Betsy McCoy, BA’84, JD’87, has orbited Creighton University since she was a chatty toddler playing in the driveway of her family’s home on Omaha’s Florence Boulevard and drawing the attention of her neighbor, Charles Byron Curtin, PhD, then-professor of biology at Creighton.
“Dr. Curtin’s family lived directly across the street,” she recalls. “I was 4, watching, with great envy, as my siblings left for school. Dr. Curtin would come across before heading to Creighton and say, ‘Betsy, do not worry, you will be in school soon enough, and when you get there, learn everything.’”
His was one of many voices stressing the value of education. First among them, McCoy says, were her parents, who constantly emphasized the abiding nature of an education and suggested that her gift for conversation made her a natural candidate for law school.
The School of Law indeed became her home, a journey that ended in 1987 when she graduated and moved to Florida, where she has since established a national reputation as a corporate attorney serving as general counsel for The Related Group, one of Florida’s most prominent property developers.
McCoy describes that journey as one she could not have anticipated back in 1984 when she remembers, a little tearfully, the kindness of then-law school dean Rodney Shkolnick, who said he had $250 in funding available to help pay her rent and replace her car’s snow tires.
She was a first-year student, quietly working part-time jobs despite a requirement that first-years not seek outside employment.
“I was so horrified to be there asking, so embarrassed to be literally begging, that I was ready to just give up rather than ask for help or admit that I was working,” she says.
Then, in what McCoy describes as a “magical, mystical confluence of karma and pity,” Shkolnick took out a large blue checkbook. As he reached across to offer McCoy both a tissue and the check, Shkolnick said, “About 30 years ago there was a young fellow I met in Ottumwa (Iowa) named McCoy who was destined to be a lawyer if anybody ever was. It is a damn shame he never earned a law degree. We are not about to let history repeat.”
“That’s a coincidence” she responded. “My dad, Jack McCoy, is from Ottumwa, and he wanted so much to be a lawyer.”
McCoy recalls the shy grin as Shkolnick offered another tissue and said, “Yes, I am speaking of your father. He drafted legislation trained lawyers could not write, and he could just about get passed any law he wrote.”
Jack McCoy was then a rising star of Iowa politics and a prominent labor organizer serving his first term in the Iowa House of Representatives, the youngest person ever elected to that body. While Shkolnick was practicing in Ottumwa, Jack McCoy had successfully co-authored legislation creating the dams of Saylorville and Red Rock, which eliminated devastating flooding that once tore 10,000 Ottumwans from their homes. Shkolnick said Jack once confided that he wished to attend law school but that with three young sons and a fourth child on the way, it seemed impossible.
“Your dad could deliver a speech as if he were a trained advocate, and he could write laws as if he had been schooled to do it,” Shkolnick said. “It was instinctive, and I think you have those same instincts.”
McCoy has since drawn national recognition for problem-solving and logistical planning. In 2014, she was named by American Lawyer Media and Corporate Counsel Magazine one of the top four corporate counsels in the nation.
“I was the first, and perhaps the only, corporate counsel of a private company to have been named one of the top four,” she says. “The other three were from major companies such as 3M and AIG, each staffed with in-house departments composed of 300 or 400 lawyers. I have a department of three.”
McCoy earned this acclaim through her strategic mitigation of losses following the great recession of 2008. Hired that year by The Related Group to develop and implement a defense strategy in the event of an anticipated real estate collapse, McCoy charted several pathways to parry attempts to cancel condominium purchase contracts.
After the collapse of banking institutions in October 2008, more than 3,500 rescission demands flooded in, and her navigation of this existential threat, along with her fellow executives and the determination of company founder, Jorge Perez, to ensure that all financial obligations be resolved on non-adversarial terms, helped the company survive and attain even greater stature.
Taking a lesson from Shkolnick’s book, McCoy says she counsels young people to have confidence and has referred students to Creighton, assuring them that a memorable experience awaits because of the student-faculty ratio, the dedication of the professors and the values at the center of it all.
“Three people have taken my advice, each of whom graduated from Creighton School of Law and now thrive in their professional practices,” she says. “How can I not be delighted by where my journey has taken me so far, or thankful for every part that Creighton played?”