those four, as well, are still at it today. (You can read about all 12 on Page 39.) Combined with this year’s honorees, we now have a score of specialists in everything from real-estate development to personal injury law, transactional lawyers to litigators, managing partners to practice chairs.
Collectively, they demonstrate the remarkable firepower available to both individual and corporate clients seeking legal counsel in this marketplace. They have helped Kansas City’s legal community as a whole develop a national reputation for outstanding client service and successful outcomes at rates far below those commanded by large market and coastal firms.
They are, in every sense of the word, Rainmakers.
Bill Beck: Lathrop & Gage
He’s among the most successful Kansas City Rainmakers that most people in this business community have never heard of. That’s because, as Bill Beck says, “my practice isn’t in Kansas City.” But in his 35-plus years as a trial lawyer, Beck has built a national practice—and a national reputation—within a range of potentially confrontational settings: trials, arbitrations, administrative proceedings, mediations. The stakes are high, and the issues both technical and complicated, but when it comes to environmental liability and insurance coverage, Beck is a go-to guy at Lathrop & Gage.
Since earning his law degree from UMKC, where he also completed his undergrad work, Beck has developed a deep background defending major toxic-tort litigation, which often includes class action lawsuits. In that respect, he’s the antidote to Erin Brockovich— in fact, he’s won summary judgments and voluntary dismissals in multiple class-action cases alleging the kind of damages from exposure to hexavalent chromium that made her a darling of both in Hollywood and with the environmental left.
He has successfully defended clients in jury trials over accusations of groundwater contamination and, perhaps as important in those kinds of cases as a successful defense itself, defeated class certification in others.
That work has him on the road much of the time; Beck’s current load entails defense of potential class-action cases and other claims in six states, from California to New York. When arbitration and mediation don’t yield agreements, he’s able to identify key expert witnesses and cross-examine opposing counsel’s witnesses in a broad range of complicated subjects: Epidemiology. Risk assessment. Molecular biology. Carcinogenesis. Air-dispersion and groundwater modeling. Geotechnical engineering. Analytical chemistry.
The legal framework for all of that includes insurance law (he’s acted as lead counsel in actions across more than 40 states) and Superfund issues (he’s defended companies accused of mishandling more than 80 federal and state Superfund sites in more than 25 states).
A member of the executive committee at Lathrop & Gage, Beck is certified to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, seven of the nation’s 12 circuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and is a three-time selection in Lawdragon’s 500 Leading Lawyers in the United States.
Jim Ash: Husch Blackwell
Long before Husch Blackwell could reap the fruits of Jim Ash’s legal acumen, Ash was the one reaping fruit—as a plant manager for Sunkist in his native California. The work he was doing there with his young wife generated the cash to put him through law school at UCLA, where he also earned his bachelor’s degree.
Influenced by the types of contacts his father made as a public school system business manager, Ash was drawn to law, he said, “because it sounded like lawyers continued to be learners. Being an attorney requires you to continue to learn about clients and the things they do, but also the law as it continues to develop, statutorily and through common law.”
What made this native of rural Southern California a Kansas Citian? “Five years in Los Angeles,” he quips, with a stand-up comic’s sense of timing. “We looked around at a lot of places when I was about to graduate from law school,” Ash says. Friends and relatives provided connections to Kansas City, and after investigating it, he was sold. He took his law school finals and within 24 hours was on the road to the Midwest.
Ash has been involved in many aspects of corporate law over the past three decades, leading to his position at the helm of Husch Blackwell’s food and agribusiness unit. In that capacity, he’s worked with some of the world’s leaders in agriculture and food production; clients include National Beef, Triumph Foods, Monsanto, Con-Agra and Dairy Farmers of America.
KC is an ideal place to make rain within that setting. “Growing up in rural Southern Cal-ifornia, it does resonate with me: The growing and processing of food, the huge impact it has on the economy isn’t lost on anybody who grows up there.” There are more row crops than orchards here, but Ash notes that the issues are the same. “The constant demand for improvement, both in product and the processes, is something that’s always intriguing to me,” he said.
The Midwestern work ethic, “which I relate to pretty closely,” he says, is a constant within the companies he works with, as is the sense of commitment he shares with their cause. “Whether they are growers, processors or manufacturers, they are people who have sense of what they do,” he says. “I enjoy working with people in the industry, seeing how operates, having opportunities to be involved in charitable aspects that so many are involved in because they get that the world is hungry.”
Rob Adams: Shook Hardy & Bacon
Working for the law firm that employs more attorneys in Kansas City than any other, Rob Adams could rightly be more associated with Goliath than with the underdog. But at his heart, he’s pure David: “The most rewarding cases for me are the ones where the odds are stacked against my client,” says Adams, who pulls out the slingshot on behalf of Shook, Hardy & Bacon on cases involving product liability, and litigation involving intellectual property, insurance coverage and commercial issues. “I like the challenge of trying to package difficult facts into a morally compelling story as to why my client should win.”
His college choices suggested a disdain for educational convention in these parts—
he earned his bachelor’s degree at KU and his law degree from Mizzou—but his career choice wasn’t altogether unexpected. “I was fortunate to grow up with a father who was a great trial lawyer,” Adams says. “He was and still is great friends with many other great trial lawyers and judges. All of these folks served as great role models for me.”
Adams’ penchant for being the underdog also reveals itself when he talks about his place, and his firm’s place, in the legal marketplace nationwide. “I love living in KC and being part of our great legal community. We all have the great advantage of being underestimated by our opponents on the coasts,” he says. “I also think that this Midwest background breeds a strong work ethic, which is always part of being a great trial lawyer.”
And there’s plenty of hardware that reflects his achievements as a trial lawyer. Adams has been one of Lawdragon’s 500 Leading Litigators in America, and since 2010, the Legal 500 in the United States, and honors programs dating back more than a decade.
But for all the accolades, something gnaws at Rob Adams, something that reflects one of the most fundamental qualities inherent in successful trial lawyers: a competitive fire. “The trials that stand out for me are ones in which I lost where I know I should have won,” he says. “These trials continually haunt me. This proves two things.
First, a trial lawyer learns more from the cases lost than the cases won. Second, my wife is correct in stating that I need therapy. And lots of it.”
John Petersen: Polsinelli
Early flirtations with a career in law enforcement gave way to John Petersen’s realization that “maybe I wasn’t tough enough to be a law-enforcement officer.” But his toughness has never been called into question in real-estate development law, an area that is not for the faint of heart.
Petersen, a finance specialist, has worked on high-profile deals across the Kansas City area, including the financing for the Kansas Speedway and the nearby Nebraska Furniture Mart site in western Wyandotte County, the 202,000-square-foot medical office building at the University of Kansas Hospital, and, more recently, $600 million-plus in financing for the Prairiefire development in southern Johnson County. But the pinnacle of his career, he says, might be the Sprint Center campus, a $1 billion deal that he called “a watershed for development in Johnson County.”
Petersen started out as a litigator, then tackled public policy as general counsel to Sen. Bob Dole and, later, the governor of Kansas. When he was ready to return to law, a colleague suggested real-estate work, and the fit was . . . perfect. “I really enjoy real estate, for a couple of reasons,” Petersen says. “First, the focus of practice on the development side, representing developers. I love that side, you start with a clean state, either clean ground or a building that needs to be redeveloped and working through the approvals, local, state and at times, federal. If successful, you not only have the pleasure of doing a good job, but actually getting to drive by in the ensuing years and see what happened as a result of your work.”
The other side of it entailed advocacy. And wading into battle before a zoning committee or city council wasn’t entirely unlike his experiences as a litigator. “It just fits my personality,” said, Petersen, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Washburn University in Topeka, before picking up his law degree there, as well.
He anticipates that another wave of new development on the suburban fringe, but his workload is undergoing profound changes. “We’re seeing a lot of redevelopment, not just in Downtown Kansas City, but Overland Park, Leawood,” he said. “I would say that where 10 years ago it was 80-20 percent greenfield, now it’s more like 60-40 redevelopment.”
Anita Robb: Robb & Robb
As a profession, the legal sector appeals to the social conscience of many a college student. In that sense, young Anita Porte Robb was no different from most other law school students, and the original calling still rings loud and clear. “The law combines philosophical principles, intellectually stimulating concepts, and the ability to help society both collectively and one person at a time,” she says. “In my opinion, no other profession offers this same opportunity.”
But this UMKC alumna wasn’t just any college student when she earned her J.D. from the law school at the University of Michigan in 1982. For one, she graduated cum laude. For another, she was just 23 years old.
She entered the profession defending medical malpractice cases, but went to work for plaintiffs not long after marrying Gary Robb in 1983. Since then, she’s been half of the team of Robb & Robb, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in damages awards and settlements on behalf of people killed or injured in plane and helicopter crashes, medical malpractice cases and injuries inflicted by vehicle failure.
Part of the reward from her work comes from a sense that financial justice has been done for those from whom much has been taken. Part of it, though, is the thrill of the chase. “Trial lawyers,” Robb says, “are in a sense actors on a stage, but the stakes are very real instead of fictional. The magic and excitement of what can happen in the court room cannot be surpassed.”
Among the work she cites as her most professionally rewarding were a pair of verdicts—for $70 million and for a then-record $350 million—stemming from helicopter crashes. That steered the small firm into a niche as specialists in the aviation field, particularly with helicopter failure.
There are accidents in this life, and then there are tragedies, the kind that leave grieving survivors because a company has been either negligent or unwilling to fully comprehend a cost-benefit analysis and correct flaws in aviation design and materials. Making those companies pay, Robb says, will lead to a greater good.
Dave Frantze: Stinson Leonard Street
Dave Frantze started out as a theater major in college, but not because of any ego-driven sense to see his name up in lights. “I was a back-stage person—I loved building sets, setting the lighting and building the scenery. That allowed me to be creative,” says Frantze.
If you think about the kind of person who’s happy working behind the scenes that way, it’s not much of a leap from the theater to the stage where Frantze gets top billing now, as a development attorney for Stinson Leonard Street. In that role, Frantze has had his fingers on the legal frameworks for some of the biggest construction project the city has seen in the 33 years since he earned his law degree from UMKC.
He was pulled into real-estate law by “the tangible nature of what we did,” Frantze says. “When I finished a project, there was something there. That gave me a really good feeling.” One of the first projects he was involved with was an office building in Mission Woods, rewriting a zoning ordinance because banks couldn’t be located in buildings with regular offices. When he drives past it these days, he still thinks, “I helped make that happen.”
He hasn’t attempted to calculate an aggregate dollar value on the projects he’s been involved with over his career, but he’s confident the number runs well into the billions. The Cerner project in south Kansas City alone will be several billion dollars. Sprint Center, the Power & Light district and Truman Sports Complex renovations topped $1 billion combined. But where on the success spectrum does one go from law-school grad to developmental Rainmaker? “I had a great opportunity to work with Don Chisholm, and I got the opportunity to meet people I would never have, as a kid from Raytown, to work with leading citizens of this community for the last 30 or 40 years. It’s pretty incredible.”
Lifelong guidance came back in high school, when a friend complained about not getting something like a lead part in a school play. “His dad told him, ‘You can never guarantee that you’ll be the smartest person in the room, you can never guarantee that you’ll be the best-educated, you can never guarantee that you’ll be the wealthiest. But you can guarantee that nobody ever works harder than you do.’ I took that story to heart.
“I work hard, and I think clients appreciate that,” Frantze says.
Bob Thompson: Bryan Cave
The 1980s farm crisis, in effect, made Bob Thompson a lawyer. Nothing to do with agribusiness law, mind you: His decision came from a farmer’s perspective. “I was going broke raising corn,” he says. Seven years after he earned his bachelor’s at the University of Missouri, he picked up his law degree there.
That set him on a course to Bryan Cave, where he mastered the legal art of complex commercial litigation, rose through the ranks to the firm’s executive committee and served as managing partner in the Kansas City office for six years, and took part in some very big deals. Just last year, an appeals court upheld a $27.3 million award he helped secure in a dispute between aviation companies.
When the case is complex and entails a certain element of legal chess playing, Thompson is the guy. The appeal of such cases? “I enjoy business and I enjoy the strategy of complicated transactions and lawsuits,” he said. And he’s excelled in a variety of complex cases. “I have had several opportunities to work on interesting and high profile cases and transactions,” Thompson said, including prosecution of anti-trust lawsuits against major gas pipeline companies, the Farmland Industries bankruptcy case, and recovering millions of dollars for plaintiffs in business fraud cases.
“Each was interesting for different reasons, but the Farmland bankruptcy was up there,” Thompson said. “We assisted the client in the sale of over $2 billion in assets and every creditor was paid in full. It was pretty much 24/7 for two years.”
After relinquishing managing partner duties in 2012, he had a new perspective on the firm. “My take-away from being managing partner is that I am extremely fortunate to work with such smart, dedicated lawyers,” he says. “As I observed them and worked for them, I was inspired to work harder just to keep up and try and do my share.”
When it comes to client service, he says, “The secret is not to take yourself too seriously. Our clients are smart and sophisticated business people. They know what they need, and we are there to serve those needs, and share with them some of the judgment and observations that our experience in similar situations has given us. It is about solving their problem, not trying to showcase your own talents.”
John Schultz: Franke Schultz & Mullen
Being a Rainmaker at a trial firm spec-ializing in corporate defense litigation differs greatly from being a high-volume transactional lawyer or plaintiff’s lawyer. Beyond the business one drums up for the firm, the task is almost a negative Rain-making, really: Limiting or defeating big-buck decisions against your clients.
“The challenge of being a Rainmaker in a trial firm is, I spend the great majority of my time in trial or preparing for trial with clients, so I don’t have time to devote to rainmaking or marketing,” says John Schultz of the firm Franke Schultz & Mullen. “Thus, I have to ‘sell’ my firm and the talented partners and associates I have working on my trial team to prospective clients by promoting the good results we obtain for our clients in court.” That’s where a successful work history comes in, but successful rainmaking at that level entails more than one lawyer’s work, he says.
“My work and results essentially sell themselves to companies that want a trial lawyer to represent them in court,” Schultz says. “Without the hard-working and devoted lawyers at my firm, I would have nothing to sell. It’s a team effort all the way around.”
His practice entails defense in cases of product liability, construction and trucking litigation, intellectual property, medical and legal malpractice, insurance coverage and bad-faith litigation. The stakes in those cases are high—they’re known in the trade as “bet-the-company” cases. That work has put him in front of juries or judges as lead trial counsel in more than 140 jury trials in his career. He’s won numerous awards for his performance, including selection to the 2008 Client Service All-Star Team by BTI Consulting Group—an honor accorded to only 148 lawyers nationwide—and he’s one of only two attorneys in nation to earn that accolade for three straight years.
The awards, he concedes are nice, but not as nice as being known by his peers as a top-tier legal mind. “In terms of a case that stands out in my career, I was recently asked by a lawyer I have opposed over the last 25 years to represent him and his law firm in a case,” Schultz beams. “That was the highlight of my career. There is no higher honor or compliment than having a fellow attorney put his trust in me.”
Ingram’s is not aware of other—or many other—attorneys in the area who produce more revenues for their law firms or practices than the 20 extraordinary attor- neys named as Rainmakers since 2002.
But, as we’ve learned from them over the years: There’s a lot more to rainmaking than bringing in revenues for legal services. It’s a higher plane of performance that one reaches only with superior client service, the ability to make personal connections, and, perhaps as important as any other trait, by being confident enough in your own abilities to simply ask for and earn a client’s business.
Like this year’s Rainmakers, these professionals hail from a wide range of legal services. Some are transactional lawyers, some are litigators; some are commercial and business law in their orientation, and some work in the trenches of corporate law, some in the grittier world of personal-injury.
Some may dispute Ingram’s Rainmaker selections over the years, and if so, we very much welcome your recommendations of not only those attorneys you believe deserve recognition but for those Rainmakers in other industries as well.
Few industries have witnessed consolidation such as the legal industry, particulalry with larger law firms, and their assets, in the form of exceptional attorneys, tend to relocate more today than ever in the past. Susan McGreevy was a senior partner at then -Husch & Eppenberger before establishing her practice at Stinson Leonard Street—previously, Stinson Morrison Hecker.
Peter Brown was among the premier class of Rainmakers in 2002 and he, too, was a senior partner with Husch & Eppen- berger, though today resides as a top producer at Lathrop & Gage. Jim Polsinelli from what was once Polsinelli Shalton & Welte, and Larry Ward, chair of Shughart Thomson & Kilroy, aligned to form the Polsinelli law firm today. Some wonder how the jovial Jim Polsinelli could emerge the sole namesake of a large law firm with a litany of partners who names once were aligned with the firm’s name.
Most ironic, perhaps, is the ever-changing landscape among larger law firms’ merging together. It will be interesting to see what firm(s) will be next to align to establish a larger regional, national or even international footprint.
One thing is for certain: Among a large number of establshed and and capable attorneys will be a prized few who bring in far more business than they could imaginably ever serve. One other trait we see is that retirement doesn’t appear to be in the plans of most of them. These Rainmakers will always hold a special place in their firm and among colleagues alike.
We congratulate all of Ingram’s Rainmakers, those honored in this edition as well as from prior years. Congratulations All!