Attorney at Law Magazine Cleveland Publisher Jim Schultz sat down with Kristen Kraus to discuss her career and her legal heroes.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
Kraus: I actually was not sure what I wanted to do upon graduating high school, so I enrolled in the paralegal program at Lakeland Community College. The program was excellent and I really enjoyed the courses. It became clear to me as I was doing an internship at a law firm in Cleveland that I shouldn’t settle for just an associate’s degree. So I went on to get my bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University and then my law degree from Cleveland Marshall.
AALM: How would you describe your practice? What is your main area of law? What drew you to that practice?
Kraus: Currently my practice is focused on all aspects of employment law. I handle a significant number of cases involving discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation. But I also am involved in non-litigation matters such as unemployment claims, negotiating and reviewing severance agreements, non-competes and employment contracts. When I first began practicing I handled a lot of personal injury and workers’ compensation matters and I still like to remain active in those areas.
AALM: What was the greatest lesson you learned in law school? How do you apply that to your career today?
Kraus: I learned the importance of a good closing argument and it is still my favorite part of trying a case. When I was in law school I took a trial advocacy class where all of the students participated in a mock trial. Up to this point, I hadn’t given much thought to becoming a trial attorney. But I realized that I felt very comfortable in the courtroom.
AALM: Who are some of your legal heroes? Why?
Kraus:The folks who work at Legal Aid are my heroes. What they do every day is incredibly difficult and incredibly important. For the past few years, I have been serving as one of our firm’s Legal Aid Partners in Justice to help promote the work of Legal Aid. I have recently begun volunteering at some of Legal Aid’s brief advice clinics which has given me an even better appreciation for what they do.
AALM: What experiences have taught you the most?
Kraus: I would like to think that I have learned a little something from every case, every client and every opponent. But I know I have learned the most from my mistakes and my losses. I can look back on every trial I lost and every other mistake I have made and I know that those experiences have made me a better lawyer.
AALM: What do you find particularly rewarding about being an attorney?
Kraus: It sounds cliché but I love helping people. I spend a great deal of my day talking to people but even more importantly, I listen. Employment cases are very challenging. The reality is that many new clients who call me do not have a case. However, all people I talk to deserve someone who will listen to them and offer advice, whether legal or practical. Even when I am not able to help someone, they are always appreciative of the time I spend listening.
AALM: What do you find particularly challenging about your practice? How to you overcome these challenges?
Kraus: Employment law is a fairly complex area of the law and we receive a lot of calls from possible new clients who have either lost a job or are in fear of losing a job. I personally take the time to talk to everyone who calls. As you might imagine, the people I talk to are oft en very upset and emotional, so you can’t rush through these calls. Even though I always have other work I need to do or deadlines I need to meet, I try to treat everyone with respect and compassion.
AALM:What drew you to your current firm? How would you describe the culture there? How would you describe your role within the firm?
Kraus: My firm is like my family. This is especially true because my husband, Keith, is also a partner at Dworken & Bernstein. When we got married in 2006, all of the lawyers and many of the staff attended our wedding. Even though the firm has changed and grown over the past 11 years, I still feel that same sense of family.
AALM: Are there any flaws in the legal profession that you see? If so, how would you fix them?
Kraus: An expectation has developed that attorneys should always be available. I have clients, possible new clients and some lawyers that want me to be available in the evenings, on the weekends, by email, phone and text. Because the practice has become so demanding, I think lawyers get burned out quickly. Some lawyers don’t take the time to promptly return phone calls, while others have their assistants return the clients’ calls. I think attorneys need to find the right balance to give their clients personal attention while not creating that expectation of 24-7 availability.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
Kraus: Without question, I am most proud of becoming a lawyer. My parents never had the opportunity to go to college, but they worked hard so that I would have this chance. But I put myself through law school and I have worked very hard to get to where I am today.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
Kraus: I have 6-year-old twins. They leave little time for hobbies or sports, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because they are my greatest joy. When I do find a little free time, I love to cook and have my family and friends over for dinner.
AALM: What do you most hope to accomplish in the future? Where do you see yourself in five years? In 10?
Kraus: In the future, I hope to have more of a leadership role in the management of our firm. Otherwise, I hope the next five to 10 years looks exactly like the last five to 10 both in terms of the people I practice with, the work I do and the successes I have enjoyed.