Recognized by her peers as a Super Lawyers Missouri & Kansas Rising Star for six consecutive years, Karrie Clinkinbeard is an experienced litigator with substantial trial experience across the Midwest including Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska. A member of Armstrong Teasdale's Litigation practice group for 15 years, Karrie focuses on fire, explosion and electrocution litigation, product liability, contract disputes, personal injury, and life, health and disability matters. She has tried jury cases to verdict in state and federal courts and also achieves successful outcomes for her clients early in litigation through aggressive, targeted pretrial practice.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Armstrong Teasdale is the only place I've worked in my legal career, with the exception of internships in law school, and I'm thankful to have had many great experiences and leadership opportunities that have shaped me as a professional. As a very young associate, I had the opportunity to work on one of the biggest fire and explosion cases the state of Kansas has ever seen. That experience really helped me recognize the value of working hard. And that's something my father instilled in me growing up as well. He started as a volunteer firefighter and worked his way up the ranks to Fire Chief. He often had two, three, four jobs to support my family and taught me the importance of doing your job well, rather than doing only what you need to get by.
Win or lose, being a leader is really about knowing you did the best you could.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Armstrong Teasdale?
When I was an undergrad, I interned at the state capitol in Topeka and worked in the Legislative Research Department. It was exciting to see the political side of things, and how legislators, lobbyists, and community interest groups work together. When I was in law school, I actually interned for the death penalty defense unit on the public defender side. While it was a very intense, high stress job, it taught me a lot about hard work and dedication; themes that carry over into my career today. That experience also taught me that I wasn't cut out for for criminal law, but I give kudos to those who do.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Armstrong Teasdale?
One of the highlights is having the largest defense verdict in the state of Missouri in 2014. I was co-lead counsel in a $30 million furnace explosion case (Abbott v. Missouri Gas Energy).
But many of the highlights are also challenges. For example, in the legal and fire industry, it's still very much a man's world. I'm proud that I have been successful and have made a name for myself. I am one of very few attorneys in the U.S. to receive my Certified Fire and Explosion credential from the National Association of Fire Investigators, and I have the opportunity to teach courses across the country for the Department of Homeland Security's National Fire Academy and local chapters of fire investigation associations. It's a huge honor for something that I greatly enjoy doing, but the road has been rough. I've fought to earn the respect of my peers in both the legal and fire industries, and I'm often the only woman.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
You have to be willing to work hard, and sometimes harder than anyone else on your team. I encourage you to devote time to learning your craft. With regard to fire and explosion, it's about more than being a good lawyer. You have to learn the science behind it, and you have to do a lot of research; reading up on scientific principles and theories being advanced.
Don't let anyone intimidate you! I've had folks tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, and while I might not have the same years of service they do, I know a lot about fire - enough to be dangerous. Don't let your fear show.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Never stop learning and work hard. That's a message my parents and my colleagues taught me from the very beginning. It's also critical to have a good support system, both professionally and personally. Surround yourself with people who are good at what they do, from staff and paralegals to fellow attorneys. It's important to have people to bounce ideas off of and ask for advice.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have an amazing support system. I usually joke about how I never sleep, but that's not really true. Professionally, it's important to learn how to delegate work and not take it all on yourself. On a personal level, as a mom, it's understanding that I won't be able to go to every baseball game, or every gymnastics meet. Of course I try to, but I've learned that with family, it's all about quality versus quantity.
Work life balance is a huge challenge with young children. I have a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old, and mom guilt is the worst. I know my kids look up to me and are proud of me, and I want to instill that hard work ethic in them as well, so I feel good about what I'm doing.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Work life balance is the biggest issue for women. It's an issue of dealing with the stigma on both sides. If you're a working mom, you get passed over for opportunities because you leave 30 minutes early to pick your kid up from school, and that must mean you're not dedicated to your work. At the same time you're judged by non-working moms for not spending enough time with your kids. You just can't win sometimes. Whether you have a family or not, it's still difficult for women to get ahead. We have a long way to go, which is why I'm so glad my company has a group for the Professional Advancement of Women, where I play an active role hosting networking events and working to showcase the success of our female attorneys. It's so important for us to be supportive and build each other up.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was so privileged to work with my Armstrong Teasdale colleague, Lynn Hursh, from the beginning. He took me under his wing when I was a first year associate, and we've worked many cases together. He taught me that you can never stop learning, and I'm fortunate to have been able to work with him and watch him in action on several significant fire and explosion trials early in my career. Having that legal mentor has been extremely invaluable to develop my career, and now I've put my own spin on things.
My dad has always been a mentor to me. I can talk to him about being a leader and the pressures I face in the legal industry, and I can also bounce ideas off of him related to the fire industry. He's taught me how to be a good mentor to others.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have had exposure to so many fantastic business women, judges and attorneys, and I am constantly inspired by these women. They have worked hard to achieve amazing things in their careers, while still making time to be wonderful mothers and leaders in the community.
What do you want Armstrong Teasdale to accomplish in the next year?
I want Armstrong Teasdale to be the name that people identify with large loss fire and explosion incidents. By virtue of the experience of me and my colleagues, we want to be the first name, not just another name that comes to mind when there's an incident. We know the science, we work hard, we're immersed in the industry, and we try (and win) cases.
To get there, we need to drive awareness, get our name out there, and continue to do quality work. It's not about putting an ad in the newspaper. It's about getting and going after the tough cases, and ultimately being the firm that people remember.