In her own words: Attorney/author Kaaran Thomas
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your firm and the duties of your position.
Kaaran Thomas: My firm is one of the oldest in Nevada, and my partners are great historians as well as wonderful lawyers. I was hired to start the firm’s bankruptcy practice, and what I like most about my role is the chance to analyze the reasons why businesses fail. Bankruptcy lawyers are the forensic scientists of the business cycle. In the past 36 years of being a lawyer, I’ve seen it all, from carelessness to crooks to faulty product to bad marketing strategy — you name it. And it’s great to help design a solution to these problems. Although the bankruptcy process is directed to financial issues, it can provide a forum to resolve other issues like marketing strategy, product development, and personnel. The problem with today’s economy is that the debtors and creditors are so desperate that they can’t look for long-term solutions. So, many times, a business ends up in a liquidation. That’s what I like least about bankruptcy right now. That, and the human tragedy, the suffering that always accompanies financial failure. A bankruptcy often leads to divorce, illness, and even suicide. And in this economy, the financial difficulties are caused by economic collapse, not by any foolishness or wrongdoing on the part of the borrowers. Similarly, most of the lenders were not responsible for the borrowers’ problems. Borrowers and lenders are trapped in a vicious self-destructive cycle. It’s very sad.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Thomas: My first husband gave me a choice: become a doctor or a lawyer. I hated dissecting things, so I chose law. In law school, I fell in love with bankruptcy law. I had studied political theory as an undergrad and learned that the U.S. democracy was founded on a social contract — a bargain among the people and their government. I was fascinated that the U.S. had invented the most advanced bankruptcy system — the system that permitted people to break their contracts.
NNBW: In addition to your work as a bankruptcy attorney, you had a book published late last year. What gave you the impetus to write?
Thomas: Like bankruptcy, writing gives me a chance to peek into the lives and businesses of others, and it’s a great way to remember the things I’ve experienced. “Trip in the Dark” started as a way to recall my career as an attorney in Houston, in the financial crisis that overtook Texas in the 1980s. I think people can learn a lot from that crisis that would apply to our situation in Nevada today. The book turned out to be a real emotional journey into the past for me, and has provided a way to reconnect with many of my acquaintances from Houston. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to give people — including future generations — an idea of how vital the bankruptcy process is to our economy. “Trip in the Dark” is a political thriller about the attempt to cover up evidence of the Kennedy assassination. You wouldn’t think something like that would involve bankruptcy. But it does. I would like to leave people with an interest and appreciation of the process we invented to help troubled people and companies. It’s unique in this world, and most countries have nothing like it. And now the book has become a best-seller, which is terrific.
NNBW: How did you balance the demands of writing with your legal career?
Thomas: Writing is a great way to relieve tension and get my mind off my work.
NNBW: What was your inspiration for writing a book about the assassination of JFK?
Thomas: Texas Governor Connally was one of my colleagues, and a fantastic mentor. He had an amazing career, with two great crises. The first was physical, surviving a near-fatal wound by Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was in the car alongside JFK on that fateful day in Dallas. The second was financial — surviving a very high profile personal bankruptcy at the height of the Houston recession in the 1980s. I thought it would make an interesting story to tie the two events together and include some of the events I experienced as a bankruptcy lawyer.
NNBW: What was the most challenging aspect of getting the book published?
Thomas: Finding a good publisher who would give me their attention. So many of the big publishers just ignore their new authors.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession — or for an aspiring author?
Thomas: At the beginning of my career, I wish I’d learned to be more compassionate. One of the first cases I handled as a young lawyer in Houston was the bankruptcy of a local ice hockey team, the Aeros. They had laid off all second-string players, guys who were not “stars.” Several of them — huge, tough-looking guys — came to see me to ask what their remedy was. I told them very professionally that there was nothing they could do. The team was suffering from serious financial problems and had to lay off the unproductive players. I went into great detail about the rights of a company in bankruptcy, and how the players had no recourse. In the middle of my explanation, one of the players started crying. He was a big guy with no front teeth. He sat in my office and sobbed. His friends put their arms around him and they all held each other. They had no money. No layoff pay. They were from Canada and had no way to get back home. I’ll never forget those guys.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Thomas: Cafeteria worker at The Ohio State University student center.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Thomas: A journalist.
NNBW: What’s your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?
Thomas: I am living my dreams. I wouldn’t change a thing.
NNBW: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Thomas: Just be yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. Never be too confident in yourself. Someone may have a legitimate basis to dispute your opinion, and that someone may be a judge. Bummer.
NNBW: How do you spend your free time away from work?
Thomas: Write, hike, kayak, play with my dog.
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
Thomas: Nothing, even for one day. Another opportunity bankruptcy provides is a window on other lifestyles. I’ve been involved in bankruptcies for very wealthy and important people in many different walks of life. I’ve seen their personal problems. I know all too well that being rich and important does not guarantee happiness. So, after years of seeing how all sorts of people live, I’m delighted to be me. I wouldn’t trade my life even for one day.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Thomas: I am having too much fun to retire.
NNBW: What are five things you can’t live without?
Thomas: Writing (I’m so thrilled by the success of my book I’m writing two books about Nevada that are set to come out soon), my friends, my husband, my family, and my dog.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Thomas: Somewhere beautiful like Yosemite or someplace on the Pacific Ocean.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Thomas: Having worked in Houston in a very large firm for 20 years, I wanted a change. Two years after I moved here, my Houston firm’s biggest client (Enron) failed. The firm went through some very hard times and people asked me if I knew about Enron’s problems — if that was why I left. I told them I just followed my heart to a beautiful place with an interesting culture and great people. There is a lot of freedom here — freedom to be yourself and follow your dreams.
“Reach for this book with an open mind and there’s much to learn, whether you’re the owner, supervisor, or an in-the-trenches worker.”