Berry, Pallesen Join Forces to Expand Elder Law in Omaha 10/22/18 10/23/18 10:13:32 AM
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John S. Berry Jr. (left) and Kathleen Pallesen pose for a portrait at Berry Law Firm’s downtown Omaha offices on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Scott Stewart)
Berry, Pallesen Join Forces to Expand Elder Law in Omaha
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record
Berry Law Firm understands that many of its clients are in the fight of their lives.
The firm, which specializes in criminal defense, has a long legacy of military service stretching back to its founding attorney, John Stevens Berry Sr. The firm also works closely with military service members and veterans across the country on a variety of issues, including disability benefits and security clearances.
“We’re not just here to solve your legal problems,” said Berry’s son, John S. Berry Jr., the firm’s managing partner. “Some of our best clients come to us with complicated problems, but they’re able to sit down and really come up with a resolution.”
The firm’s slogan is “The Next Battle” – whether that’s a veteran fighting the VA over benefits, someone fighting a criminal case or someone who’s fighting a corporation over a claim. The firm strives to offer clients both the “gunslingers” and advisers who know there’s more to winning than just one battle.
To better serve veterans living in Eastern Nebraska and Southwest Iowa, Berry Law Firm has expanded its footprint in Omaha, putting its attorneys near Offutt Air Force Base and the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. The firm has had an office in Omaha since 2011, but the space wasn’t big enough to accommodate the needs of the local community.
Berry Law Firm has also grown its expertise in elder law by joining forces with Kathleen Pallesen, who has practiced law for more than 25 years. This August, she took a leadership role in the firm’s Omaha office in the downtown Central Park Plaza building.
“I would impress upon people that we are a multifaceted law firm,” Pallesen said. “I want people to know that we’re here in Omaha and we do all different types of law.”
Both Pallesen and Berry Jr. were drawn to the practice of law by their fathers, and now they are continuing to build their own legacies as they share their experience with the next generation.
Daughter’s Love of Law Grew from Father’s Legacy
Richard J. Spethman spent more than a decade as a Douglas County District Court judge following more than 20 years in private practice. His daughter, Pallesen, remembers going downtown every Saturday to have breakfast and go work in his office – showing his dedication for the law.
“I grew up with it,” she said. “He loved the law. He loved the atmosphere of the courthouse.”
Spethman retired as a judge in 2005, but he returned to the law in 2013 following the death of his wife. He started a law firm with Pallesen, a third-generation Omaha attorney and former Douglas County prosecutor who was doing freelance work at the time as she raised her four children.
“He was going to mentor me,” Pallesen said.
But Spethman died in March 2017. Pallesen continued practicing law, and she realized she needed to join forces with an existing firm or work to significantly expand her firm. Around that time, Berry Law Firm wanted to expand its footprint in the Omaha area.
“John Berry’s dad, John Stevens Berry, and my dad were colleagues,”
Pallesen said. “I wanted to build something in Omaha, and John was coming to Omaha to build something, so it was actually a good match.”
Pallesen was asked to bring her existing practice into Berry Law Firm, and she became the Omaha lead attorney with her own case-load as she mentors other attorneys. Her practice includes probate work, wills and trusts, estate planning and adult and juvenile guardianship.
“It’s been great,” she said. “It’s just nice to have the camaraderie of other attorneys.”
Military Service Builds a
Legacy for Junior, Senior
John Berry Sr. earned his law degree from the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago in 1965 and received permission to practice law in Nebraska’s state and federal courts. As he began to build his practice, the United States began sending ground forces into Vietnam, escalating a decade-long civil war during the height of the Cold War.
In 1968, Berry joined the Judge Advocate General’s Corps as a captain in the U.S. Army. He served in Vietnam and San Francisco, and he was famously involved in successfully defending members of the U.S. Army Special Forces who were charged in the murder of a double agent.
John Berry Jr. continued his family’s tradition of military service. He was deployed to Bosnia as a platoon leader in the U.S. Army and to Iraq as a battalion commander in the Nebraska Army National Guard. He left the service to focus his attention on serving as Berry Law Firm’s managing partner.
“One of the things I realized when I retired from the military was the most fun I had was being a platoon leader,” he said, “and the leadership part of it and really being part of a great team. Usually lawyer and leadership are antonyms, right? The lawyer usually lacks leadership ability because they’re technicians.”
Berry said his military service taught him that leaders have people come back again and again for help because they’ve established a strong relationship and reputation for reliability.
“When you step up and help them solve a problem and demonstrate some leadership, they develop some respect for that,” he said. “Those are the relationships that you want to keep.”
Identifying a Need for
Elder Law in the Metro Area
In recent decades, the legal profession has made strides toward improving juvenile justice and making the court system more accessible for youth. Pallesen pointed to the attention that Omaha’s Juvenile Justice Center proposal has received as evidence of the sustained interest in that area, along with the teams of dedicated professionals and volunteers who work on legal issues connected to young people.
As baby boomers continue to reach retirement age, though, there’s a growing awareness that elderly people require additional attention as they interact with the court systems.
Services related to disability benefits, preparing for Medicare and estate planning are becoming more in demand, Pallesen said.
“There are a lot of resources for kids, and everybody wants to help kids, but I do see a parallel need in Douglas County for the elderly as well,” she said. “There is getting to be, I think, a bigger and bigger network of professionals working toward that goal in Nebraska and, in specific, Douglas County.”
The firm’s expertise in working on Veterans Administration disability compensation cases also translates into benefit planning for veterans,
Pallesen said. Berry said there’s overlap in health care and pension issues. Veterans can have post-traumatic stress that could result in a guardianship cases, too.
“There are a lot of nuisances in veteran’s law that tie directly to elderly law,” Berry said. “There’s definitely a shortage of attorneys who practice elder law.”
By offering more of those services, Berry Law Firm hopes to better serve its existing clients – veterans and civilians alike – and continue to grow its business in Nebraska and elsewhere across the country.