Howard Epstein 10/05/11 10/29/11 9:10:00 PM
Howard Epstein (center) enjoys the Omaha Bar
Association’s Fall Kickoff festivities with
colleagues David Christensen and Lisa Lewis.
Epstein’s Low-key Style
High Achievements In and
By Jack Martin
The Daily Record
As many people do, Howard Epstein took a little time off after graduating from college before going to law
Like about 20 years.
“At age 42, I was the oldest kid in the class,” he said with a smile.
Smiles seem to come easily to Epstein, who recalled his delayed move into the legal profession in a
recent interview at the law firm of Marks Clare & Richards, where he is a partner. An affable, rather
avuncular type with a fringe of gray hair and a gray mustache, Epstein’s relaxed manner belies a busy
professional life – besides his law work he’s a partner in an Omaha scientific supply business – and a
nonstop dedication to community activities.
“On July 1, I became president of the Suburban Rotary Club of Omaha, which I consider a real honor,”
he said. He also has served as president of Beth El Synagogue (2000-2002) and on the board of
directors of Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Federation of Omaha.
But back to that late start in the law:
“I earned a degree in business and accounting at UNL in 1973 and right after that went to work for a
certified public accounting firm. But after about a year and a half I decided I didn’t really care for that so I
asked my dad [Sam], who had a wholesale fruit and vegetable business, if he could find a place for me.
He really tried to discourage me but finally took me on and, actually, I was quite successful, eventually
becoming vice president of marketing.”
That could have amounted to a career for many folks but after a couple of decades Epstein looked in
“I always had an interest in law, so I talked with some attorneys I knew and they encouraged me to enroll
in law school. I talked it over with my wife, Sharon, and she said, ‘Go for it.’ So I did.”
He entered Creighton University School of Law and completed a six-year program in four and one half
years, getting his Juris Doctor degree in 1996 and his law license in 1997. But he acknowledged that it
was something of a grind. “I had to be at work at four or five in the morning [typical hours in the wholesale
produce business] and worked until my first class at nine a.m.”
His first jobs also convinced him of something: “Non-law experience, in business and in life, is really
valuable for an attorney.”
“I would encourage any potential law student to work for two or three years after graduating from college
before going to law school, because it’s so different from everyday life. If you go directly into law school
you will normally be 25 or 26 years old before you finish and you will have been going to school since
kindergarten, without ever knowing what it means to earn a paycheck, to interact with others in a
workplace or to know the usual problems of the people who will be your clients. I think it’s very helpful for
attorneys to be able to relate to those experiences and I think one of my strengths as a lawyer is having
Clients appreciate that, too, said Steven J. Riekes, also a partner in the law firm.
“The clients have confidence in him because of his experience, and his nature. He’s a very friendly
person and that is returned – I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like Howard. He also certainly
has a lot of energy – with his law practice, his other business commitment and his heavy involvement in
Epstein’s law practice covers a number of areas, including worker’s compensation, severe personal injury
cases, tax and estate planning and mediation and collaborative dispute resolution.
“I try to focus on small and medium size businesses, but I also do quite a bit of wills and estate work, as
well as real estate matters.”
Epstein is proud of some wrongful termination cases he won for employees, including a driver for a large
Omaha trucking company.
“He got sick while making a run and asked to be relieved of duty but the dispatcher ordered him to drive
to the next terminal and when he couldn’t, he was fired,” Epstein said. After winning the first round in the
case the company appealed to the 8 Circuit Court of Appeals. “The case was resolved after the appeal
and the client was satisfied with the settlement.”
Employment law is a growing field, Epstein said, “and I think that’s partly because of the recession,
people are anxious to hold on to their jobs. Sometimes a dismissal is legitimate, of course, but other times
it may be a case of just picking and choosing.”
Litigation involving the Americans with Disabilities Act also is on the rise, he said.
The practice of law has obviously changed since he entered it in the late 1990s and an important change
came with “the electronic age, which has had a tremendous influence, with e-mails, cell phones and the
Internet,” Epstein said.
“The Internet is a great help in doing research and e-mails and cell phones have greatly improved
communication access between lawyers and clients.”
But it has something of a downside, too: “It’s created among clients an expectation of very quick
responses to their questions and concerns.”
The Internet also gives clients a way to research law firms and narrow down the kind of lawyer they need
to consult, Epstein said.
In his other business, Epstein is a partner with Peter Brodkey – who served with him on the board of
Jewish Family Services – in Cyrgus, a company that processes and distributes biological products. Its
retail arm, Nebraska Scientific, sells the products to high schools and colleges throughout the nation for
“We’ve been partners for 17 years and all I can say about Howard is that he’s great,” Brodkey said. “He
is very smart. But he not only has a very analytical mind, he has a good personality.”
One who agrees with that description is Jim Farber of the insurance firm Swartzbaugh Farber &
Associates, Inc., who has worked closely with Epstein in operation and expansion of the Rose Blumkin
Home for the elderly, run by Jewish Social Services. Farber is president of the organization and Epstein is
vice president and chairman of the budget committee.
“Howard has been instrumental in the growth of the facility,” which recently underwent a multi-million
dollar expansion, Farber said. “He’s an easy going guy and easy to work with, but he knows the right
questions to ask and how to get right to the heart of an issue.”
Away from work, Epstein’s newest role in community affairs is as president of the Suburban Rotary Club,
a 190-member group active locally and internationally.
“Locally, our big project is building and maintaining a fund to provide college scholarships for
handicapped high school seniors,” he said. “Last year, we awarded 10 scholarships of $2,500 each. We
also sponsor an annual food drive and support Habitat for Humanity.
“Internationally, our big Rotary project is aimed at eradicating polio worldwide through distribution of
vaccines, working with the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Even
though polio has been conquered in the United States and much of the world, it’s still a threat in
Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. We hope to wipe it out in those countries within three years. You
know, since there are so many Americans traveling to and from Afghanistan and Pakistan these days,
polio is really just a plane ride away from us.”
Epstein said he has no hobbies, other than taking long walks and gardening (“I’ve got a good crop of
tomatoes coming in.”) His family, besides wife Sharon, includes a son, Jason, and two daughters,
Jennifer and Emily, and two grandsons.
Any retirement plans? “No. I turned 60 at the end of August so I intend to work for a while. But I would like
to travel some and see the world.”
His work in the community has been “most rewarding,” he said. And not without its unusual moments:
“The first night after I took over as president of Beth El Synagogue I got a phone call at home from a
member of the congregation, an elderly lady, who said rather breathlessly, ‘My husband is sinking.’ I
thought she meant that her husband was gravely ill and she needed medical or spiritual help. But no, it
turned out that her husband’s grave was sinking in the Beth El cemetery. So we got the grounds crew out
there and solved that crisis.”