25 Years of Hard Work, Dedication Earns Huffman OBA Award 5/2/17 05/12/17 12:12:01 AM
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Doris J. Huffman runs not one, but two foundations for the Nebraska State Bar Association.
25 Years of Hard Work, Dedication Earns Huffman OBA Award
By Dennis Friend
The Daily Record
Doris J. Huffman remembers when she saw the small “help wanted” ad in a newspaper and decided to apply because the job title sounded impressive.
“I interviewed with six men for 20 minutes,” she recalled, and when she left, “I thought I’ll never hear back.”
Huffman was mistaken. She heard back. She was hired. She went to work March 2, 1992. She’s still working there as the executive director of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation and the Nebraska Lawyers Trust Account Foundation.
The Western Nebraska native attended Banner County High School and the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Before taking her current position, she had worked at a few places – retail work, a small company in Lincoln, a stint in the natural gas industry – but those jobs didn’t work out. “I figured out they were not where I wanted to be. They were not my bailiwick,” she said.
Now she has found her niche. After taking the position, she earned a master’s degree in public administration, specializing in nonprofit management. Spending 25 years working for the Nebraska State Bar Foundation should make it clear she loves her job. Her recognition as this year’s recipient of the Omaha Bar Association’s Public Service award also should make it clear her work is appreciated.
“I was notified that I’m a recipient of the award and I was truly humbled. Humbled and honored. It’s a significant award,” she said, pausing to add, “I don’t know that my name belongs there.”
It does, according to Liz Neely, Ph.D., executive director of the Nebraska State Bar Association. Neely thinks Huffman deserves the recognition. She pointed out an example of Huffman’s efforts:
“Over the years, the Nebraska State Bar Foundation’s Law Related Education Program has educated literally thousands of Nebraska students about our legal system. The mock trial program, in particular, provides such a valuable way to educate our state’s high school students about the law; further develop students’ critical thinking and public speaking skills; and kindle students’ interest in becoming a member of Nebraska’s legal profession. The success of Nebraska’s program is in large part due to the devotion of Doris Huffman and the relationships she’s built with Nebraska lawyers and educators.”
“She’s done an outstanding job,” Charles F. Gotch agreed. “Are you aware of the number of programs she administers? She’s an extraordinary woman and the award is very well-deserved.” Gotch, an attorney with the law firm of Cassem Tierney Adams Gotch & Douglas, is president of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation.
Huffman said the job is a perfect fit for her because “I thrive on variety” and admitted one reason she took the job was because she was “intrigued” – her work would involve “two separate boards with different missions. [So] I went through all the files and all the minutes to learn the history. It was a great challenge.”
In the quarter-century since she stepped into the position, there have been changes. The staff is still small, Huffman said, but “My job is to communicate and educate.” And to that end, she attempts to help the media understand the legal system “and the media reaches the general public. It’s a process of demystifying part of the legal system.”
Programs have been added over the years.
There’s the Dan Jewell Trial Institute educational program, an endowment Gotch said “provides funds to train young lawyers on how to handle lawsuits.” Huffman said it offers inexperienced attorneys an opportunity to work with an experienced mentor.
“We give them a case and they prepare. There’s a sitting judge and mentors to assist. The judge and the attorneys provide feedback,” Huffman said.
Jewell was a Norfolk attorney who bequeathed a permanent endowment to the Foundation.
“We didn’t have any endowments when I started,” Huffman said. “Now we have more than a dozen.”
“She’s as busy as a frog on a freeway,” Gotch said. She oversees a fund that is used to help lawyers and their families in times of need. In addition, “She administers programs. There are all these ongoing programs she’s involved in. She educates people on civics. She put together a booklet on civics. She organizes a lot of affairs and events, but she’s not about tooting her own horn at all.”
“I like challenges,” Huffman said. “I really enjoy working with teachers and children.” She pointed out the annual Judge Lyle E. Strom High School Mock Trial program, which attracts teachers, high school students, parents and grandparents. Huffman proudly recalled the 2001 mock trial event in Omaha drew people from 42 states and from Guam – “It was a big deal.”
She considered it a major accomplishment when the Foundation was able to host Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. of the United States Supreme Court in 2014.
Huffman said a lot of credit should go to the people with whom she works. “I can pick up the phone and call people in the judiciary. I can call attorneys. I enjoy working with mentors and volunteers. I get involved with and interact with the kids through the mock trial programs.”
Gotch said the mock trial competition this year attracted 136 teams from throughout the state “and each one had one or two teachers and one or two lawyers. She coordinated all of that.”
Huffman also works with students who get involved in the Foundation’s “We the People” program, in which students learn about the Constitution of the United States.
“The kids are so sharp. I have confidence in our young people,” she said.
This year, Huffman is responsible for coordinating the Foundation’s Law Day program.
“She’s a dynamo. She deserves any award they want to give her,” Gotch said.