Seasoned Judge Shares Tips for Success With Newcomers to Omaha’s Legal Field 10/10/18 10:50:08 PM
Twenty-seven brand new lawyers attend their first Omaha Bar Association meeting on October 2, where the spotlight was on them.
(Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Seasoned Judge Shares Tips for Success With Newcomers to Omaha’s Legal Field
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
It’s an annual October-feast that the Omaha Bar Association throws for newly-admitted attorneys, to give them and OBA members a chance to get acquainted.
This year’s event was October 2 at the Field Club in midtown Omaha. The OBA’s new president – Patrick Cooper of Fraser Stryker – introduced each of the new attorney present: Sarah Applegate, William Beerman, Molly Bertelson, Tiffany Boutcher, Taylor Cammack, Matthew Chouinard, Kara Fishbach, Courtney Foltz, Paige Gade, Matthew Harris, Alexandra Hubbard, Katherine Huiskamp, Sydney Huss, Emma Hybl, Gabrielle Kott, Cassie Langstaff, Joe Lord, Caitlin Lovell, Nicole Luhm, Tyler Masterson, Annie Mathews, Samantha Miller, Kory Quandt, Megan Shupe, Amanda Swisher, John Waters and Chellsie Weber.
The Omaha Bar uses this event each year, along with the Walk Through The Courts, to introduce new attorneys to the judicial system in Douglas County and the Omaha Bar Association. New attorneys can also pick up a little advice, according to OBA Executive Director Dave Sommers.
Each year, they ask a member of the judiciary to talk. The judges usually emphasize the collegiality of all those in the field. To that end, the speaker shares a bit of his or her own experiences on their path to their present job.
This year, the 27 newly-sworn attorneys, some of them using the opportunity to do a little job-hunting, heard Douglas County District Court Judge Gary Randall share his journey to becoming a judge and encourage them to reach out when they need help.
Judge Randall has been a high-profile jurist in recent months due to his assignment as presiding judge in the death penalty phase of Anthony Garcia’s murder trial.
But his speech reflected his unassuming style, as he admitted to being a lackluster student who obviously blossomed later in his career.
“You know, when you graduated from high school 50 years ago, you get a chance to do a whole lot of stuff,” Randall said. “Fifty years ago, at the height of the peace movement, I was opposed to the war in Vietnam. I didn’t want to be drafted, the lottery had yet to be adopted, and my mother was scared to death that I would be. … But when they drew the lottery numbers, I hit the jackpot. My number was 351. … so I could concentrate on my studies. I did get a degree in Political Science, which was completely unmarketable all by itself.”
His uncle, a well-known litigator, told him if he wanted to go to law school, he should get a liberal arts degree. So that’s what he did.
He was accepted into law school at Creighton and “started ‘the paper chase.’” He noted that his first class in law school was taught by the now well-known Professor Mike Fenner, who was teaching his first class in law school, Constitutional Law.
“That was one of the scariest days in my life,” Randall said.
Fenner, who still teaches at Creighton, undoubtedly taught all of the new CU graduates in the audience.
Randall said he finally figured out that all that repetition he didn’t understand was “the Socratic Method, stupid! We’re going to do it until you get it.”
“Who knew that going to law school was going to be like learning a foreign language?” he asked the crowd.
Randall noted that his class was the first in Creighton’s new law school. That meant instead of taking around 100 students, they took more than 250 students to fill the new school. Fortunately, he said, he was one of the 150-some who actually graduated out of that class.
“I got a job with Joseph C. Byrne, P.C.,” Randall said. “And Joe Byrne was a very ethical general practitioner who had one associate already, and that was Tom Shomaker (another well-known Omaha attorney who is still practicing). Tom and I formed a bond, and he basically taught me how to practice law. And now, he practices in front of me – and does a fabulous job.
“I developed a trial practice, starting with family law, then moved on to other cases. I wanted to build my practice, so I began doing volunteer work and I got on several boards. And I got a little bit into politics.”
He told of his rise in the volunteer ranks of the Democratic Party. He rose to chair of the Douglas County party and vice-chair of the Nebraska party. Kim Robak, former Nebraska lieutenant governor, asked him if he’d like to be a judge.
“It hadn’t even crossed my mind,” he said. “And I got lucky. There were 18 people who applied for the district court that year and I got selected. I was so completely honored.”
Then he gave some career advice, especially to those who aspire to be a judge.
“First, be a good attorney, respected by those you work with and who know your word is worth something,” he said. “Advocating for your clients’ cause is important and you have to do it effectively, going to trial only as a last resort. In my opinion, good lawyers negotiate. Your client’s best interest may not be in the courtroom. But when you go to trial, you have to be prepared.”
There are more than 8,000 cases pending in District Court and there are 16 judges. Randall said they all have more than 500 cases assigned each. Civil cases are at the bottom of the heap, because of the time limits of criminal cases. He pointed out all the references available online now for lawyers, including a list of resources.
“Make sure you read the Douglas County rules,” he said. “Make sure you read the Supreme Court rules. Find a mentor, someone that you can admit you don’t know it all to. If a client asks you a question, don’t be afraid to tell them you’ll look into it. Always return your phone calls. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. You aren’t your client’s friend. You are their lawyer. You are charging them for your time. Be respectful to bailiffs, clerks, court reporters, and all the people in the courthouse. They can torpedo your case! Join organizations – like the Omaha Bar, the Nebraska Bar and the American Bar Associations.
“Get on committees in your area of practice. Take those gems and become great practicing lawyers.”
These new lawyers have already taken one step toward that goal. They are automatically members of the Omaha Bar until the end of the year.
Hon. Gary Randall shares his academic journey to his position on the Douglas County District Court.
Patrick Cooper presides at the first membership meeting of his tenure as OBA president.