Vicki Smith had been away from school for a few years when she decided to enroll in the University of Missouri School of Law. At first, she didn’t know how her legal career might unfold.
“I had no idea of what area or what I wanted to do or practice,” she said. “In the beginning, I was just immersed in it and learning — and I didn’t have a vision. I always tell law students when they’re interviewing that it’s okay not to know what you want to do. I don’t think anybody can know that until they’ve had some exposure to the field.”
As a clerk for U.S. District Judge D. Brook Bartlett in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Smith said she acquired a smattering of experience with different kinds of cases. As a summer intern with Stinson — where’s she now a partner — her first cases involved antitrust law.
“It was then I knew I wanted to be in litigation,” she said. “Litigation is more interesting to me, and I think I like the application of the legal theory to clients’ fact patterns . . . I enjoy that aspect of it very much,”
A native of St. Louis County who graduated from law school and moved to Kansas City in 1993, Smith has acquired extensive experience in antitrust issues and complex intellectual property cases. She said she loves working at Stinson because the firm is made up of enthusiastic people who strive to serve their clients in the best way they can.
“The caliber of people I’ve always had the opportunity to work with always taught me to do your best job and to remember you really are helping your clients,” she said. “Keeping that in my mind is how I shaped my view of the law.”
Smith said she’s handled a number of cases that required unusual amounts of time — some as long as 20 years. Those cases have enabled her to delve into interesting areas of law while developing meaningful connections with clients and lasting friendships with lawyers across the country, she said.
Among her legal accomplishments: Smith has successfully protected a major pharmaceutical manufacturer against claims of monopoly restraint of trade, defended the NCAA in an antitrust case and protected the manufacturer of railroad car components against claims of patent infringement.
And she is, as her nominator puts it, “avidly devoted” to pro bono work. In one such case, she successfully obtained a new trial for a man whose conviction resulted from ineffective counsel.
Perhaps most notably, Smith has devoted nearly 500 hours — more than 150 hours in 2019 alone — to the case of Hope Zeferjohn, who became a victim of human trafficking while growing up in Topeka, Kansas. Zeferjohn provided evidence that helped to convict her abuser, but she later pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated human trafficking after prosecutors accused her of helping her abuser to recruit other girls. Zeferjohn, who was sentenced to six years in prison, has said her abuser beat and threatened her and her family, and she has denied luring other girls. Smith is helping her to seek a pardon from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.
“I really hope people who have done well in their careers and have the opportunity to help clients consider doing a pro bono case,” Smith said. “These people need help, and it’s important.”
Outside of work, Smith is an avid photographer and dotes on her two dogs. She also sews historical costumes, sits on the board of a historical house museum and is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.