For the past year, it has been the bestselling book in the Columbia River Maritime Museum’s gift shop.
World’s Most Dangerous: A history of the Columbia River Bar, its pilots and their equipment tells in vivid detail, using exquisitely rendered illustrations, how author Michael E. Haglund established scientifically that the bar long dubbed “the Graveyard of the Pacific” is the most hazardous in the world, by virtue of its waves and narrow entrance.
The book resulted from Haglund’s representation beginning in 1998 of the Columbia River Bar Pilots and his lead role in what became a nationally significant case. That volume and Haglund’s role as counsel to the pilots serve as perfect examples of how the veteran Portland attorney has been able to meld his personal interests with specialties of his law practice.
“It’s been a very special privilege to be able to practice in areas that I have such a strong interest in, to get to know their corner of the world,” says Haglund, a co-founder of the Portland law firm Haglund, Kelley, Jones & Wilder and the Oregon State Bar’s president for 2013.
In addition to maritime law, Haglund devotes about half of his practice to representing small-forest owners and other clients in timber-related industries. Again, his affinity for that field is lifelong, having been raised by a father who was a forester who worked for the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Haglund and his son, Erick, manage 600 acres of forest land Haglund owns in the Alsea River valley in the Oregon Coast Range. Haglund and his wife of 38 years, Melissa, have a home on that property, as does Erick, who lives there year-round; and even though the Haglunds enjoy recreating on their land, it is “a working commercial forest,” Mike Haglund emphasizes, and “I’m involved in harvesting of these trees.” He enjoys the challenge of keeping the forest healthy as both tree farm and wildlife habitat. The Haglunds have planted some 170,000 seedlings over the years. Theirs also is one of five family-owned woodlands to contract with a Bend company, which owns server farms and wanted to purchase carbon offsets.
His family business gives him a deep knowledge of, for example, sawmills, which he then is able to apply in myriad ways to his law practice, such as determining whether a client has a good case or not.
Going the Distance
Haglund is a native Oregonian, born in Portland. His family moved often when he was a small child, living in Eugene, Medford and Portland. At Portland’s Central Catholic High School, the slightly built student weighed 135 pounds and excelled in cross country and the two-mile in track. With an additional 10 pounds added to his frame, he continued those athletic pursuits at Western Oregon University, where in three years he obtained a bachelor’s degree in education. At 60, Haglund retains both a trim physique and running as a hobby. He ran the Boston Marathon while in law school, and he completed the Portland Marathon in 2010.
“Teaching was my major, and teaching is what I wanted to do,” he explains. But during his junior year, another seed got planted when he helped lead a student effort — uprising may be more precise — to turn Monmouth Avenue, which threaded through the middle of the campus, into pedestrian-only. After being arrested as part of a demonstration in which part of the road was to be painted, he was able to get all charges against him and the other students dismissed — and was also given the opportunity to argue the issue at a special session of the Monmouth City Council.
“It was that experience that sparked my interest in becoming a lawyer,” says Haglund. “I recognized how lawyers had a unique opportunity to serve.” But he and Melissa married a year after he graduated, and he put the law plan on hold. He obtained a teaching position at a junior high school in Memphis, Tenn., choosing that location deliberately because he wanted to teach in “a mixed-racial environment. I wanted to be challenged with the opportunity to see what I could do in that environment.”
He enjoyed that year of teaching, but applied for, and was accepted by, Boston University School of Law. He felt that if he was going to pursue a graduate degree, he should do it sooner rather than later, with plans to raise a family on the horizon. Once in law school, he quickly realized he had picked the right path. “I found the intellectual challenge of it to be really very exciting, especially in the first year.” In the summer of his second year, Haglund clerked for the Portland firm Lindsay, Hart, Neil & Weigler.
After holding writing and editing positions on the school’s law review and finishing in the top 10 percent of his class, Haglund accepted a position with Lindsay Hart and returned to Portland. He was attracted to the firm partly because of its demonstrated commitment to the community, he says. “There was an eclectic mix of civic involvement in that firm. It meant you would be encouraged and able to have similar commitments and there would be time to do that.”
“There was a very strong notion that public service was important,” concurs Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Janice R. Wilson, a former member of the firm who joined it in the early 1980s. She says Haglund was one of several lawyers there who inspired her and served as mentors, giving new lawyers serious responsibilities from the get-go, but also being available at all times to offer advice to them.
Oregon Court of Appeals Chief Judge Rick T. Haselton, who also was a member of Lindsay Hart at the time, notes that Haglund holds the triple distinction of founding the Volunteer Lawyers Project, the pro-bono project for the Multnomah Bar Association; later serving as the MBA’s president; and now serving as president of the OSB. His dedication to community work is just “part of his personality,” Haselton says.
Haglund was president of the Volunteer Lawyers Project for five years and continued as a member of its board for many years. The MBA presents the Michael E. Haglund Award annually in honor of volunteer legal work that emulates its mission of service to the community and stewardship of the justice system.
Haglund also became one of the founders of the first young lawyers organizations in the state, the Portland Council of Young Lawyers, which he served as president, ultimately helping steer it into the MBA as its Young Lawyers Section. Since 1990, he has volunteered for numerous nonprofit boards, and has received the Award of Merit from both the MBA and the OSB.
He is matter-of-fact about his reasons for involvement in civic affairs: “I think that lawyers, because of the education and skill set that they acquire, are in a unique position to make a contribution to their community and their state.”
Off duty, Haglund enjoys spending time with his wife, who is a middle school teacher and administrator, and their three children — Erick, 34, Christina, 32, and Molly, 26 — as well as two grandchildren. Among his favorite pastimes are fishing and “wood turning,” which is shaping wood on a lathe into bowls, tools, toys and other items.
Being a “Dragon-Slayer”
In 1988, Haglund, Michael Kelley and William Kirtley amicably departed from Lindsay Hart to form their own firm, with the intention of retaining Lindsay Hart’s public service ethic. “We tried to replicate that kind of environment here,” Haglund says. “And I think we have.”
Kelley, who had been with Lindsay Hart just four years, saw that firm “expand drastically,” he says. “We wanted a firm where everybody knew what others are doing. We try to be a full-practice law firm with small-firm efficiency.” The new firm grew gradually from the three founders in 1988 to 12 lawyers today, and prefers to stay midsize, Haglund says.
The lawyers founded it “as a team” and, then and now, no distinction is made among partners and associates, and no one is designated managing partner, says Kelley. Haglund has always been the natural leader, nonetheless.
“Mike is genuinely the best all-around lawyer I’ve ever been around,” Kelley says. “He epitomizes what a lawyer should be.” Kelley says Haglund “keeps a positive attitude and never varies,” and loves practicing law so much that when he had been in the field just a decade, he already was talking about someday earning his 50-year pin from the bar.
Besides his natural resource specialties of maritime, forest products and fishing law, Haglund also handles antitrust law and business and commercial litigation. Looking back on some of his most memorable cases so far, he cites the first as one when he was still with Lindsay Hart. It was a civil rights verdict, a $125,000 racial discrimination verdict against Denny’s Restaurants.
In 2006, Haglund argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court: Weyerhaeuser v. Ross-Simmons Hardwood Lumber Co. It involved a claim that Weyerhaeuser was monopolizing the alder sawlog market in the Pacific Northwest. The Court reversed a $79 million verdict because the jury instructions used an incorrect legal standard to assess allegations regarding predatory bidding. But the case was later settled before a second trial. Altogether, Weyerhaeuser paid $78.6 million to settle with 12 plaintiffs in four cases that his firm handled.
The outcome made the industry more competitive and gave Haglund and his firm “the opportunity to handle a David vs. Goliath-type matter that not many midsize firms would take on,” he notes.
Oregon Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, who has considerable antitrust experience, respects Haglund as “a fearless litigator. He’s willing to be out there and be a dragon-slayer if he thinks it’s the right thing.”
Haglund has won other multimillion-dollar cases, is AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell and is listed in Oregon Super Lawyers.
The landmark case that led to his writing the 2011 book about the Columbia River bar amounted to “a historic battle,” he recounts. The Columbia River Pilots asked him in 1998 to serve as counsel in a rate proceeding before the pilots’ sole regulatory body, the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots. It resulted in a first in North America: the use of a dedicated helicopter to transport pilots onto incoming ships, a method used around the world but in no other spot in the United States. That method made the extremely hazardous transfer of pilot to ship far safer, replacing the decades-old technique of employing a combination pilot boat and smaller “daughter boat.”
The Year Ahead
In early November, Chief Justice Balmer gave a presentation to the OSB Board of Governors’ retreat at Cannon Beach. His appearance was at the invitation of Haglund — the two had been law partners for six years at Lindsay Hart — and the topic at hand represents one of the board’s three major initiatives for 2013.
“We’re trying to deal as effectively as possible with the court funding crisis,” Haglund explains. “We want to try to establish a statewide coalition that will operate on a continuing basis over the coming decades to establish a more comprehensive approach into seeing that the court system is adequately funded, by developing a long-term approach rather than doing it in fits and starts, year to year.”
That is also a priority for the chief justice, who says he will work closely with the bar to accomplish that goal. “We really are at risk of losing an open and accessible court system in this state,” Balmer says. “What is encouraging to me is the initiative the Board of Governors is undertaking. They really are taking this to a different level, making full funding for the court” a goal for this year and beyond.
Balmer believes Haglund’s long legal experience helps him fully appreciate “the connection between the economic climate and having an adequate and well-funded court system,” in situations such as when a person needs an emergency restraining order but the courts are closed on Friday.
Haglund’s and the board’s second goal is to implement the recommendations of the OSB’s Legal Job Opportunities Task Force, which held five meetings and a summit during 2012 to address “the real jobs crisis that exists — as many as 50 percent of recent graduates are not finding full-time employment,” he says. This effort will involve a substantial expansion of the OSB’s Modest Means Program, which is part of the bar’s referral services and helps connect attorneys with clients who can’t pay a lawyer’s full rate. “The idea is to expand the reach of that program into more of the middle class and present opportunities to represent clients who can pay something,” he says.
Also under that jobs category is to try to develop programs for lawyers who want to retire or move toward succession planning by matching them as mentors to new lawyers who gradually can be put into position to take over the retiring lawyer’s practice.
Third, Haglund wants to tackle “the real need to improve funding for legal aid,” through three different strategies: holding onto existing funding through the Legislature; following the model of the Oregon Cultural Trust by providing a tax credit for making contributions to the Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice; and expanding IOLTA — Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts — to title- company escrow accounts, adding title-insurance accounts to the accounts title companies have with banks.
The Board of Governors also wants to create new opportunities for attorneys to help each other and to do public outreach. These include:
• Follow the American Bar Association’s initiative to plant a million trees nationwide. The OSB is planning to organize planting weekends with the Portland organization Friends of Trees. “This will be a fun thing to do, will do some good, and it won’t hurt” if the public views this endeavor as lawyers doing a good thing, he says.
• Hold a “Lobby Day” in Salem related to a dual purpose: funding legal aid and court funding.
• Sponsor a “fun run,” with lawyers competing to raise money for legal aid.
• Launch a SOLACE network. SOLACE is an acronym for Support of Lawyers/Legal Personnel, All Concern Encouraged, which several other states have set up to support lawyers and law firms around the state in the event of an emergency or disaster.
Haglund says he looks forward to the year ahead, and traveling around the state and interacting with the media to promote the OSB’s initiatives and the profession. “I’m encouraged by some of the things I’m seeing in the Oregon economy. The economy is on the mend. I’m optimistic about law firms doing better financially.”
The bar’s outstanding leaders and staff all are playing their part “to do what’s best to advance the profession,” Haglund says. “There are big challenges ahead of us, but my goal is that we’ll soon be well on the way to a more stable environment for the courts and the legal system.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and since 1991 has been a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. Reach him at email@example.com.
© 2013 Cliff Collins