This UMKC Law Alumna Has Dedicated Her Career to Children, Special Victims

Prosecutor Audrey McCormick continues tradition of strong female advocates
Audrey McCormick stands on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse in a powerful pose with her hands in her pocket. She is looking off to the side with a serious expression. The wind is blowing her hair

Prosecuting cases involving child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and sex crimes takes a special type of person, according to Audrey McCormick (J.D. ’10).

“I think there are really only two kinds of attorneys when it comes to this subject matter,” McCormick said. “You either want to do it, or you want to stay as far away from it as possible, because it is just something that’s too overwhelming.”

Luckily for McCormick, she’s been able to find balance while pursuing her passion — advocating for children and fighting for victims — while also raising a family and mentoring her staff. 

“This work is so important to me,” McCormick said. “If I didn't have it, I think I would just be so bored and unfulfilled that I wouldn't know what to do with myself. I’m happy to continue doing this work for as long as anybody will let me.”

McCormick, a 2020 recipient of the Missouri Bar Foundation’s prestigious Lon O. Hocker Award, began her career as an attorney for the Missouri Children’s Division. Since joining the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office in 2016, she has ascended the ranks to her current role of trial team leader in the special victim’s unit.

McCormick says her professional experience has been shaped largely by the numerous strong female role models she’s encountered as a young lawyer.

“It's a collective, and I think there is a sense of camaraderie between women in the law, particularly,” McCormick said.

McCormick said she’s thankful for those female colleagues who paved the way so young lawyers like herself could focus solely on the quality of their work as opposed to what they might be wearing in the courtroom. 

“I can't say that I have ever felt I had to overcome anything other than just a legal argument,” McCormick said. “Maybe that's unique to me. Maybe that is more of a statement on how far things have come in the past decade or so.”

McCormick says she’s heard plenty of stories about women who felt pressure to answer phone calls from the maternity ward or didn’t even disclose that they had children.

“That's the type of stuff that I had heard from some of the older generations of female attorneys — you show no weakness. You work like you don't have a family. And you basically have to try to outwork all the men — and then some — in order to get ahead.”

Now a mother of three and mentor in her own right, McCormick feels compelled to provide that same level of support she received to upcoming young female attorneys in her unit.

“The majority of what I do right now is mentorship — supervising my staff and ensuring that they are supported in the work that they do, because it's obviously very important, but it is also very hard,” McCormick said. “I try to be mindful of that same thing — that work-life balance. There are attorneys working so hard that we'll have to say, ‘I think you are on the fast track to burnout.’ We try to prevent that from happening, too, because we like to keep good attorneys in the unit and in the office. We've got a lot of really passionate, really great attorneys that we work with.”

McCormick continues, “It’s nice to be able to step into those shoes and hopefully do as good of a job as my bosses have done for me in the past.”

One of McCormick’s current supervisors, Jill Icenhower, chief trial assistant of the special victim’s unit for the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office, said McCormick’s “unmatched ability” in preparing children for trial sets her apart from her peers. Most often, those children are being brought in to talk about horrific experiences of abuse, so they're often terrified to come into a courtroom.

“She has got this innate ability to talk to children and make them comfortable and really relate to them and explain to them how a trial's going to work,” Icenhower said. “She shows them around the courtroom, and she meets them at their level and uses language that they can understand. She walks them through the entire process until they feel comfortable with what's going to be happening and does it in such an empathetic manner.”

Icenhower continues, “I've watched her do closing arguments that are astounding. But it is those quieter moments in watching her prepare a child for trial and seeing a child relax and feel like, ‘I can do this now.’ That, to me, is the hallmark of a fantastic attorney. You can't teach that to someone.”

Icenhower said that McCormick’s ability to relate to kids is so well known that she is routinely asked to go to trial by people outside of the special victim’s unit in cases involving child witnesses.

“It's just something to behold,” Icenhower said. “I know that one of the judges, after watching Audrey do a direct exam of a child, told her afterward that it was one of the best direct exams he has ever seen done in a trial.”

Navigating the heavy emotional toll of this type of work can be challenging, and that’s something McCormick has learned to manage over the years.

“I have a little compartment in my brain, and that's where that stuff goes, for the most part,” McCormick said. “Now, are there days where it is overwhelming? Absolutely. Are there days where you want to give up because the system is overwhelming, and it doesn't seem like you're making enough progress? You're not getting what you want to see happen for these victims. Of course, all of those things happen.”

McCormick stresses the importance of having a strong support system in place to serve as a safety net, especially in the inevitably difficult moments.

“You've put all this time, all this effort, all this emotion into your case and your victims, and you just pour your soul into it,” McCormick said. “If it doesn't go your way, that is crushing for a lot of trial attorneys. Having that support system there — family, friends, colleagues — is crucial to help build you back up and continue to work in this field, if that is what you're passionate about.”

Win or lose, McCormick says she marks the end of each trial in much the same way.

“I go home, I take off my trial attorney hat, I put my mom hat on, I put a smile on, and I have a good weekend with my family.”


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Published: Jan 27, 2023

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