Darlene Parrigon’s first foray into the legal profession came nearly a decade before she decided to become a lawyer herself.
The Pierce City solo practitioner had been working at a local shoe factory — now closed — when she decided to answer a job advertisement for a legal secretary at a law firm.
That step led her to work for firms in Monett, Joplin and Cassville, where she eventually became a paralegal at Ellis, Cupps & Cole. While working at the firm, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Missouri Southern State University and completed law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Becoming a paralegal led her to consider law school, she said.
“Paralegals are the ones doing the grunt work, the hard work,” she said. “I wanted to do some of the fun stuff and go to court.”
Parrigon returned to Ellis, Cupps & Cole after obtaining her law degree. She struck out in 2008 to start her own firm. Today, her practice focuses primarily on juvenile law, family law and probate.
“We do a little bit of everything,” she said, adding that she also represents seven municipalities as city prosecutor and city attorney.
She’s also served as counsel for the 39th Judicial Circuit Juvenile Office for six years. In the role, she handles alternative placements for abused and neglected children and delinquency cases.
That work is difficult but meaningful to help reunite families, she said. In cases where reunification isn’t possible, finding permanent homes for children also is rewarding, “because you know you’ve done your job, and you’ve done it well,” she said.
“There’s some cases that just don’t have good answers,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and that has to be enough.”
Parrigon said domestic law is the most litigation-focused aspect of her practice. She said she enjoys litigating in a rural area, noting that many of the attorneys in her community have been practicing there for a long time. In some cases, the children of longtime attorneys are taking over their parents’ practices.
“We just have a really good working, professional relationship,” she said. “We know we can be adversarial with each other in the courtroom and still walk out and be jovial.”
Looking back on her legal career, Parrigon said she has been proud of cases in which she’s helped fathers obtain more rights as non-custodial parents.
“I fought for [them], and my clients were awarded custody, which was a little unusual for dads to get full custody of children, or to get more liberal visitation rights rather than just the standard-type schedules,” she said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Outside of work, she serves as interim commander for the Lawrence County Community Emergency Response Team. She also enjoys gardening and traveling. In the next year, she’s hoping to visit Hawaii and Alaska with her son, who is entering his senior year of high school, and in the process wrap up her family’s goal of visiting all 50 states.