Hubbard Sets Lifetime Standard of Excellence 9/19/14 09/18/14 11:17:02 PM
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After almost five decades, Donna Hubbard can still “turn on the jets” to get the job done.
The 'Epitome of a Legal Assistant'
Hubbard Sets Lifetime Standard of Excellence
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
Legal Assistant Donna Hubbard has been planning to retire for more than a decade.
The trouble is, people really want her to keep working and she really loves what she does, so …
Here she is today, September 19th, celebrating her 77th birthday at a surprise party at the Law Offices of Jeffrey L Stoehr, where she still puts in 20 hours or more a week.
“Every time I mention retiring and perhaps moving to Texas where my daughter and her family are, Jeff tells me how much I would hate Texas!” she laughed. “Well, it is hot there.”
Here’s the thing: Donna’s boss, Jeff Stoehr, thought he should do something special this year for her birthday, so he cooked up a cover story so that The Daily Record could interview her without giving away the surprise. So, this is a story about how the profession has changed in the past four or five decades. Who better to address that topic than Donna, right?
Donna started out as a secretary in 1955 but, after her daughter, Denise, arrived in 1962, she left the workforce to stay home with her little girl, who eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. And that wasn’t easy because, by that time, Donna was a single parent who was working full-time and nurturing her daughter and getting her through school.
Donna went back to work in 1969, “just as a part-time worker” in the Election Commissioner’s Office, where Monte Taylor was commissioner.
When Monte Taylor’s legal secretary left his law firm, he asked Donna if she would help him out. “I was supposed to fill in for two weeks after his secretary quit … and 36 years later I was still with him.”
While at the election office, she met Joyce Vana, who was a summer hire there. “She broke me in,” Vana said. “I cut my chops there.” It was the beginning of a 45-year career in the legal field for Vana and the beginning of a 45-year – and counting – friendship with Donna. “She is an amazing person,” Vana said. “She’s my very dear friend. We’ve shared the joys and the sadness. She’s always been there for me.”
Vana recalled some early shenanigans at Monte Taylor’s firm.
“It was Monte’s birthday and Donna had a little surprise party for him in the supply room. Also in the supply room was a little jar, a jam jar I think, of booze. We busted that out for his birthday.” She laughed at the thought. “Those memories are so wonderful.”
Vana retired last February after 45 years in the field.
“I’ve learned so much. I had some of the best mentors ever: Monte, Bennett Hornstein, Joe Moylan, all of them. Later, there was John Nelson and Dennis Thomte and Richard Drews, among others.”
The list of attorneys she worked with over the years in Taylor’s law office reads like Omaha’s Who’s Who: besides Monte Taylor, there were Bennett Hornstein, Joseph Moylan (“before he became a judge”), Stanley Krieger, Paul Peters, James Cripe, Dennis Connolly, Charles Kluver, Dale Bock, Gerard Forget, David Pavel, Charles Forrest, Jeffrey Stoehr and Teri Vukonich.
“Monte had such a passion for his work, he made me have a passion for it. I still do, although I’m not as fast as I used to be. But, I can turn the jets on when I have to. I just don’t want to!” she laughed.
When Taylor died in 2005, the firm broke up. Some of the partners left to form new firms. “The four who remained had to let me go,” Donna remembered, “because they couldn’t afford to keep me.
“But Jeff [Stoehr], who was one of those who struck out on his own, said to me, ‘just come over and help my secretary.’ That was nine years ago! I’m down to two and a half days a week now,” she said. “I’m getting ready to retire. I’ve been retiring for 10 years.” She laughed at the thought.
Stoehr said of Donna, “She is the epitome of the standard of secretarial excellence in years gone by. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. She’s the epitome of what a legal secretary should be.”
How Have Things Changed?
We struggled to stay on track with the supposed purpose of the interview. It was hard because Donna is a very warm and funny person and there were many tangents along the way.
The new crop of legal assistants and paralegals tend to specialize today, she said. But she became proficient in many legal arenas.
“All these different areas I’ve worked in.” She shook her head as she scanned her list, which included business and corporate law, estate planning, probate, criminal, tax law, labor law, patent law, contracts, natural resources, domestic relations and adoptions.
She didn’t get a degree, unless you count 36 years of experience as a degree in the School of Hard Knocks.
She grew up in South Omaha during the Depression. “In our day, our parents were so poor, we couldn’t go to college.” Her grandfather and brother worked in the packing houses. Her father was a welder at Union Pacific, but also took any additional job that came along.
“But these guys [her lawyers] gave me a college education. And if you learn something the hard way, you don’t forget it.”
There wasn’t a program for paralegals or legal assistants when she started, although she did try taking classes at Metro in the late eighties. She had a good teacher – she wrote the book – but Donna questioned why she was there. “We were learning all the things I was already doing. I decided I could do something else with my time. My daughter said, ‘Mother, why don’t you take a course in horticulture? You love flowers.’ So I stopped.”
How has the job of a legal assistant changed since 1969? The training has changed. And oh how the equipment has changed! She rattled off the progression of the tools of the trade: manual typewriters, auto-return typewriters, carbon paper, Wite-Out, mag cards, copy machines, mimeograph machines (“The ones where the purple stuff got in your girdle and your underwear and everywhere!”) and fax machines, e-mail and computers. “Computers were absolute godsends. They made my life so much easier. Before them, the equipment didn’t match the work!”
“I can remember doing 30-page briefs with three carbons. Then the attorneys are naturally going to change it. Then you had to type the whole thing over. It’s so much easier now.”
“What took a week or two to accomplish – typing a letter, mailing it, waiting for a reply to be typed and mailed back – now we can do overnight, we can do it in five minutes. The modern electronics have eliminated stress and burnout.”
One other change she noted is the dress code. Those in her profession used to wear suits and skirts and pantsuits to work. Now they are much more casual, she said.
Donna picked up her fair share of nicknames along the way. She said Monte liked to call her “Hunter,” which was her maiden name, although she was married and went by Hubbard.
The younger secretaries and paralegals like to call her “The Old Sage.” Some of the lawyers called her “The Greek.” “I’m Syrian, but it was all the same to them, because the food is similar.”
“Jeff has nicknamed me ‘Abandando’ after the blonde squad secretary Donna Abandando on TV’s NYPD Blue.” Notes back and forth in the office are addressed to Abandando and signed by Abandando, she said.
And her dear friend Joyce Vana said they were both “Sally Steno,” but Donna is “Sal Senior” and she is “Sal Junior.” And that is what they call each other to this day.
Her advice to those starting out in the field: “You’ve got to figure out what area you are interested in. I love estate planning and probate. Some people hate it.” She added that she wasn’t really an expert, but she loved it. She may have been a little too modest about that.
Too modest about her many accomplishments, but they have not gone unnoticed. Just ask the hundreds of people she has interacted with over her long career.
Oh, and Happy Birthday, Donna!