Only in Louisville:
Meinhart, Smith & Manning, PLLC

Profile by Eve Lee

The Louisville Independent Business Alliance’s “Keep Louisville Weird” mission instantly evokes so many of the city’s unique shops, restaurants and artists. But a law firm? Isn’t its membership weird in itself?

Not at all, says Patricia Smith, an estate attorney with Meinhart, Smith & Manning. “There are a lot of big corporate firms that have offices in other cities. We’re small and independent, and it kind of factors into [the slogan]. Louisville should be celebrated for those kinds of businesses and that entrepreneur spirit.”

That very spirit is what inspired Chris Meinhart to found the firm in 1993, and his inspiration has always been the underdog--particularly when handling personal injury cases. “I really like the David-vs.-Goliath thing,” says Meinhart, who, as the child of German immigrant parents, knows the role well. “I don’t like working for insurance companies; I like working against them. I don’t like working for the big guy; I like working for the little guy.” But even David needed a bit of extra power on his side, and so Meinhart took on two partners: Smith joined the practice in 1999, and Ethan Manning came aboard in 2003.

Manning, who clerked for Meinhart and Smith in college, shares his bosses’ dark-horse outlook. “We feel this is the area of practice where you make a difference in people’s lives when they’re at their worst,” says Manning. “You have people with life-threatening injuries, and they don’t know how to deal with it. We try to hold everyone’s hand, from the beginning to the end of the potential case.” In taking on issues regarding medical negligence, including product liability, malpractice and class action suits, Manning also enjoys the learning aspect. “You certainly have an uphill battle in these cases, and that’s what makes it challenging, but you can learn some interesting facts. We’re all students, really. You choose to go to school for a long time, and I don’t ever want to give that up.”

Smith’s education was a bit more roundabout. She had originally planned to earn an MBA, but while working as a buyer for Suburban Hospital she realized that law school would give her more opportunities. (She had worked as a legal secretary in high school and throughout college.) After trying out divorce law, she discovered her current field. “It’s fascinating,” she says. “People say probate law is old, boring, dusty…but you see murder, theft, every human passion you can think of. It’s all about family dynamics. But if you’re patient and empathetic and use a lot of common sense, you can get through it.” She offers a bit of free advice for those hoping to keep the peace when it comes to settling estates: “If at all possible, look at it objectively. A lot of people think it’s an honor to be an executor and administrator, but it’s a lot of work and you have to treat it like a business. ”

In business, Meinhart juggles more than just the firm; he also serves as Jefferson County Public Administrator, managing the finances of about 300 minors. He also teaches two courses as an adjunct instructor at UofL’s Brandeis Law School, which keeps him fresh. “The students are hungry to get away from the theories and talk to people who’ve been in the trenches…and [the interaction has] sharpened my skills and helped me to go back and analyze things from the outside in.”

Manning is committed to the firm maintaining its edge and its relationships, too. “We chose to practice here and raise our families here. We’ll retire here. It’s important for people to know that we started our practice here and we’ll end our practice here.”

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