In Jarica L. Oeltjen’s office, she keeps a note pinned on her wall. It’s from the treasurer of a rural water district in southern Missouri. Oeltjen represented the district in litigation early in her career and won on summary judgment. Then, after giving birth to her son, she received a written note of congratulations from the district’s treasurer.
“I think that was my favorite moment as an attorney,” said Oeltjen. “That showed me how grateful they were for the outcome. And it’s just so rare to get summary judgment in state court.”
These days, Oeltjen has only one client: BKD CPAs & Advisors. She is that company’s assistant general counsel at its Springfield office. She describes her remit as a mix of risk and legal matters. Specifically, she is engaged in contract review, personnel issues, data security, cybersecurity and litigation.
“Every day is different,” she said.
Oeltjen — whose first name, “Jarica,” was inspired by the main character in the truly-truly-truly outrageous ’80s cartoon, “Jem” — attended the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. While still a student, she worked as an extern at Legal Services of Western Missouri in Joplin.
After graduating first in her class in May 2012, she worked for almost six years as an associate at Lathrop Gage’s Springfield office. In 2018, she moved to Kutak Rock. At both firms, she focused on complex litigation and estate planning.
The civic-mindedness that had driven her to her externship at Legal Services during law school flared up again during these years. For example, she shared her legal knowledge with the community at a 2017 “lunch and learn” event hosted by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The title of her presentation: “Panic! At the Disco(very): An Unfortunate Pun for an Unfortunately Common and Tricky Situation.”
She also took pro bono cases for clients with family-law issues and property-damage disputes. In one such case, she helped a young father to navigate the legal system in order to reunite with a son he hadn’t seen in six months.
“Sometimes in litigation, you feel like you’re not seeing the positive outcomes you’re effecting,” she said. “But in this case I felt like because of my efforts there was a positive outcome. So it was really nice to see that.”
That’s not to say she’s dissatisfied at BKD. In fact, the ins and outs of the accounting profession have kept her interested, and so have the shifts in her own role.
“I’m enjoying the business side of providing legal counsel,” she said. “In private practice, you’re not always aware of all the aspects of the clients’ operations. But now I have a different perspective in which the business and legal decisions are more integrated. And I think that means a better product coming from me as legal counsel.”
In her spare time, she likes to cook and bake for her husband and 3-year-old son. As of late, she has been perfecting her recipe for crème brûlée.
Which is all fine and good, but can she — like her cartoon namesake — transform herself at night into a glitzy rock star through a holographic computer embedded in her earrings?
She laughed: “I wish!”