Longtime Akron criminal defense lawyer Don Hicks has handled more than 250 jury trials.

He’s been on 30 murder trials — including nine capital cases — and juggles 40 to 50 clients at any given time.

And he does all of this with a smile.

Hicks, who is known for his courteousness to everyone he deals with in court, will be recognized for his 35-year legal career Wednesday evening when he will receive the Senior Lawyer of the Year Award at the Akron Bar Association’s spring dinner.

The award is given each year to an attorney who is either over 60 or has practiced for more than 30 years. Hicks, 65, a lawyer for 35 years, meets both criteria.

Hicks was nominated by Amanda Bridenstine, a new attorney in the Akron area who lauded him for mentoring young attorneys.

“We need veteran attorneys who are willing to take new lawyers under their wings,” said Bridenstine, an attorney for three years. “Don exemplifies this kind of excellence and collegiality. On behalf of the new lawyers, we thank Don and those senior attorneys who invest in our futures.”

The Beacon Journal asked Hicks about his lengthy career — and how he’s kept his cool.

Q: Did you always want to be an attorney?

A: Growing up with five siblings, I think I developed abilities to resolve differences. My mother told me I was so good at arguing that I should be a lawyer. I did debating in high school, but my first career plan was to be a history professor … I love the study of history, but I pursued the practice of law as an alternate path. I could not have chosen better.

Q: How have you maintained a positive outlook?

A: A courthouse is often a place of problems and adversity. I have an older sister, Gloria, who is developmentally disabled. I learned at a young age that by being patient and kind to Gloria, I could help her overcome almost any problem. What I learned from helping Gloria has guided my life.

Q: What case do you consider your greatest victory?

A: I have never thought about my work in terms of victory. It is an achievement for all of us when our justice system functions fairly, but the moment a case is finished, there is another one right behind.

Q: What about your worst defeat?

A: Shawn Ford was only 18 when he was charged for the deaths of Margaret and Jeffrey Schobert. I continuously ponder whether there might have been intervention at an earlier point in his youth. There were signs. He remains on death row.

Q: How was it representing Jeffery Conrad, who was sentenced to life in prison for the stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend? (Conrad threatened to kill Hicks, represented himself in his trial and then refused to go to court.)

A: Mr. Conrad is a deeply troubled individual. He is intelligent and very articulate. I had information about his past history and his psychological status. I was always very attentive to his conduct and, fortunately, he never harmed me.

Q: What has changed the most during your years as an attorney?

A: Women in Law: Today more than half of students at American law schools are female … I recall that in 1980, my first-year law class was a little more than 20 percent female. The relatively recent impact of women in the legal profession has injected new ideas and perspectives, which formerly may have been excluded.

Drugs: I have an opinion that 90 percent of crime has a drug or alcohol connection … Almost 1 million Americans have died of a drug overdose since the turn of the century. Is this not the most serious public health crisis of our time?

Technology: The continuing advances in technology are astonishing. This progress not only affects the legal profession, but all aspects of society. Immense amounts of information are available … The impact of such technology remains to be seen.

Q: What was your reaction to getting the award from the Akron bar?

A: I was both humbled and surprised. I remain so. In this community, we have many remarkable lawyers who are deserving of recognition.

Q: What advice would you offer to an attorney just starting to practice?

A: It is an honorable profession. A law degree can be used to advance our communities and our own lives. Work hard. Be good to your word. Help others. Generously share your knowledge. The blessings of life will follow.

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.