Laura Ketcham once stood within arm’s reach of history. And what she saw set her on a new path that led her to where she is today.
As a high school student, Ketcham envisioned a career in politics. She didn’t want to be an elected official, but she saw herself doing something within the political arena. Her parents allowed her to pursue opportunities that would expose her to new things, so she was able to spend a summer in Washington, D.C., working as a Congressional intern. The experience spurred her interest, and she wound up working in Vice President Al Gore’s office while attending Vanderbilt University.
Ketcham was there the night Gore lost the presidential election.
“I saw the letdown on the faces of the staffers, who didn’t know what they’d be doing the next day,” she says, “and I decided the instability of politics wasn’t for me.”
Law school was Ketcham’s next option. She remained at Vanderbilt, where she took business-related courses in the hopes of becoming a transactional attorney, and spent her summers interning at Husch Blackwell in Chattanooga. The firm’s partners liked her, and upon her graduation, they offered her a position as an insolvency attorney representing creditors.
Although Ketcham had grown up a stone’s throw away from Chattanooga in Athens, Tenn., she’d never anticipated living in the Scenic City. However, after being interviewed at law firms in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, she decided she could develop a similar practice in a more manageable city closer to home.
“That’s how I ended up here,” she says.
Although Husch Blackwell had different designs for Ketcham’s career than she’d had while in school, she quickly discovered she liked litigation. “True litigators call bankruptcy court litigation light,” she says. “Whatever it is, I like it.”
Ketcham says the variety of clients and matters she handles also appeals to her. “I’ve had the opportunity to represent many different parties in bankruptcy situations, and every time I represent a new client or creditor, I get to look at something new. I love that,” she says.
Although bankruptcy law tends to be complicated, Ketcham, who likes analyzing and solving problems, has a simple formula for her work: “I look at the situation, I look at where the client wants to end up, and I look at how we’re going to get there,” she says.
Ketcham’s straightforward approach to the practice of law is mirrored in her matter-of-fact manner of speaking. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t passionate about her work. On the contrary, she’s ready to roll up her sleeves and work to see her clients fully reimbursed.
“Any time a client gets paid in full, that’s a big victory,” she says, brushing back a lock of hair that tends to fall across the right side of her face. “That doesn’t always happen in my world, but I love when we can figure out a solution that makes my client whole. That’s what should happen, but the economics of a case don’t always allow it to.”
Even though Ketcham wound up with a different kind of practice than she’d planned, she enjoys both her job and the firm with which she works. “Being here has been a great experience. It’s one of the few firms in town at which you have a national practice,” she says, leaning forward at her desk in the Dome Building. “And I’ve practiced in nearly every state in the country.”
Ketcham also likes that the nature of her practice allows her to also focus on things outside the office, such as her family, which includes her husband, Michael, and their five-year-old son, Andrew. “I like that I don’t have to punch a clock,” she says. “I have to be available when my clients need me, but I can also be with my son at lunch time.”
Having a flexible schedule gives Ketcham the opportunity to give back to her community. To that end, she’s currently serving on the boards of three local nonprofits, including Junior League, Chattanooga Friends (she jokes she’s aging out of this group, which brings young professionals together to raise money for nonprofits), and Circle of Red, a group that advocates for women’s heart health for the local chapter of the American Heart Association. “I didn’t realize until I got involved [with Circle of Red] that one in three women have heart issues in their lifetime,” she says. “I always thought of it as a men’s issue.”
Remarkably, there’s time left over in Ketcham’s schedule for her to simply savor life. She likes getting out in her yard with Andrew, who’s joined a six-and-under baseball team, and showing him the ropes, and she enjoys taking trips with her family. She’s still radiating with the glow of a recent trip to France and Switzerland with her mother – her first big trip since she began practicing law ten years ago.
Then there’s tennis, only Ketcham doesn’t just play the sport, she competes in U.S. Tennis Association tournaments. “It’s fun and it keeps me active,” she says.
It also appeals to Ketcham’s competitive side, although a string of losses in the finals of recent tournaments has frustrated her. “I’ve made it to the finals the last three tournaments, and lost each time,” she says. “I have to laugh.”
Although Ketcham chose a career in law over politics because it would be more stable, things are changing in the Ketcham household. Namely, Andrew will start kindergarten this fall. Typically, the parents are the ones who have to prepare for this momentous event. “It’s going to be an adjustment,” she says, laughing. “He’s been in summer camp, and I’ve been wondering where the daily reports on what he ate and how he’s doing have been. I guess it’s up to him to tell me those things now.”
Ketcham hopes to be practicing bankruptcy law long after her son being in kindergarten is a distant memory. While she’s one of the only members of her graduating class to still be working where she started, her practice is about more than permanence; it’s also about enjoying what she does and loving the variety of experiences. “One of the great things about the practice of law is it offers enough variety to allow you to see yourself doing it forever,” she says. “So I expect to be doing this for years to come.”