Amile Wilson 2012-12-27 10:45:32
Ron Brown Brown and Theis The calm and collected voice of Judge Ron Brown has a reassuring tone to it – just the sound a client needs to hear when recovering from a work related injury. From 1994 till 2012, the people hearing that voice knew that Judge Brown would preside fairly over their workers’ comp cases in Nebraska; but as of August of this year, injury victims can hear that voice as their own counselor instead of as the adjudicator. After nearly 20 years presiding, Ron Brown has returned to private practice and joined the law firm of Brown & Theis, LLP, where he, his son Aaron Brown and son-in-law Colin Theis round out the team of advocates. In addition to his judicial service, Brown has extensive experience in private practice, spending 17 years in practice before accepting the court appointment. “I loved serving on the Court,” Brown says. “I wouldn’t trade that experience. And I got to serve with some great people. But the trial process had become routine. I come into my office now and I don’t know what’s going to happen!” While the move may have been a significant life change, it was geographically fairly simple. The small but well respected firm specializing in workers’ comp claims is conveniently located across the street from Brown’s former judicial office. The return to private practice was about more than just finding more excitement in his work – the desire to practice alongside his son had been a desire of his for some time. “We had discussed the idea of practicing together all through Aaron’s college and law school,” Brown says. “I’m 60 now, and I knew this was something I had better do. I didn’t want to put it off and end up looking back and wishing I’d done it.” Brown’s career as a lawyer started in 1977 after his graduation from Creighton University School of Law, but the passion that drives him predates his time at Creighton. When he entered undergraduate at Dana College, Brown majored in history with plans on becoming a teacher and wrestling coach. By his junior year, Brown was reconsidering his career choice. “Dr. Neil Johnson encouraged me to look into law school,” Brown explains. “I still don’t know what he saw in me that made him think law school was a good option, but I started to investigate.” Brown may not know what made others think law was a good career choice for him, but he certainly understands what drove him into work related accidents. “When I was in my 20’s I had a real underdog mentality,” he explains. “I wanted to help individuals when they got hurt. When it’s an employee against a large business and their even larger insurance company, it’s not fair. I like representing those people and making sure they get a fair shake.” After spending his first few years in a broader general practice, Brown soon found greater satisfaction representing individuals injured at work. “The more I did it, the more I liked it,” he says. One such case was an early client – an employee of the Streets Department for the City of Omaha. After suffering a serious back injury and undergoing surgery several times, it became obvious that the man would never be able to return to work handling heavy concrete. “The City Attorney and I agreed to have him undergo a psychological evaluation to help the process of training him for a new job,” Brown says. “His IQ tested at 70 – borderline mental retardation. His reading was only at a second grade level and the psychologist basically said he couldn’t be retrained.” Beyond serving just as a legal counsel, Brown became the man’s de facto guardian, handling his mortgage payments and other business matters and seeing him several times a month. “I’m not sure what would have become of him without me taking a personal interest in his case,” Brown says. “That was in the early 1980’s and really got me interested in workers’ compensation cases.” Even prior to that experience, Brown had always viewed law as a noble profession designed to help people. “My parents had a family friend who was one of the only lawyers in the town,” he says. “He helped my grandparents and a lot of other farmers with land sales. My parents and grandparents both spoke highly of him and respected him. That influenced my childhood.” Even in his volunteer service, Brown searches for opportunities for personal involvement in helping people. He currently volunteers as a mentor with Tom Osborne’s TeamMates. Each week, Brown takes time out of his schedule to personally meet with and mentor a high school student classified as “at risk” – encouraging them to make positive life choices. “I was attracted by the one-on-one connection to a student,” he says. “We talk about what it takes to succeed. He’s a smart kid and has potential. My job is to help get him through high school.” That one-on-one connection applies to all the clients at Brown & Theis. “The law firm discussed from the start that we didn’t want to be a high volume firm,” Brown says. “We don’t want to represent the maximum number of clients and close cases as fast as possible. We’d rather take the time to get the best and maximum outcome for our clients.” In addition to passion and personal investment, the years on the bench have helped Ron Brown develop a style of practice that makes his clients feel as though their case has been heard while focusing the judge’s attention to the important issues. “Lawyers get distracted by minutia,” he explains. “As a judge, you don’t want to have to referee every possible dispute within a case. It’s important to identify the critical issues in a case early on and collect evidence regarding those. Focus on the two or three important issues of a case and don’t get distracted by facts that have zero relevance to the case as a whole.” “After a few years on the bench you learn how important that day in court is to both sides,” Brown adds. “This is the most important thing in your client’s life right now. They’re hurting, they can’t work, and the bills keep piling up. The client has to trust that you’ll take good care of them.” Ron and his team make sure to build that trust by explaining every step of the process to their clients in ways that the client can understand. Outside of his law practice, the title “judge” isn’t nearly as important as the title “grandfather.” He and his wife Debra are the proud grandparents of five boys, four of which live in Omaha. The oldest of the grandsons are both eight years old and love overnight camping trips with Grandpa. The new career allows Brown greater opportunity to balance life and family and though summer camping trips with the grandsons are always on his mind, retirement never is. “My dad worked till he was 80,” says Brown. “If I retire when I’m 70 he’d call me a quitter.” With more than 35 years of legal experience under his belt, Brown is happy to be back in private practice and able to represent client needs.
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