(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser. If you are seeing this through an e-mail, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking on the title above so the post is not clipped or shortened.)
Each quarter Thebeerchaser names an individual or group that may or may not have anything to do with beer or bars, but in my humble opinion, has made a contribution to society and have an interesting story to tell.
Very few of the “honorees” have been groups, but the few named are deserving. For example, the 1967 Oregon State Giant Killer Football Team and the Crew of the USS Constitution for their 1798-99 war cruise.
Both showed teamwork resulting in outstanding accomplishments. (Click on the links above to see these posts.)
So why would I name lawyers? While most people really like their own lawyer, the group as a whole, seldom receives accolades and is often subject to stero-typical and often pejorative labels.
As is true in any profession, I know that a number of the attorneys in the US are egotistical jerks, flaunt the ethics of the profession and would not be good drinking companions. That said, my 40+ years working with lawyers in three different organizations were rewarding and an opportunity to interact with ethical, smart, dedicated advocates who have amazing work ethics and elevated senses of humor (as I think you will see in this and following posts).
Did I encounter some that tipped the asshole scale heavily? DA! But they will not be named in my narratives and were a notable exception.
As background, I spent the majority (25 years – from 1985 to 2010) in the same law firm Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt – the last twelve as the Chief Operating Officer.
I couldn’t have picked a firm with a better culture and outstanding colleagues ranging from support staff to secretaries, to paralegals to managers to attorneys – both associates and partners. It was a transparent and a team-oriented environment – not the case in some firms of similar size. I often described my job as communicating orally and in writing with skilled professionals who made their living attacking and analyzing what other people say and write.
When I retired from Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt (SWW) in mid-2010, it had about 140 lawyers and about 150 additional personnel in five Northwest offices including its anchor office in Portland, Oregon . SWW, for many years, was in the top 50 large employers in the State in the annual survey of good places to work as rated by employees and tabulated by The Oregonian.
But before I present some evidence backing up my positive comments about both attorneys and the SWW firm culture, let me try to describe my version of the lawyer personality while reminding those who look askance upon the profession as a whole, of Charles Dickens’ observation:
“If there were not bad people, there would be no good lawyers.”
Competitive –This trait is not only for litigators where it is a dominant gene, but most lawyers based on the functions of their jobs and how they are evaluated.
Perhaps my favorite example is the Wall Street lawyer some years ago who flew from JFK in New York City to LA International and billed time during the flight so he could set a record for his firm for billing over 24 hours in a single day!
In law firms where statistics play a major – and unfortunately, sometimes the only – criteria for compensation and promotion, it’s natural that there is internal competition for future raises and year-end bonuses – a standard practice in most law firms.
However, some firms have an “eat what you kill” system based totally on the income each timekeeper collects which heightens the intra-firm rivalry. Let’s look at a quote from the protagonist in John Grisham’s novel, The Street Lawyer
“All right. I admit it – those decreases each year hurt my feelings. Money’s the big scorecard in this kind of life; there’s no winning percentage, no runs batted in. It’s always struck me as meaningful how we refer to the percentage of firm income we’re awarded as ‘points.’
Your partners tell you each year what they think you’re worth. By now, I can live without everything the marginal dollar buys except for the self-esteem.”
At SWW, the compensation system was “open” i.e. lawyers knew what their colleagues made and received in bonuses. And each month-end everyone saw the various statistics – hours worked and billed plus amount collected. Compensation at SWW, was both objective – stats based – but also subjective – factors including marketing, firm leadership and activities, and mentoring. This mitigated the internal competition. And when I say “internal competition” – that not only references within the firm, but inside the lawyer’s own head.
Love of the Language – Regardless of the practice specialty, a lawyer must have an elevated grasp of the nuances of the language and pay attention to detail. While some contemporary legal communication is less formal, it was always interesting when terms such as “heretofore,” “therein,” “pursuant,” “to wit” and “thenceforth” were common in pleadings, briefs and even routine correspondence.
Now while some would suggest this formal written and oral discourse was stilted, it provided a certain eloquence and grace for those involved. Take, for example, this paragraph from a lawsuit filed after the Octoberfest Celebration Mount Angel Oregon – known, not only for great German sausage and singing which makes even karaoke sound pretty good, but voluminous consumption of Thebeerchaser’s favorite beverage.
In this lawsuit in the early ‘90’s, a Portland resident filed a $53,220 lawsuit against the Mount Angel Octoberfest claiming the portable toilet he entered was pushed over by unruly patrons. His lawyer claimed:
“Plaintiff was violently thrown about inside said portable toilet, became intimately mixed with the contents thereof and sustained a fracture of his right wrist as well as other contusions and abrasions.”
Unfortunately, I could not determine the result of this lawsuit and assume – just like the contents of the overturned chamber – it settled.
Thus, a jury never had to contemplate either culpability or damages as a group exercise – one which might have proven to be an odorous task figuratively speaking.
Bad Frog Beer
In a recent post, I related how, in a lapse of judgment lamented by my wife, I attempted to supplement my young daughter’s wonderful and robust frog collection with an empty bottle with the label of Bad Frog Beer I got on a business trip to Chicago.
The logo was so popular, the demand for Bad Frog merchandise was massive and Bad Frog Brewing expanded to twenty-five states in 1995. Because the controversial logo, however, the beer was banned in eight of those states. Legal challenges resulted because of the frog’s none-too-subtle extension of its middle digit.
Liquor commissions in multiple states banned the beer. Eventually the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the New York State Liquor Authority‘s ban on selling Bad Frog Beer in an interesting and extremely entertaining First Amendment case, to wit: – Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. v. New York State Liquor Authority 134 F.3d 87 (1998).
You can read the entire opinion, but my favorite footnote shows another example of the succinct and compelling argument for the ban by citing the Liquor Authority lawyer’s indignant but gentile objection:
“……(The logo) is patently offensive and presumably a suggestion to have intercourse with oneself.”
Note: Lawyers have traditionally been addressed in correspondence or pleadings as “Esquire” –a label attached to their surname after earning their license to practice, including female lawyers. This term goes back to the fifteenth century in England referring to the landed gentry or males of higher social rank.
While it may seem cool for a freemason even these days, I’m glad that this practice has largely diminished and is now more of a formality or courtesy except in some states.
This article in Abovethelaw.com entitled ”Get Over Yourself and Stop Calling Yourself Equire,” suggests that the label seems pompous, especially when used to refer to oneself. And since a lot of plumbers now have higher hourly rates than lawyers, perhaps they should add an honorific to their last names.
Creatively Aggressive – There are numerous examples of this dominant gene in attorneys, but two of my favorites both involved Oregon lawyers. While not condoning the rationale of the lawyers below, it does serve to illustrate the creativity and eagerness to advocate their position.
Envision, if you will, cruising along Highway 26 through Oregon’s Coast Range following a line of cars behind a motor home on a mountain pass. A late-model BMW with a single occupant passes the line of cars.
The driver was a lawyer from a large Portland firm (not Schwabe…) who, in his court appearance, argued against the speeding ticket for going 76 mph in a 55 mph zone.
He stated that he had no idea he was traveling that fast – the blame should be placed on the manufacturer for his sedan’s superb handling characteristics. He supported his contention with a PowerPoint presentation and testimony from a mechanic.
I don’t know if he also tried to use some of BMW’s slogans as further vindication, but maybe he should have considered these actual BMW mottos:
“BMW – Beyond Rational!”
“Motion is our Muse”
Heads-up Display vs Speeding Ticket? Passion Wins!”
“BMW – More Smiles per Hour”
Well, perhaps the judge was not persuaded because he fined the lawyer $182 admonishing him that he was not only speeding, but ignored the risk of hitting wildlife that frequently cross the road. It could have been worse. At least he did not pass a cop chasing a speeder……
Somewhat more brazen was this 2006 incident, described in an Oregonian story, involving a prominent Portland attorney, active in civic activities and then chair of his political party in Oregon. He also happened to serve as a Senior Assistant Attorney General for the State of Oregon.
Said AAG was westbound in the afternoon on Interstate 84 driving behind a Sheriff Deputy’s marked vehicle. The deputy was driving 75 mph and noticed a vehicle following him. Upon increasing his speed to 88 mph with the vehicle still following closely, the deputy cited the driver for speeding.
The errant driver asserted that because he was following the deputy, he wasn’t looking at his speedometer assuming the officer was obeying the speed limit and stated in a letter to the Court:
“I therefore had no basis to know my speed, having simply assumed I was within the limits on the basis of the actions of the officer who subsequently cited me for doing precisely what he was doing.”
Note: Lawyer Jack Faust, a SWW lawyer who before his retirement (see below) was one of the most respected appellate lawyers in the State, jokingly (I think…) commented to me that the lawyer could have improved his negotiating position if he had made a citizen’s arrest on the deputy for speeding.
I mention later in this post, a lawyerly trait of wanting to have the last word and this is a good example. Just in case, the judge didn’t buy his initial defense, the lawyer further cited:
“…. a state statute that he said gives him immunity (emphasis added) from prosecution outside of Marion County (in which the State Capital is located) for anything done arising out of his work as a Justice Department Employee.”
In this instance, he was returning from Pendleton in Eastern Oregon to Portland for a meeting on a case he was handling. Well, not only did the judge not accept this rationale, but neither did the lawyer’s boss. Attorney General Hardy Myers, through another Deputy AG, suggested that the AAG was not authorized to represent to the Court that his interpretation is that of the AG’s office and further:
“In fact, DOJ disagrees with both of your interpretations of ORS 464.530….The Attorney General does not believe that any part of the state law cited immunizes the department’s employees from prosecution for traffic offenses.”
The offender did get a break in that the citing officer lowered the speed of the violation to 75 mph – a $97 fine instead of the $145 for traveling 88 mph – not because he was an AAG but “since he was cooperative and apologetic.” The lawyer paid the fine and decided not to further contest the ticket. With this type of immunity, even a vaccine might not have saved him.
Integrity and Ethics – One can cite numerous instances in the last several years and use an historical perspective dating back to Watergate of high profile attorneys shamelessly, not only flaunting the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers, but serving prison sentences for violating the criminal codes.
Through my experience with hundreds of lawyers, first working at the Oregon State Bar and then at a private law firm, I witnessed men and women who had immense respect for the Canons governing their behavior and when in doubt, sought advice to ensure they complied. And I might add, that the rules regarding conflict of interest in the legal profession are more stringent than those in professions such as Accounting and Real Estate.
During the pandemic, I have used the time freed up from Beerchasing to enhance my knowledge through reading and online resources such as podcasts. One of the best which reinforces my premise about integrity of the profession is “The Oath” – an exceptional podcast by Washington DC. attorney Chuck Rosenberg.
His career is the epitome of dedicated public service and integrity as are the subjects of his fascinating interviews in each podcast, many of whom are attorneys who spent a major part of their careers in government service.
These include Maya Wiley, Joyce Vance, Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash, and Rob Spencer. While these are not household names, Chuck interviewing skills are superb and the stories compelling – especially at a time when the Rule of Law is the subject of intense debate. I strongly recommend that you check out this online series.
Chuck Rosenberg graduated from Tufts University, received his Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University and then his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1990 – one of the nation’s top law schools. He then worked in numerous Department of Justice positions, Counsel to the Director of the FBI, Counsel to the Attorney General and Chief of Staff to the Deputy Attorney General.
After service as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, he later served as Chief of Staff to the Director of the FBI (2013-15). He was the lead trial lawyer in federal prosecutions involving espionage, kidnapping, murder, crimes against children and complex financial fraud cases. (Wikipedia) As stated by former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch:
“Throughout his distinguished career in law enforcement and public service, Chuck has earned the trust and the praise of his colleagues at every level. He has proven himself as an exceptional leader, a skilled problem-solver, and a consummate public servant of unshakable integrity.
And he has demonstrated, time and again, his deep and unwavering commitment not only to the women and men who secure our nation, but to the fundamental values that animate their service.”
While serving as the Acting Drug Enforcement Administrator, he resigned as a matter of principle based on his objection to communication from the White House and was praised by media including the Wall Street Journal for his integrity in taking this action.
Since that time, he has served as a legal analyst in cable news and counsel at a private law firm in Washington DC.
Need to Have the Last Word – Over my forty years working with lawyers, I learned that one way to garner their respect was to respond emphatically and with confidence in any (or every) kind of debate whether it was in conversation or electronically.
I learned, however, that even if I prevailed in substance, I should expect, and to some extent, encourage the lawyer to have the last word. It was a good method to save further time deliberating and allow a win–win result.
My favorite example occurred with one of SWW’s very good lawyers from our Vancouver Office who was on his sabbatical in Italy with his wife. This counselor was very active in professional and civic activities and served on the Washington State Board of Governors.
He and his wife were walking up to the entrance of an exclusive restaurant – we’ll say it was in Rome – and out comes a group of several people led by a distinguished looking gentleman in an impeccably-tailored suit. Obviously, I wasn’t a witness, but I was told that the conversation went essentially like this as he and his wife passed the group and he addressed the guy in the lead:
Lawyer: Hi. I know I’ve seen you before. Are you from the Pacific Northwest?
Lawyer: Wow! I know I’ve seen you before. Are you involved with the Vancouver, Washington Chamber of Commerce?
Lawyer: This is just puzzling to me because I’m positive I’ve seen you before. Did you have any dealings with the Washington State Bar Association?
Stranger: No……. I’m Tony Bennett
Lawyer: Oh my God. You’re right!! (emphasis added)
A Firm Foundation Built on a Great Culture
I’ll show you numerous examples in future Beerchaser posts, but I believe that Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt has an outstanding, and possibly unique, culture in which a robust organizational sense of humor was a hallmark. This is not to suggest, however, that SWW lawyers were cavalier and didn’t regard their work very seriously.
SWW lawyers work on matters in every legal practice area except criminal law and domestic relations. The transactions in real estate, business and corporate law, tax and real estate involve substantial amounts and high stakes issues. The outcome of litigation ranging from medical malpractice to product liability, admiralty to patent issues has a profound impact on personal lives and the future of businesses ranging from small enterprises to huge corporations.
But the enhanced camaraderie and light-hearted jousting just made it a better place to work. And it was not just one group of professionals. The jovial atmosphere, although subtle, was evident through all job classifications and demographics in a diverse organization.
New lawyers have amazing academic credentials and life experiences, but they learn not to take themselves too seriously and those that succeed see that besides putting in often unreasonable working hours, availing themselves of continuing legal education and promoting the SWW client service ethic, they’ll have a more enjoyable tenure at the firm if they adapt to this culture.
In closing, I demonstrate how Senior Partners, set an example. Below are some of the hundreds of anecdotes residing in my files that deserve to be shared and I will relate in future blog posts.
A Faustian Tale
As mentioned above, Jack Faust had a sterling reputation as an Oregon appellate lawyer after remarkable law school years in which he served as Editor-in-Chief of the University of Oregon Law School Law Review and received the Order of the Coif – the highest honor for law students.
Jack also had a second career where he made his mark in broadcasting. For many years while still having a busy law practice, he was the moderator of a public affairs program – Town Hall. It received many honors including those from UPI and the National Association of Television Program Executives for Outstanding Public Affairs Program in the Nation.
Faust is a former military counter-intelligence officer and he and his wife have traveled the world. His civic and professional activities are too numerous to mention, but led to him receiving Portland’s First Citizen Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League among others.
I named Jack as Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter in 2014 (click on the link and you can see his full story) but he and his family have also been some of the most loyal Beerchasers since 2011. Now you might expect someone with such a resume to have an elevated ego, but Jack retained his humility from law school as you can in the picture below:
He is also a great example of SWW’s wit. In 1999, the firm changed it’s dress code for lawyers. I might add that when I joined the firm in 1985, when one went into the office even on Saturday mornings, a number of the older lawyers would have on sports coats and ties.
When it became acceptable – even encouraged – by a new firm policy for lawyers to shed their coats and ties – first on Fridays and subsequently, every day unless they had a client meeting or a court appearance, it was a big adjustment. So everybody got a kick out of Faust’s email to the firm:
““At the risk of the usual barrage of abuse – please spell my name right in your responses – I report the following: This morning dressed in ‘business casual’ per SWW Reg. 1-901A(1)(c)(ii), I had just parked my car in the Pac West Center garage and deposited my keys in the box by the parking attendant’s station.
A fancy car rolled up with a well-dressed woman at the wheel. She asked me, ‘Do I park it myself or will you park it for me?’ I was about to tell her that I am a lawyer, not a parking attendant, but I was afraid my mother would find out. It would kill her!”
I often took advantage of Faust’s stage presence and the firm’s appreciation of creativity in my presentations at the Firm Retreats. When giving an update on financial matters and the state of the firm, I would always sprinkle in some humor – in this case with videos – one of which is an outtake – in which you will see Faust and another one of my favorite partners, Carson Bowler, mock the SWW dress code.
Followers of this blog might conclude that Bowler has an uncanny resemblance to one of the former Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter, Art Vandelay.
PS: Dave Kopilak, referenced in the video is a brilliant former SWW lawyer who was the primary drafter of the successful Oregon ballot measure to legalize marijuana and now has his own firm – Emerge Law Group. He took pride in his approach to casual wear.
Stay tuned for future posts where I will expand on my premise about the elevated wit of lawyers and some great stories.
Those in the Portland legal community were saddened by the passing of Susan Hammer in late August. She was one of Oregons’ most respected lawyers and mediators.
I first met Susan when we served on the Board of Governors for the Portland City Club and her civic and charitable activities were of such magnitude that we used to kid her to which she would respond, “I guess I’m just a girl with poor refusal skills!” And not only was she on such boards as Planned Parenthood, Willamette University, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Literary Arts, she was in leadership roles and knew how to raise money.
Before forming her own mediation firm, she was a partner at the Stoel Rives Firm and received numerous honors for her legal skill and dedication to the profession. Notwithstanding her civic activities and professional work, family and friends were always a paramount priority. We will truly miss this remarkable woman.