Jacobson Leaves a Four-decade Legacy 7/13/18 07/16/18 12:11:15 PM
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David Aaron Jacobson
April 18, 1948 – July 4, 2018
Jacobson Leaves a Four-decade Legacy
Independence Day took on new meaning for friends and colleagues of David A. Jacobson, who served as chairman of Kutak Rock law firm for 21 years until stepping down last fall.– By Lorraine Boyd
An independent thinker, David Jacobson died July 4 at home, surrounded by his family – wife Nancy, daughters Rachel and Sara and sons Ben and Justin – at the age of 70. He had battled health issues for a decade and had stepped down from his post as chair of his firm last September. He had also been appointed to the MECA board, but stepped down because of his health.
Accolades have been pouring in from near and far. Not only did he tower over most of his peers physically at 6-foot-5, he towered over the legal community as well as the Omaha community at large, with his intellect
as well as his wit and kindness.
He won people over with a “sparkle in his eye,” his “dry sense of humor,”
and the fact that he was, according to his successor Jay Selanders, “a bit of an imp.” A tall imp, who was honored time and time again for his legal prowess and his social conscience.
Jacobson fervently followed in the footsteps of Kutak Rock co-founder Robert Kutak, who intended that the firm hold an unwavering commitment
to community and broader public interests. He was also an early and passionate believer in diversity … and in the creation of inclusive excellence
as a defining core value of the firm in all of its offices.
Since the founding of the firm, Kutak Rock attorneys have had a deep commitment to giving back to their communities through volunteer, pro bono and charitable engagement programs.
That commitment runs through every level of the firm, from executive management to support staff, and is one of the pillars of the firm’s value system.
“We are privileged to be able to do this. Our people give back in various
ways. It is critical to give back to the community. I started my career at Legal Aid when Bob Kutak was on the national board,” Jacobson was quoted saying.
James D. Arundel concurred: “Among David’s many accomplishments was his dedication to the values of the firm’s great founder, Robert Kutak.”
He is being remembered by many as one who supported and encouraged
others, especially in areas promoting diversity and advancement of women.
One woman who benefitted from his support was his daughter, Rachel, whom he helped to establish and grow Omaha’s non-profit Film Streams organization.
Online, Barry Zoob, a friend for 60 years, remembered, “You could never win an argument on the subject of basketball even though at 6’ 5”, David would rather shoot threes from the perimeter than battle for a rebound.”
He added, “He was a man of great character, passion and incredibly
funny. David, you made an indelible impression on our community, and your life was unfairly too short.”
“A great ballplayer with a deadly outside shot,” Joseph Ingrisano remembered.
It was no surprise that David played on his high school’s basketball team, the one that lost the state championship by one point. Despite that, his other accomplishments led Central High School to induct him into their Hall of Fame in 2014.
His roommate in law school, Barry Kaiman, wrote on an online tribute page, “He was always kind and courteous, respectful – a gentleman. Rest in peace my friend.”
While David’s law career in corporate litigation was stellar, he was being
remembered last week for his contributions to community and civic endeavors, such as his 20-year membership on the board of Partnership 4 Kids, and his founding, with his wife Nancy, of the Omaha Black/Jewish Dialogue. He served on dozens of pro bono, civic and charitable boards and committees, among them the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the Temple Israel Ethics Committee and the African American Achievement Council. He also provided community leadership for Omaha Central High School by helping to raise funds needed to improve facilities for athletics and by helping to establish the Central High School Foundation.
At Kutak Rock, where he began his career 41 years ago after two-plus years working at Legal Aid following his graduation from the University of Nebraska College of Law, he went from litigator to head of the national litigation department, to vice chair of the firm in 1994, and the chair two years later.
He led the firm ably and admirably, building it from 230 lawyers in nine cities to more than 500 lawyers in 18 cities. In 2007, he oversaw a two-year restoration of the iconic Omaha Building, which is the firm’s headquarters.
On his watch, Kutak Rock earned a perfect score on Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality index and is consistently recognized as
a “Ceiling Smasher” for women, with the second highest percentage of women equity partners in the country for law firms over 300 lawyers. More than half of the firm’s attorneys (56 percent) are either minorities or women, and lawyers are expected to serve civic and charitable causes.
At this year’s annual partners meeting in February, he was feted – and roasted – by his colleagues from near and far. It was a joyful occasion, capping a lifetime of service.
“He was good-humored and had a willingness to go along with a joke,” Harold Rock, co-founder of Kutak Rock, said. He laughed along with everyone
else at the jokes made at his expense at that annual meeting,
Robert “Bob” Freeman is a partner at another large law firm in Omaha, Fraser Stryker. He had a long relationship with Jacobson, personally and professionally.
“We had some things in common,” Freeman said. “Three things come to mind.
“First, the lessons learned and beliefs reinforced. His viewpoint was that we were put on Earth to improve the lives of others, one that reinforced my own. And he lived his belief to the max.”
Freeman said Jacobson showed that you don’t have to work at a non-profit to be effective; you can do some things even from – especially from – a corporate vantage point.
“Second, on a personal note, he taught by example that it is okay to practice in a big firm without having to check your personality at the door. You can – and should – bring it to work.” And, he added, Jacobson was a fun-loving, informal person – in and out of work. He had a big personality, and he brought it to work.
Lastly, at his memorial service Sunday, each of his four kids spoke. Freeman said, “He was a terrific lawyer, the leader of the biggest firm in the Midwest, but of all his accomplishments, they said he was ‘most proud of the job he did raising my kids.’ He taught them to love and respect each other. He gave them a healthy understanding of their obligations to others.”
Freeman worked for Legal Aid in California when Jacobson was employed
by Legal Aid of Nebraska right out of law school. But their paths didn’t cross until they were both in Omaha, at their respective firms.
“The desire to help people less fortunate was in our blood,” Freeman said.
They co-chaired Legal Aid of Nebraska’s capital campaign years later. “We shared a belief in public service, “the obligation to do things to support
the representation of people in need.”
“We have lost so much. Someone needs to step up. His are big shoes to fill. There’s a lot to replace.”
Harold Rock mused over the loss of his friend.
“The firm will pick up the pieces and carry on. But I’ll miss the friendship.
What a great guy he was.
“When you work with someone, you get to know him. You could always be confident in whatever he was doing. He did all of the right things. But it goes a lot deeper than that and that’s why he will be missed. He will be missed as a person … and a colleague.”
Rock continued: “He went through a very tough illness and recovered. But then, it was just one damn thing after another. He did what he could to fight it all, until he couldn’t. I’m sorry it came to that. He’ll be remembered as a good lawyer and a better person. I don’t know how you can do better than that.”
Colleague Joseph Ingrisano wrote in tribute: “David was a true giant of the legal profession, the Omaha community and our beloved chairperson at Kutak Rock for more than two decades. He led this firm to great success and his legacy of leadership will propel us in our second half century. A wonderful husband and father and a kind, considerate colleague.
David Nix, a partner in the Atlanta office of Kutak Rock, remembered “David had a wonderful heart.”
Vincent Valentino reminisced: “Dave and I started together at the Legal Aid Society … in May of 1974 before we took and passed the Bar exam. I had the privilege of practicing with Dave as he and I officed next to each other. Quick wit, smart and athletic, he was a wonderful colleague.
“Dave’s passing should be left with a memory of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird when Atticus packs up his brief case after a murder conviction, and starts to leave the courtroom, and Reverend Sykes tells [his daughter] Scout and her brothers: ‘Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your daddy’s passing.’ Dave deserves no less respect as a lawyer, father and friend.”
Donations are suggested to Film Streams, Partnership 4 Kids or the Central High School Foundation.