Krumm award recipient urges family law lawyers to “keep learning”
Mary Kay O’Malley was honored with the Roger P. Krumm Family Law Award this year at The Missouri Bar’s Family Law Conference at Chateau on the Lake in Branson. O’Malley, who described herself as a juvenile specialist, has had a career involving both the practical and educational aspects of juvenile and family law.
“I’m really touched that the voting members actually chose me, but also to see the company I keep and in which I now am because of the previous recipients,” said O’Malley. “I’m really humbled and overwhelmed, to be honest.”
Each year, the Family Law Section and The Missouri Bar present the Roger P. Krumm Family Law Award to honor a lawyer who has demonstrated excellence in the profession. Recipients of this award demonstrate integrity, commitment, skill, and dedication towards the practice of family law and the children and families involved in family law matters.
O’Malley is a clinical professor and director of the Child and Family Services Clinic at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, where she has worked since 2002, passing on her knowledge and training to the next generation of lawyers and helping youth within Missouri’s childcare system.
“There’s a sign in our clinic and it shows the number of children we’ve helped,” she said. “We’ve placed 1,149 children and most of those were abused and neglected.”
Through UMKC’s skills-based training, O’Malley’s mission is to help improve the bar and the practice of family law. She describes her holistic approach as focusing both on a child’s home life as well as their educational needs.
“We can’t forget that there’s a large group of children whose only meal of the day is the lunch they get at school, and what do think is going to happen to their education if those basic needs aren’t met?” she asked.
O’Malley spent the first 13 years of her career helping children and families as a social worker with the Missouri Division of Family Services. She credits her time as a social worker with helping her to understand what families need, and helping her work with parents to let them know what resources are available to them.
“That was just one of the things I really loved, being with children, working with them,” she said. “And I liked helping parents get better at parenting. I liked the coaching aspects of it.”
O’Malley eventually pursued law school at the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan., where she graduated cum laude.
“I decided to go to law school because I wanted to advocate for children, and I wanted to do it on a more meaningful level,” she said.
Becoming a prosecutor at juvenile court helped her understand the law and how it affects families, which she says prepared her for her next move into private practice representing parents and children.
“All that experience prepared me for this job now,” O’Malley said.
Although O’Malley has a wealth of career experience to draw from, she says she never intends to stop learning and expanding her education.
“Being a lawyer is a job that requires lifelong learning,” she said. “Go to conferences, listen to people, listen to experts: there’s always something new. If you walk away from something like a conference or CLE having learned one thing, that’s a success.”
She also emphasized that lawyers should strive to take care of their personal needs and prioritize their own families.
“You’re not going to be any good to others if you’re not taking care of yourself,” she said.
O’Malley stated that she hopes she’s helped lawyers remember the reason they started practicing family law.
“There are children and families who need us, who need the best minds to help craft orders, to help us craft arrangements and agreements that keep them safe and hopefully keep them happy,” she said.
O’Malley will remain in her position at the UMKC School of Law for the next year and says she doesn’t have any intention of quitting the practice of family law.
“Everything about our profession is a privilege,” she said. “It’s a privilege to practice law…and it’s a privilege to serve other people in your life.”