Ralph Otto earned his bachelor's and legal degrees from University of Iowa in 1898 and 1900. He practiced law in the Iowa City area, and served as a court reporter from 1902 to 1906. In 1909 he was elected mayor of Iowa City, serving for two years. He taught law at the University of Iowa College of Law from 1910 to 1918. In 1918, he was appointed to the Eighth Judicial District. He served as a judge until the time of his death in 1928.