Jennifer Hannah gives her children the advice she once gave herself: “I think having any kind of background in finance or accounting is going to help you immensely in your career.”
Hannah, a partner at Lathrop GPM, focuses her practice on complex commercial litigation, ranging from general business transactions to shareholder and fiduciary litigation. She also serves as outside general counsel for several accounting firms, helping them to prevent or minimize risk.
It’s a comfortable role for an attorney with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting, which she earned in 1995 from the University of Kansas.
“I always felt that I wanted to go into the law, but I wanted to have what I call a backup plan,” she said.
Hannah did go straight to law school, though not the way she intended. When she was a senior in college, her father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She chose to do her legal studies at Creighton University in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska so she could be close to her family.
That required her and her now-husband to maintain a long-distance relationship for three years, as he was working in Kansas City. She returned each summer to clerk for firms in Kansas City before relocating permanently upon her graduation in 1998.
Jennifer leads Lathrop’s accountant liability and risk management team, and she also served for more than seven years on the executive committee of what was then Lathrop Gage. Balancing the needs of a practice with the duties of management, she said, gives her a better understanding of the firm’s attorneys.
“You definitely have an appreciation for those who are trying to get the job done,” she said.
Among Hannah’s recent wins was a first-impression case in federal court in Kansas, where in June 2019 U.S. District Judge Holly L. Teeter issued a partial summary judgment in favor of Hannah’s client, API Americas, in a case against a former employee alleged to have misappropriated trade secrets. The ruling appears to be the first in Kansas applying the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act, which passed in 2016.
Not all of Hannah’s work is motion-based. She said she typically has at least one trial per year. For five years straight, she wound up having a trial during the same week in June.
“I could be in Ohio, in California, in Chicago. We go where our clients are,” she said. Her next big case is likely to be in Ohio, where after 10 years of litigation, a state action involving alleged environmental contamination is set for trial in November.
Outside of her law practice, Hannah’s passion is sports. Her high school freshman daughter and fifth-grader son both play competitive soccer, and Hannah serves as an appointed member of the Kansas City Sports Commission. Sports, she said, has a way of bringing together people from every different background and upbringing.
“I don’t care if you’re the best player in the world or the worst: I think there’s so much value in team play, in getting to know other people,” she said.
That’s a lesson that applies equally in the courtroom, where good-natured competition and high levels of skill can be just as important.
“I would much rather have a case against a really good lawyer,” Hannah said. “It’s more effective and efficient for your client if you have a really good opponent and one with integrity on the other side than not.”