Karen Arnold-Berger earned her undergraduate degrees from KU in personnel administration, political science and psychology in 1979.
What do you do and what’s your current title?
I am currently a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals. Our court is considered an intermediate appellate court, because appeals can be taken from our court to the Kansas Supreme Court. There are 14 judges on our court and we hear and decide appeals from the 31 judicial districts in Kansas. We consider cases involving criminal convictions, divorces, worker’s compensation, contracts, tax appeals, children in need of care, juveniles, protection from abuse and stalking, to name a few. We are considered an error correcting court. Litigants appeal to our court claiming that the district court disposition was the result of some error committed in that court. We sit in panels of three. Individually we are involved in the decision in over 300 cases a year and we each write about 100 memorandum opinions a year.
Where did you earn your law degree?
University of Kansas
Where do you live now?
Overland Park, Kansas
How do you use what you learned as a KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences student in your career?
My undergraduate degrees were in Political Science, Psychology, and Personnel Administration. Each of those has proven to be a benefit it its own way. In addition, the broad based education I received in other areas required by a liberal arts education has been invaluable. For example, when I first started my legal career I worked in the area of employment law and my background in personnel administration provided a broader base than just the legal issues involved. When I was later Presiding Judge of the second largest municipal court in Kansas with a multi-million dollar budget and over 40 employees for which I was responsible, as well as working with a city council, my personnel administration and political science undergraduate degrees became very helpful. My psychology major has also been helpful in the area of organizational and personal dynamics. In addition, I deal with many cases involving persons who suffer from mental illness. An understanding of mental illness gives me a broad educational base upon which to make those decisions.
From Liberal Arts to Law
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What attracted me then is the same thing that keeps me energized every day now. As a lawyer you get to help people, of course. You get to be an agent for change in your community, which is also great. But more importantly, you get to be a lifelong learner. In any given day or week, I may have a contract case that requires I learn about how a construction project works and the agreements made that govern that work. Next I may have a medical malpractice case that requires I learn about some medical ailment and its treatment. Then I am required to turn to a criminal case where I must apply the constitution and examine the intent of our fore fathers and its historical context. So I have the privilege and the honor of having an opportunity to learn something new with each and every case. In my current position, I also have the distinct honor of being able to examine and discuss interesting and complex legal issues with engaged and extremely intelligent colleagues. I don’t think it gets any better than that.
What’s your advice for aspiring law students?
Don’t be discouraged by the naysayers who discourage a law career due to the current job market. The job market will improve. But a legal education, which is a natural extension of your liberal arts education, gives you the tools to work in a wide variety of areas, not just the traditional courtroom lawyer. You are trained in a way of analyzing problems and finding solutions that will serve you well in business, education, politics, journalism, engineering, medicine, or really anything in the public or private sector. What we have called “non-traditional” legal careers in the past, are really becoming more of the norm. Other advanced degrees, although they may prepare you for specific tasks in various professions, do not prepare you to “think” in the same way a legal education does. More and more employers are seeing the value in that distinction.
Favorite KU memory?
There are so many to choose from! The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of my college years is the beauty of the campus. I loved the look and the feel of the campus in the fall when everyone is starting a new academic year full of excitement and anticipation – when the air is crisp and the leaves are turning beautiful colors and homecoming festivities are underway. Likewise, I loved the first blooms of spring and the excitement of another year coming to a close with the added anticipation of what the future would bring. I loved going to the Wheel after a game (should I admit that?) or, when I was in law school, Johnny’s (back when there was only one) and enjoying time with friends. The conversations were so wonderful. We believed we knew it all!
Photos courtesy of Karen Arnold-Burger.