Kirk Stange and his wife Paola founded Stange Law Firm, PC in 2007 with just a single office between them. The firm now employs over 40 attorneys and presently has 20 office locations throughout the Midwest in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma, and plans for continued growth. The firm exclusively handles family law, with an increased focus on complex, high-asset divorce cases. Stange also teaches regularly on family law topics and is a founder of the Missouri Collaborative Institute.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the focus of work you do within your firm?
Kirk Stange: My law firm practices exclusively in the areas of divorce and family law. When I reference family law, this includes paternity, adoption, juvenile matters, guardianships, prenuptial agreements, surrogacy agreements, mediation, collaborative law, orders of protection and other domestic relations matters.
LD: How did you come to develop a dedicated family law practice?
KS: Early in my career, I gained experience handling divorce and family law matters when a partner of the firm I worked at was out on medical leave. He handled family law matters and I had the task of taking on his cases. It wasn't long before others began referring these kinds of cases to me and it became a substantial part of my practice. After about five years, I decided to practice divorce and family law exclusively.
LD: What are some aspects about family law that you find professionally satisfying?
KS: It is rewarding when you can help a client who is going through a difficult divorce and family law matter rebuild their life. I also enjoy this area of the law because you are helping ensure that individuals feel like they have a voice in the family court to advocate for their interests.
LD: Family law must have some difficult, emotionally contentious aspects, as well.
KS: I have dealt with several difficult custody cases that have been quite acrimonious. I have seen cases where sexual abuse and domestic violence is alleged. I have also seen cases where there were allegations of parental alienation. In one case, the other party hired a hitman to kill my client during the middle of the proceedings.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in family law these days?
KS: Paternity cases are a trend in the area of family law. With statistics showing that approximately forty percent of all children in the United States were born out of wedlock, many unmarried parents end up in the family court litigating custody and child support related issues. Next to divorce, these cases are quickly becoming the most common type of family law cases that we see at Stange Law Firm, PC.
LD: Are there particular types of divorce cases you prefer handling?
KS: After years of litigating contentious divorce matters, the types of cases I now enjoy working on are high asset divorce matters where parties are seeking to resolve their case outside of court in a private and confidential manner. One case I worked on not long ago involved the Chief Operating Officer of an international corporation where we were able to finalize his divorce confidentially and privately outside of court.
LD: What are the key challenges of successfully representing a divorce client with that level of prominence?
KS: When representing a client in a high asset divorce, it is critical that all the marital assets have recent valuations. A proper valuation requires having an expert enlisted to appraise the marital asset properly. Assets that are often important to look at are business interests, real property, retirement and investment accounts, stock options, insurance, and other assets of significant value.
Valuations are critical in high asset divorce matters because the family court has to divide marital property and debt in a just manner when considering all the factors. Without knowing what the value is of all marital assets, a just division would become an impossible task.
Often, clients who are in a hurry to get divorced will want to shortcut the critical step of locating and valuating all marital assets. It is important in most cases to ensure that the client understands the importance.
LD: Did any experience from your undergraduate work push you towards a career in family law?
KS: I received a bachelor's degree in history with a teacher's certificate in middle and high school social studies. The teacher's certificate has been helpful in my career in particular because part of being a successful lawyer is teaching the client the law and what is and is not important in a case. It is also essential to present a case in court to the family court judge in a manner that is succinct and easy to understand.
LD: Did you have any work in high school or college that contributed to your legal career in an interesting way?
KS: One job that I had during college that assists me in my career today was a Rides Supervisor at Six Flags. In having a growing law firm with multiple offices, the management experience I obtained at Six Flags has proven to be invaluable.
LD: What drew you to pursue a career in the law in the first place?
KS: Going to law school was of interest to me with my degree in history with the teacher's certificate in social studies. Studying the law interested me because it seemed like it would really expand my knowledge in these areas and also would allow me to help real people going through difficult legal matters.
LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose your law school over another law school?
KS: I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated with my bachelor's from Fontbonne University. Going to the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law was appealing because I got to move away from home for really the first time. I also was attracted to the tuition rates at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law when compared to the two law schools in St. Louis.
LD: Did you imagine yourself developing a family law practice while in law school?
KS: I did not envision that I would practice divorce and family law when I went into law school. I thought I was going to practice constitutional or civil rights law. I figured this would be more in my line with my degree in history. However, I like practicing family law. It has allowed me to help real people with difficult problems. I also enjoy the fact that family law has allowed me to be in court regularly versus practicing in a transactional area of the law.
LD: Was there an experience in law school that was particularly memorable or important for you?
KS: I enjoyed being on the Regional Moot Team at law school after I got to the finals of the Fall Moot Court Competition. Being on the Regional Moot Court Team allowed me to be in a class with the other five finalists where we prepared for the Regional Moot Court Competition. This experience was memorable and a major confidence-builder in my career. It also resulted in being one of ten students in my graduating class to be a member of the Order of the Barristers.
LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?
KS: It is crucial to stay humble and be hardworking in your legal career. The lawyers who make a difference are those who put in the time on their cases and who understand that it can take many years to peak in a legal career.
LD: Was there an early experience that really helped shape the course of your professional life?
KS: At one of my first law firm jobs, I saw the preparation that went into preparing for a trial in terms of outlining trial questions, organizing exhibits and working with witnesses. Seeing this preparation had a significant impact on me in terms of how I have worked up my cases.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
KS: In terms of child custody, there has been a shift toward shared parenting over the last decade versus one parent having a majority of the time. The view now amongst many family court judges is that children do better by having roughly equal time with both parents. When I first began practicing in family law, it was a different world. One parent would get most of the time, while the non-custodial parent would get every other weekend, a night during the week and time during the summer and the holidays.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is more memorable for certain reasons?
KS: Early in my career, I tried a contested custody case where I was able to get the father sole legal and sole physical custody of his three children due to the mother neglecting the children. Seeing the joy in the face of my client after the trial was something I will never forget.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
KS: I take great pride in being diligent and communicative with my clients. Being diligent is key in terms of having the information to prepare a case for court. Communication is also vital because family law is a difficult area of the law for most clients. Successful family law attorneys can exhibit empathy and boundary to their clients through effective communication.
LD: Can you talk a bit about founding your firm, and how it’s grown over the years?
KS: Me and my wife, Paola Stange, formed Stange Law Firm, PC in 2007. At that time, it was her and I practicing together in the same office. We shared an office. Since that time, our firm has taken off. Presently we have offices in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma in places such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, Wichita, Tulsa and beyond with plans for future expansion. It has been an honor to be able to serve all of these communities, and we have plans to expand further.
We also have a large staff of attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and other administrative staff working at the firm. I take great joy and pride in the growth of our firm, which is now one of the largest family law firms in the country. It is also humbling that we have had thousands of individuals put their trust in our law firm to help them rebuild their life.
LD: What are some of the challenges you face as the leader of this growing firm?
KS: In having a family law firm with so many different offices, there are many different challenges. From the business management, legal mentorship, marketing, facilities and technological issues that exist, there are lots of moving parts. I created a blog called Law Firm Practice Management Advice where I discuss all of these challenges. However, finding quality attorneys who desire to practice divorce and family law is not easy. The reality is divorce and family law is a difficult area of the law. Not all attorneys are cut out for it.
LD: There are many high-quality family law firms out there. What do you try to “sell” about your firm to potential recruits – how is it unique?
KS: At our firm, lawyers do not have to worry much about bringing in business. Our firm has such an excellent reputation and does so well from a marketing perspective that there is never a shortage of business. The phones literally ring off the hook. This makes our law firm a unique opportunity in terms of being able to represent clients and utilize their legal skills.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
I enjoy spending time with my family. I am also an avid sports fan and enjoy seeing local sports in St. Louis, including the St. Louis Cardinals, Blues, Ambush and St. Louis FC.
I also spend a lot of time teaching continuing legal education seminars. For example, I speak on family law topics for the Missouri Bar, the National Business Institute, myLawCLE and others. Back in 2014, I also got to present a continuing legal education seminar at the 8th Circuit Judicial Conference. Teaching continuing legal education seminars is one way in which I have given back. I also get to use that teaching degree I got in undergrad.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?
KS: I serve on the National Leadership Council at Maryville University. I also am on the Advisory Council of Kids Rock Cancer. These have been significant parts of my life, where I have tried to help the community. Along with other lawyers and legal professionals, I also helped form the Missouri Collaborative Institute ("MCI"). MCI is a collaborative practice group of lawyers, mental health and finance professionals where we all work together to resolve divorce family law matters collaboratively.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
KS: "My Cousin Vinny" is a tremendous legal movie. The beauty of this movie is not merely the humor, but there are lessons that lawyers can learn from the trial scenes in terms of their courtroom skills.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
KS: I enjoy speaking. I also have learned a great deal about marketing through the time I have had my firm. Online marketing has become an interest of mine. So, I would probably be speaking and teaching on legal and marketing related topics if I was not a lawyer.
(The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements.)