A last-minute LSAT, a lifetime of impact

Jun 04, 2024

Taking the LSAT with no preparation, Connie Kearney, JD’87, didn't just beat the odds and pass the test—she paved the way for a legal career that would transform countless lives.

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

At the heart of Creighton University's exceptional School of Law education are our alumni, friends, and faculty—the mentors, guides, and inspirations who shape the minds and hearts of the next generation of legal professionals.

Joshua Fershée, JD Dean of the Creighton School of Law

In 1976, Connie Kearney made history as Clark County, Washington's first woman elected commissioner. She focused on key community issues like infrastructure development and improving social services during her tenure. Four years later, her husband Lee's job transfer took them to British Columbia. In 1984, Lee was promoted to regional manager for Peter Kiewit Sons, Co., and the family relocated to Omaha. This move became the catalyst for a shift in Connie's career. 

Connie and Lee Kearney

"I had always felt that if I were an attorney, I would have been better able to deal with the many issues confronting county government," she reflects.

Prior to their move and recognizing his wife’s long-held ambition to study law, Lee made an impromptu visit to Creighton to request an application. During his visit to campus, Lee learned that Connie needed to take the LSAT exam to apply, and the final test date of the year was just days away at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Despite the daunting challenge, Connie was determined to seize the opportunity.

“This was a long time ago, but I don't remember that it was a difficult test. When I took the LSAT, I had no idea of its importance, compared to how students prepare now. So, I didn't study, nor did I have any time to,” she recalls.

Connie passed the LSAT and was accepted into Creighton School of Law, graduating with her juris doctorate in 1987. This marked the start of her meaningful and impactful legal career. She devoted herself to community service through her work at Legal Aid of Nebraska, earning recognition from the Nebraska State Bar Association with the Robert M. Spire Award for dedication to pro bono work.

Connie later volunteered at the Creighton School of Law legal clinic, where she would become an adjunct professor. There, she met Kate Mahern, JD, who moved to Omaha in 1992 to become the inaugural director of the Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic at Creighton University. In their collaboration at the clinic, Connie and Kate found a shared passion for education and for promoting legal justice.

"Students knew expectations were high when they worked with Connie," says Kate. "I, too, was influenced by Connie and her belief that one should treat people as if they were operating with positive intention. Her time and talent put the clinic on solid footing and helped establish it as a well-regarded law office in Omaha, known for its advocacy for disenfranchised clients."

The clinic offers law students hands-on experience in areas such as domestic violence, family law, housing law, and simple estate planning. It partners with organizations, including the Tenant Assistance Project, Heartland Family Services, United Healthcare, the Juvenile Justice Legal Clinic, and Creighton’s Bankruptcy Clinic.

To support the clinic's mission, the Kearneys established the Connie Kearney Endowed Chair in Clinical Legal Education in 2001, with Kate named as the inaugural chairholder.

Lee expressed his admiration, noting, "After four years of hearing Connie's reflections on the clinic's impact on both clients and students, I truly valued the service provided by the clinic. It seemed fitting to honor Connie's dedication in this way."

For nearly three decades, Kate held the Kearney chair and directed and taught in the Abrahams Legal Clinic until her retirement in 2020. She guided the clinic through a period of significant growth and development, deepening its community impact. The Abrahams Clinic provided foundational knowledge and infrastructure that made possible the opening of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Creighton in 2022.

Kate's contributions were honored this year when the Kearney Endowed Chair in Clinical Legal Education was renamed for her, a gesture initiated by Connie Kearney herself.

"Kate was the first director of the Creighton Law School clinic, which means she started the program—she wasn’t following in someone else's footsteps. And she led it for nearly 30 years, shepherding third-year law students through the intricacies of practicing law in the real world," Connie says. "She truly deserves this recognition for her extraordinary and dedicated service."

Kate continues to volunteer in the clinic and through the Nebraska State Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project, among other efforts. Creighton and the state of Nebraska have also recognized Kate with several awards.

Upon retirement, the Kearneys returned to Washington, where they continued their commitment to education, philanthropy, and community service.

Professor Diane Uchimiya, JD, LLM, is the current director of Abrahams Legal Clinic and holder of the renamed Catherine Mahern Endowed Chair in Clinical Legal Education.

"At the heart of Creighton University's exceptional School of Law education are our alumni, friends, and faculty—the mentors, guides, and inspirations who shape the minds and hearts of the next generation of legal professionals," says Joshua Fershée, JD, dean of the School of Law.

"The Kearneys' support of clinical legal education and unwavering belief in the power of advocacy have enriched our campus and helped to ensure access to justice for those who need it most."

endowed chair