From the Dairy Farm to the Supreme Court

UMKC School of Law selects J. Kent Emison to receive Alumni Award
J. Kent Emison and Bob Langdon

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni with an awards celebration. UMKC is honoring J. Kent Emison (J.D. ’81) with its Class of 2022 School of Law Alumni Achievement Award.

Not long after graduating from UMKC School of Law in 1981, Emison met Bob Langdon, who has now been his law partner for 35 years. They had a monumental product liability case, Baker vs. General Motors, which found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a favorable verdict brought national attention to their growing practice.

Emison has gone on to be recognized by countless professional organizations. He is a Fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, placing him in the top 1% of lawyers in the world.  In 2017, he received the Thomas G. Strong Trial Attorney Award from the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys for his leadership.

Inspired to become a lawyer by his great uncle, Emison now pays it forward. He has sponsored many law students to attend conferences and seminars, and he and his firm regularly sponsor mock trial teams and provide scholarships.

How did you know you wanted to be an attorney?  

I knew I wanted to be an attorney when I was a junior in high school. I was raised on a dairy farm and most of my extended family on both sides were farmers. However, I had a great uncle who was a law professor at Washington University. He would visit my family once a year. He was a very dynamic person who made a point to have a conversation with me whenever he visited. This made a great impression on me. While this was not the only reason I wanted to be an attorney, it was a great influence, along with the realization that I was a not very good at farming!


What was the most exciting or challenging part of Baker v. General Motors?

The most challenging part of the Baker case was the sheer scope of it. Bob and I were the only two attorneys who worked on the trial part of Baker. GM had five or six different firms retained to defend the case, including Dick Bowman, the lead GM trial lawyer from Bowman & Brooke, a firm based in Minnesota. The case was an enormous undertaking for us, but after almost 10 years and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court we were successful in resolving that case. Ken Starr was GM’s lawyer in the Supreme Court. While Bob and I were the trial lawyers, we worked with Laurence Tribe on the Supreme Court appeal. Professor Tribe is a great lawyer and was tremendous to work with on the Baker case. The entire experience of seeing the case go to the Supreme Court and the great lawyering on both sides was very exciting.

What advice do you have for students who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

Regardless of what type of law you practice, work with good lawyers who are good people.

Do not worry about how much money you make when you start your career. Make sure you like what you do and who you work with. If the answer to either of these is “no,” think about a change.

Regardless of the type or size of project you are working on, make sure your work product is done in a quality manner. Bigger and better projects or cases will result from excellent work on smaller cases and projects.

When you get an assignment from another attorney, be sure you fully understand the assignment. I recommend to young lawyers to do the following:  If possible, get the assignment in writing. If you are given a verbal assignment, then repeat your understanding to your boss and then follow it up with an email or something in writing to document the assignment. Be sure to get the due date for completion, and don’t be late!

About the Alumni Awards

Join us in honoring Emison and the other Class of 2022 awardees at an in-person celebration at 6 p.m. April 29, at the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center. To register, visit UMKC's Alumni Association website. If you are unable to attend the event but would like to donate to student scholarships, contributions can be made online

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Published: Feb 21, 2022