|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JANUARY 2007|
“I've always been proud to be a lawyer. And I'm exceptionally proud to be a lawyer in Oregon. I can
say without hesitation that lawyers in our state
are as competent as lawyers in any state
and more collegial here than in many jurisdictions.”
Emphasize the positive. If Albert A. Menashe has a personal motto, that is it. "Accentuating the positive. That’s what I hope to do," Menashe says of his overarching objective for this year, as 2007 president of the Oregon State Bar.
It is the same theme that guided him through his earliest years growing up in Portland, of being the first member of his recent-immigrant family to attend college. And it became and has remained his guiding principle in shaping the way he practices and how he relates to others.
"I’ve often said, I don’t think you’ll meet a nicer person on this planet than Albert," says longtime friend Ed Tonkin, vice president of Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships. "He’s a person you feel good to be around," one who is "very caring" and sensitive to others.
One could see this distinction as unusual or contradictory, given Menashe’s specialty field of family law, which is inherently adversarial. It was a trait he perhaps inherited, or at least absorbed. "I never saw an argument in my family" growing up, says Menashe. "It was always positive."
"A lot of divorce lawyers take a hostile view," and even are encouraged to do so by some clients, observes Multnomah County Circuit Judge Douglas G. Beckman. By contrast, Menashe is "extremely even-tempered," and able to settle most of his cases, Beckman says. "He’s extremely good at dealing with people. He reads people very well."
Karen Hinsdale, owner of The Cellar Door wine shop in downtown Portland, who has known Menashe since both were in college, says he is "calm, thoughtful, levelheaded. From a professional perspective, he thinks the courtroom is a place to discuss points of law, rather than a place to beat someone to death. He looks for fair and equitable outcomes for everybody. He represents, to me, the highest ethical standards."
Such personal attributes have helped make Menashe among the best-known and most highly honored family lawyers in Oregon. He has been listed among "The Best Lawyers in America" since 1991, named in "Who’s Who in America" in 2003 and numerous other "Who’s Who" lists over the years, and managing partner from its inception of one of the earliest, and now one of the largest, family law boutique firms in the nation: Gevurtz, Menashe, Larson & Howe.
Albert Menashe is a native Portlander, but only two generations removed from distant shores. Three of his four grandparents were from Rhodes, an island in the Aegean Sea; and his father’s mother was from Istanbul, Turkey, not far from Rhodes. Menashe’s family lived in downtown Portland on Southwest Broadway, in what was known as the South Park Blocks. It was an ethnic neighborhood comprised mainly of Jews and Italians.
Born at the old St. Vincent Hospital, Albert and his parents lived next door to the grocery store owned by his maternal grandfather, Israel Hasson. He considers that gentleman one of his greatest influences. Hasson could not read or write in English, but he successfully prospered in this country, raised five children, and ran his store until he was 93. "I learned a lot about family from him," says Menashe. "He taught me a lot about fortitude."
Menashe also lists his father, Solomon, as someone he modeled himself after. Menashe never heard anyone say a bad thing about his father, who did not drink, smoke or swear, and never raised his voice in anger. "His whole life was his family. I learned a lot about unconditional love from him. Since his death (in 1987), my mother has continued to be an inspiration."
A third influence proved crucial in helping Albert become the first in his family to attend college. Unbelievably, Albert’s college counselor at Wilson High School told him he was not smart enough to go to college, causing Albert to suspend his plans. But when Stan Stanton, his football coach and teacher, heard about that, he insisted Albert nix such poor advice and apply, and he was accepted at the University of Oregon.
Menashe excelled there, serving in the student senate and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He also was the cadet commander in ROTC — which brought him $50 a month, enough to cover his tuition and books. Then, after graduating, he served in the Army and became a first lieutenant, working as an administrative officer in Aberdeen, Md.
Following a two-year stint, he entered Willamette University College of Law. "I had two first cousins who had gone to law school, so I had a desire to be a lawyer, although I was not totally sure what they did," says Menashe. He notes, too, that at the time, law as a profession was widely respected by the public.
Menashe and his wife, Julie (seen here celebrating
New Year's Eve at their beach house), have known
each other since first grade.
In his third year, he was editor-in-chief of the Willamette Law Journal, which published a symposium issue on family law. During all three years of law school he clerked for Clark, Marsh & Lindauer in Salem, where he worked on some divorce cases, which he found fascinating. After obtaining his law degree, he accepted a job with the Portland firm Bullivant, Wright, Leedy, Johnson, Pendergrass & Hoffman (now known as Bullivant Houser Bailey), primarily doing insurance defense work.
Menashe knew he wanted to work with people, and he aspired to having his own firm: "After I started practicing, I wanted to be in a position where I could succeed or fail based on my ability." When the opportunity arose to do domestic law, he grabbed it.
When he joined Ron Gevurtz and Paula Kurshner to form Gevurtz Menashe in 1982, the three agreed the firm would never expand to more than six lawyers. But the firm, which occupied the 1515 S.W. Fifth Avenue building for 17 years, expanded four times in that location. It then moved eight years ago to its present offices in the U.S. Bancorp tower, and presently is composed of 21 lawyers. Menashe says, "Practicing family law and that having all of our lawyers doing the same thing provides support to one another, as well as collective expertise. Twenty-five years ago, family law lawyers were not held in nearly as high esteem as today. I believe my good friend and partner Eric Larson is as good a trial lawyer as there is in Oregon. The two of us have developed into one heck of a good team."
Menashe says family law consists primarily of divorce and divorce-related cases, but also includes pre- and post-nuptial agreements, adoptions, paternity, name changes and grandparent visitation issues. He allows it is a "complicated area of law," consisting of both legal and emotional aspects. "You need to have a little bit of knowledge of psychology, of counseling, and good listening skills before you can get to the real issues."
Menashe likens his role in divorce cases to being the quarterback on a football team. He has to be able to assemble a reliable team of accountants, appraisers, insurance agents and tax advisers, as well as to have knowledge about real estate. He also acknowledges the challenge of dealing with people who are upset and in turmoil: "We see people sometimes at their worst. You expect and accept it. The key is not to take it personally."
From the beginning of his career, Menashe has held memberships and leadership positions in bar organizations and within his specialty field. These include the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, for which he was Oregon chapter president in 1997-98, and the American Bar Association, as well as a myriad of committees for those, the Multnomah Bar Association and the OSB.
Former Oregon Supreme Court Justice R. William Riggs, who was a Multnomah County circuit judge in the late 1970s, says that, at that time, he, H. Jay Folberg (now a law professor in San Francisco) and Menashe "decided we needed to start a family law section" in the OSB, "and so we did. (Menashe) was a major mover and shaker."
Menashe also has participated in many charitable events, is a frequent speaker on family law, and has made a number of media appearances. He has been a member of the Oregon Club of Portland, a booster group for University of Oregon athletics, since 1976, and has served as president of its board.
Grateful for the opportunity of a good education, Menashe feels obligated to be involved for the betterment of the bar and society: "My involvement is my way of saying thanks to a society that has given me opportunities, and maybe to help others have opportunities. I have been blessed by a great family and friends, like Ed Tonkin, Tom Stern, Karen Hinsdale and my cousin, Ruben Menashe. They have been always there for me."
The volunteer projects that have given him the most satisfaction have been those he’s been most deeply involved in. Topping that list as the most challenging and time-consuming has been serving on the OSB Board of Governors since 2004. "You really get to know people and get involved in the issues."
Professionalism has been a passionate focus of Menashe’s for a long time. Beginning in 1991, he served on the OSB’s Professionalism Committee, its Professionalism Task Force, and in 1994, the Governor’s Task Force on Family Law. As president of the Multnomah Bar Association in 1997, he instituted a summit on professionalism, which made recommendations for law schools and the bar about how they should foster professionalism. That effort resulted in the statement of professionalism, which is now displayed in law offices.
"There was a period of time several years ago when lawyers were leaving practice because of their dealings with unprofessional lawyers," he explains. In his own specialty, he had observed a handful of attorneys who behaved unprofessionally, and decided the best way to approach the problem was — that theme again — "to be positive. The goal was to recognize and honor good behavior, to emphasize the positive."
His own conduct and career exemplify the concept. Menashe "epitomizes professionalism," says Riggs. He is "exactly what lawyers should be: decent, hard-working, knowledgeable, collegial. His tone has always been professional." Beckman adds that Menashe always is professional in his appearance, as well.
"He is the consummate professional, 100 percent of the time," agrees Tonkin. "He has a beautiful, warm disposition, but he has the ability to be firm in his dealings when it’s necessary. He embodies everything you would want in a lawyer." Even though Menashe is highly accomplished, he remains "the most unpretentious, down-to-earth professional I have met," Tonkin says.
According to Beckman, Menashe’s even-keeled temperament has made him a successful managing partner, as well. Menashe plainly has inspired loyalty among employees: His legal assistant, Mary Harris, has worked with him for 19 years; his a paralegal, Avis Tucker, has worked with the firm for 23 years; his legal administrator, Darla Pierce, has worked closely with him for 14 years; and a receptionist retired not long ago after 19 years with the firm.
Menashe had strong models for forming his concept of professionalism. First, he credits the lawyers in the firm where he clerked, Clark Marsh Lindauer. They consisted of Edward L. "Ned" Clark Jr., a past president of the OSB; now-U.S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh; Eric B. Lindauer, with what now is called Clark, Lindauer, Fetherston, Edmonds, Lippold & Collier in Salem; and Michael G. McClinton, who was an associate and later partner in the firm, and who today is with McClinton & Troutt in Salem.
Menashe says they were "individually each a fine lawyer and human being, the best possible role models for a law student or young lawyer. We designed our firm as much as we could to be like them."
Menashe remembers his first employer, Douglas G. Houser of Bullivant Houser Bailey, as someone who always took the time to help, no matter how busy he was. Another legal influence Menashe names is Stanley M. Samuels, a renowned real estate lawyer and 50-year OSB member, who now is senior counsel with Bateman, Seidel, Miner, Blomgren, Chellis & Gram in Portland. Samuels "cares a great deal about mentoring," Menashe says.
Menashe’s outside interests center on his family, the Oregon Coast and wine. He has known his wife, Julie, since both were in the same first-grade class. His son, Shawn, followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an attorney.
"I never talked with him about being a lawyer or going to law school," Menashe emphasizes. Still, he admits delight when, after Shawn completed law school at the University of Oregon and clerked for Preston, Gates & Ellis and then Miller Nash — both of which then offered him a lawyer position — Shawn revealed to his dad, "I’d rather work with you practicing family law."
"It was a defining moment of being a parent," says Albert Menashe, observing that his son is now in his fourth year with the firm. "To have my son here extends a Menashe presence in the firm for another generation."
The central Oregon Coast has held a fascination for Menashe since he was a youngster. As an adult, it has offered him a getaway from all the stresses of law and everything else in his life. Menashe bought a home at Gleneden Beach in 1991, then purchased a home in Salishan five years ago. "I enjoy walking on the beach, and my wife and I are avid agate hunters."
Collecting wine is his foremost hobby. Above his desk in his spacious office hangs a large painting with a wine motif. "Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for wine," he says. "I study, travel and read to learn about wine." He has put together a nice wine cellar over the years.
Menashe has set three main goals for his presidency: to communicate better with members as to what the OSB does and is doing; to be fiscally responsible with the bar’s finances, especially in light of the OSB’s purchase and construction of a new building; and to continue to enhance professionalism.
The OSB operates with a budget of $8 million. "We are very, very careful with how we allocate funds," he explains. "We have tried not to create new programs unless we have something we take away. The Board of Governors has committed that the new building will have no economic impact on the budget.
"Our current building was built in 1986 for $2 million. At that time, it was considered an extraordinary purchase. We’re going to sell it for $7 (million) to $8 million; it’s almost paid for. We’re paying $19 million for the new building. Very modest projections are that in 20 to 25 years, it will be paid off, and have a very substantial value, which will allow for new programs and growth within the bar."
Menashe places great importance on strengthening ties among OSB members across the state. "I took a tour of several Eastern Oregon county bar associations last year. I hope to visit every county bar in the state the year ahead. This is the Oregon State Bar; it’s not any particular county’s. We truly are looking out for the welfare of the entire state."
Menashe's son, Shawn, has been practicing with
his father for four years. They're seen here together
at a Multnomah Bar Association function.
He thinks that sometimes Oregon attorneys feel "an inherent insecurity" about how they stand in relation to lawyers and firms in large East Coast cities. But Menashe’s experiences such as in attending National Council of Bar Presidents meetings continue to dispel the wisdom of that notion.
"I’ve always been proud to be a lawyer," he says. "And I’m exceptionally proud to be a lawyer in Oregon. I can say without hesitation that lawyers in our state are as competent as lawyers in any state — and more collegial here than in many jurisdictions.
"We are the only state with a Professional Liability Fund, requiring lawyers to have insurance to practice. It is a topic at every meeting I go to. Unquestionably, we’ve been a national leader for 30 years.
"We are the only state that has a lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice. Last year we raised $1 million to provide legal services to the poor.
"The relationship in our state between the bench, the bar and the law schools is as good as any state, and certainly better than some."
Menashe thinks OSB members many associate the bar with sponsoring continuing legal education programs and materials, and with performing disciplinary functions. But the bar’s responsibilities range from admissions to affirmative action, from administering the Client Security Fund to arbitrations.
He notes that each year, the OSB hosts about 50 CLEs, fills 500 media requests, produces a dozen cable TV legal programs, receives over 1 million visits on its website, staffs 38 sections and 21 committees, and makes thousands of lawyer referrals.
Menashe says the OSB’s Affirmative Action program has been "a highly successful, model program. And I’m proud that the House of Delegates (in September) overwhelmingly extended the program for the next 15 years."
He says the OSB’s Client Assistance Office, run by his college friend Chris Mullmann, "has done an incredible job with the resources they have. They dealt with 3,000 inquiries last year. A very high percentage of those were resolved within a day, resulting in lawyers not having complaints in their files; under the old system, any inquiry would result in a report in their file." For example, before the office was created, written complaints regarding a lawyer’s fee went into a lawyer’s file as a bar complaint. Now such complaints are directed to the appropriate office, he points out.
The OSB also has been aggressive in providing the latest technology: "We’ve developed CLE programs to be online; our CLE publications are now available online; we’ve developed video-conferencing capability — and are working with the judicial department to finalize electronic filing in state courts similar to federal court, so that lawyers can file pleadings electronically."
"The bottom line is, the bar does an extraordinary job of handling many programs," says Menashe. "I think the average lawyer doesn’t really know most of the things the Oregon State Bar does. I want to make lawyers more aware and more proud of their bar."
Menashe laments the passing of the OSB’s annual convention at Seaside, a stark reminder of the diminishing ways for lawyers to rub shoulders with one another and develop interpersonal relationships and collegiality. He remembers the excitement of speaking in 1979 before 2,100 lawyers at his first bar convention. Everywhere one went around Seaside during the meeting, lawyers were present and interacting with each other.
Today, when many lawyers do not even have the need to go to the courthouse, "Where is the person-to-person interaction?" he asks. "One of the things that concerns me, and for the future, is how to facilitate lawyer interaction."
He worries about a growing insularity. Last year, the OSB recorded 3,520 volunteers, "which is a good number," he says. "The issue is the changing way people volunteer. They used to have more involvement at the state bar level." Now, volunteers are most active in sections, committees and local bar associations.
Despite or because of these challenges, friends say Menashe looked forward with great anticipation to becoming OSB president. "He’s excited," says Hinsdale. Menashe’s model of professionalism is just "what the Oregon State Bar needs," adds Riggs.
And Tonkin has no doubts concerning Menashe’s prospects as bar president: "He’s done well at everything he has put his mind to."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2007 Cliff Collins