West to East & back again: Attorney rises in the profession through steady outstanding work

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Krista Jackson of Kotz Sangster in Grand Rapids litigates across a variety of industries, including agri-business.

– Photo by Cynthia Price


By Cynthia Price

Legal News

Kotz Sangster’s Krista Jackson builds her reputation — a reputation so excellent that it earned her a Rising Star designation this year — by working hard, one case at a time.

According to Jackson, she has not had the high-visibility cases or splashy decisions that would bring her a lot of attention. Instead, she approaches each case with a deep-seated and thorough work ethic and a true regard for what the client needs and can realistically achieve.

“I think that having people at every firm where I’ve been who  were willing to work with me and invest in me and mentor me, but at the same time allow me to fail and succeed on my own, probably led to this honor. It’s a peer nomination, but I do feel like there’s a mystery component to their selection process,” Jackson says with a smile.

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Jackson attended Forest Hills Central before graduating from Calvin College with a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science.

She then went further afield, receiving her law degree from the University of Virginia Law School, which she says is still an excellent source of referrals, and spending a  year working at the Grand Canyon. “I just wanted to take a
year and do something different that I was probably not going to be able to do later in life,” she says.

Though she initially was interested in environmental law, there were no positions open at the time she was looking, so she became a civil litigator — and fell in love with it.

The first three years of her career were spent at Varnum, where she was mentored by Philip Grashoff, among others. After Grashoff moved to a firm in Bloomfield Hills named Strobl and Sharp, Jackson followed.

“I think that the progression of my career has been that I’ve been at the right places at the right time for me,” Jackson comments. “Varnum was great and gave me a lot of opportunities for training and working with really great litigators very early on in my career. Varnum had the ability to send us to great training programs and invest in its younger associates.

“Then I went to Strobl and Sharp, and I was the only associate doing litigation at that level, so I was given a lot of autonomy. I still had good mentors, a lot of them, but I also had more independence and had to figure out how to be a litigator a lot earlier than I might have at a bigger firm,” she continues.

She joined the Bloomfield Hills office of Kotz Sangster, a firm with almost 40 attorneys, again following Grashoff about a year after he moved.

Kotz Sangster, still officially named Kotz, Sangster, Wysocki PC (with Gregory Wysocki serving as its CEO), states on its website that it is “a business law firm concentrating on the representation of middle market companies throughout the State of Michigan and beyond.”

Originating from Detroit and Bloomfield Hills, Kotz Sangster expanded to Buchanan and Niles and later to Grand Rapids, South Haven and St. Joseph, the last as recently as the end of November. The West Michigan office’s 2015 move to a suite in the Trust Building occasioned a very well-attended open house.

“I actually joined Kotz Sangster knowing they had a Grand Rapids office,” says Jackson. “The conversation was always  there that, hopefully, there would be an opportunity to move back here.”

At Kotz Sangster, she litigates across a variety of industries, including agri-business, commercial and contract law, construction, and environmental areas. It is this variety that keeps her going.

“The thing I love about being a litigator is I’m not doing the same thing all the time. I’m bound by a set of court rules, and outside of that I’ve had cases in so many different areas of subject matter, and there’s such a breadth of underlying issues. So I’m dealing with things like chicken bloggers,” Jackson says, referring to an interesting recent case. “It feels so big at the beginning of a case, like you have to learn a whole new area of expertise, but it’s nice because you have to rely on your client to teach you about it. You learn about something that you never would’ve learned otherwise.”

Jackson says that possibly her biggest challenge is in adjusting the level of her efforts to a client’s budget and time limitations.

“I’ve handled everything from small matters where you’re shepherding the client through to international companies where you can use some of those resources to do things in litigation that the smaller clients can’t,” she explains.
“That’s really the toughest part of litigation. There’s this spectrum of things you can do within a case, and you have to manage your client’s budget with their expectations. Not every smaller client necessarily has the smaller case, but you have to narrow down what you do sometimes. And that’s very difficult.”

Moving to the Grand Rapids office came at a good time, when her six-year-old daughter was at a point of starting kindergarten and leaving the “great” day-care she had attended since the age of three months. Her two-year-old son, who is about to be three, also went to that day-care, but now the entire family is happy here.

Jackson says that, while she herself loved living downtown with her husband when she was at Varnum, the outside perception of Grand Rapids changed over the ten years or so she practiced in Bloomfield Hills. “When I moved over there in 2006, the general consensus was, ‘Oh, aren’t you lucky that you got to move here?’ When we moved back the perception of the area and the legal profession here had changed so much.
“Everyone was saying I was really lucky to be moving back,” she laughs.

She is still able to use her environmental science background, especially in working with her mentor Phil Grashoff, an environmental lawyer.

At the same time, both of the community organizations she serves as a board member are environmental in nature, though in different ways. One, the Center for Environmental Leadership, is a creation care organization which oversees, among other things, a program offering travel to New Zealand and Belize; Jackson visited the latter for a semester while at Calvin.

The board of Camp Henry, which she has just joined, deals with the well-known local camp which offers children a chance to be in and learn about the great outdoors. “I went to Camp Henry and worked there through college,” Jackson says, “and I’ve had sort of a passion for this. Even at two, my son would love for me to give him my phone constantly, and I really think kids need to be able to go someplace without electronics where they can just be outside.”
 

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