Attorney litigator honored with Top 40 under 40 designation


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

A fledgling professional organization, the American Society of Legal Advocates (ASLA), has chosen local Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge attorney Kristen Ray as one of its “Top 40 Lawyers Under 40” in Michigan.

The ASLA designation comes on the heels of other similar recognition: Ray was selected first as an “Up and Coming Lawyer” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly in 2011, and next as a “Rising Star” on Michigan Super Lawyers 2012 list.

Ray comments, “I was very honored. I tend to be fairly humble so it always comes as a shock when I get recognition.”

ASLA membership is by invitation only, and that invitation is offered only to a select few — less than 2% of all lawyers in the United States. Ray says that the ASLA asked her to join when she was advised of her selection to the Top 40 under 40, and she decided membership would be beneficial.

The youthful attorney has been with Smith Haughey since 2008. After graduating from Suffolk University Law School in Boston cum laude in 2006, where she received the school’s Jurisprudence Award,  she spent her first two years  out of law school as a public defender in New Bedford, about an hour south of Boston.

She had previously received a B.A. in Mathematics from Butler University, in Indianapolis.

Ray, who grew up in Grand Rapids, says, “ When you’re 18 you think you need to move away, but then when I was out there, even though I loved it, I knew I wanted to be back here. Originally the reason was 99% that my family was here, but I also found such a vibrant young professional community. And now I love living back here.”

She says she was so committed to moving back that she decided it would be worth her while to take the bar exam again, despite the fact that if she had waited another year or so she would have had reciprocity. “I stared here in May 2008 and I sat for the July bar – I don’t ever want to take another bar exam again,” she says with a laugh.

Something that Ray really enjoys about her current practice is the diversity of cases she handles. She practices in commercial and insurance litigation, legal malpractice defense, probate litigation, municipal law, franchise law, and a bit in criminal defense. She defends against claims in contract disputes, employment, and just plain general liability. She has expertise in e-discovery. She says she has been surprised at how much she has enjoyed giving counsel to her clients in areas that will help them avoid litigation.

If she were to narrow it down, what would she focus on? “That’s a great question,” she says and thinks a while before carefully answering, “I would say I have started to focus some of my attention on probate litigation as well as municipal law. But at this point I really like my practice in that it is broad and diverse, but not so diverse that I don’t know the applicable law really well and thoroughly.”

The chair of Smith Haughey’s Litigation Department, Peter Boyles, who works in the Traverse City office, initially nominated Ray  for the Up and Coming Lawyer recognition. She finds that very flattering, but modestly says that  it’s hard for her to think of herself  as an outstanding success story. “It’s so hard to measure. I’d love to be able to  say, yeah, I win all the time, and I have had a couple of trials that have gone well, but mostly I can just say, I’ve been happy with how things have gone and grateful to be working at this firm.”

Smith Haughey offered Ray the opportunity for “amazing” mentors. Though she was reluctant to name them due to the risk of missing someone, she mentions Craig Neckers, Thomas McCarthy, and William Jack.

“Bill Jack is fabulous. He’s actually in charge of our Associate Development Committee, and it’s been great to take advantage of the skills of someone who teaches around the whole country,” Ray  comments.

The Smith Haughey website tells about several of her successful cases, including one where she used her math degree to refigure the speed her client was going at the time of a crash, demonstrating that driving over the speed limit was not a factor, which persuaded the prosecutor to dismiss an involuntary manslaughter case.

Along the way, Ray is honing her presentation skills. At last September’s State Bar of Michigan meeting, she spoke to the Paralegal/Legal Assistants Section on  “Jury Trial Tools under Revised Rules.” Her talk was well-received, and she seemed adept at handling the numerous questions the legal professionals threw at her afterwards.

Ray says she is committed to making the best of her new membership in the ASLA. The top benefit is, of course, inclusion on the Top 40 Lawyers Under 40 list, which is publicized on the group’s website and in materials which will be shared with Fortune 500 General Counsel, legal clinics and community organizations across the country. ASLA says that a team of lawyers spent six months researching which lawyers to invite, and the Top 40 Under 40 list “identifies and recognizes lawyers demonstrating leadership and talent early on in their careers, not only in their practice, but in exemplifying the characteristics that will demonstrate the best that the legal profession has to offer.”

But Ray also looks forward to participating in on-line practice-specific forums and using other resources the ASLA offers.

“I want to take advantage of the membership,” she says, “and really to live up to the fact that I’ve been given the Top 40 title.”