It is perhaps the most intimate of legal practices, one in which the lawyer finds herself in the midst of her clients’ lives, using the impartiality of the law to resolve their highly charged personal issues.
“I find people to be fascinating,” she said.
McFarland’s practice at McDowell, Rice, Smith & Buchanan is a bit unusual. One of Missouri’s largest law firms, McDowell Rice generally is known for business litigation, commercial transactions and similar work. Its domestic-relations litigation practice includes just three lawyers, but it’s no fluke.
Many of the firm’s clients are small businesses whose personal and professional lives are intertwined. McFarland said McDowell Rice’s philosophy is that law firms are missing out if they can’t competently address all of the issues that arise for such clients.
For example, in 2013 — while on the verge of having her first child — she wrote the briefs in a Platte County dissolution case involving a business the couple started before they were married. The Court of Appeals Western District ultimately agreed with her argument, affirming the classification of the business as marital property and awarding $2.75 million in equity to McDowell Rice’s client.
Even with its business focus, McFarland’s role isn’t all business. While preserving clients’ assets and reaching a fair and equitable division of marital property is important, so is keeping conflicts as civil as possible and fighting for the best interests of their children. McFarland said she tries to strike a balance in what can be an emotionally draining practice: meeting her clients’ expectations but reminding them that she is their lawyer, not their therapist.
A native of Des Moines, Iowa, McFarland earned a business degree from the University of Iowa in 2002. She considered attending law school in Chicago, where her sister, also a lawyer, is in-house counsel for an insurance company. But Kansas City won out, in part because her family had frequently visited there while she was growing up. McFarland describes Kansas City as a “big Des Moines.”
McFarland earned her law degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2005. She initially worked for Cordell & Cordell before joining McDowell Rice in 2010.
McFarland’s practice takes her to both sides of the Kansas-Missouri state line. She is president-elect of the Family and the Law Section of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and chair of the Family Law Section of the Johnson County Bar Association in Kansas.