|Oregon State Bar Bulletin DECEMBER 2009|
All too often, life gets in the way of pursuing one’s true passion. Responsibilities abound, obstacles arise, or time and energy simply run out. Howard Hudson and Rebecca May found, however, that the desire to make a difference fueled their determination to turn a lifelong ambition into reality.
Hudson and May worked in the high-tech industry in Austin, Texas, when they met in 2002. Both were divorced, unhappy in their jobs, and longed for careers that reflected their commitment to public service. As they talked about it, Hudson, 45, and May, 43, discovered a common goal: They both had always wanted to go to law school.
For May, the idea of becoming an attorney fulfilled an ethic she learned growing up. “My mother, who recently passed away, was always giving back to the community. I saw it as a way of doing community service,” she says.
“Another thing that really appealed to me is that law school gives you tools to help people and be an agent for social change. You don’t have to work as a lawyer, but that knowledge gives you a very powerful way to make a difference,” May adds.
Hudson also had long relished the thought of doing work that helps others. His divorce vividly illustrated to him the impact attorneys can make, both good and bad.
“My attorney was phenomenal. She said, ‘This (divorce) is a big part of your life right now, but focus on the future and what you want your life to look like and we’ll work toward an agreement that makes that possible,” he says. “My ex-wife’s attorney was a pit bull who just wanted to win, and she was miserable because she sold her a bill of goods.
“I realized at that moment that an attorney has such influence on a client’s life, not just financially but in several ways,” Hudson says.
Hudson and May made a pact to go to law school together, and in 2004 Willamette University’s law school accepted them both and they moved to Oregon. (Fortunately for them, the couple – who enjoy riding motorcycles and other outdoor activities – fell in love with the area while scouting out prospective law schools.)
The pair graduated in 2007 and opened their own practice, Hudson|May LLC, in Salem the following year. They both specialize in family law. They have separate case loads, but due to the nature of working in a partnership they end up discussing strategy and case planning with each other and are able to fill in for each other if necessary.
“One of the nicest things about our partnership is that we can be each others’ legal assistant with trial prep, discovery or legal research if one of us is overextended. This has worked well for us since we don’t have regular staff members... We understand not everyone is suited to live and work with your spouse, but it definitely works for us,” May says.
Hudson and May each have a unique perspective that enhances the services they provide for marginalized populations such as children and minorities.
“Both Howard and I feel very strongly about access to justice and that everyone should be represented. Representation is not just for the wealthy,” May says. “Where I see a lack of access for kids is in family law. Kids are often treated like the couch, like a possession. I see a real need to provide representation to these kids, who feel powerless anyway.”
Hudson knows firsthand the pain caused by an acrimonious divorce. In his opinion, many attorneys who practice family law too often focus on billable hours rather than protecting families. And, there are no winners when bulldog tactics come into play, he notes.
“The mother suffers, the father suffers and the kids suffer – the whole family suffers,” Hudson says. “This is a crisis, especially if kids are involved, and it doesn’t end when the kids turn 18. They are going to graduate from college, get married, have babies and have a life. And if you become enemies, it’s never going to get easier.”
Hudson also practices immigration law and says it provides an opportunity to help families during their most difficult times. Many of his cases involve obtaining legal residency for clients, some of whom suffer years of abuse before working up the courage to seek out an attorney.
“One of my clients was a domestic violence victim. He was terrified because his wife would threaten him with, ‘You’ll never see your kids again, and I’ll have you deported,’” he says.
Hudson enjoys the reward of empowering people by educating them about their basic rights as Americans. He also treasures the gratitude he receives from his clients, including one gentleman who was so ecstatic when his residency was finalized that he invited all of his friends and family to a barbeque.
“That, to me, is one of the best parts. When someone can move out of the shadows into mainstream society and celebrate, that is very exciting to me,” he says.
May’s work for the marginalized focuses on children. After graduating from law school, she worked briefly as a juvenile court prosecutor for the Lane County District Attorney’s office, and also for Cummins, Goodman, Denley, Fish and Vickers in Newberg. May returned to her practice with Hudson earlier this year. She and Hudson recently moved their office to Eugene, where May will work as an indigent defense attorney as part of the Lane County Juvenile Consortium.
Their shared commitment to ensuring that all Oregonians have access to justice led Hudson and May to participate in the bar’s Modest Means program. Through the program, attorneys charge a reduced rate for people with moderate incomes seeking assistance on family law, criminal defense and landlord/tenant matters. This year alone, Hudson and May have received 65 Modest Means referrals, primarily in Salem but also extending into Monmouth, Independence, Dallas and beyond.
“Just to get someone who will listen to them and understand them and do what they can to help, that’s half the battle for these people. The clients are always so grateful,” May says.
Hudson admits he initially resisted the notion of participating in the Modest Means program because he feared it wouldn’t cover his expenses, especially as a newly licensed practitioner. However, he soon learned the program is efficient, practical and allows lawyers to provide an essential public service while still earning a livable wage.
“Many folks can’t afford the full-service rate, but they can afford something. If they have to ask their families for help or sell something to pay for it, they are more likely to do that knowing they will get good legal advice,” he says.
“Many young attorneys are very uncomfortable talking about the business of practicing law, but the Modest Means program eliminates that because the clients have already said, ‘Here’s what I make, what can I afford?’” Hudson adds. “It’s a good deal for attorneys, and if they haven’t done it I encourage them to check into it, especially younger attorneys.”
George Wolff, the bar’s administrator of Referral and Information Services, oversees the Modest Means program and says Hudson and May’s commitment to it includes not only taking cases, but devoting several hours to participate in a think tank designed to improve the program.
“They have a real enthusiasm that they exude in their concern for Modest Means clients, the practice of law and in a greater societal sense by making sure they are doing their part to ensure justice around the world,” Wolff says.
“They are willing to take Modest Means clients and treat them equally,” he adds. “To them, there is no difference in a Modest Means client and any other because every client should be treated equally and they want to provide advocacy for all.”
Hudson and May agree that while their second careers as lawyers come with an array of challenges, the rewards far outweigh the drawbacks.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s rewarding when your client looks at you at the end and says, ‘I’m happy with this result,’” May says. “Even if they didn’t get what they wanted, as long as you’ve worked hard on their behalf and they feel like they got a fair result, that’s the best.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore, a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash., is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2009 Melody Finnemore