Renaissance Woman: Kara Gansmann
By Russell Rawlings
Kara Gansmann finished college in Wilmington and left her home state of North Carolina in 1998. She returned to practice elder law and estate planning in Wilmington in 2014. In between, she saw the world – as a flight attendant, student and young lawyer – living in Washington, D.C., Chicago, North Dakota and Texas.
“If I move again, it will be to a grave.”
Gansmann has a way with words, as her law partners at Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog well know. She has been a reliable ghostwriter and brief writer for them in the past – “I don’t need the glory of a byline” – and more recently has emerged as a popular contributor in her own right to the WilmingtonBiz Insights blog, where she writes bi-monthly columns on elder law issues.
“It has been a great marketing piece for one thing,” Gansmann said. “The firm is very supportive of good writing, as long as someone is crazy enough to commit to that.
“I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the articles, not just among law colleagues, because they know this stuff, too. But estate planners, financial advisers, and wealth managers know just enough to get themselves in trouble, so the articles are a nice reminder for them that they need to farm this work out.”
Gansmann has proven to be an essential member of the North Carolina Bar Association as well, serving as a liaison between the NCBA’s Elder & Special Needs Law Section and Estate Planning & Fiduciary Law Section. She is a member of both sections and was recently appointed to a three-year term as a member of the Elder & Special Needs Law Section Council.
Gansmann is also a member of the Young Lawyers Division and over the past four years has participated in Wills for Heroes and 4ALL Statewide Service Day, both of which are underwritten by the North Carolina Bar Foundation.
A flighty rebel
Writing has always been her strong suit, even as a child growing up in Halifax County.
“My mother was an unpublished novelist,” Gansmann said. “She used to write newspaper columns when I was growing up and novels that never got published. She was a good role model. Thanks to my mom, writing came naturally for me.
“But when I went to UNC-Wilmington, I rebelled against my parents, who wanted me to get an English degree. I rebelled against anything they suggested back then. Instead I got a criminal justice degree and did nothing with it.”
After graduating from UNC-W in 1998, Gansmann became an international flight attendant for United Airlines. She traveled the world and was based in Chicago and Washington, D.C. She also witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold in the D.C. metropolitan area. Gansmann lost co-workers that day.
“The events of that day led me to re-examine what I was doing in this world,” Gansmann said. “Then my husband, who had not yet told me that he had gotten accepted into the flight program at the University of North Dakota, asked me if I want to go to North Dakota. So there I went, sight unseen, to Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 2002.”
The move proved fortuitous for Gansmann, who took advantage of a four-year furlough from the airline and went back to school at the University of North Dakota. “This was before the oil boom in North Dakota,” Gansmann said. “The only work I could find was as a farmer, and that wasn’t suited for me. So I finally listened to my parents and went back to school to get an English degree.”
Gansmann figured it would take all four years of her furlough to gain the degree, but when all of her undergraduate credit hours from UNC-W transferred, it only took one year to claim another college degree.
“With three years left, I decided to go to the University of North Dakota for law school. Then, during my first semester of law school, United called me back to work, saying that my furlough had been miscalculated.
“So I had a decision to make: Do I go to law school or go back to work?”
Not only did Gansmann remain in law school, she excelled.
“I ended up doing surprisingly well in law school,” Gansmann said. “I became editor in chief of the law review, which allowed me to put my love of writing into practice.”
‘A Certain Disposition’
Gansmann graduated from law school in 2007, among the top 10 in her law school class, and moved to Houston, where her husband was based as a commercial airline pilot with Continental Airlines. She went to work as a law clerk for the Texas Courts’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals.
“Being in a big metro area, we got a variety of cases,” Gansmann said. “After Hurricane Katrina there were a lot of insurance disputes and criminal and civil disputes. It was an opportunity to do something that I loved; I could have continued that as a career.”
Instead, Gansmann and her husband decided to move back to Wilmington, where her family had moved while she was in college. It was yet another leap of faith, but it turned out quite well once Gansmann completed the reciprocity process and received her North Carolina law license.
“One of the things I wanted to do right away was get involved,” Gansmann said. “I didn’t know anybody here, so getting involved with the (North Carolina) Bar Association was one of the best things to do. I started out volunteering for 4ALL, one year at Williams Mullen and one year my firm hosted. Then for the last two years, I was a co-chair for Wilmington with Richard Klein.
“It has been so rewarding, and I run into colleagues who are also giving back. It is a really good feeling; people are really excited.”
Gansmann also found rewarding work in the elder law and estate planning arena.
“I bounced around practice areas at my firm when I first became licensed in North Carolina, but there is probably nothing as satisfying as elder law. It came my way when my law partner Andy Olsen merged his elder law practice with my firm. I have known Andy for 20 years, was nanny for his children when he was a county attorney, and his wife and I are from the same town, Roanoke Rapids.
"When Andy joined the firm it was a great way for the firm to expand its client services, and Andy approached me and wanted me to work with him and learn his practice. I was happy to work with a friend and colleague, but I did not know how personally satisfying it would be to work with elderly clients and their families.
“It requires a certain disposition to work with clients at all stages of crisis, so my work as flight attendant comes in handy.”
As does her English degree.
Russell Rawlings serves as director of external affairs and communications at the North Carolina Bar Association, where this article origniated in the August edition of North Carolina Lawyer magazine.