Catherine French Young Lawyer Welcomes Challenges 2/7/19 02/07/19 8:35:02 AM
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Catherine “Katie” French loves her work at Lamson Dugan & Murray. (Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Young Lawyer Welcomes Challenges
By Elizabeth A. Elliott
The Daily Record
Catherine “Katie” French, a young attorney at Lamson Dugan & Murray LLP, wanted a career that would challenge her.
“I knew a law degree would give me many options to develop my career over a lifetime,” she said.
She has found several mentors at her law firm, where she has worked for eight years – two years as a clerk and six as a practicing attorney – who encourage her to grow as an attorney.
“I can bounce ideas off the more experienced attorneys at the firm, and I have gotten to work hand-in-hand with attorneys that practice in other areas of law when a case brings together my practice and some other area of litigation,” French said. “Having colleagues who are supportive of the evolution from a new attorney to a more experienced attorney make it enjoyable to come to work every day.”
French advises other young lawyers to learn as much as they can in the area in which they want to practice.
“Go to seminars, read articles, talk to other attorneys with more experience in that area of law,” she said. “You are doing your clients a disservice if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you are comfortable in your knowledge of the law, you can confidently give advice to clients.”
The Omaha legal community is small, said French, so at first it may be more ‘who you know’ than ‘what you know’ to get your career off the ground.
“Networking at events, such as the Omaha Bar Association get-togethers, is vital to making connections,” she said. “You never know when you may need to bend someone’s ear for advice or you might get a referral based on a simple conversation with a stranger.”
Most of French’s work involves families, dealing with an estate administrator or business succession. She specializes in trust and estate planning and administration. As part of this practice, she encounters many other areas of law, including tax, real estate and business succession planning.
“My favorite cases are complicated cases that seem to have no positive outcomes, that we ultimately resolve in a way that is fair to all parties,” she said. “The law has such an impact upon a family dynamic, and I enjoy finding ways to help adapt the law to an individual family.”
She is surprised by the depth of involvement she has in the lives of her clients.
“I didn’t realize until I was actually practicing that clients confide in you and rely on you not only for legal advice but wrap you into how that legal advice affects his or her family,” she said. “You really become a ‘counselor’ to families because what you are doing is a very big part of their life, both now and in the future.
“The most meaningful part of my job is giving people peace of mind when it comes to navigating complex areas of the law that directly impact their lives. A success to me is when we can reach a place where the client knows the legalities are taken care of and they can focus on other things besides legal documents.”
One case that stands out to French deals with a matter where the IRS alleged her client owed millions of dollars for unpaid taxes on a trust matter.
“Based on our research and arguments, the IRS conceded, and our client walked away owing nothing,” she said.
Outside the office, she is the current chair of the Omaha Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD).
“We offer various activities and get togethers throughout the year to encourage new attorneys to get out of the office and network,” French said. “The meet-ups also offer an opportunity to share stories and advice with other new attorneys, and it helps to know you are not alone in what you are experiencing as a new attorney.”
The chair also attends the board meetings for the Omaha Bar Association and provides insight on what the young lawyers would like to see more of from the Bar.
“For 2019, they are working on offering additional seminars to our ‘Just the Basics’ series, which provide new attorneys with insight into various practice areas and a chance to ask more experienced attorneys for advice,” French said. “In the fall, when new attorneys are sworn in, there is also a ‘Walk Through the Courts’ opportunity to meet judges and clerks and become acquainted with the courthouse. We will also have more collaborative meetups with other young professional associations in Omaha that give attorneys a forum to interact with other professions.”
French remembers what it was like to be freshly sworn in and overwhelmed by being thrown into the legal community after graduation.
“It’s hardly like anything you learn in law school or study for the bar exam,” she said. “The YLD strives to make the newly admitted attorneys feel welcomed into the Omaha legal community. The events hosted by YLD are open to attorneys of all ages, and most of our events do have a turnout of attorneys that span all years of practice.”
This is beneficial to the younger attorneys who have occasion to interact with more experienced attorneys, which is valuable in countless ways when you are just starting out as a young lawyer.
“The YLD is planning to make a concerted effort for 2019 and beyond to work hand-in-hand with the new attorneys to provide the smoothest transition possible from being a law student to a practicing attorney,” French said. “The YLD strives to be a resource to connect all attorneys in the Omaha legal community, no matter how long in practice.”
French would tell young graduates, or those new to the market, “It is okay to say, ‘I don’t know.’”
“Clients rely on what you tell them, and you don’t want to give advice that isn’t accurate,” she said. “They will appreciate the fact that you take the time to get it right, even if that means taking a little longer to provide a response.”
French said she would prefer to look into something further and be confident in the answer, rather than shooting from the hip.
“Many clients will think you know everything off the top of your head, but it just doesn’t work that way,” she said.
French is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She came to Omaha to go to Creighton University, where she earned her degree in economics and attended law school.
In her limited spare time, she enjoys working out and traveling to warm destinations. She walks her Great Dane and Scottish Terrier around her neighborhood when she’s home.
“Both of my parents work in the financial services industry, and I have one sister who does graphic design,” she said. “I am the only attorney in my family, so I get asked for a lot of legal advice.”