Life before the law
Since its inception in 1946, Ford Models has been
credited with launching the careers of actresses
Kim Basinger and Lindsay Lohan, and supermodels
Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley.
Now add a Super Lawyers selectee.
Kristi Anderson Wells, a family law attorney at
Gutterman Griffiths in Littleton, didn’t exactly “meet
cute” with Ford co-founder Eileen Ford. In 1980,
Ford saw the 14-year-old Seattle ballet student at a
modeling audition and told her: “You will never be a
The comment galvanized Wells. After high school, she
spent two years with Ford affiliates in Milan and Paris
before joining Ford in New York City, where she landed
contracts for Gloria Vanderbilt perfume and L’Oréal.
“As it turns out,” says Wells, “I probably passed up
some really good opportunities on the way to Ford
Models. Elite Model Management wanted me and I
turned them down because I had this big chip on my
shoulder about how I was going to be a Ford model.
If it was the best career decision, I don’t know, but it
It also shows how determined she was.
“Ah yes, ‘determined,’” she says. “That is definitely true.”
Wells was raised in Medina, Washington, where her
father was an insurance broker who specialized in insur-
ing ski areas. She describes her parents—and herself—
as “stoic Dutch-American: very put your head down,
work hard and get your stuff done, show up 15 minutes
early and be the one who stays 15 minutes late.”
How Kristi Anderson Wells’ life as a Ford model paved the way
to a successful family law practice BY JIM WALSH
As a teenager, Wells did secretarial work in the
underwriting department of her father’s insurance
brokerage. “I’m sure I was a complete mess,” she says.
“But I learned to type, I learned a lot about insurance
defense work and how lawyers work. That’s part of why
I wanted to go to law school. The lawyers who worked
with his company got to ski and look at accident sites
on mountains. I thought it was going to be a very
After her own glamorous life as a model, Wells got
both a J.D. and a master’s in federal taxation.
“I used to work for one of the largest firms in the
world doing Fortune 500 executive compensation
work,” she says. “About seven years ago, we were in
the middle of the downturn and my work dried up.
I had to recreate myself, and the only thing I had to
hang my hat on was my own bad divorce and this
executive comp thing—which, it turns out, is a really
good fit with high-end divorce.
“There are a lot of people out there who, even during
the downturn, the biggest asset they had was their pen-
sion or stock options, or restricted stock, or some other
piece of executive compensation, which made it worth-
while to have someone who understood how those
things worked. And that has been sort of the creation of
my career as a divorce attorney. Who knew?”
Her own divorce took seven years, she says, “with
everything being appealed, the other side going
through three attorneys, and eventually getting to
the point where you win everything, and by winning
everything you’ve lost everything.” That’s why, while
she does litigate, she focuses on collaborative divorce.
She prefers to work with people on resolutions.
A mother of two, Wells still describes herself as a
“hopeless romantic,” who has been in a domestic partnership for five years. She’s also happier as an attorney
than she ever was as a model.
“It’s much easier to be a hard-working attorney,”
she says. “You can be a hard-working model, show
up on time, take good care of your skin, be professional, and all those things, and still not be successful because you don’t have the right look.
“But it was a good living. I got to travel to amazing
places and do things that even now I can’t imagine.
I mean, shooting on the streets of Calcutta? I shot in
Red Square when it was still the Soviet Union. The
deserts of North Africa. That experience just can’t be
replaced. Now when I look at my vacations, it’s like, ‘Oh
Wells as a Ford model.
“It’s much easier,” she
says, “being a hard-