Small to smaller: easy adjustment for new lawyer
Kristina Branstetter was barely a week into her new position as an attorney at Brookens Law Office when she found herself engaged in a decidedly non-legal activity: taking tickets and handing out programs for the Marion Classic basketball tournament with colleague Susan Robson.
“That’s something I really stressed in my interview; I want to get to know everybody,” Branstetter said. “I want to be a member of the community. I appreciate those opportunities where they take me to meet people.”
Having grown up in Nevada, Missouri, a county seat town of 8,300, Branstetter’s transition to Marion hasn’t been difficult.
“I thought of it as a small town until I moved to Marion,” she said. “So far it’s been wonderful, and I’m enjoying getting to know people.”
The legal bug bit Branstetter at age 11 when she became acquainted with a female attorney who was assisting her grandmother in Florissant, Missouri, after her grandfather had died.
“We’d meet with the lawyer, and I just really looked up to her,” Branstetter said. “I thought that would be a fun position to be in, with people looking to you for answers and helping people.”
Branstetter took full advantage of dual-credit courses offered at her high school, amassing 53 college credits by the time she headed off to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg to major in economics. Also pursuing a personalized minor in legal studies, she graduated in three years.
“I was pretty young when I graduated from college; I was 21,” she said. “I wanted to stay in college a little while longer, so I decided to go to graduate school. I thought it would look good when I applied to law school.”
Branstetter stayed at UCM another year, earning a master’s in business administration, but still wasn’t quite ready to jump into law school.
Instead, she moved to Kansas City and took a job at TruHome Solutions, buying and selling mortgages on the secondary market.
“I loved that job,” Branstetter said. “I started out as a temp, and it grew into an amazing position. I was there when the (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) put new regulations in place on people doing mortgages. Not a lot of mortgage companies knew how to comply with the regulations. It was a big deal. That was one of the factors why I wanted to go to law school.”
Repeating a theme from her educational past, Branstetter enrolled at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka in part, she said, because she could get through the program faster than at some other law schools.
Adjusting to law school initially was a challenge.
“I remember thinking, ‘Is this right for me?’” Branstetter said. “It’s retraining the way you think and research things. I’ve never been a writer, so I had to learn a lot there. It was a while until I felt comfortable in law school.”
She hit her stride while serving as an intern at Washburn Law Clinic, where she worked with small business and nonprofit clients.
“Hands-on experience is totally different than what you do in law school,” Branstetter said. “I loved it. I had experience working in a professional setting, so being in clinic was pretty easy for me.”
After one semester, Branstetter worked with clinic director Janet Thompson Jackson on a project to create a database of community resources in nine Topeka neighborhoods.
While picking up a certification in oil and gas law to complement her business and real estate background, Branstetter also developed an interest in renewable energy as she learned how to set up landowner agreements.
“It’s something I became passionate about,” she said. “A shift in a market is always exciting, so going from fossil fuels to renewable energy is amazing, and I’d like to be a part of that when it’s growing.”
Working at a law office that also provides opportunities to practice criminal and family law is a good match, Branstetter said, for her thirst for learning.
“It’s always fun to know a lot about something, but it’s fun to learn,” she said. “When you’re an attorney you have to represent your clients zealously, and you have to focus on what they need and figure it out.”
Branstetter enjoys sharing her county experiences with her boyfriend of nearly three years, county deputy attorney and fellow Washburn graduate Zahi Omari of Sumner County. Outdoor activities are a common interest.
“The reservoir, how cool is that?” Branstetter said. “Zahi and I went and had fun just looking at it. We want to get a boat.”
They share a couple of dogs. Chloe, a young blue heeler and beagle mix, lives with Omari. Branstetter’s dog of nine years is a Boston terrier named Cash.
“I wanted an economics name; I wanted to name him Nash for the Nash equilibrium,” she said. “But I knew a person named Nash, so that was weird. Mom said, ‘How about Cash?’ so we went with Cash.”
There’s just one downside to living in Marion,
“My only complaint so far is the wind; I can’t believe it,” she said. “We didn’t have that much in Missouri.”
Other than that, Branstetter is settling in well.
“I feel like I’ll be in Marion for quite a while,” she said. “It’s one of those opportunities that’s amazing. Being in a small town and enjoying the people you work with is nice.”