Springfield, MO

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2008 12 People You Need to Know: Sarah Kerner

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Sarah Kerner prefers to fly under the radar.

That desire led the 28-year-old attorney to Springfield-Branson National Airport, where she joined the management team as legal counsel in November 2007.

Previously, Kerner spent three years as an associate attorney at Springfield firm Ellis, Ellis, Hammons & Johnson PC, with practice areas including business litigation, employment defense, health care and public education law.

“I just like the idea, more, of being behind the scenes and helping (an entity to) get it right in advance, not so much dealing with the aftermath after something’s gone wrong and going into litigation,” Kerner says of shifting gears in her young legal career. “I was looking for either in-house counsel or some kind of government job.”

She found it.

And as a result, Kerner is likely among the youngest airport counsels in the country, according to officials at Airports Council International-North America, though the trade association has no hard data regarding counsels’ average age.

Kerner, a Chillicothe native, earned her law degree in 2004 at the University of Missouri School of Law, where she nabbed a spot on the dean’s list and ranked among the top 16 percent of her class. During school, Kerner worked as a law clerk for Comley & Ruth PC and for Rogers & Ehrhardt LLC.

As the airport’s counsel, Kerner’s myriad duties include reviewing contracts, meaning that she’ll be keeping an eye on the $119 million midfield terminal project.

“Anything that touches the airport, I deal with on some level, from construction projects down to just making sure that each of our contractors has the right insurance requirements,” Kerner says.

She’s also charged with being in the know when it comes to aviation regulations at the local, state and federal levels.

Kerner, who also will address personnel and airport fire, police and accident issues, doesn’t have a legal staff at the airport, but she’s not exactly flying solo. Technically, she’s part of the office of city attorney Dan Wichmer.

One of the aspects of her in-house counsel role that Kerner likes best is the variety that comes with the job.

“I go to a lot more meetings now than I used to in private practice,” she says.

“Just coming from being an associate at a firm, I feel like it’s a big step up in responsibility, and I appreciate the faith that the city attorney had in me to put me in this position.”

Sarah Kerner

Position: Legal counsel, Springfield-Branson National Airport

Age: 28

Education: Juris Doctor, University of Missouri School of Law

Career: Associate attorney with Ellis, Ellis Hammons & Johnson PC

Q&A Date: Nov. 11

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