James Thompson | Co-Founder

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Ruth: [00:00:00] welcome to KC cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice. We’re telling the stories of Kansas city nonprofits and the people behind them. And we’re the nonprofit and the profit communities intersect to make Kansas city a better place to live, work and play I’m Ruth bomb. Biggest KC cares is proudly sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.

Law firms are busy places, whether they’re handling corporate litigation, high profile, personal injury, or criminal cases, mergers and acquisitions, or family law issues. People are really busy between the attorneys and the paralegals and all the support staff, but there’s another side to these legal Eagles being engaged in helping the community.

And today we have an organization, a law firm that’s doing just that. It’s the Edelman Thompson law firm. And we’re going to talk about their charitable foundation and we’re welcoming James Thompson. Who’s a founding partner. Welcome James.

James Thompson: [00:01:07] Welcome Bruce. Thank you very much. It’s great to great that you can have us on today.

We’re looking forward to visiting with you again

Ruth: [00:01:15] shannon Wallace, the marketing director behind this big law firm, that many people may know you all from a little bit of television. I was so excited to, to meet the man behind the camera, those commercials that I always see. So it’s so great. It’s so great to have you up.

Well, let’s talk a little bit at first about the firm itself, what you all are focused on in terms of as a business.

James Thompson: [00:01:42] Sure.  The firm started in 1994. So      we’ve been around the block a few years now.    Ron Edelman and I  started the firm  back then just the two of us.  We had done    primarily  insurance defense work representing insurance companies when  their insureds  were sued.

And    at least to both of us in our background,  that wasn’t as rewarding a career as we had. We had hoped in terms of  having  a little larger, compassionate side to things.  So we, we made  both of us made a decision over about a year  to go out on our own and  start  representing people who  who were injured    either in, you know, basic personal injury things like auto accidents, but also in medical device litigation.

And    for  some time I did a lot of us Festus  litigation  where people had gotten sick because of exposure to toxic substances and things like that.  And  currently the firm’s business mix is it’s all exclusively personal injury of one kind or another. So we don’t represent insurance companies.

We don’t represent corporations. We represent people  which is where I think Ron and I have really always wanted to end up.  So  it’s gone from just the two of us in a small office, down on the Plaza  to a much, much larger firm.  One of the larger firms in Kansas city  certainly one of the larger firms doing personal injury in Kansas city.

So it’s been a, it’s been a rewarding journey and  we still love what we do.

Ruth: [00:03:30] Well, I know when I drive downtown on the  loop, you can’t miss the building that’s for sure. And I bet. The growth that you’ve seen over the years  is incredible. I love the fact that you are working  with people. Let’s bring Shannon.

Shannon. I thought law firms were just their lawyers  and the people behind them who do the research. So what’s a marketing person doing with a law firm. Yeah.

Shannon Wallace: [00:03:59] I mean, I think there, especially in this day and age, you know, our, my main goal is just to connect with folks that as James was describing that need to find an attorney that genuinely cares about their needs.

I that’s part of my job, you know, is to make Edelman and Thompson at the forefront  and to make, you know, people aware of us and, you know, to make it as easy as possible. Well to get ahold of an attorney when they most need one. So there’s a lot of marketing and community outreach that goes into  I feel like working at a law firm.

So it definitely more than I was aware of previously. So I learned a lot since working here and  I think marketing is a big component of what we do.  Prior to even my working here, I know that run and James have, you know, have had commercials that have been on television for a long time.  I’m sure many of the folks listening have heard those.

But we’re trying to do more and more to just continue to connect with people and to make people aware of all the great things  that we’re doing here.

Ruth: [00:04:55] That’s wonderful and more and more people know about you. All right. Now we’re going to switch to. Beyond talking about just law firm and we’re going to myth bust. So I think having been married to a lawyer, I can fairly say there is the run of jokes about how lawyers are tough. They’re not compassionate.

You know, they’re going to squeeze money out of you, but that’s not been the case for you. You have a foundation, let’s talk a little bit about where that came from James. You know, why did the affirm decide they wanted to get involved in philanthropy?

James Thompson: [00:05:34] Well  I think it really goes back to  the personal backgrounds  of Ron and myself.

I mean, both of us  came from  families that emphasized public service  emphasized community involvement.  I actually grew up in the New York area originally. I moved to Kansas city about 37 years ago.  But  just like Ron  even as kids, you know  we were involved in things. Our parents had us involved  in community projects  community awareness and having an understanding of issues.

And really understanding that as blessed as we haven’t been, there are so many other people who aren’t as blessed and really at different junctures in their lives.  Need assistance  and  need care  in terms of  someone reaching out. So I think it started with both of us having that DNA, so to speak  so that  when our business got up and right  we both felt  that was an extremely important  part of being there.

Well, part of this community, we both love Kansas city and Kansas city has been so good to us.  Our clients have been wonderful to us.  And so it’s it overall, it came from just wanting to give back and carry on kind of what we had been taught as early as our childhoods.

Ruth: [00:07:04] So how far back does the idea of a foundation versus, Oh, we can write a check and, you know, just give it personally.

I mean, you made this as part of your organization.

James Thompson: [00:07:15] Yeah, absolutely.  You know, originally    involvement was both personal involvement and financial involvement in the future unity  and it was, and the financial aspect of that really was writing a check and giving  monetarily when    when we could, and when we felt it was appropriate to do assist folks or assist community organizations, and it got to a point where  from a practical standpoint  for instance, with a foundation  you don’t have to  you don’t have to drain your charitable budget at the end of the year.

You can carry it over. It gave us a little more autonomy.  In terms of how we could assist  community organizations and folks in our community. So it just, it made sense in terms of  where we were headed in and how much larger  the giving aspect had become.  To have some more flexibility.

That’s really  where the idea of it  came from obviously tax advisors and legal advisors. You know,  you’d be better off doing this. It would give you  more freedom  and an ability to probably  broaden the scope of what we could do.

Ruth: [00:08:37] When did you establish them the foundation and how did you go about it?

James Thompson: [00:08:43] Well  I may not be the best person to ask about that.  I w when it was set up, we talked about the benefits of setting it up, and then there were signatures involved, but in terms of the legal aspect and the filings  that, that really was beyond me.  But I think we set this up about 10 or 12 years ago.

Is my best recollection. And    so it’s really worked out  very well.

Ruth: [00:09:14] So how does the foundation then get its funds? Is it just going down the hallway and asking everybody to kick in? Or how do you go out and ask folks to support what you do? Or maybe you don’t go outside.

James Thompson: [00:09:30] Well  at this point, most of the funding is through the firm.

So the firm, in other words, we’re not, there’s not a  a fund raising  component  of the foundation other than  from the firm.  So really  and you know, there, there’s obviously involvement in people    and  we encourage people to get involved. We encourage both are. Own employees, as well as  sometimes our clients to get involved in situations and opportunities to help in the community, whether they be walks  or  harvesters or other aspects  of our footprint.

So, but from a monetary standpoint, it’s funded at least currently a hundred percent from by the firm.

Ruth: [00:10:21] Well, thank you. On behalf of all the organizations you help, we’ll go dive deeper into some of those organizations and how you make those decisions. Shannon, what’s your role with the foundation? How are you involved?


Shannon Wallace: [00:10:33] absolutely. So  because you know, the attorneys that work here are so busy with, you know, practicing law  where I come in is I am the, you know, pretty much the direct point of contact for the organizations that we work with. So when there are charities and different groups from the Kansas city community that reached out to us, whether there are, you know, long standing partners  similarly.

Harvesters for one is one of our longest standing partners.  Or if it’s a new organization that we haven’t worked with in the past  I am responsible for communicating with those individuals  listening to their cause and what types of different  things that they’re trying to find funding for or different events that they’re looking to find support for.

And I speak with those individuals and learn a little bit more about what they’re trying to do. And then from there I work with Ron and James to kind of determine what our involvement will be.  Whether it is a financial, you know, sponsorship or something like that, or if it’s, you know, just even kind of helping to raise awareness across our own channels.

For an organization, especially some of those smaller organizations, just kind of getting the word out for those.  That’s definitely where I come in because I do manage our marketing channels as well.  We’re able to really connect with those nonprofits in the area on social media  to just kind of, you know, use our assets that way as well to, to support them.

Ruth: [00:11:55] Well, they’ve got somebody with a whole lot of energy behind that whole thing. That’s just great, James. I wanted to take us down the road to talk about how you make decisions on what you’re going to support. There is so much out there of, you know, organizations doing good work. So how do you put a lens on that?

James Thompson: [00:12:16] Well  so some of it actually  some of the organizations  are in some ways born from relationships we have  with our clients.  For instance, we’ve had situations where  clients have had a very  significant personal tragedy in their lives. And  they’d been able to at least.  Hold some of the folks that may be responsible for that tragedy.

Legally responsible and  taking some of what they have recovered from a monetary standpoint  and started court, started  organizations  to help people. I don’t really want to walk into a lot of the details of that. What organizations those are. But so there’s a, sometimes there’s an actual connection that arises out of our business where clients have chosen to really try to give back and make a difference, usually from a safety standpoint  whether it be  you know, child welfare  in terms of safety in the home or in other aspects, They’ve paid themselves have started foundation that they themselves have started organizations.

And so  that’s kind of an easy inaction.    In other situations it’s really a function of working with Shannon and Ron, and also developing a relationship with whether it be harvesters when there’ll be Royals charities.  Well, we don’t want to be his, you know, situation. And I think a lot of foundations probably agree with this.

I, we don’t want to be just writing a check. We want a connection.  We want a situation very often that allows  either our clients or our employees to become involved.  You know, it used to be  earlier on, we would try to do social events and things like that with our employees. And not that we don’t still do that.

From a team building standpoint, but we have found actually that  the most significant team building where everyone really feels good about things. Is when we do things when the charitable organization, again, whether it be heart harvesters is a great example. I mean, it’s just such a great organization, but    it makes it very easy to have people actually hands-on involved.

And that makes a huge difference in terms of building, building a team atmosphere within the firm. Which so, so I don’t mean to go on, but there’s, you know, there’s that intangible. That’s way beyond the monetary component that really enhancements even  our business internally based  by participating outside with outside organizations.

Ruth: [00:15:06] So it sounds like you really like it when there’s an opportunity for the whole Edelman Thompson team to become involved and engaged.

James Thompson: [00:15:14] Absolutely. And we’ve, you know, sometimes we brought those things in house.  And sometimes we go out  to a site or a facility for a day  and participate  with that organization  in hands-on helping as opposed to  being done.

When you drop your pen after putting your signature on a check,

Ruth: [00:15:39] getting your hands dirty, so to speak.

James Thompson: [00:15:41] Getting your hands dirty. I think, you know, Mo most of us really want to feel that  there’s that connection. There’s a connection between  what we’re doing and the impact that, that it can have.

Ruth: [00:15:56] Shannon. I’m going to throw this hard ball at you. Okay. It’s a pandemic that we’ve been living through. It’s been a really fun ride for a whole bunch of people. How has the foundation. Pivoted  or how did you manage that in this year? That’s still a lot of organizations needed a lot of help.

Shannon Wallace: [00:16:18] Yeah, it was definitely, I think a challenge, not just for us, but for, I think so many organizations  in the community.

Whereas I think on our end, you know, we just found that it was. Even more important to be involved and to show these organizations support. So we were basically just kind of  impacted by the way that the organizations were impacted. So when some of the different health organizations that we support, they typically run a variety of different walks and run events that are fundraising events.

In person  throughout the year, whereas in 2020, they were not able to do so. So that directly impacts their funding. That directly impacts people’s awareness because there aren’t these large scale events taking place in the community.  So a lot of those organizations took a big hit in terms of what they were able to raise with their funds.

Some of them were able to make their event a virtual version of events. So I think that I applaud all the different nonprofits throughout Kansas city. Now we’re able to, you know, pivot exactly like you say, and make the best of a situation that was difficult on all of us.  I certainly was impressed and seeing that, and I think that, you know, I was very glad that we were able to still contribute in that way.

Probably on a year that it was needed the most  particularly, you know, with harvesters community food bank  they were families facing food insecurity that never had dealt with that issue before. So harvest. The harvesters, we’re seeing, you know, new numbers of people coming through that needed support.

So we felt very inclined to want to be able  to continue to value that partnership and contribute to that organization  through this year, as well as you know, other past years,

Ruth: [00:18:00] has the pandemic changed in any way the lens the foundation has or how maybe you operate.

James Thompson: [00:18:13] I think that  as Shannon kind of alluded to  what the pandemic has done is  kind of opened up  needs that    were always there, but   not as great and new people coming in.

Who need assistance. So I think what the pandemic has done is there’s probably, if we were to go back and look at it  there’s a slight shift.  From our standpoint to organizations that  are providing basic necessities and basic needs.  And hopefully that will not be. Hopefully that will not be a permanent shift, but I think in terms of resources  we’ve tried to address kind of the most basic.

Basic needs that have come up through this pandemic  whether it be food insecurity or clothing or other areas. So  if there has been a change, that’s been it.  The other thing is we’ve I think in some situations we’ve tried to our financial contribution  because as Shannon said, I mean, these organizations, as, as creative as they have been to try to make that.

Kind of paradigm shift.  There, you know, it’s really hurt them from a funding standpoint.  You’re not gonna a virtual walk    is in some situations, not always, isn’t going to be  as  financial beneficial to the organization financially beneficial to your organization as a real walk.  So there’s  you know  we’ve tried to fill in some of the gap there in some of these organizations.

Ruth: [00:20:01] Well in having some conversation with some other nonprofits over the course of several months, it  what we’re hearing is that demand has gone up and while things are slowly changing  hopefully for the better, a lot of that demand is continuing  that, that struggle for a lot of people  is still going to be there.

Tell us a little  about your employees and their. Involvement with  your activities.  I think it’s an interesting relationship, you know, they’re the bosses. And then there are people who report to bosses. So how about that recruitment and that involvement? And maybe you can, you have motivators that others can learn from?

James Thompson: [00:20:48] Well  you know  I think that, and  I’ll certainly    I want  Shannon  to visit with me on this as well, but  you know, we have  we have an absolute great group of employees.  We don’t,  we’re probably not  if you’re looking for someone with the most creative ways to    you know, organize and creative ways of getting people involved  we really haven’t had to do that at least within our own  staff community and our own employees.

They are a great group of people who when given the option opportunity and the opportunities have been a little less during the day because of the way things have changed.  But certainly prior to the pandemic  we never had any shortage of participation  which is wonderful. And, you know, just seeing people out.

You know, an environment other than the office  joking, laughing  you know, feeling like they’re making a difference    has always been just to really, in some ways my favorite aspect  of. Being involved and having the foundation involved is seeing how  our employees and very often our clients  act in how important giving is to all of them.

So  I’m winded way of saying where we haven’t come up with any creative motivational strategies necessarily because we haven’t needed to.  But  You know, hopefully  we can expand participation. One of the things I’d like to do and with Shannon’s help is maybe try to find ways to broaden our client’s involvement because we have such a large client base now after.

Twenty-five years or so.  Actually more than that now, 27 years, I think  just it’s a massive  client base that Shannon helps us keep in contact with. So I think including them more, when things open up a bit and giving them a platform and an Avenue to pursue participate  is a goal that probably we should be moving on.

Ruth: [00:22:59] Janet. You’ve got a big job there  to make those connections and decide, you know, what’s the right project.  You know, what will resonate with bringing clients in  to be part of a whole different relationship? I would think. Right.

Shannon Wallace: [00:23:16] I think though, as James was saying, it is a big job, but I think it’s also, you know, a job that, because we work with such really wonderful people and that are compassionate and that truly care.

And I think, you know, just working in Kansas city, I’ve not always worked or lived in Kansas city.  But I feel like. Particularly here in this area, people genuinely do care very much about this community. And people are proud to say that they’re from Kansas city. And I think  that translates to wanting to be involved and wanting to give back as well.

So while yes  it’s definitely a big task to, you know, try and get folks. Evolves.  And just to make people aware of all the different things that are going on that and different opportunities to give back. I think that the community that we live in does make it  a little bit easier because people are quite engaged already and quite willing to get involved where they’re able to,

Ruth: [00:24:09] I don’t want to lose sight of some of the great things that you all have done in the community.

And I wanted to go ahead and let you have a moment to talk about what you’ve done with Royals charities. Can you elaborate? I mean, you’ve helped raise significant funds for that organization.

Shannon Wallace: [00:24:26] Yes, absolutely. So  you know, gross charities is one of our longstanding partnerships that I know we are very proud to be involved with.

They do wonderful work.  And I think with rural charities, what  they do a wonderful job of not ingest. Getting back to one specific area within the community. They, you know, contribute to children’s charities, to charities that are dedicated to education.  So youth sports and military families, so they definitely, you know, spread their efforts across a wide variety of great causes.

So that’s one of the reasons too that  I know that we’re drawn to them.  One of the, you know, the biggest aspects of our partnership with the Royals is that we are sponsors of the 50, 50 raffle.  So that, you know, is. Something that if you’ve been to a Royals game  or even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of a 50, 50 raffle.

But particularly this year  thrills have done a great job with changing ways that people can get involved.  Because the stadium is at reduced capacity, both scan and participate in the 50, 50 raffle from home.  If they would like to try accessing the MLB ballpark app on their phone    so that’s another great way that, you know, if individuals want to get involved and donate  to that, that overall jackpot for that raffle, a great portion of those proceeds goes toward one of the great charities that the Royal charities do support.

So we definitely advocate for that and encourage folks, you know, if they want to get involved themselves  in a really fun way that is. And on a personal level as well, too.  They can certainly access that whether they’re going to the games in person this year or whether they’re watching from home.

So that’s definitely a great way to get involved

Ruth: [00:26:04] and the Royals are doing great so far. We’re off to a good start. It’s a positive, it’s a positive way. Well, that’s really a way to spread your dollar, so to speak what, having, you know, this foundation and having done this for a while, particularly. Any tips or suggestions for other organizations that might consider giving back in the community.

Now that you’ve been doing it a while.

James Thompson: [00:26:31] Sure. I mean, I think it’s an absolute win-win  you know, it  there  from a business standpoint  it’s helpful, obviously it is  putting a face out there  that you do care. And I think  as Shannon said, Kansas Citians. Are a community of care  people who do care.

And I think they want to see others who care. So when you have the opportunity and the platform  to basically, and in some ways the publicity to show that face  and pay it forward, so to speak    you know, it is, it’s a good thing to do from a business standpoint. And also it’s an extremely good thing to do.

From a moral standpoint. And I think  businesses that take positions and take a strong stand in the community in terms of being a part of that community, not just taking out of that community.    I can’t see a downside  to the business in participating in that way. So I would, I mean  I would encourage any business that, and you don’t have to.

You don’t have to wait until you think you’re at a size where  you know, you can make a massive difference all at once. Starting a family. If I had to do it all over again, we probably would have started a foundation earlier than we did. And I would encourage others to do that because it gives an opportunity, like I said  by having a foundation, you have a little more autonomy, a little more freedom in terms of how that money can be spent and when it can be spent.

And  I would encourage other businesses who haven’t thought of going down that road that  to do it.    It’s not hard. At least it wasn’t hard for me, but that’s because maybe I didn’t understand the workings of it. But  you know, I think it’s extremely important. And as I said at the start, it’s a, win-win it really is a win for the organization.

   It’s a win for the comradery and team building within the organization. And obviously it’s a win for the community and it’s a, and it’s a good face to have out there.

Ruth: [00:28:44] Jan. And how about from your perspective, getting to do the backend stuff? Yeah,

Shannon Wallace: [00:28:49] I think honestly, I think for me, both professionally and personally, it is just, you learn so much about just the wealth of organizations that are in our area.

So I think it’s absolutely worthwhile, like James said it is a win-win  there’s no downside. And while it might be some added work to your plate, it’s.  It’s work that is good to do, and it is meaningful. So it definitely just makes you feel like you are a part of  something greater.

So I would absolutely recommend it. You know, anyone who’s involved in marketing for a business of any kind of corporate business  If you’re able to, you know, introduce a non-profit component and just get involved, you know, with community outreach. I think that there is no downside at all whatsoever. I think it just, you know, from a marketing and advertising standpoint also puts your business  on the forefront and you just start, you know, that much more in tune with your own community.

Ruth: [00:29:42] Well, thank you both for spending time with us and sharing with us what your foundation does being part of Kansas city. I loved what James said, you know, show that KC cares. Thanks for that little plug. That was wonderful. And that’s what we’re about is trying to share what great people like you are doing to make Kansas city the great place it is to live, work and play again.

Thank you so much for your time and sharing your story.

James Thompson: [00:30:07] Well, thank you so much, Ruth, for having us.

Ruth: [00:30:10] Thank you so much. You bet. And thank you for listening to KC cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice we’re produced by charitable communications, also a nonprofit, and we’re proudly sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.

If you’d like to be a guest on KC gears or underwriting opportunities. Please visit our website at KC cares, online.org and spread the love. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter at KC cares radio and on Instagram at KC cares online and don’t forget, and you can catch us on ESPN 15, 10:00 AM and 94.5 FM Saturday mornings at 8:00 AM.

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