Norman, co-owner of the small Kansas City firm Norman & Graves, once got a call from a woman whose brand-new puppy had been killed by a neighbor’s dog. Norman initially was reluctant to take the case.
“I’m like, ‘I don’t do cases of dog-on-dog. I don’t even know how that works,’” she said. Then the woman mentioned that the dog previously had killed a cat — and Norman, who counts her own cat nearly as precious as her children, was sold. “We’re going after this dog!” she said.
Norman managed to get her client a small settlement, the kind that’s small potatoes in the legal and insurance worlds but means everything to a client. And while vicious dogs still aren’t the focus of her practice, Norman said she frequently takes cases even when there’s little obvious profit because, as her own boss, she can.
“I can help whoever I want,” she said.
From 2009 to 2014, Norman was a litigator at Langdon & Emison, one of Missouri’s top plaintiffs’ firms. Her work there included cases across the country, such as a $23 million jury verdict in 2010 for a California woman severely injured in a Ford Explorer rollover.
Now, rather than suing major companies where liability is hotly contested, she more typically faces off against insurance adjusters in disputes involving damages — sometimes in pretty small amounts. Her old job kept her on the road a lot; these days most of her work is in the Kansas City area.
That change in focus has a lot to do with her family. Besides her beloved cat, Norman and her husband have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. Owning your own firm means never having to explain why you can’t come in when a snowstorm closes school.
“Absolutely the flexibility is what you want, especially if you have kids,” she said.
That doesn’t mean that Norman’s schedule isn’t packed. Her business is almost entirely driven by referrals. Much of that comes from other attorneys — and having sat on the boards of practically every legal organization in Kansas City, Norman knows a lot of attorneys.
Among other roles, she is a past president of the Association of Women Lawyers of Greater Kansas City and is treasurer of the AWL Foundation. She also was recently elected to the 16th Circuit Judicial Commission, which nominates finalists for judgeships on the Jackson County Circuit Court. She calls it “probably the most important position I’ve ever had.”
Norman’s other cases come from those people she’s helped with small cases for minimal money. She encourages them to save her number in their phones as “attorney” and to call her about any legal matter. If she can’t take the case, she’ll find another attorney who will.
“Be good at your job, and it’ll happen,” she said.
Norman began as a solo practitioner, but she’s since joined forces with Adam Graves, another Langdon & Emison alum. The firm also has an associate and a paralegal. They share offices with seven other solo attorneys, pooling a receptionist, a copier and sometimes even cases.
“It’s like a perfect marriage,” she joked. “You’re together, but your money is separate and you can make whatever decisions you want.”
Norman said striking out on her own was the best decision she’s ever made. If only she could take more cases to trial.
“While I’m excited that we got our experience at Langdon & Emison, all it’s done is make people fearful of trying cases against us,” she said.