Like many lawyers, Gina Srivastava began her legal education with an imprecise notion of what she wanted to do.
She knew she liked litigation; she also knew she wasn’t particularly interested in contracts and the more business-oriented parts of the law.
“Now, of course, I have a lot of familiarity with those things,” she says with a laugh.
For 13 years, Srivastava has been an in-house lawyer for tax preparation icon H&R Block in Kansas City. She currently serves as its vice president and deputy general counsel and leads a 15-member legal team. She is responsible for the company’s entire litigation docket, but she also oversees employment matters, record-keeping requirements and all the other legal needs that a large company has.
H&R Block’s legal needs, of course, are a little different from that of other companies. All businesses face deadlines, but tax preparers face a very specific yearly deadline — April 15, or the next closest business day — that guides its every move.
What’s more, during tax season H&R Block hires thousands of seasonal employees. If you think doing your taxes is hard, think of the difficulties of hiring all the people throughout the country who help people do their taxes.
“You have to be high energy to employ that number of people — the contracts, the employment agreements, the policies and procedures, all the things that go along with hiring that typically doesn’t happen in such huge peaks,” Srivastava said.
A Kansas City native, Srivastava followed three siblings in attending the University of Kansas. When it was time for law school, she wanted to try something different yet stay in the Midwest, so she chose Washington University in St. Louis, where she earned her law degree in 1998.
During school, she set up a federal clerkship with Judge G. Thomas Van Bebber in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. But it didn’t start for another year, so in the meantime she took a state-level clerkship with Judge Phillip Garrison on the Court of Appeals Southern District, based in Springfield.
Following her clerkships, Srivastava joined Spencer Fane Britt & Browne in 2001, where she worked primarily on employment matters. H&R Block was one of the firm’s clients, and though she didn’t work with the company directly, Srivastava heard of an opening for a litigation attorney and made the switch in 2004.
In other words, Srivastava’s early career gave her a broad view of the region’s legal culture that has proved invaluable in navigating the issues that face a company that does business nationwide.
“Even in the same state you can have three very different communities and three very different court systems,” she said. “There are obviously a lot of similarities, but the jury pools and other things can still look and feel differently. That’s one of the most important things to practicing nationwide, is that it’s so important to understand your jurisdiction and to work with people who understand the jurisdiction. To not assume that you know what rural Kentucky feels like, or what New York City feels like.”