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ICON Awards 2021: Karl Zobrist, Dentons US

Karl Zobrist has a quick answer for why he wanted to become a lawyer.

Karl Zobrist “I didn’t want to become a lawyer,” he laughed.

In fact, he wanted to learn Japanese and work for the State Department. Instead, he joined the Navy, where the University of Iowa law graduate would do criminal defense work in the JAG office and later in the military appellate courts in Washington, D.C.

After rejoining civilian life, he went to what was then Blackwell Sanders where he worked as a trial attorney on everything from slip and fall cases to professional malpractice matters.

But it was when he began representing Kansas City Power and Light that Governor Mel Carnahan appointed him to the state’s Public Service Commission in the late 1990s. He began to look more at energy issues, the area that would ultimately become his bread and butter. He’d later become interim president of transmission organization Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. on whose board he still serves. In 2001, he chaired Gov. Bob Holden’s Energy Policy Task Force.  Today, he is Missouri counsel for the proposed Grain Belt Express transmission project to move wind-generated power east from Kansas.

“The transition now to a clean energy economy is so important,” said Zobrist, 71, now a partner at Dentons. “I’ve been blessed to work with forward-looking companies that have begun to make the move to renewable resources and complying with environmental laws and that’s really been the type of cases I’ve enjoyed.”

And he gets to do a lot of that. The one-time honoree of the Judge H. Michael Coburn Professional Excellence Award from the KCMBA represents transmission companies and utilities in rate cases, mergers and regulatory proceedings. He’s gone to bat for power companies, wireless providers and natural gas distribution concerns in a wide array of matters.

He calls the ability to disburse power the hallmark of civilization.

“It affects everything that we do,” said Zobrist, a native of Evanston, Indiana, who grew up in the Quad Cities of Iowa. “We cannot function without some form of energy.”

In 2006, Zobrist received the Outstanding Achievement Award from his alma mater Augustana College. Five years later, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, where he served for a decade, would recognize him with their Public Service Award at the Office of Community Complaints for his work in law enforcement reform.

“My philosophy of the practice of law is to emulate the Golden Rule as much as possible. Treat others as you would like to be treated,” he said. “Approach a case and understand its equities, its weak points, its strong points and try to advise clients on how to achieve what they’d like to achieve consistent with good ethics and practicality, hopefully furthering policies that benefit all of society.”

ICON Awards 2021