Lawyer Honored for Decades of Service to Legal Profession

By 
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

The Nebraska State Bar Foundation recognized Norfolk attorney Dennis Collins with the 2020 Distinguished Service Award.

The special award recognizes a lawyer’s service to the legal profession. Collins, who received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned his law degree from the Nebraska College of Law, has written more than 70 articles for law reviews and seminars in his 50 years as an attorney.

“Writing papers, you don’t get paid anything, but if I had a problem that I wanted an answer to, I would do research,” Collins said in an interview with The Daily Record at the Nebraska State Bar Association’s annual meeting. “You turn the research you did — you had to do it anyway for the court — into a paper. And then you get to talk about it. And so, when you do that enough, they’re so glad somebody showed up, then eventually they give you an award.”

In addition to his innate curiosity, Collins partially blames his obsessive-compulsive disorder for the plethora of articles he penned.

“(The OCD) makes you wonder about some things,” Collins said. “It never ends because one thing leads to another thing that leads to another thing, and then when you do a topic that is of interest to several people, they’re very appreciative, because then that’s research they don’t have to do.”

Collins, a partner at Jewell & Collins, never intended to become a lawyer. In fact, he had never even met a lawyer before enrolling in law school. His bachelor’s degree was in political science, “which is absolutely worthless.”

“So, I said to my adviser, ‘I’m getting this degree, but I don’t want to go into politics or anything, so what can I do?’” he recalled.

The meeting with his adviser was in the business administration building in Lincoln and the law school at that time was just across the lawn.

“(The adviser) looked out his window and he said, ‘well, what about law school?’” Collins said. “And I said, ‘oh, OK. Sounds OK to me.’ And that’s how I got here.”

In addition to the law, Collins has a great fondness for acting. Over the years he has appeared in more than 20 productions at the Omaha Community Playhouse, usually in a comedic role. He said he tried a dramatic role once, as the villain in the 1966 thriller, “Wait Until Dark,” but the audience’s reaction to his performance wasn’t quite what he was expecting.

“At one point, the villain is stabbed, and I had to pull myself across the stage,” Collins said. “And as I drug myself across the stage, people laughed. They thought, ‘this guy is really damn funny.’”

Collins decided to stick with comedy from that point on. He also participates in the Dan Jewell Trial Institute, an annual two-day seminar for attorneys who would like to gain trial experience.

Named for Collins’ longtime law firm partner, the Jewell Trial Institute puts participants through the motions of what they would likely experience in a real trial, from jury selection and opening statements to cross examining witnesses and arguing cases.

“The idea was that young lawyers, or lawyers without much experience who maybe are in a small firm, won’t have a mentor to teach them or train them,” Collins said.

Each attorney is assigned a mentor whose job is to critique the participant’s performance and offer constructive feedback.

“They’re very appreciative,” Collins said. “And many times, they might be practicing by themselves, and so they don’t have somebody to ask.”

Collins is even able to sneak in a little acting by serving as a witness during the mock trial.

Additionally, Collins is involved in other volunteer activities. He is a past president of the Nebraska Lawyers Trust Account Foundation and he served on the Nebraska Continuing Legal Education Board.

The Nebraska State Bar Foundation presented Collins with the award at its 33rd annual Foundation Fellows Dinner in August.

State Sen. Mike Flood, who is also an attorney at Jewell & Collins, presented Collins with the award at the NSBF dinner.

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