Ask James Tippin to name the highlights of a nearly 50-year legal career, and he doesn’t hesitate: family comes first.
For more than three decades, Tippin has worked alongside daughter Dana Tippin Cutler and son-in-law Keith Cutler. Both joined the previously solo Kansas City practitioner straight out of the UMKC School of Law, which is also the elder Tippin’s alma mater.
Tippin’s own honors include Lifetime Achievement and Dean of the Trial Bar awards from the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, as well as induction into Lincoln University’s Hall of Fame and the Pat Kelly Distinguished Service Award from his law school’s alumni association.
But the soon-to-be 80-year-old instead cites two accolades awarded to the next generation: his daughter’s 2016 selection as Missouri Bar president, making her the first Black woman to fill that role; and Keith Cutler receiving the Lon Hocker Memorial Trial Award from The Missouri Bar Foundation.
“This will be our 32nd year together,” said Tippin, who practices in the areas of insurance defense, general liability defense, employment litigation, creditors’ rights and bankruptcy. “To have watched Dana and Keith evolve and grow as lawyers, as adults, as parents … through the grace of God, I’ve had a very rich and full life.”
Tippin grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where he helped integrate city schools in the late 1950s. Following his graduation from Lincoln with an undergraduate degree in history, he remained in Jefferson City to work as a librarian at the Missouri State Penitentiary (a job he also held as a Lincoln undergrad at the university library).
Lured by the promise of a corporate career, and with his daughter about to begin school, he would later move across the state to work for Proctor & Gamble.
The growing calls for change, though, were impossible to ignore: swept up by the social changes wrought by Martin Luther King’s 1968 assassination and the anti-Vietnam War movement, Tippin instead decided to become a lawyer as means to help “uplift the community.” A community organizer by day, he went to law school at night.
Tippin credits law school classmate Taylor Fields for helping convince him to focus on insurance defense work in those early days.
“I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” he jokes.
With three adult grandchildren in Atlanta, Kansas City and Texas, plus a great-granddaughter, Tippin —who goes by J.T. —said he looks forward to soon retiring, when he also hopes to travel and write more.