Editor’s note: Gainesville attorney Linda McKinney has been honored by Missouri Lawyers Media with a Women’s Justice Award in the general practitioner category, which recognizes female attorneys who “handle multiple practice areas with skill.” This profile by Dana Rieck of Missouri Lawyers Media is reprinted from molawyersmedia.com.
Linda McKinney had a less-than-traditional journey to a law career.
The Alaska native, whose parents adopted her at birth, lost her mother at age 8. She dropped out of high school “really out of nothing but boredom” when she and her father moved to the lower 48 states during her junior year of high school.
Even so, she said, she never lost the childhood dream of becoming a lawyer that she had nurtured since the day her father took her to see “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
McKinney said she pursued that dream at a pace that made sense to her as a single mother. She earned her GED at age 21, her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in California at 31 and her law degree from the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento at 41.
“The time periods in between [those degrees] would be me saving money [and] getting to a place with being a single parent to where I could pursue that dream – although I look back now and wonder how I had all that energy,” she said.
At one point, she said, she worked as a journalist and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She also clerked for a government office in Sacramento during law school, which piqued her interest in public sector practice, she said.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” she said, chuckling.
McKinney was admitted to the California Bar in 1991. Two years later, she returned to Alaska and practiced law there for 10 years. In 2003, circumstances involving her daughter and her daughter’s disabilities prompted her to move to Gainesville, a rural community in southern Missouri.
McKinney’s previous practice in Alaska had included working for the state attorney general’s office, where she was assigned to the North Slope Borough — the northernmost in the state. There, she covered 89,000 square miles of territory with a population of about 7,200.
“I think they counted some of the polar bears in that count,” she said.
She worked on subsistence rights issues and native rights, and she helped to direct interaction between tribal courts and the U.S. court system.
After settling down in rural Missouri, she went to work for the public defender system in Ava in 2003. Within a year, she became the district defender in Ava — a position she held for almost eight years before retiring. Still, she continued to take on private cases through her solo practice in Gainesville as well as contract cases as a public defender.
“But then, I wanted to slow down a little bit, so I set up my own little solo practice,” she said. “I have had a home office since 2014.”
McKinney now works as a guardian ad litem in the 44th Judicial District, where she has represented more than 200 children. Most of them have been subjected to abuse and neglect, she said.
“I guess I do it because I was raised by a single parent. I know what it’s like to be a high school dropout and have a lot of people say, ‘Hey, you’re never going to be able to achieve your goals.’ And I really enjoy working with the kids and letting them know one way to realize their dreams. Sometimes you do a better job because of the challenges you face growing up,” she said.
“I’m lucky in that I can do something that’s meaningful to me and not be concerned about, you know, paying bills. I am able to do what is truly a passion and not worry about the other more practical things — that’s really a luxury.”