Former Sooner Turns Gridiron Lessons Into Success in the Courtroom

Source:  Ralph Schaffer/Tulsa Business Journal

Damario Solomon-Simmons may have won just five games as a linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners in what would be Coach John Blake’s final season as head coach. But his #34 crimson and cream jersey has a place of honor in his office.
It represents life lessons learned at The University of Oklahoma in the 1997-98 seasons that have carried forward in his job at the Riggs Abney Neal Turpen Orbison Lewis Law Firm.
Solomon-Simmons, who serves as Of Counsel with the Tulsa-based law firm, recalled his gridiron days under Blake and defensive coach Rex Ryan 17 years ago. Ryan is now the head coach for the Buffalo Bills.
He was recommended to the law firm by Melvin Hall, who works in the Oklahoma City office and has been a friend and mentor to Solomon-Simmons for 20 years.
The core lesson Solomon-Simmons learned as an OU linebacker was to be prepared, to show up, shut up and go to work.
That was followed closely by the importance of teamwork, knowing that if one was in position, fully involved and did his job right, that his team would have the opportunity to score.
If the individual’s focus was on something else, then that vital play would be missed and the game lost. Solomon-Simmons’ love of sports continued when he graduated from OU and earned his law degree. He is involved in sports law, civil rights legislation, and represents professional athletes.  Equally important, Solomon-Simmons turned his attention to Tulsa’s youths and has been involved in helping young men understand the importance of an education and staying out of trouble.
He developed the Pipeline+Program with the support of Williams Companies and WPX Energy. The Pipeline+Program seeks to close the diversity gap in the legal profession by identifying, educating and motivating minority high school students to consider a career in the legal profession. Solomon-Simmons not only had the idea for the program, he also wrote the 2D=HP curriculum that they use to engage students.
Additionally, the program provides financial assistance to minority law students attending law school in Oklahoma.
Now in its third year, it introduces participating high school students to the process of applying to and graduating from law school, and to the practice of law as a private, in-house or government attorney.
The program has a one-day conference that features a visit to the Tulsa County Federal Courthouse, followed by a luncheon and panel discussions about law school and the practice of law. He also established the “Most Valuable Player Fatherhood Program,” bringing more than 200 young black men together to teach them about the responsibilities of being a father.
The program was hosted by the Metropolitan Baptist Church and had the support and leadership of Pastor Dr. Ray Owens. The program was extended to eighth grade students in several Tulsa Public Schools, including Monroe Junior High, KIPP Tulsa Preparatory School, Central Junior High and McLain Junior High School.
The program has received praise from school administrators who would like to see it expanded throughout the district. They say students are more positive about education when they return to the classroom. Solomon-Simmons isn’t certain the 2016 class will be expanded because of the intensity and scope of the program. As well as his community work, Solomon-Simmons is still practicing civil, sports and entertainment law.
He and Tom Askew, a fellow Riggs Abney attorney, are working together to expand the firm’s practice in sports law.
Askew currently represents several baseball players, Solomon-Simmons said. “I want it understood that I represent the athlete as an attorney, not as their agent,” Solomon-Simmons said. “I have a very positive relationship with athletes in various sports.”  His role is to see that the athlete benefits from their wealth and has opportunities beyond the playing field.
“I try to help protect them from others trying to separate the athlete from their money through fraudulent schemes or from people just outright begging from them,” he said.
Travel is part of the job and Solomon-Simmons recently went to Washington, D.C., to present a diversity seminar to members of the Federal Election Commission, which he describes as one of his favorite clients.  Another recent trip was to Los Angeles where he attended a meeting of the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest national association of African-American attorneys and judges in the United States.
Solomon-Simmon’ priorities remain his career in law and his responsibility to the Riggs Abney Law Firm.  Once again reflecting on the lessons learned on the gridiron, Solomon-Simmons said he shows up early and stays late each day.  That way, he says, he can only get better at his job.