Meet Erin Wetzel

Aug 2, 2021

Meet Erin Wetzel! Erin’s first position in the legal field shaped the course of her career. After serving two years assisting inmates with legal research as a law clerk at the Douglas County Department of Corrections, she felt called to advocate for clients in the areas of family law, criminal defense and juvenile law.


Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we will be talking with Erin Wetzel, who is one of our associate attorneys.

Erin Wetzel: Hello.

Susan Reff: So welcome, Erin. This is your first time on the podcast is.

Erin Wetzel: I’m very excited. I love podcasts.

Susan Reff: So, yeah. Little known thing. When we eat lunch or chat, Erin constantly talks about podcasts that she’s listening to, so she is a pro at listening to podcasts,

Erin Wetzel: Basically crime podcasts. That’s pretty much all I listen to. And when I say, listen to him, I mean, every day when I get ready for work, when I drive to and from work, when I’m getting ready for bed at the end of the day when I’m doing laundry.

Susan Reff: So let me ask you this because I don’t listen to crime podcasts. Do you get upset when they don’t solve the crime? No, because I feel like they don’t always solve the crime, right?

Erin Wetzel: No, of course not. Because sometimes the cops suck at their job. I get more upset when they make rude comments about criminal defense attorneys when they talk about the strategy or whatever, or they they act like we’re ridiculous for defending our clients, and it’s like, That’s our job.

Susan Reff: So who are the people? Are they? Are they attorneys? Are they like media people? Are they? Who are these people that put on crime podcasts?

Erin Wetzel: Well, it depends. Some of them that I listen to are journalists dateline. I mean, they have a podcast that I don’t listen to it because I watch it on TV where they just play the audio of their episodes that play every week. But then they have a couple of series where they take stories that they feature on their show and they break it down into six episode series. So some of them are journalists type stories like that. Some of them are just random people who decide they want to have a podcast, and they just tell the stories by researching new sources.

Susan Reff: Hmm. Ok, interesting. I think it would be pretty cool if lawyers did it, but we have a lot of reasons why we can’t always talk about things in too much detail.

Erin Wetzel: I think some are lawyers or former lawyers. I’ve heard about a podcast that I haven’t started listening to. It’s called the prosecutors, and I think it’s former prosecutors. Hmm. Cool. Or you have the court TV podcast, which is hosted by my favorite Vinnie Politan. He’s now a media person, but he’s a former prosecutor. Ok. He is on court TV, has a show on there, and then does their podcast.

Susan Reff: Well, cool, so now we know a little bit about Erin, but we’re going to do a deep dive and learn a little bit more about Erin and her background and what brought her to Hightower Reef Law. So Erin, tell us, tell us where you’re from.

Erin Wetzel: I am from Bismarck, North Dakota, the capital.

Susan Reff: What was it like growing up in Bismarck, North Dakota?

Erin Wetzel: I liked it, I I actually lived in Minot, North Dakota, for 10 years. Born in Fargo, was there for a very short time, moved to Minot before I was a year old. Lived in Minot for 10 years, which some people might know as being home of the Air Force Base up there. And then, when I was 10, moved to Bismarck, and everybody else in my family still lives in Bismarck, but I am now in Nebraska.

Susan Reff: So fun fact. I am also from North Dakota, and it’s interesting. I bump into people a lot in Omaha that are from North Dakota.

Erin Wetzel: Yeah, I I bump into people from North Dakota regularly. I had a couple of fellow students at Creighton who were also from North Dakota, one of which was from my high school class and was a friend of mine and another one that I knew of from my hometown, who I’d gone to elementary school with but hadn’t been friends with. And then we became really good friends at Creighton. And then there were a handful of others at Creighton, too, that were from different parts of North Dakota. And that was in both undergrad and law school. And then I feel like you regularly see cars here with North Dakota license plates.

Susan Reff: Yeah. Where did you go to undergrad at Creighton?

Erin Wetzel: That’s how I ended up here in Nebraska. I heard about Creighton from some other people at my high school who were older than me that had gone. My guidance counselor and my parents suggested it, and when I came to tour the campus, I loved it and just decided right away after that tour that I was going to put down my deposit and go to Creighton.

Susan Reff: Did you look at other schools?

Erin Wetzel: I did. I toured a lot of schools in Minneapolis. University of Minnesota was probably my second choice, but I kind of discovered that maybe that campus was a little too big for me because I had gone to a small, private high school. I had also applied at North Dakota State University in Fargo, which everybody else in my family had gone to. I liked it, but I decided I wanted to be different, not go anywhere within the state, and then just ended up really loving Creighton.

Susan Reff: That’s really interesting that you had University of Minnesota on your list because it is huge. I mean, university, it’s one of the top, the biggest population of undergraduate students, I think in state schools, certainly in the Upper Midwest, you know?

Erin Wetzel: Yeah, definitely.

Susan Reff: So what? What was your major?

Erin Wetzel: I majored in psychology, but I went into college thinking I was going to be a dentist.

Susan Reff: Wow.

Erin Wetzel: About a week before, well, the summer before I started my freshman year of college, my mom arranged for me to shadow a dentist for a week, and I almost passed out when I was watching him do a root canal. So I pretty quickly knew that it was not meant for me. I also discovered shortly after that, too, that I was not really a science person, so I was undecided for about a year and a half and then eventually decided that I was really interested in psychology, and that would be a good major for me.

Susan Reff: I think we’re putting we’re tying the the knots here about Psychology Crime podcast. Yes, it’s making sense here, OK? It’s really interesting that you said you wanted to be a dentist. And you know, Tracy and I both, you know, let let loose that we both wanted to be doctors. And, you know, here we all are as lawyers.

Erin Wetzel: I don’t know if I actually really wanted to be a dentist. I think it was more of a Hey, this would be a really good field to go into. You’re smart. You could do it. And then the more I thought about it, I’m like, I don’t really want to look into people’s mouths every day.

Susan Reff: You know, I think it says a lot about our education system that, you know, we have these ideas of what we want to be, but we don’t really know what it entails to be that until maybe college. And then we discover, like you said, I passed out it was gross or something like that. Like, of course it’s gross. It’s it’s basically mouth touching and all of that all the time.

Erin Wetzel: So definitely takes a special person who can do any type of medical type field. Not for me.

Susan Reff: So did you take any really cool psychology classes at Creighton like anything specialized?

Erin Wetzel: I did. I took two classes that were part of a series by my favorite professor, Dr. House. One was forensic psychology and the other was psychology and the law he taught both of them. Forensic psychology really talked about the history of insanity pleas and people who are dealing with mental health disorders who get evaluated. So those are the types of cases where you hear about somebody getting evaluated by a psychologist and then psychology and the law took it a step further of actually talking about what you do with it in the courtroom. So we had a mock trial at the end of the class that they had a a law student come in and be the mock judge for cool. And that was around the same time that I was also involved on the mock trial team. So that was kind of how I got the idea to go to law school was a friend of mine who actually ended up in the same class with me at the law school. Her and I decided to join the mock trial team and I really enjoyed it.

Susan Reff: Do you think most people that take forensic psychology and psychology and law end up being lawyers?

Erin Wetzel: No, I would say probably about half of the students in the class just took it because they thought it was interesting. I actually have one of the one of my classmates. She’s a friend of mine. She was a sorority sister. She is actually a forensic psychologist now here in Omaha.

Susan Reff: Oh, cool. That’s a neat job that we sometimes get to deal with with law. Yes. Well, those are. That sounds neat. I don’t remember those classes being available when I was at Creighton, but I wasn’t a psychology major and I wasn’t geared towards the law, so I probably wasn’t looking for those classes.

Erin Wetzel: Probably not.

Susan Reff: And then you went to Creighton Law School, right?

Erin Wetzel: I did. I took a year off after I graduated undergrad, moved home to North Dakota for a year and then came back to Omaha.

Susan Reff: Did you know you were going to go back to Creighton for law school or did you apply other places?

Erin Wetzel: I had other places on my list. I was going to apply to some schools in New Mexico and Arizona. And at the time, I don’t know if they still do it this way, but there was a website that you had to submit your applications on and you had to get recommendation letters. And so I had gotten recommendation letters, obviously from some professors. And so it was the easiest to submit my application to Creighton since they were Creighton professors. And as I was in the process of starting my other applications within a couple of days, they reached out to me and said that I was accepted. And so I just thought, Well, I like Omaha, I’ll go back to Creighton. I don’t want to waste my time on applying to other schools, so I actually ended up not applying anywhere else.

Susan Reff: Huh. Interesting. What did you did you want to go live in Arizona or New Mexico?

Erin Wetzel: I have some family down in Arizona, and I had traveled to New Mexico when I was in high school and I liked it, so I just thought it would be a new adventure, another place in the U.S. to explore. But then I also ended up meeting my husband. So while I was home for that

Susan Reff: Year, those things keep us rooted in one place a lot at the time.

Erin Wetzel: Yeah, so ended up meeting him thinking I wouldn’t bother dating anybody and saying, Hey, I’m going to move back to Nebraska for law school. You want to come with me. And he said, Sure. And now here we are, married for 10 years.

Susan Reff: So you met him in North Dakota during that year you were in?

Erin Wetzel: Yeah, he’s also from North Dakota.

Susan Reff: Wow. That’s cool. Did and he he moved down here with you? Yeah.

Erin Wetzel: He said he was looking for a reason to experience something else and no reason to leave. Yeah. So he was like, Sure, why not? I’ll find a job down there.

Susan Reff: Um, did you did you? We talked about this a little bit before, but did you enjoy law school now?

Erin Wetzel: I feel like it’s the minority who says they do. Didn’t Tracey say she liked?

Susan Reff: Yes. Tracy said she liked law school and then she decided to go a whole nother year.

Erin Wetzel: She was the odd person out. That’s what I honestly don’t know anybody else who has said they enjoyed law school. Yeah. Like, it’s a necessary evil to get where you want to be, but it’s not enjoyable. It’s not like college.

Susan Reff: Yeah, I I think that they could do a lot to make law school more practical. You know, give you more practical skills. Whether you want to be a courtroom attorney or a transactional attorney, you could you could do more hands on work in law school because so many people graduate from law school and they’ve never actually done legal work because law school doesn’t really do that.

Erin Wetzel: I agree it’s it’s not something that’s required. So people only have that if they seek out that experience. And even then, it’s kind of hard to find. It’s not like medical school or dental school where they make you do those residencies or the training before you actually get out of the school programming.

Susan Reff: So after graduation from law school, what would you do next? Did you take the bar in Nebraska?

Erin Wetzel: I took the bar in Iowa. Oh, and then I ended up waiving into Nebraska. I just provided the information that I had passed the bar in Iowa. So I right before I graduated, I started working at the Douglas County Jail. I was the law library clerk. I worked there part time, helping the inmates with legal research,

Erin Wetzel: Which is very interesting. And then during that period of time I was applying and a lot of public defender offices in Iowa and Nebraska. So I just stuck around with that job until I found something. And so I ended up working there about two years. What was your what was your title in that job? It was law library clerk. Ok, so I the inmates would send

Erin Wetzel: What they call a kite. A kite is a request form in the jail. They write down the department that they wanted to go to and what

Erin Wetzel: Their request is. So I mean, it could be something as simple as I want some envelopes or so they would write that they wanted to go to the law library and that they wanted to come to the law library and they were allowed to come for one hour each week. They could also request some court forms from me, and I would send the court forms back to them. So I would have to figure out how many individuals from each housing unit wanted to come to the law library I had. I think the max number was 15 of what I could allow, and then I had to figure out times and kind of arrange it with that housing unit schedule. Because each housing unit gets lunch at a certain time, they get rec time at a certain time, they have doctor visits at a certain time. And then there’s the lock down periods during the day where the whole jail locks down to do head counts. Make sure everybody wears is where they’re supposed to be. So I had to arrange the schedule. They could come into law library and they could research physical books. I would help them look up statutes or they had computers that were set up that didn’t have any internet access that I would upload case law onto, and they could search the terms and the case law to find something that had to do with their case. You kind of knew ahead of time what they were looking for. No, they

Erin Wetzel: Just would come in and tell me what

Erin Wetzel: They wanted to see. Some of them had had figured out what they were looking for, and so they would just sit down at a computer and start searching for cases. Others would tell me, I’m looking for this statute, so I would show them how to figure out what the statute number was and then what book to look up the statute number in some of them were federal inmates. Most of them were state inmates. Some were there on immigration holds. So it was really a wide variety.

Susan Reff: Is it fair to say I’m making a huge assumption that they were doing research about their own cases or were some of them like just trying to learn about the law?

Erin Wetzel: I would say the majority of them were doing research about their own cases. Some of them would come in just because it was an hour that they got out of their housing unit. One time I had an inmate come up to me with one of the statute books telling me that Did you know that this is Nebraska’s state flower? Did you know this is a Nebraska state bird? So he somehow

Erin Wetzel: Found

Erin Wetzel: That in the statutes and was just looking through all of that information? They probably do have to make it a law like the Nebraska state. Bird will be the eastern meadowlark or whatever. I don’t even know what it is. It’s the western meadowlark. It’s the same as North Dakota. It was so close.

Susan Reff: There’s only so many birds, right?

Erin Wetzel: Actually, I think there’s more than you would expect.

Erin Wetzel: So do you know the flower? I don’t remember that, which is terrible.

Susan Reff: I know the North Dakota is prairie rose.

Erin Wetzel: Yeah, it’s not that. The prairie rose state. Right?

Susan Reff: Ok, so exciting times in the jail law library.

Erin Wetzel: It was always interesting. Is that still a thing, do you think? I don’t know. I had heard from some inmates

Erin Wetzel: Shortly after I left that it had kind of gotten shut down, that

Erin Wetzel: They were having officers run the law library instead of law students. So and I don’t know what happened to it after that. So I hope it’s still a thing, but I don’t know. Were the books like up to date books? For the most part, some of them were not. I could look up updated information to see if, like a statute had changed or whatever was on my computer and give them that information. Or I could go to my boss and say, I think we need to order this updated book. And it happened a couple of

Erin Wetzel: Times that I asked for books for them and other times

Erin Wetzel: I was told No. Sure. Right? And interesting.

Susan Reff: When we moved our

Erin Wetzel: Office about about three years ago,

Susan Reff: A lot of people had cleaned up books from their offices and they were like, We don’t want these anymore. And we actually donated a lot

Erin Wetzel: Of them to the Douglas County Jail

Susan Reff: Library Law Library. And they asked us ahead of time for a list of the books that we were going to donate,

Erin Wetzel: And then they picked and chose which books they wanted.

Susan Reff: I’m assuming maybe they thought somewhere irrelevant. Some were

Erin Wetzel: Duplicates, some they

Susan Reff: Didn’t want the inmates to have.

Erin Wetzel: Maybe I know there were a couple of books that were on the list that they did not approve because they thought that they were more books about how to get away with crimes rather than, oh, fighting. Wait, we have those books as

Susan Reff: Lawyers how to get away with crimes. I mean, is it that blatant?

Erin Wetzel: No, it was not. I thought it was them being a little overly cautious.

Susan Reff: Yeah, probably. How to be a good lawyer.

Erin Wetzel: People think means more than it does. Yes, it means we’re getting away with crimes or helping our clients

Susan Reff: Get away with crimes, right? So Segway, now you do criminal defense.

Erin Wetzel: I do.

Susan Reff: What other areas of law do you practice in?

Erin Wetzel: I also do juvenile law, which can be an abuse neglect case against the parents or what we call delinquency, where it’s a child who is charged with the equivalent of a crime. I do some family law. Contempt actions. Protection orders. Basically, I like to do anything that gets me into the courtroom. So.

Susan Reff: A lot of the work that Erin does is the same that I do, and one thing I think is really cool

Erin Wetzel: About what we do is, you know, a lot of these cases overlap with each other.

Susan Reff: Yes. And so if a client comes in with one, you know, maybe they got charged with the DUI and that caused their spouse to get really upset with them and they’re going

Erin Wetzel: To file for divorce.

Susan Reff: And it can snowball from there.

Erin Wetzel: Definitely. So we can help them with all of that. Whereas some law firms, they’re strictly family law, are strictly criminal defense. Right. I’ve actually had clients who come in on one case and then say to me, I don’t suppose you do this to assuming that I don’t and I say, No, actually, I do, or somebody else in the firm does. So we can help you with that also.

Susan Reff: I think that that’s really helpful for clients, too, because many times if they have these cases, you know, that overlap with other cases, you know, a criminal case, a family law case, a juvenile case, whatever it might be in Nebraska, that’s a different courtroom with a different judge each time. Correct. So they’re going to have to tell that story and defend themselves, usually multiple times. Exactly. And if they’re telling that story to, you know, two, three or four different lawyers, that’s just it’s first of all, it’s not economical. No. So in that sense, I think we’ve set ourselves apart from other law firms and that we will be able to handle all of the things that a client might need an attorney for if they’re getting in trouble usually.

Erin Wetzel: I agree. Sometimes it’s frustrating if you’re trying to coordinate a case with an attorney who’s at another firm not saying that it’s anything any fault of that other attorney, but just the logistics of it versus if you have one attorney in the same firm handling multiple cases or two attorneys in the same firm, it’s just a lot easier to communicate about that case and that client.

Susan Reff: What do you like about being a lawyer?

Erin Wetzel: I like that it’s different every day that there’s always something new and exciting coming up. And it’s not just the same old, same old,

Susan Reff: And it sounds like you really like to be in court,

Erin Wetzel: Too. I do. It’s a very exciting to me. You know, you have to think on your feet a lot. Just like I said, something new, not planned. Not like Tasha. You know, she she has talked a lot about how she likes everything planned out perfectly. But I’m OK not having it planned out. I’m OK. Just sometimes having to go with the flow and see what comes up and how I need to respond to it.

Susan Reff: I say it all the time to people who don’t go to court, you know, clients, friends that anything can happen in court. And a lot of times I try to pick like five examples of something that could happen in a case and sometimes even something outside of that could happen that I didn’t even think of like literally anything because there’s so many moving parts for court, correct?

Erin Wetzel: And when you have a human being, the judge or jury, whoever making a decision, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen. Even if you have a similar set of facts to a previous case with the same judge, you could say, Well, this judge has done this on a previous case, but you still have to tell the client that doesn’t mean that they’re going to do that on this case because they’re human being and you just never know what’s going to change their mind or what could affect their decision making.

Susan Reff: I I think that that’s the hardest thing for clients to understand is that. Even though it seems like on paper, maybe the judge has two decisions, like in a criminal case. Guilty, not guilty. Still, so many different things can happen, right? I mean, you could walk in thinking your client’s going to plead guilty and it ends up being a continuance or it gets the case, gets dismissed. I mean, just like random things can happen.

Erin Wetzel: Correct? I mean, you could prepare for a case, but some tiny little thing or person witness whatever can change their story, they can make a different statement. They could not show up, and that can change the whole outcome of the case.

Susan Reff: So if you could, you know, give someone some advice when they’re looking for an attorney, if they have multiple types of of issues going on, you know, like what would you tell them?

Erin Wetzel: I would tell them to try to look for a firm that can handle multiple different cases. For example, if somebody has a pending criminal case and it will affect custody of the children, find a firm like us who can handle both the family lost side of it, potentially the juvenile side of it if the that comes into play in the criminal case, because a lot of those things can affect the other. You know, I had a case once where the wife was accusing my client, the husband, of assaulting her. We had had a protection order case where she never brought that up, even though this incident had supposedly happened a week before, we were able to request that transcript and show it to the county attorney and prove to him that she was making it up. Whereas if he had had another attorney handling his criminal case who wasn’t there at the protection order hearing, they probably would have never known that it happened in his criminal case could have ended up much different because they didn’t have that proof that she was making the incident up.

Susan Reff: And a lot of times the client doesn’t realize the overlap from one case to the other two. And that’s where an experienced attorney can help correct and ask the right questions of the client and guide them the right way and tell them how each case is going to affect the other

Erin Wetzel: Case, too. Yes, most of our clients have never been in this situation before. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know when information. They would need for the case, so especially in this case, I really do think that that’s a client who wouldn’t have realized that that was something that would have been helpful in his criminal case.

Susan Reff: I think that’s a good wrap up for today to say like. If you do have multiple things happening at once, the less you have to go searching for an attorney and the one like a one stop shop like us. Yes, you know, that’s the best way to handle all of that and. We do it. Other firms don’t do it, it’s easier, it’s faster, and then ultimately cheaper. Exactly. Well, let’s wrap up two, let’s tell everyone. How long have you been with our firm? I forgot about that part.

Erin Wetzel: I have been here. About three and a half years.

Susan Reff: Now, yeah, yeah. Awesome. So sorry to throw that in at the end there, but I wanted to make sure everyone knew that you’re not brand new. You’ve been here for a while. Erin’s a great addition to our team. She’s, you know, one of the first people to jump up and say, I’ll help with that. When other people shy away from messy situations, errands like, Ooh, let me get my fingers in that and see what I can do with that case.

Erin Wetzel: I’m not afraid to deal with a case that looks like it’s a mess. Yeah, I like to straighten it out and get it on the right track.

Susan Reff: Yeah. So if anyone out there needs an attorney who has a if you have a mess and you need an attorney, call Erin, she’ll help.

Erin Wetzel: Definitely.

Susan Reff: All right. Well, thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll catch you next week.

Announcer: Thank your for listening to the Lady Lawyer League Podcast. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, if you would like to learn more about our firm, Hightower-Reff Law, please visit our website at HR Law We’ll see you next week.

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