Mike O’Malley remembers when he started practicing law with his father, George O’Malley, and brother, Bernard O’Malley.
Now, as part of one of the founding families at the Connolly, O’Malley, Lillis, Hansen, Olson LLP law firm, O’Malley has seen his experience come full circle. His daughter, Bridget O’Malley Kautzky, joined the firm last August as a third-generation member.
George O’Malley was one of the original founders of the firm, which John Connolly Jr. started in 1917. Over the years, a number of Connollys have worked for the firm, and Kautzky is now the fourth in the O’Malley bloodline to join the practice.
Keeping the family tradition alive is something George O’Malley, who died in 1982, would have smiled about, according to his son.
“Oh, my dad would be pleased,” Mike O’Malley said. “He was always proud that he had two sons that worked at the firm, and I think he just felt very good about that.”
An ‘acumen’ for law
Kautzky’s journey from Creighton University School of Law to the Connolly firm wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
Her decision to go to law school didn’t surprise her dad. A father of six, O’Malley has children who grew up to be loan officers, schoolteachers and graphic designers. He didn’t encourage any of them, including Kautzky, to go into law, but told them to do what they wanted. Kautzky, he said, had the “acumen” for law.
“This is the kind of job she’s made for,” he said. “She’s always been a mediator. She’s always kind of sat back, listened and always asked good questions.”
Kautzky was a finance major in her undergraduate days at Creighton, and said she always knew she wanted to go to some type of graduate school. When it came time to decide what her next move would be, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her father, uncle and grandfather.
“But I did it for myself,” Kautzky said. “I don’t think you could go to law school if you didn’t want to be there. What attracted me to it is you’re providing a service, and I wanted to help people solve their problems.”
That’s not to say her dad didn’t help her. O’Malley was reminded of his own days at law school when Kautzky would call and ask for help.
“There’s times when you’re just like ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’” Kautzky said. “And to call somebody up and just hear ‘It gets better,’ it’s nice to hear that.”
As she prepared to look for a job, Kautzky wasn’t relying on working for the family business. In fact, she was busy networking and trying to find jobs in the Omaha area. But she knew that she and her husband, Brian, both Dowling Catholic High School graduates, wanted to return to Central Iowa eventually, and that the Connolly firm could provide that opportunity someday.
Kautzky found out during her third year of law school that the Connolly firm was looking to hire. So she applied and was hired right before graduation.
“I wasn’t just relying on this job, but if I had to choose, this is where I want to be,” she said.
Remembering the founder
Mike O’Malley joined the firm in 1974, worked with his father for eight years until George died in 1982, and worked with his brother Bernard for nearly a decade after that.
O’Malley relied on his father to help him transition from law school into the firm, and quickly had his eyes opened to just how influential George could be in the courtroom after having served in the Iowa Senate for more than 20 years.
One such experience happened early on when father and son were involved in a real estate case. George got into an argument with the opposing attorney about the interpretation of a law.
“It was kind of confusing to that attorney,” Mike says now. “I still remember my dad saying, ‘Well listen here, sir, I wrote that law.’ He was the one who sponsored it and wrote it.”
Stories like that aren’t easily forgotten, and Kautzky said she hears them frequently despite never having met her grandfather, who died before she was born.
Now O’Malley’s teaching Kautzky the same things his father taught him. For example, the first time a client asked Kautzky how to open up an estate account, she went to O’Malley for help.
“I went to him because I’ve never opened up an estate before,” she said. “Every day is a learning experience because (new cases) come on my desk that I’ve never done before.”
Carrying on the family name
Kautzky now faces a tricky balance.
She wants to make her own path while practicing in the areas of real estate, probate, family law, estate planning, wills and trusts and personal injury. Kautzky stresses that she chose to go into law on her own and she wants people to trust her because she’s a good lawyer, not because she’s an O’Malley.
Still, she recognizes the opportunity she has to represent the family name and the firm her grandfather helped start.
“I’ve always thought of bettering myself, and now working here is a channel to do that,” Kautzky said. “I take pride in representing being an O’Malley and carrying on the family tradition. So I don’t want people to necessarily not associate me with them, because I think it’s something to be proud of.”
Part of the benefit of having someone with the family name in the firm is the opportunity in the future for Kautzky to take over some of her father’s duties when he gets ready to retire, and potentially provide a familiar name for clients to transition to.
That isn’t happening any time soon. For now, it’s time to work.
“It’s just a wonderful experience,” O’Malley said. “We both still have to practice law and take care of clients, so it’s great to have her here working.”