Bob Frederick decided last spring that it was time for a career change.
He remains loyal to the legal profession, but has retired from serving as Chief Judge of the 25th Judicial District of Kansas in southwestern Kansas.
“I’ve really enjoyed being a trial court judge, but the ordeal of COVID has been such a stressor,” Frederick said. “I finally concluded that if I couldn’t go to work and enjoy what I was doing, it was time for me to get out.”
However, 71-year-old Frederick of Lakin is not going into loneliness and planning for back-up roles on the bench or in other capacities, as some retired judges choose.
He put away the black robe and returned to private law practice as a member of the Salina-based Kennedy Berkley firm.
Frederick assumed the title “attorney,” meaning an “older or established lawyer,” said Kennedy Berkley managing partner Jim Angell.
“Bob has an excellent reputation. He’s a highly respected and intelligent judge who writes in-depth opinions,” Angell said. “It’s going to serve several different areas, one of the main in mediation and arbitration.”
A mediator works with the opposing parties to try to shape a settlement that both parties can accept and agree to. In arbitration, parties who cannot reach a settlement can submit their dispute to an arbitrator, who then decides the case.
“It’s atypical for a judge to step off the bench and go into private practice,” Angell said. “That’s what makes it a great story. Bob is a very cultured and complete guy.
Frederick will be based in the firm’s Garden City office with Marc Kliewer. The company also has offices in Dodge City and Hays.
“Bob will complement what Marc is doing there and allow us to expand our services in southwestern Kansas,” Angell said. “Marc is one of the top agribusiness lawyers in the state. It’s exceptional, one of Kansas’ best kept secrets.
“A significant percentage of Kennedy Berkley’s business is in southwestern Kansas,” Angell said. “Southwestern Kansas relies heavily on agriculture, and having professional advisors who understand the unique needs of farmers and the businesses that serve them is critical.”
Kliewer welcomes the addition of Frederick.
“It’s really helpful to have another lawyer for the firm here. Having someone with Bob’s experience who can meet with clients, face-to-face or via video, is going to be a huge plus,” Kliewer said.
He praised lawyers in the region for their abilities to mediate domestic disputes, but added that there is a growing need for mediators who can assess and resolve business disputes.
“Where Bob benefits the region is his experience in business litigation, both as a lawyer and as a judge,” Kliewer said. “This will be of tremendous help to all attorneys and litigants in Southwestern Kansas.”
Going forward, Frederick plans to “give back” as a seasoned lawyer. His focus dates back to his foray into the legal realm some 45 years ago, when the state’s High Plains legal community embraced the young attorney.
Kennedy Berkley “was looking for someone to do four things – arbitrate, mediate, add a fresh perspective to new and ongoing case assessments, and mentor some of the young lawyers,” Frederick said.
He can draw on his experience in private practice and more than 20 years on the bench. Frederick also served on the Kansas Court of Appeals, handling 17 cases in 2018, which were argued and decided from October through December of that year.
While imposing on the full-time chief judge, he said: “I was really glad I did it. It was a wonderful and insightful experience regarding the actual operation of the Court of Appeal.
Previously, he was assigned a civil case in the Kansas Supreme Court, when Chief Justice Marla J. Luckert recused herself.
“I’d like to think that I’ve had a wide, wide range of experiences, and if I use those experiences correctly, I’ll make a top-notch mediator and arbiter,” Frederick said.
He will pay for this while enjoying the fruits of legal practice.
Frederick was raised in Hugoton where his father was a doctor. This profession, with doctors on call 24 hours a day, “was not my cup of tea”, he said.
Instead, the youngster’s views were formed on the legal profession.
He graduated from Hugoton High School in 1968 and received a Bachelor of Education from the University of Kansas in 1972. Frederick went directly to Washburn University Law School, graduating in August 1975.
Frederick’s wife, Debbie, now a retired registered nurse, grew up in the Overland Park area.
“I thought I was going to end up in the big city,” Frederick recalled. “Nearly all of the interviews were in the Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City metro areas, and a few things looked pretty promising.”
The young couple were vacationing in 1975 with their parents in Hugoton, when out of the blue, Kearny County District Attorney Greg Schaller called them.
“He wanted to know if I would be interested in a practice in a small town,” Frederick said. “I knew that if I went to a big city company, I would be a low man on the totem pole, and I thought that by being in Lakin, I could be my own boss and do for me what I would do. for another solidify.”
After spending “most of the day” at the Kearny County seat, “we decided ‘What the hell, we’re going to try,’ and moved to Lakin in March 1976, unsure if we’d be there 15 minutes , or a lifetime.
He was intrigued by the idea of becoming a county attorney and starting a solo civil law practice.
“I would take anything that came through the door,” Frederick said. “It was scary. I remember it like it was yesterday. I went there to be introduced to the county commissioners and I probably looked like I was a teenager. (Commissioner) Irwin Kuhlman said “Well, you look pretty young, but I guess you’ll be fine.”
Among Frederick’s first clients was a prominent farmer, who hired him to manage an estate after a death in the family.
“It was really scary for the first five years. Everything I did was different from anything I had done before, like one whole new learning experience after another,” he said. said, “I didn’t have anyone in the next room to tell me what to do or how to do it. I was probably working 60 to 70 hours a week.”
But the bar in the 1970s supported other lawyers, he said, especially rookies.
“Once I pursued a given project as far as I could pursue it, other attorneys were open to me contacting them,” Frederick said, “and if they weren’t otherwise involved, they would let me use them as a sounding board for what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it.
Two who “really stand out” are Mike Kimball, who practices at Ulysses, and the late E. Edward Brown, of Garden City.
“They were both great teachers, but for completely different reasons,” Frederick said. “Ed was very pragmatic in his approach, and Mike is, without a doubt, the best theorist I’ve ever come in contact with.
“I knew I had a safety net, let me put it that way, but I always made it a point to call them last rather than first. In the long run, the approach I created for myself made me a better lawyer. It helped me not only to know what I was doing, but also why I was doing it.
He felt blessed to serve a vast, sparsely populated region known to nurture and nourish the nation and the world. Frederick has handled cases in many areas – real estate, oil and gas, commercial, corporate, criminal, family law, estate planning and probate, and education law.
“I did a lot, which is kind of the nature of the beast when you’re practicing law in a small town,” he said.
From 1976 to 2001, Frederick represented individuals and entities in over 40 states and several countries, largely through the Hugoton natural gas field.
Debbie Frederick continued her professional life in public health care in Lakin.
“She made the adjustment better and faster than me,” Bob Frederick said. “I was pretty sure when I left Hugoton, that I would never return to this part of the country, but the way times change your perspective. Debbie fell in love with the Lakin community almost immediately.
The difference was in a circle of friends around his own age, he said.
“Lakin is definitely home,” Frederick said. “It’s going to stay that way.”