VOL. 110 | NO. 131 | Friday, July 5, 1996
Second career in law leads to awards, helping children
By NATALIE VANTREASE STRODE
The Daily News
While most attorneys are settled in their practice by age 39, one local attorney was just getting started.
After teaching for years in universities and a brief stint as public relations director for the American Civil Liberties Union, Kelly Stark realized law school was where she needed to be.
And in the 14 years since she earned her law degree, Stark has proven herself as a family law practitioner who has gained statewide honors for her pro bono work.
She recently won the Tennessee Bar Association Pro Bono Award, which is an addition to other pro bono distinctions she has won locally.
She decided to get her law degree while working for the ACLU in San Francisco.
"I was in the Supreme Court of California watching one of our staff attorneys argue a case, and I thought, I can do that. So I came back to Memphis and went to law school," Stark said.
"I figured I could be 39 with a law degree or 39 without one."
She started out on her own, taking out a years lease on an office before she passed her bar exam. She then worked with two different partnerships before forming McLean & Stark with general practice attorney Albert McLean.
Stark devotes her entire practice to family law, fitting in as many pro bono cases for which she has the time.
"I am so lucky. I am white, middle class. I have three degrees. I make good money. Why shouldnt I give something back," she said.
Stark also teaches seminars on mediation and family law and mentors other attorneys for Memphis Area Legal Services.
Family law wasnt her first choice, but it turned out to be her strong point. In fact, its the only kind of law she wants to practice now.
"I just liked it, and I have not gotten burned out. Most people after 10 years of doing this just get to the point where they cant do another one," she said. "Im bored with every other kind of law."
Family law also is her vehicle to help children.
"Its the best way I know in the private sector to be able to protect kids," Stark said.
"Children are the reason I do this. I think the adults get themselves into messes, except for an abused wife doesnt ask for what shes getting, but most of the time the adults make poor decisions. The child doesnt make any of those decisions." she said.
Children are the ones most affected by divorce yet they usually have no representation, Stark said.
In Starks contracts with her clients, she spells out her devotion to helping children.
"In my contract with my clients, I say, Im going to represent your kid. The first time you and I disagree about whats in this childs best interest, Im out of here," she said. "I wont represent somebody who I dont think is trying to do whats in the best interest of the child. I just wont do it."
The greatest need for pro bono work right now is with divorces, she said. Soon there will be more pro se divorce cases in the courts.
"All the attorneys are going to be sitting around watching lay people get their own divorces," Stark said. "Judges hate (pro se cases). Lawyers hate them. If legal services cant do it because they are so overwhelmed, and there are not enough pro bono attorneys to do it, somebodys got to do it."
If Memphis Area Legal Services loses its government funding, the state will have to force lawyers to take pro bono cases, she said.
"Its not going to put any more pressure on me because I already do pro bono work," she said. "Its going to put pressure on people who never do pro bono work.
"I think eventually if legal services goes the way of the dodo, that the Supreme Court of Tennessee is more likely than not to require attorneys to perform a certain number of hours of pro bono work per year. Other states do it. Theres no reason Tennessee shouldnt."
name: Kelly Stark
title: partner, McLean & Stark law firm
education: B.A., psychology, Texas Technological College, 1965
M.A., English, Texas Technological College, 1966
J.D., Memphis State University, 1982
service: Family Service of Memphis Inc. board of directors; volunteer attorney for Memphis Area Legal Services and Community Legal Clinic; Pro Bono Panel for Senior Citizens Service Award, 1990; Court Appointed Special Advocates Award for Outstanding Service, 1995; Tennessee Bar Association Pro Bono Award, 1996
hobbies: reading, square dancing and travel