Life before the law
FISHER & PHILLIPS
Melody Rayl remembers lying awake and listening to
bombers flying overhead. It was 1999 and she was living
in Bosnia, not far from the Kosovo border, on a U.N. police
task force assignment. Her objective: work side by side with
Ukrainian police officers to help post-war Bosnia stabilize.
“It only took a few days for the U.N. to decide that they re-
ally needed to get us out of there,” Rayl says.
It was a long way from home for Rayl, who was, at the
time, an Overland Park police officer on leave for the year-
long assignment. But she was no stranger to living in the
heart of international conflict—before she was a cop, she
was an Army intelligence analyst.
Today, she works in employment and labor law at Kansas
City’s Fisher & Phillips. Rayl says communication is the tie
“Communication skills are the most important tool of
every lawyer,” she says. “Whether drafting a brief, examin-
ing a witness or addressing the jury, the ability to effectively
communicate is essential. It’s no different than relaying
military strategy or building a prosecutable case as a law
At 17, Rayl enlisted in the Army under the delayed-entry
program. “I wanted to go out and see the world,” she says.
For six years, she studied Soviet military communication
during the peak of Cold War tensions and provided intelli-
gence to the U.S. military during several significant events,
including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
While her intelligence work and two decades as a cop
has informed Rayl’s day-to-day, the significance of her work
on the U.N. task force stays with her.
“I was dealing with what happened in a country where
ethnic hatred took over the fabric of a society, and how it
completely destroyed a country,” Rayl says. “That’s heavy.”
Cold War Calling
What do an army intelligence officer, a police officer and a lawyer have in common?
Communication skills, says Melody Rayl BY CHRISTINE SCHUSTER
One night, Rayl and her Ukrainian colleagues had a
conversation about what they were taught to believe about
the other. “It was a life-changing experience,” she says. “We
pretty quickly realized that we really weren’t that different.”
The law entered by happenstance. When the police de-
partment was looking for a full-time instructor at the acad-
emy to teach a course on law, she jumped at the chance.
“I had always had an interest in going to law school, just
for the learning experience,” says Rayl.
Teaching the class invigorated that interest, and in 2003,
she began law school part time.
“About two weeks into my criminal procedure class, one of
my classmates outed me to the professor as a working street
cop, mostly because everyone was tired of fact patterns drawn
from Law and Order,” Rayl says. “So it became, ‘Ask Melody.’
After that, at least the scenarios got a bit more interesting.”
When she graduated, she stuck with the badge for a short
time. “It began to occur to me that my age was going to
affect my ability to be effective,” says Rayl. So at 45, she be-
came Bryan Cave’s newest summer intern. “My fellow interns
had no recollection of the Cold War,” Rayl says with a laugh.
She calls on her past lives to uniquely equip her work as
a trial attorney representing employers. “I’ve done a lot of
interrogating,” she says. “There are a lot of similarities in
taking depositions, conducting litigations and interviewing
witnesses, and I bring that experience to the table.”
She also brings reaction skills honed on the streets and
in wartime. “There was no typical ‘call’ or ‘investigation’ [in
my previous work], and there is really no typical problem in
the context of employment matters,” she says. “Every situ-
ation has its own nuances, mostly because each situation is
people-driven. People are predictably unpredictable.”
LEFT: Rayl, in 1992, with her parents
BELOW: Rayl and fellow U.N. task force members in 1999, in Bosnia-Herzegovina