|Profiles in the Law|
Since Hartfield & Crutchley LLC opened in May, its two founding attorneys have had no shortage of customers seeking their professional advice. The only problem is, not many of them have the money to pay for the legal services they need.
That is exactly the predicament Sean Hartfield, 34, and Ray Crutchley, 33, sought to address when they opened their law office in Northeast Portland, becoming the only black law firm in an economically rewakening community where a segment of the population still struggles to make ends meet.
'We’re still looking for that balance in serving a population that has the need but has no resources,' Hartfield says. 'I love practicing law, and part of the appeal of this neighborhood is that we are constantly running into the little guy who is being stepped on.'
It hasn’t been easy to establish their practice, which emphasizes estate planning, criminal, personal injury and civil rights law. But they are determined to succeed and have built a strong network of supporters, among them Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge David Gernant, who serves as Crutchley’s mentor.
'I have a great deal of confidence in both of them, and I think as other people get to know them they will share that confidence,' Gernant said.
It isn’t a stretch for Hartfield and Crutchley to relate to their underdog clients. Hartfield, who was born in Dallas, Texas, remembers an emotionally turbulent household as a child. Though there were a few bouts with hunger, his mother provided amazingly well for the family. His fondest memories are of the summers spent on his grandmother’s farm in east Texas. 'There was a lot of love in my extended family,' he notes.
Like Hartfield, Crutchley enjoyed a large extended family, in Jamaica, where he lived until he was 11. When his mother decided to emigrate to New York, he lost his support system.
'When I was in Jamaica I lived with my cousins and grandma. It was quite a transition to live here without that extended family,' he recalls. 'Looking back, I realize how poor I was in Jamaica. But there wasn’t a sense of desperation. It just seems that we all did what we needed to do to survive everyday.
'It definitely made me stronger. My perspective on life stems from a belief that there isn’t anything I can’t do. If given the opportunity, I can accomplish the task.'
Crutchley knew in high school that he wanted to be a lawyer. He kept that goal in mind while working his way through school to help support his family and serving with the Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War.
While Crutchley had his sights set on law school, Hartfield wasn’t sure what direction his professional life should take. As an undergraduate he considered careers in medicine, architecture, aerospace engineering, English and philosophy. During his senior year, he received a postcard from Lewis & Clark College’s law school that helped define his search.
'I came up to visit and I fell in love with the campus,' Hartfield said. 'Part of it was I wanted to get out of the South. This was my first opportunity to meet a lot of different people socially.'
He dove into studying environmental law. He also served as president of the Minority Law Students Association and ran a business that sold automobiles overseas, a venture he started as an undergraduate. Though he started law school in 1991, it would be another nine years before Hartfield decided to finish law school and take the bar exam.
'It was an eye-opener, because even though I had started a business and had my own life experiences, I think I was a very naive law student,' he said. 'I was ill-prepared emotionally to deal with being a law student, so I lost interest in it. I remember loving the study of the law, but the politics of affirmative action and minorities in the law can be very draining. I burned out quickly.'
Hartfield returned to Texas to care for his dying grandfather and took the opportunity to re-evaluate his professional life. He found that he still wanted to practice law, but he sought more contact with people. He returned to Lewis & Clark’s law school, where he met a self-assured fellow law student by the name of Ray Crutchley. They didn’t strike up an immediate friendship, but the two soon realized that they complemented each other. When Crutchley decided to open the firm, he knew just who he wanted as his partner.
Both men knew they wanted to serve a community close to their hearts. Opening the office, located at 6021 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is the first step toward realizing a larger personal and professional vision.
'We’re going to strive to be a dominant force in this community and the kind of business that makes a difference to this community,' Crutchley says.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Gresham-based free-lance writer. Reach Hartfield & Crutchley at (503) 735-9100.
© 2002 Melody Finnemore