Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JUNE 2002

Profiles in the Law
From Law to Electronica
By Melody Finnemore

Manning the turntables clad in black jeans and t-shirt, earphones around his neck and an array of albums in a box at his feet, Sanjiv Kripalani is a world away from the halls of Stoel Rives. Kripalani recently left a partnership at the Portland firm and a successful practice in corporate law to pursue his dream of becoming a disc jockey. But, he notes, he's never too far from his legal roots: 'One of the things about having a law degree is that you can do anything you want… It helps you learn about business and talk to people and be able to relate to them. By being a lawyer you learn the value of your work and your integrity.'
Born in Bombay, India, Kripalani, 40, lived in Seoul, Korea, Los Angeles, the Bay Area and New York before moving to Portland. He attended law school at Stanford University and got his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley. Kripalani joined Stoel Rives 12 years ago after practicing in New York for a couple of years.

He practiced corporate law because he wanted to help people make decisions that would lead them toward their business goals. He liked working cooperatively toward something, toward achieving a collective goal. 'That was a lot more suited to my personality than fighting or arguing over something,' he says.

Stoel Rives also allowed Kripalani to exercise his love of art. He served as the firm's art collector and helped build one of the most eclectic corporate collections around. 'My goal was to get away from landscapes and pretty things… to give people something that is pleasurable to look at but that also is provocative and makes people think about what's around them. I wanted art people could discuss and not just blankly stare at. To me that's insulting, not only to the people who work there but also the clients.'

Kripalani, a board member of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, added to Stoel Rives' collection by visiting local galleries, attending social events such as First Thursday and getting to know gallery owners. Soon, gallery owners were calling him to introduce new and innovative artists.

He tried to spread the purchases around among a lot of different galleries and a lot of different artists to get a wide representation. His favorite local artists include Diane Kornberg and Matthew Dennison.

Kristy Edmunds, PICA's executive director, said Kripalani's influence on the regional art scene has been significant. 'He's helped people who have the resources come to realize the value of collecting art, and that's so important. I think he's helped educate a lot of people about the regional art scene. As a board member of PICA, he brings so much energy to the room in everything he does that I always see him as a natural attractor. He's also a very creative thinker and, in that way, he resonates well with artists. And now he's making his own art through his music and his work with eletronica.'

Kripalani's passion for art is matched by his love of music. After a dozen years with Stoel Rives (nearly seven as partner), Kripalani thought he might be ready for a change. 'I felt like I had done all I could do in that world,' he said. 'You can always do another transaction and you can always earn more money, but I felt I had done all I could do for myself.'

A visit to his parents, who moved to Calcutta in 1993, sealed that decision. Looking at all the middle- and lower-class people in India who didn't have the time or ability to do anything but spend a couple of hours with family and just basically survive, Kripalani realized 'how privileged we are here and how many opportunities we have to do the things we want.'

Kripalani already had a diverse music collection, begun 20 years earlier, that ranges from Joy Division and Tears for Fears to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Blue Oyster Cult. He bought some rudimentary equipment and began offering to provide the music for private parties. He charged $20 for people who made under $100,000 a year, and $40 for people who earned more than $100,000 a year. He got a lot of experience and started playing for a lot of people.

His newest venture is Connected, a DJ business that provides electronica music for clubs, parties and other events, such as a recent show in Northwest Portland.
'People here are just starting to appreciate this kind of music, other than a core group that you always see in the clubs,' he notes, adding that electronica, which many people associate as 'rave' music, is exploding in popularity in New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Where he once led business transactions involving reams of paperwork, his deals are now sealed verbally and with a handshake at midnight where Kripalani plays. He envisions a future playing clubs and parties and, maybe someday, even owning a club himself.

'I think the thing is to have spirit in whatever you do,' he explains. 'Many lawyers I know think it's inconceivable to leave their world. It's not all about money - they have money. It's just leaving the status behind. There are a number of lawyers out there who dream of doing different things. I hope I can serve as a model that you can do whatever you want.'

Portland-based writer Melody Finnemore recently returned from South America, having served in the Peace Corps.

© Copyright 2002, Melody Finnemore.

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