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The Couple That Rules Together, Stays Together

Law graduates navigate work and love — at home, at the office and on television
Dana and Keith Cutler laugh together in their law office.

If you ask Dana Tippin Cutler (J.D. ’89) and Keith Cutler (J.D. ’89) whether they thought, in their wildest dreams, they’d ever have their own television show, they’d tell you “heck no!”

In fact, Dana says when she first got the call from a production company several years ago looking for a husband-and-wife team to preside over a new courtroom TV show, she hung up.

“I thought it was a joke. I have a friend who likes to jerk my chain and I thought he was pranking me,” Dana says. She didn’t buy it until the production company called back and confirmed they were not, in fact, pranking her.

Dana was sure her husband, Keith, wouldn’t go for it, but to her surprise, he agreed to learn more. Two years later they’re the hosts of the Emmy-nominated daytime TV show Couples Court with the Cutlers, the first time a married couple has ever presided over a TV courtroom.

Finding the balance in law and love

Couples Court with the Cutlers specializes in, you guessed it, couples — helping them find resolutions and move forward. The Cutlers travel back and forth to Atlanta, where the show is filmed, several times a year to shoot new episodes. This allows them to keep up with a demanding TV schedule while still managing the family law practice they manage with Dana’s father and another associate.

On the show, the Cutlers are given a little more leeway than regular courtrooms allow; they’re able to laugh and keep up their natural banter, show expression when they hear wild stories and provide real advice to the couples standing before them.

On the show, they draw from their experiences practicing law, but also from practicing marriage.

two photos of the cutlers: one of them during college in Atlanta, Georgia, and another on their wedding day
Left: The couple on their first date during college in Atlanta, Georgia. Right: Keith and Dana on their wedding day in 1989, at the Second Baptist Church in Kansas City.

“As lawyers, you learn a lot with different experiences, and the trial work we do in our regular jobs has trained us to think on our feet. We were building up for the show and didn’t even know,” Keith explains. He adds that after 37 years of being together — or as Dana puts it, joined at the hip — “we know a little something about relationships.”

The Cutlers met in the 1980s while getting their undergraduate degrees in Atlanta — Dana attended Spelman College and Keith attended Morehouse College. They have enjoyed joking and pestering each other ever since.

Despite living and working together every day, the Cutlers say they don’t think that’s too much time together. They truly enjoy each other’s company.

“We’re like the columns of a church. They’re working together but not on top of each other,” Dana says. “We have different hobbies and interests at home, and when we’re in the office we’re working on different things as well.”

Dana works primarily as an education attorney, representing charter schools, while Keith works as a civil defense trial attorney.

Keeping a community focus

The Cutlers don’t think of themselves as celebrities, but their unique job does require them to occasionally play the autograph-and-selfie game at the movies or the grocery store. Most times, the Cutlers say, people are just surprised to discover that two of their favorite TV stars live in Kansas City. The show currently airs in more than 100 U.S. television markets, and episodes are also available on YouTube.

The Cutlers in the tv courtroom where they shoot their television show, Couples Court with the Cutlers
Dana and Keith on the set of their TV show, Couples Court with the Cutlers.

Kansas City is important to the Cutlers, though, not just because they live and practice law here, but because they care about the community and being civically engaged.

“At UMKC, they stressed being a good lawyer for the community,” Keith says. “One of the best things about UMKC is their emphasis on the practical side of law, which contributes to the learning experience that a lot of students don’t get until after law school.”

As you can imagine, the Cutlers are big supporters of the UMKC School of Law. Both have been honored with the school’s Alumni Achievement Award — Keith in 2008 and Dana in 2018 — and Keith is an adjunct professor. It’s important to them to help young lawyers achieve the same level of success they have, wherever that may be.

“We’re like the columns of a church. They’re working together but not on top of each other. We have different hobbies and interests at home, and when we’re in the office we’re working on different things as well.” —Dana Tippin Cutler

“I didn’t appreciate how accessible and relatable the faculty were at UMKC until I realized that law school wasn’t like that for everybody,” Dana says. “It’s the same thing we enjoy about the judges we work with in Kansas City.”

Their advice for future attorneys? A law degree is one of the most versatile degrees you can have. Even if you don’t want to go to court, which is one small part of the job, there are plenty of other things you can do.

A TV show, perhaps?

This story originally appeared in the UMKC magazine, Perspectives, vol. 29.

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Published: Feb 13, 2020

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