An era ends in Fort Dodge

Kurt Pittner closes his law office after nearly 42 years

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Kurt Pittner poses by artwork of Grecian urns modeled after items at the Parthenon in his last days at the old office.

In the late summer of 1976, not long after graduating from Creighton University School of Law, Kurt T. Pittner arrived in Fort Dodge to begin work as an assistant county attorney in the office of then-County Attorney William Thatcher. Concluding that Fort Dodge was a good place to call home and raise a family, Pittner subsequently opened a law office at 805 Central Ave. in January 1979.

“I just hung out my shingle in the Snell Building and have been there since that time,” Pittner said.

Nearly 42 years later, he has ended his long involvement in the local legal world. His law office officially closed its doors on Feb. 28.

Pittner said that in retirement he and his wife, Janet, who are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary in June, are moving to West Des Moines to be closer to two of their daughters, Cara and Krista, and their families. A third daughter, who like her father is an attorney, lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

“It’s time for the next chapter of our life to begin,” Kurt Pittner said. “We’ll spend time with the family and grandkids and travel. We’ll just be a few blocks from our two oldest daughters who have six kids between them. We’ll be close to our grandkids there. We’re told that those grandkids have a lot of plans for us. We can hardly wait to get down there.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Kurt Pittner looks over the old office just after cleaning it out. Pittner started in this same building, just down the hall 39 years ago.

Pittner was in solo practice.

“I did a lot of family law, juvenile work, real estate, estate work, personal injury work, oftentimes working with another attorney,” he said. “Just a general practice. I didn’t do workers comp, I didn’t do corporate, I didn’t do tax, but most everything else. It was a wide range.”

Pittner said one of the attractions of being a lawyer in a small city is that it is possible to tackle a diverse mix of legal projects.

“When you are in a smaller town, you can do that,” he said. “When you are in a big city, you tend to have one or two areas of specialty.”

During the first part of his career locally, Pittner had an additional role.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
The walls are bare now, but the outline of items that were once on display can be seen in Kurt Pittner’s old office…

“I was appointed the mental health referee,” he said. “For the next 20 years, I was the mental health referee who presided over involuntary mental health and substance abuse commitments. It was part time. Through all that time I was in general practice.”

As an adjunct to his legal practice, Pittner also created a second venture.

“About 16 years ago, I started a business along with my law practice called Snell Settlement Services,” he said. “We provided services to close residential real estate loans, mortgages. We didn’t arrange for purchases. We didn’t negotiate purchases. Once someone wanted to buy a house and had lined up the lender, they would contact us and we would do all the paperwork for that and oftentimes would do the closing. We acted as kind of a middle man to follow up and get deeds recorded and mortgages recorded. We would do all the paperwork once a deal had been struck between a buyer and a seller.”

Pittner said paperwork associated with refinancing mortgages was also handled by Snell Settlement Services.

On Feb. 1, Snell Settlement Services was sold to Mark Crimmins and is continuing to serve the community under his ownership.

Over the decades, Pittner has handled a huge number of closings.

“I’ve done in excess of 4,000 closings over the years,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. A lot of people are coming into the area for the first time. There’s a chance to visit with them and try to make the closing a pleasant experience. We welcome them to Iowa. Welcome them to the Fort Dodge area. I’ll miss that a great deal actually.”

To help him handle the office work associated with the law practice and Snell Settlement Services, Pittner said he has been fortunate to have had the services of several dedicated secretaries.

“For the last 16 years, I’ve had either four or five secretaries,” he said. “You needed a dedicated staff. So, I had oftentimes two secretaries on my law side and two or two and a half secretaries who would work on the Snell Settlement side. … I’ve had really good secretaries. I’m going to miss my staff. They were a wonderful group. They were a joy to work with.”

Changing legal world

Pittner said the legal world of 2018 is a very different place from the one he entered more than four decades ago.

In the 1970s, it was still very much a profession dominated by men. Pittner said that in his 150-person law school class there were only five women. That is very much a thing of the past. He said in recent law school classes at Creighton about 55 percent of the students have been women.

The computer age has also drastically altered the day-to-day activities of lawyers.

“The biggest change is the Internet and electronic filing,” Pittner said. “Everybody does everything on the Internet now. If you need to research, you don’t go to the library, you go on the Internet. If you need forms, you go on the Internet. Your communication is all on the Internet. Now you email something and 10 minutes later you get a response back. It goes faster and faster. Expectations are greater and greater.”

Due to electronic filings and other transactions handled online, he said there is less face-to-face interaction with judges and other attorneys than was the case earlier in his career.

“Everything is electronic in terms of the clerk’s office — filing of pleadings and motions, and getting orders signed,” Pittner said. “Historically, you would go over and visit with the judge and explain what was going on. You built a rapport with the judges. You built a rapport with the other attorneys.”

According to Pittner, however, what remains a vital part of being a lawyer is the personal relationship between the client and the attorney.

“What hasn’t changed is that people still have the same types of issues and problems,” he said. “You still need to sit with them. You still need to have empathy. You still need to put together some type of cohesive plan about how to resolve issues.”

Pittner said that aspect of being a lawyer has been immensely satisfying for him.

“What I will miss is my clients and the interaction with clients who need help. And I’m in a position to give that help,” he said. “You work together and hope the client’s life is better because they were able to get issues resolved with the help of their attorney. It was always very rewarding when we would have good or successful outcome and do what the client needed to do. Many people would come in with complete chaos and, hopefully, leave with some order to their lives. I’ve got a lot of friends and acquaintances that I’ve made over the years who were clients. I’ll miss that interaction more than anything else.”

Giving back to the community

Pittner has been active in the community and has held an assortment of leadership roles. He served on the board of directors of Youth Shelter Care and on the Webster County Red Cross board. He was a president of the Webster County Bar Association.

He has high praise for the legal profession locally.

“We have a great set of attorneys and judges in this town,” Pittner said. “It has been an honor to work with all the men and women who I think are a great cadre of attorneys.”

Pittner devoted much of his civic energy to the health care sector.

“For 27 years, I was very involved with the hospital,” he said.

That service involved an array of board and committee appointments at Trinity Regional Medical Center and its foundation as well roles in the health system of which TRMC is a regional component.

Moving on

While the Fort Dodge portion of Pittner’s life journey is drawing to a close, he said he is grateful for the years he and his family have spent in this community.

“It’s been a great community,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to raise three wonderful daughters here. I think Iowa is a great place to live.”

Pittner said he sees great things ahead for his longtime hometown.

“Fort Dodge has a good vision,” he said. “There are a lot of people here who are pushing hard to make it work. Fort Dodge has a bright future.”

And while Kurt and Janet Pittner are moving to the Des Moines area, Kurt Pittner said he may not quite be finished with legal work even though he mostly will be retired.

“I would also like to keep my finger in real estate, closings, those types of things,” he said.