Meet UC Law Alumnae Alvarene Owens ’76
On the 90th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote, former Ohio First Lady Francis Strickland and the Governor’s Office for Women’s Initiative and Outreach honored inductees to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. One of the inductees for 2010 was UC Law graduate Alvarene N. Owens ’76.
Owens, a fixture in the Dayton, Ohio community for over three decades, has led a storied career: from probation officer to a top litigator. Originally from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, she attended the University of Oklahoma, majoring in psychology. There, she met her future husband, who was from Dayton. After studying the “makeup of Dayton,” Owens said she found it to be a prosperous city and welcomed the opportunity to move there after graduation.
Once in Dayton, Owens worked as a juvenile probation officer for Montgomery County. “I didn’t even know what a probation officer was,” she admits, “so it was luck that brought me to that position, and I really enjoyed it.” In fact, some of the juveniles she dealt with were only a few years younger than she was, and she is still in touch with some of them to this day. She remained in that position for just over two years.
Owens then attended Cincinnati’s Xavier University, obtaining her Master of Science degree in Corrections. After, she worked as the Director of the Inner West Dayton Model Cities Crime and Juvenile Delinquency before deciding to return to Cincinnati, this time for law school.
“As a parole officer, part of my job was preparing pre-sentencing reports recommending dispositions for the juveniles I was involved with,” Owens explained. “The judge and the attorneys would then take my report, go into the judge’s chambers, and make the decisions. And I remember thinking, ‘I want to go back behind that door and participate in making these decisions.’ And lawyers get in doors.” Thus, Owens determined to get her JD, deciding to attend the College of Law over the University of Oklahoma’s law school. “I liked the city of Cincinnati,” she said. “And although I was accepted to both schools, my decision ultimately came down to my preference for the urban setting and overall culture of the city.”
Getting Experience, Honing Skills
After graduating law school, Owens returned to Dayton, where she served as a prosecutor for the city of Dayton for more than a year. “I enjoyed the experience,” Owens says, “but was in the position only to gain practical experience in the courtroom. My intention was to go into private practice.” Owens took full advantage of the opportunities offered by her role as a prosecutor, honing her trial skills and becoming familiar with the inner workings of the court system.
Following this experience, Owens moved to California for five months to work with and learn from her uncle, Thomas R. Douglas. “My uncle was a well-known and successful attorney,” Owens stated, “and working with him was an invaluable experience. He helped me hone my trial skills, and really taught me the ‘business’ of being a private practitioner and running a law firm. He taught me how to do it right.” Working with her uncle was a tremendous opportunity for Owens; his success was widely known. Owens recalls that, years later when she met Johnny Cochran, “Cochran was as excited to find out that I was Tom Douglas’s niece as I was about meeting Johnny Cochran!” Owens describes her uncle as her biggest mentor.
Developing a Thriving Law Career
Following this experience, Owens returned to Dayton once again. “The administration of cases in California was incredibly slow,” she says, “and I found Dayton more attractive in terms of getting justice and results for clients.” She went immediately into private practice, creating the firm of Littlejohn & Owens, where she had a thriving general practice with one other practitioner. “I handled every kind of case imaginable,” she stated. “I was busy, in court a lot, and having fun.” In addition to bankruptcy work, criminal defense, personal injury, and other practice areas, Owens had many divorce clients, owing in large part to the fact that she was one of few female lawyers practicing in the area. “People specifically sought me out because I am female and because I am an African American female. My experiences gave me a unique sense of justice and an understanding of the challenges and experiences some of my clients were facing.”
After four years, Littlejohn & Owens closed, and Owens became a part of Austin, Jones, Littlejohn & Owens Co., L.P.A. There, she continued criminal defense work, as well as work on personal injury cases and insurance claims. “By that time, trial practice had changed significantly,” she said. “Representing victims had certainly changed as well, because of the politics involved with insurance companies, as well as the changes to the rules of civil procedure and evidence.” Her practice also changed as it moved to mediation and arbitration, allowing her opportunity to save her clients the time and money it would take to go to court while still preserving their right to trial by jury. In 1986, Owens created Alvarene N. Owens Co., L.P.A., in which she was a sole practitioner focusing on many of the same practice areas.
Owens’ distinguished career includes many awards and firsts. She was the first woman, first African American (or minority of any kind) to be appointed to the board of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers. She is on the board of the Miami Valley Trial Lawyers. She has been on the board of the Ohio State Women’s Bar Association and is a past chairperson of the Dayton Bar Association’s Sole Practitioners Committee. She also co-chaired the Dayton Bar Association’s Diversity Committee with Federal Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Waldron. She is also a member of the “M” Club, an organization of attorneys throughout the country who have enjoyed million dollar plus verdicts.
A little over a year ago, Owens retired. “I still do work on cases, but not as much. I no longer carry a 300-case load at a time or work 80-hour weeks.” She now handles only certain, “specialty” cases in which she wants to be involved. “It’s something I can do ad infinitum,” she commented.
In her free time, Owens remains very involved in her community. She is an active member of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and she is also heavily involved in volunteer activities. In addition, she is a member of many community organizations, including the Urban League, NAACP, Sinclair Foundation, and The Links, Inc., a national African American women’s service organization. She also serves on many organizational boards, both professionally affiliated and others.
To current law students, Owens gives the following advice: “Maintain a balance in your life and your work. Practicing law can be intense, and everyone needs a break. Utilize your family, friends, and faith to get you through.”