Bill Lamson has seen many changes in the law, but the core lessons of fairness and integrity that he learned early still apply.
Nearly Five Decades In
Lamson Still Having ‘Fun’ at His Job
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
William M. Lamson Jr.
His name is first on the letterhead of the prestigious Omaha law firm, Lamson, Dugan and Murray LLP.
He specializes in civil and corporate litigation. He’s so good at it that he was named Defense Lawyer of the Year in 2011 by the Nebraska Defense Counsel Association.
By all accounts, he is a very accomplished lawyer.
But as one of the founding partners of Lamson, Dugan and Murray, he is so much more.
He is a twin. His sister’s name is Ginger. They have two younger siblings, Jack and Jill, who are also twins. He didn’t have the typical twin experience because the philosophy in California at the time, he said, was to separate twins in school. “My sister and I were never in the same classroom there. We’re close, but the other twins are very close, growing up in Neligh, Neb.”
He has four children, two of whom are lawyers.
He has a loving wife and eight grandchildren.
He has “fun” at his job.
How did he arrive at this juncture in his life?
Born in Wyoming, he and his family lived in Laurel, Neb., until he was 12, when they moved to San Jose, Calif. There he graduated from high school. That year, his family moved back to Neligh, Neb., but he stayed behind for a couple of years, working while he figured out what he was going to do next.
He decided to return to Nebraska to attend college at Wayne State, where he studied economics. Making up for lost time, he graduated in two and two-thirds years, then earned a full-ride scholarship to law school at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. (In a typical understatement, Lamson said when he took the LSAT, he checked the box asking if he wanted a scholarship.)
He had planned to be a teacher, like his mother, who had emphasized the importance of higher education. It worked, he said, because all four of her children have at least one graduate degree.
But for him, law school was really a no-brainer. “I think I always wanted to be a lawyer. I had developed an early affinity for books and reading. One of my father’s best friends was a lawyer. My dad and I used to go to his office, where he had walls of books. I’d think, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be a lawyer and have all those books?’”
While printed books may be considered obsolete by many of the younger generation, he says, “Except for me. I read them!”
He remembered, “We had a library [at his firm] as good as the Douglas County Law Library. Even when we moved [to their current location], we had a library upstairs. We took it out four months ago; we needed the space and it’s all electronic now. We don’t have near the books we did. It’s sad. I went up there and cried.”
He said he used a Kindle his wife gave him for about a month, then gave it to his secretary. “I buy the book, I read the book. I often go back and reread them.”
Law Firm Bears His Name
It’s a little misleading to say he was a founder of Lamson, Dugan & Murray LLP. He started working at the Omaha law firm of Kennedy, Holland, DeLacy & Svoboda right after he graduated from UNL College of Law in 1969. Nearly 30 years later, with the principals all gone, the firm’s members split into two, with Lamson and his partners rebranding their firm, becoming Lamson, Dugan & Murray LLP, legally the successor to Kennedy, Holland, DeLacy & Svoboda, in 1998.
“So, I pretty much haven’t left [my original firm]. We moved [from downtown] to this building, where we’ve been for the past 20 to 25 years.” Their heritage lingers, as the conference rooms are named for the original founders. We were in the Holland conference room when we talked.
Over the years, the firm has been a veritable “who’s who” of Nebraska lawyers. Today is no exception.
Lamson on Litigation
“I thought I was going to be a business lawyer. But when I first joined the firm, they needed some help in litigation, so I started doing that and never did do any corporate work. I drafted one will in my career. I litigated a lot of contracts, but never wrote one,” he said.
Joe Cashen, who joined the firm after serving as a Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court judge, was his mentor. “Working with him on workers’ comp trial cases, I discovered I had a little bit of a knack for it,” he said in another understatement.
Lamson was a debater in high school and a member of the law club, but really hadn’t considered trial work. “Until you try it, you just never know.”
There are not as many civil trials as there once were, due to mediation. “It’s a frequent occurrence now. I’m not a mediator, but I do participate in mediation,” he said. “There are some very talented mediators in Omaha and Lincoln.”
Lamson said it is getting “harder and harder for us to get young lawyers first-hand experience in actually trying cases. The trial volume is down and a trial’s significance is up, but we manage to do it, with some understanding clients. We get [the young lawyers] in as soon as we can.”
The firm has 34 lawyers now and will probably add five more in the fall, he said. “Business is good, but Nebraska has been very fortunate “to have weathered the economic slowdown, he noted.
The firm is a general practice firm – primarily civil work – with a big focus on litigation, and a variety of corporate work, such as mergers and acquisitions.
“I’ve tried two criminal cases in my career, way back when I was appointed to them in federal court. “ But he has brought 100 jury cases to verdict. Again, that understatement: “I was just lucky early in my career to get a lot of cases. We’d work four or five days on one, then start another one.”
Changes in Law
He’s seen a lot of changes in the practice of law, from a practical standpoint. He deemed the Internet “friend,” and e-mail “foe.”
“As an illustration, I was out of town yesterday and when I got back, I had 119 e-mails. It is difficult to achieve the turnaround that colleagues, clients and the court expect. Too frequently now you think with your fingers!
“It’s good that technology has increased communication, but I believe that lawyers should be paid for time they sit in their chairs thinking about their clients’ problems and thinking of solutions. That doesn’t mean they’re researching, doesn’t mean they’re writing, that means they’re just thinking.
“We need to do that. I do that and I think I’m more successful because of it.”
When I was in law school, I worked for the League of Principalities and was editor of their magazine.
“I did a lot of thinking there. The secretary said she could always tell, because while I was thinking, I was twisting paper clips and dropping the pieces on the floor. I didn’t even know I was doing that.”
As far as other changes over the years, Lamson weighed in on Nebraska’s medical malpractice cap.
“It’s been a huge benefit to Nebraska. It has drawn doctors in – a lot of insurance companies want to write malpractice policies for them because we have a cap; it keeps premiums down. They know we’re not going to be a run-away state. And it protects doctors’ assets.”
But when there is a bad outcome (which are rarely the fault of the physicians, he noted), there is a fund. “The cap has resulted in significant benefits to patients because of the way the fund is administered. When the outcome could have been prevented, the fund is there and allows for compensation. Over time, the Legislature has increased the cap.”
Unlike doctors, lawyers can’t buy huge liability policies, he said. “You buy what you can. Sometimes there are huge issues [in a legal case] and if the result is adverse, it gets very expensive. But,” he laughed, “there will never be a cap for lawyers … we’re not that popular!”
On the topic of juries, he says, “We’re fortunate in Nebraska. The majority of our juries are made up of rational people. I’m very happy with the juries we get.
On women in law: “Do you know how many woman there were in my class? One, and she transferred after one year. Now, there are many women in law. [Hiring of women] has never been a problem here. We want the best lawyer. Period. And I’m surrounded by impressive lawyers.
“If I have any talent, it is that somehow I’ve been able to ask very talented lawyers to join the firm.”
Asked to sum up his career thus far, he said, “I’ve done better than I thought I ever would do. Omaha has been a tremendous town for me to raise a family.”
That family consists of his wife, Michaela, whose parents were so convinced they were having a boy that when, by California law, they had to give her a name, they just stuck an “A” on the end of their chosen boy name.
Their four children are Bill Lamson and Kelly Lamson Papa, who are both lawyers in Omaha, and Jill Harlan and Katie Yost. Bill followed closely in his father’s footsteps, graduating from UNL School of Law and practicing workmen’s comp and litigation at Evans & Dixon.
The national firm of YoungWilliams Child Support Services, which provides full child support services to families in Douglas County, Neb., is lucky enough to have half of the Lamson children on their staff, with Kelly serving as legal director and regional vice president, and Katie serving as a legal assistant at the organization. Jill lives in Kansas City, Mo., with her husband and three children.
There are eight grandchildren, whose photos adorn an entire wall unit in his office, attesting to his pride in them.
When he’s not reading, “I love to cook.” Cook what? “I can follow almost any recipe, but if I’m experimenting, I’ll do Italian, a little French, and I’m getting fairly good at cooking fish.”
As for the future, he said, “I’ll quit when this is no longer fun. … Or I can’t memorize a lot of names – that’s my test for cognitive ability,” he laughed.
“I’m just having too much fun. I‘ve got a great group of lawyers, a great group of clients, my family’s grown, I’m enjoying the grandkids.”
He’s a happy man.