Baldwin City, Kan. — Instructed by faculty with legal expertise and a well-rounded liberal arts education, students interested in law have thrived in small classroom settings at Baker University for more than a century. Lee Green, a faculty member for nearly 30 years, believes he knows the reason behind the success of the students before they embark on a career in the legal field.
“The liberal arts focus on developing critical thinking, writing and oral communication skills is a big part of the reason that so many Baker graduates have had success in law school and in their careers as practicing attorneys,” says Green, Juris Doctor, and professor of business and economics.
With the recent addition of a pre-law interdisciplinary minor at Baker, current students continue to be coveted by prestigious law schools as they prepare for a distinguished career. Six Baker graduates — Dale Werts, BA ’84; Pat Hulla, BS ’90; Anji Gandhi, BA ’93; Kate (McGrath) Ellis, BS ’93; Kendra Hanson, BA ’10; and Katie Sellers, BS ’11 — recently reflected on how their Baker experiences contributed to their success. Regardless of the stage in their profession, all of the alumni conveyed common threads leading to a gratifying career: critical thinking and excellent communication skills, inspiring faculty and valuable mentors.
Dale Werts, ’84
A double major in business administration and political science with a minor in religion, Dale Werts came to Baker from a small high school in Grain Valley, Mo. He was familiar with Baker through his older sister and believed the College of Arts and Sciences was the right size for him.
Werts valued the faculty-student relationship in the small classes, saying all of his professors were great in their own way. He remembered Karen Horvath pushing him to think hard about philosophical topics, and being challenged by Preston Fambrough, Donald Hatcher and Ron Geenans.
After doing well on the GMAT and LSAT, Werts decided after graduating to pursue a joint degree in law and business administration at Washington University in St. Louis. He soon realized that as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer he immediately could be “in the thick of things” in business, dealing with corporate leaders. “I opted for the legal career over the business career,” Werts says. “Really, I’m still in a business career helping businesses accomplish their goals, avoid problems and resolve problems.”
He also credits Baker for enhancing his writing skills, leading to a smooth transition in law school.
“I thought my writing was good coming out of Baker, but law school taught me how to be very precise with language and not verbose – great training for a contract lawyer,” he notes.
After graduating from law school and serving a five-month fellowship with Senator Kit Bond in Washington, Werts joined the Gage and Tucker law firm in Kansas City. Gage and Tucker merged with another firm in 1996 and is now known as Lathrop and Gage LLP. Werts, who served seven years as the chairman of the firm’s corporate and general business department, focuses on corporate and general business, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, technology licenses and insurance operations and transactions.
“I have represented both public and private clients in connection with their finance, operational and transactional needs in many different industries, including manufacturing, retail, agribusiness, transportation, financial services, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, religious and educational institutions, travel and tourism, food products, entertainment, e-commerce, technology, human resources and advertising,” he explains. “I have represented both buyers and sellers in connection with their purchases and sales of both stock and assets in many different industries, both regulated and unregulated.”
Werts also has assisted clients with the structuring, negotiating, implementing and managing operational and special purpose joint ventures, key supplier and vendor relationships and domestic and foreign sales and distribution arrangements, including those involving enterprise software and essential technology.
Werts is active in his community and enjoys giving back with his civic and charitable contributions. He is a graduate of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Centurions Leadership Program and the Boy Scouts of America Wood Badge leadership program. He serves his church as congregation president, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Boy Scouts of America in many capacities. He also helped found the Northland Lutheran School Association and served as board president for seven years.
The knowledge gained from Baker’s liberal arts curriculum, Werts says, continues to factor in his decision making.
“My experiences in Baker’s liberal arts curriculum help me see the big picture,” Werts says. “As a lawyer, I am basically a problem solver. My broad background and experiences help me view situations without prejudice or a narrow perspective.”
Pat Hulla, ’90
A co-leader of the Class Action Defense Group at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, Pat Hulla has built a career representing employers who have been sued by current and former employees. A liberal arts education with an emphasis on critical thinking has benefited Hulla’s concentration on complex employment litigation.
Throughout his career, Hulla has represented multiple Fortune 100 companies in various industries, such as petro-chemical, power, retail, health care, food manufacturing, long-term care, transportation, gaming, financial services, professional services, security, pharmaceutical, medical, real estate, information technology, health insurance and telecommunications.
“Not being so honed in to one particular discipline gives you the opportunity to be able to understand situations on multiple levels, how businesses work, how to ask questions,” says Hulla, a business major who was exposed to economics, accounting, theology and sociology. “A liberal arts education helps you truly understand your clients and businesses. You have to dig a lot deeper, think critically and think on your own. The broader educational experiences at Baker served me well getting to understand a broader swath of clients.”
A mentorship from Richmond Enochs, ’60, contributed to launching Hulla’s career. “I got to know Rich well, ask him questions before I graduated and decided to go to law school at the last minute,” says Hulla, friends of the Enochs family for more than 30 years. “He was an incredible mentor and a real stand-up human being. From him, I realized you could be a lawyer and a decent person.”
Enochs, whose son, Rick, BS ’91, was a Kappa Sigma fraternity brother and soccer teammate of Hulla’s, passed away in October 2013. Hulla played club soccer for Richmond and eventually worked for his law firm for 4 ½ years after graduating from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law. In more than 20 years practicing law, Hulla has learned the importance of being a “stand-up” human being. He realized early that to sustain a career one must be moral and ethical.
“Ethics are mandated by the state and from a broader perspective morality is incredibly important in terms of longevity for the career,” says Hulla, who has worked in his current position for nine years. “You won’t make it very long if people don’t trust you.”
Anji Gandhi, ’93
A dedicated student from Topeka, Kan., during her time on the Baldwin City campus, Gandhi triple-majored in mass communication, philosophy and speech communication. She fell in love with the campus after joining friends for Baker Weekend and an overnight stay at the Delta Delta Delta sorority house.
Two professors, in particular, Donald Hatcher, professor of philosophy, and Ken Sibert, assistant professor of mass communications, helped prepare Gandhi for law school and a career as a prosecuting attorney.”Dr. Hatcher’s critical thinking curriculum helped me on both the LSAT and the bar exam,” Gandhi recalls. “Professor Sibert was my Baker Orange advisor, where I spent most of my time as editor my last year in Baldwin City.”
Gandhi went on to the University of Kansas School of Law and graduated in 1996, ready to make a difference.
“While law school is grueling, the skills I learned at Baker, specifically writing, critical thinking and public speaking, were essential to getting through it,” says Gandhi, who while in law school began her career in prosecution with a clerkship with the Jackson County prosecuting attorney in Kansas City, Mo. “Through my work there in the violent crimes unit I knew I wanted to devote my career to prosecution. I saw the real-world difference that a skilled prosecutor can make in the lives of victims of crime and I could think of no better way to use my law degree.”
Since law school, Gandhi has worked in Missouri in Jackson County, Boone County and Cole County. She has handled approximately 50 felony jury trials, including several murders. In the fall, she ran for election as an independent candidate for Prosecuting Attorney for Cole County in Jefferson City, Mo.
Kate (McGrath) Ellis, ’93
The small campus and scholarship opportunities in the late 1980s attracted Kate (McGrath) Ellis to the Baldwin City campus from nearby Overland Park, Kan. Inspired in the classroom by professor Roger Boyd, ’69, she decided to major in biology while envisioning a career working at national parks.
“I did not attend Baker with the slightest intention of becoming a lawyer,” says Ellis, an associate attorney for the law firm of Hughes, Kellner, Sullivan and Alke PLLP in Helena, Mont. “I started writing extensively in a different style at Baker than I was used to, and I am sure that the exposure to topics other than biology helped me adjust to law school and its demands.”
Deciding to pursue a career in law 10 years after graduating from Baker, Ellis earned a Master of Science in environmental biology from Emporia State University. She then worked 10 years for the National Park Service in Grand Teton, Hawaii Volcanoes and Rocky Mountain National Parks as an interpretive ranger, a ranger/EMT and a law enforcement ranger.
Eventually, Ellis combined her biology background and law enforcement duties as a ranger into a new career, practicing civil litigation, mostly in employment and insurance law.
“My duties as a park ranger triggered my interest in the law through my training at the Law Enforcement Academy,” Ellis remembers. “My initial desire to go to law school was to become a criminal prosecutor. The reason I wanted to take the next step and become a prosecutor was that it would give me the opportunity to educate officers on proper search and seizure techniques, while understanding the unique and stressful decisions that officers have to make in the field. My hope was that if officers were able to perform their duties without some of the negative press that sometimes happens when an officer steps over the line, officer safety would be served because citizens would have a more positive view of law enforcement.”
Realizing she wanted to change careers and living in a small town in Colorado, Ellis contacted Baker professor Karen Exon to guide her in preparation for the LSAT and application to law schools. Exon, who never taught Ellis, willingly took the time to assist the Baker graduate.
“Not only did Professor Exon patiently walk me through this process, she edited the essays for my application and helped me get recommendation letters,” says Ellis, who graduated from the University of Montana School of Law. “Professor Exon, a complete stranger, went out of her way to help me because I was a Baker alum. While I was inspired by other circumstances to go into law, Professor Exon certainly helped me realize that the choice I was making was the right one. I cannot say enough good things about Professor Exon and the invaluable help she provided to me.”
Kendra Hanson, ’10
Originally from Salina, Kan., Hanson embraced the undergraduate experience on the Baldwin City campus as a political science major and Spanish minor. She earned Baker’s most prestigious scholarship — the Harter — and was active in the Student Activities Council, parMentors, University Admissions Assistant program and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
“When I visited Baker, I fell in love with campus and the people,” Hanson recalls. “I knew I would be happy for the four years there. I felt at home there.”
Hanson thrived in the classroom, especially with the personal attention from faculty such as Bruce Anderson, an associate professor of political science.
“It was a really challenging program,” Hanson said. “The professors saw me going on to do bigger things than I saw myself doing. I received encouragement and support from all of them.”
While at Baker, she knew in the back of her mind she would eventually attend law school.
“I knew my skills and background in political science would translate into several careers,” Hanson said. “I developed skills in research, analysis and writing. Those skills are essential in a lot of careers, especially law. You have to do a lot of prep work to get there.”
Hanson went on to the Washburn University School of Law, where she graduated at the top of her class and earned a Juris Doctor in 2013. Shortly after graduation, Hanson began working as an attorney for Seigfried Bingham.
“We pride ourselves in being a general business practice firm, most often working on issues in employment, contracts, transportation and estate litigation,” Hanson said. “It’s a great fit for me because I can be involved in different and challenging issues, and I don’t have to pigeonhole myself.”
Hanson is beginning to do more work in the courtroom, meet with clients, draft pleadings and draft briefs for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
“My favorite part of the job is getting to learn about the different businesses,” she said. “I am not ready to narrow my niche right now.”
Hanson feels comfortable knowing Baker prepared her well, no matter her future path in law.
“The academic programs were critical in helping with research and writing,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had to make up ground once I was in law school. I had to learn to write in legal style rather than academic style. It was important to network and develop relationships to prepare for law school.”
Katie Sellers, ’11
As a sociology major with an emphasis in criminal justice, Katie Sellers was inspired in the classroom by Jake Bucher, BA ’02, associate professor of sociology. She became acquainted with Bucher during the second semester of her freshman year, when she enrolled in an introduction to sociology and a juvenile delinquency course. After the semester was under way, she asked the professor if he would be her advisor.
“From that point on, he challenged me academically and encouraged me to pursue my goals,” Sellers says. “He helped me become a better student, guided me in a course of study that I truly loved, and supported me through every phase of the law school application process. I am forever grateful that I had an opportunity to study from Professor Bucher, his continued support, and for always believing in me.”
Having a family connection to Baker, visiting the Baldwin City campus when the leaves were turning colors and receiving dance and academic scholarships influenced Sellers’ decision to attend Baker. A meeting with Professor Green “sealed the deal.”
“I knew I wanted to go to law school, so I was considering a degree in business,” remembers Sellers, originally from Salina. “When my family met with Professor Green, he told us about his legal career, his decision to stay at Baker to teach, and more about life as a member of the Baker community. Then when he went on to tell me about Harlaxton College, I turned to my parents and said, ‘I’m going!'”
Sellers has long wanted to pursue a legal career. She always knew she wanted to help people.
“Becoming an attorney seemed like the perfect career choice that would combine my academic strengths and personality traits with the ability to help others,” she says.
Sellars graduated in 2014 with a Juris Doctor from the Creighton University School of Law with a concentration in international and comparative law. Since graduating from Baker, she has worked as a legal assistant and law clerk. She worked nearly 18 months with Stommes Patil LLP in Omaha, Neb., before moving back to the Kansas City area, providing legal work as an independent contractor for Cutone and Associates, a law firm in Fresno, Calif.
“Law school was a very challenging experience, but I received an excellent undergraduate education that was well rounded and taught me to take charge of my own education,” she says. “What I believe most prepared me for law school was the research and writing skills I developed as part of my sociology education. Researching and writing skills are maybe the most important skills one can have in law school and are highly valued in the legal community. I was very thankful that these were skills I developed before law school, as it led me to having an article published and becoming the editor-in-chief of the International and Comparative Law Journal.”