Want to Practice Law? Generations of Attorneys Say UMKC is the Place to Be

Families graduate from the Trial Advocacy Program and make their careers right here in Kansas City
Three photos side-by-side: Dollar family, Hobbs family, Accurso family

Kansas City is known as the City of Fountains, as a soccer city and, of course, for its barbecue. But to many UMKC School of Law alumni, it is also known for being a great place to practice law.

The Trial Advocacy Program is elite, evidenced by competitive mock trial and moot court teams, and many alumni credit the city and the people for its success. We talked to three legacy families about what makes the Trial Advocacy Program so successful and why they’ve made law school at UMKC a family tradition.

Dollar Family

Lauren Joshua, Jordan and Tim Dollar

For the Dollar family, practicing law is a family affair. Tim (J.D. ’84) is a founding partner at Dollar, Burns, Becker and Hershewe. His son Joshua is currently in his third year of law school at UMKC. Two of his children, Lauren (J.D. ’17) and Jordan (J.D. ’19), have joined the practice within the last few years. The firm also boasts UMKC alumni in founding partner Tim Becker (J.D. ’91), whose son Josh Becker (J.D. ’15) is also a partner in the firm. 

The Dollar family’s start with the legal profession began when Tim was a child and spent several summers in the office of his father’s attorney, Max Foust (J.D. ’54). Little did he know at the time, his journey through law school would open the same opportunity to many students down the road.

At the time Tim attended UMKC, the Trial Advocacy Program was limited to 12 students. He felt strongly that the program should be expanded to accommodate more students. After graduation, he and several classmates took action.

“We designed an expanded Trial Advocacy Program that would involve members of the legal community serving as adjunct professors — free of charge — to make the program available to any student who wanted to experience Trial Advocacy,” said Tim. “To our shock, the faculty adopted that program. That was the first time the Trial Advocacy Program expanded, and now it’s really made its mark nationally with all the work that’s been done since then.”

Lauren, Jordan and Joshua are three such benefactors of the expanded program. Lauren participated in the 1L Mock Trial Competition, Mock Trial team, and took moot court and trial advocacy classes. Jordan also took part in the 1L Mock Trial Competition, continuing with the team through his 2L and 3L years. Joshua took first place at that same 1L competition in 2021. They credit these experiences with preparing them for practice.

“You may get a great education somewhere, but you have to marry it with practical experience. Everything from trial skills, to moot court to negotiation — I think UMKC has set themselves apart in their focus on practical experience.” - Tim Dollar


“I felt like the competitions, both the oral arguments for moot court and the mock trial competitions, really helped develop my skills in trial advocacy,” said Lauren. “They were able to teach me more than I could learn in just a class. I’m very thankful for both the classes and the competitive side that gave you even more experience.”

Jordan added, “I feel like the competitions especially provide an opportunity to develop and hone your skills in ways that I don’t think are available in a classroom setting. Dealing with a case over a semester provides experiences that translate directly to practice more than any class I took.”

“You may get a great education somewhere, but you have to marry it with practical experience,” said Tim. “Everything from trial skills, to moot court to negotiation — I think UMKC has set themselves apart in their focus on practical experience.”

In addition to practical skills, the ability to build lasting relationships in the community is what drew the Dollars to UMKC.

“The alumni of the Trial Advocacy Program are invested in preparing the next generation for the practical world,” said Lauren. “They give back in teaching and educating our students. So not only do you get to network with these great attorneys and judges, but they’re the ones teaching you and making sure you’re prepared.”

“My advice to anyone, as it was to my kids, is if you want to practice in the KC area, then UMKC is the place to be,” said Tim. “In addition to academics and practical experience, you are encouraged to plug in with the legal community. You can start to develop those relationships while in law school, and I think you’re miles ahead of someone who might go to an Ivy League school and then drop into Kansas City without having that network.”

Accurso/Dickinson Family

Christopher, Lou and Patrick Accurso

Lou Accurso (J.D. ’81), founding partner of The Accurso Law Firm, knew in high school that he would become an attorney.

“I was influenced heavily by the Watergate hearings,” said Lou. “Those were broadcast my senior year, and I remember seeing these amazing senators and committee members who were all lawyers. It was captivating the way they could ask questions and follow up on investigations.”

Lou may have been the first of the Accurso family to attend UMKC School of Law, but he certainly wasn’t the last. His sister, Tammy Dickinson (J.D. ’98), nephew Michael Accurso (J.D. ’96) and sons Christopher (J.D. ’14) and Patrick (J.D. ’18) are all alumni.

The school’s numerous opportunities to get practical experience is part of what drew them all to UMKC.

In Christopher’s case, it changed his plans entirely.

“When I went to law school, I wanted to get my law degree and be some sort of sports agent,” he said. “Then a good friend, unbeknownst to me, signed me up to be his partner for the first ever 1L Mock Trial Competition. We had a blast, and that was the end of my Jerry McGuire moment.”

Lou, Tammy and Christopher all worked in the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office immediately after graduating law school. Tammy and Christopher credit the Trial Advocacy Program for preparing them for the courtroom.

“For me, the biggest tool UMKC offered was the prosecutor’s clinic (now called field placement),” said Christopher, who now works at The Accurso Law Firm. “I got my Rule 13 certification and spent a year and a half interning at the prosecutor’s office. I was trying bench trials and handling dockets and really using those tools I learned in mock trial in the real world. I had a lot of facetime with judges and attorneys, so by the time I graduated and got hired on, I was able to step right in.”

"....a good friend, unbeknownst to me, signed me up to be his partner for the first ever 1L Mock Trial Competition. We had a blast, and that was the end of my Jerry McGuire moment.” - Christopher Accurso

Tammy, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, added, “It’s almost like you have a head start on everybody who didn’t do that — especially if you want to be a trial attorney. I started interning under Rule 13 as soon as I could.”

For Lou, that real-world experience came in the form of trial practice, a course started by then-Dean Patrick Kelly that gave students the opportunity to prepare and conduct jury trials in insurance cases leading to binding verdicts.

“It was irreplaceable,” said Lou. “As a matter of fact, it even helped me on the bar exam. One of the questions they asked was to draft a lawsuit and include all the claims and parties. If I hadn’t practiced it, I don’t think I would have known what to do.”

Practical experiences, both in and out of the classroom, help form relationships that last through a career.

“My dad always told me that it's best to go to law school where you want to practice,” said Christopher. “I knew UMKC would give me plenty of opportunities to work with actual practicing attorneys. That’s one aspect of UMKC I really like; you have practicing attorneys giving you real world advice and experience while teaching you in your classes.”

Hobbs Family

J.D., Sarah (Kanoy) and Jackson Hobbs

The Hobbs family’s law school legacy begins with J.R. Hobbs (J.D. ’81), founding partner of Wyrsch Hobbs & Mirakian, P.C. and an adjunct professor. J.R.’s son and daughter-in-law Jackson Hobbs (J.D. ’18) and Sarah (Kanoy) Hobbs (J.D. ’18) followed. J.R. credits the environment at UMKC for fostering meaningful relationships that translate into effective networks in the legal community.

“I think there’s a collegial atmosphere that permeates the school,” said J.R. “People want to do well, but they want to do it parallel to each other and not stumble over each other. In the end, it’s about relationships.”

The Hobbs family is unanimously of the opinion that’s what sets UMKC School of Law apart: the relationships you build while in school.

“Those relationships you’re building in law school are the same relationships you’ll build on in practice. It is immeasurably beneficial.”

- Sarah (Kanoy) Hobbs

Those relationships are of particular benefit to students in the Trial Advocacy Program due to the geographic location of the school.

“We straddle two different districts in federal court that also happen to be in different federal circuits,” said Jackson. “If you want to practice here, there’s no better place to go to law school and get real-world experience. The proximity to a city like Kansas City just can’t be found anywhere else.”

As a legacy student, UMKC School of Law had always been on Jackson’s radar. But he said there were two primary reasons he was drawn to UMKC: the networking possibilities to start a career in Kansas City and the opportunities to participate in various mock trial and moot court activities. In his first year, he participated in the Last Team Standing Trial Advocacy Competition. Following that experience, he joined the trial team in his second and third years for competitions across the country, including the National Trial Competition and Tournament of Champions. Jackson also competed in the school’s Ellison Competition and on the national moot court team.

J.R.’s sons Jackson and Eric both married UMKC Law graduates: Eric met his wife Molly (Callender) Hobbs (LL.M. ’14) when they were attending law school at the University of Denver.  Jackson (J.D. ’18) and his now wife Sarah (Kanoy) Hobbs (J.D. ’18) met at UMKC School of Law. Like Jackson, Sarah participated in the trial team. As the first in her family to go to law school, she didn’t have the background to understand how beneficial UMKC’s competitive teams could be for her as she looked at different law schools. The relationships among alumni are what drew Sarah to UMKC.

“That was one thing that struck home with me — the people that you’re going to be practicing with when you leave law school — there’s a good chance that they went to UMKC,” Sarah said. “Those relationships you’re building in law school are the same relationships you’ll build on in practice. It is immeasurably beneficial.”

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Published: Jan 20, 2023

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