Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JANUARY 2006

A Lawyer’s Lawyer
Dennis Rawlinson gets down to business as 2006 OSB president
By Cliff Collins

Anyone meeting Dennis Rawlinson for the first time is not surprised to learn that he has been a boxer. His carriage is trim, fit and erect, but beneath that bearing, an underlying competitive streak cannot help breaking through.

Dennis Patrick Michael Rawlinson boxed and played rugby at Notre Dame, but he also variously has played football, run track and cross country, rafted white-water streams and backpacked. Since turning 40, he has run a half-dozen marathons, including Boston, each in under three hours, as well as participated in the Hood to Coast Relay for 14 years.

That he holds a master’s of business administration in addition to a law degree, both from Cornell University, also comes as no surprise. He once responded, when The Portland Business Journal asked about his business philosophy: "Work harder than your competition. ... Take the time to think your strategies through, then think them through again from your adversary’s perspective."

That sparkle in his eye reveals a basic gregariousness, but at the same time does not conceal a deep drive and determination.

"A real lawyer’s lawyer" is the way friend and fellow Miller Nash attorney Brian B. Doherty describes Rawlinson. "He couldn’t be more dedicated." Rawlinson and his wife, Diane, a figure skating coach, "keep a lot of hours. But in our law firm, no one has contributed to business and community activities more than he has."

Rawlinson, the Oregon State Bar’s 2006 president, "becomes president of anything he touches," attests William B. Crow of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, who has known Rawlinson for years and hired him at Miller Nash. Rawlinson indeed has served as president of, respectively, the Multnomah Athletic Club, Arlington Club, Rotary Club of Portland and Portland Opera Association, as well as being chairman or a board member of other civic groups. "He is unbelievably hard-working and organized," says Crow. "He exudes confidence, and instills the confidence of other people in him."

Rawlinson attributes his ability to get along with all types of people partly to his upbringing. Born in Portland, he moved with his family beginning at just 6 months of age. Dennis, who still goes by Denny, spent his early childhood moving with the family, from Spokane to Palo Alto, Calif., to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and then back to Portland when he was in the sixth grade. The constant change in school and setting made him "more easily able to adapt to a change, to different environments," he says.

Rawlinson and his wife, Diane, a figure skating coach, are widely known for their contributions to and participation in
business and community activities.
He then had the luxury of staying in Portland through high school, where he graduated from Jesuit High. He completed his bachelor’s degree magna cum laude at Notre Dame, and planned to pursue an MBA at Stanford because of his love for Palo Alto. But that was the Vietnam War era, and Rawlinson had been a brigade commander in ROTC at Notre Dame. He decided he would serve in the military, then use the GI Bill to go to graduate school.

"I loved the military, which is why I excelled at it," he says. But he had moral objections to that particular war, and decided that he could honor his strong sense of duty by serving in the medical service corps. He spent most of that time as a commander in Korea. After active duty, he served in the Reserves for a number of years.

The Army wanted him to become an Army physician, but he resisted that idea. However, the service aspect of helping wounded people was rewarding for him, and he resolved to pursue a service-related profession. He enrolled at Cornell University in one of the first dual-degree law-MBA programs, and he finished both degrees with honors in four years using the GI Bill. He wanted to return to Portland to start law practice, so he worked summer clerkships at Georgia-Pacific, where several lawyers previously had worked at Miller Nash; also, one of his Cornell professors had once worked at Miller Nash.

The firm had a policy that new associates do trial work early in their careers. "I was 29 then," he says. "I found that the litigation work allowed me to work more independently, to work with clients and appear in the courtroom, as opposed to corporate work." He joined Miller Nash, where he has remained his entire legal career.

"When I came here, I never planned to stay with a large law firm," Rawlinson admits. "I planned to learn and be around good lawyers, and (later) go to Southern Oregon and put up my shingle. But I got a mortgage, got married. I got spoiled working around very bright lawyers, and having the benefit of consulting with them. I sometimes wonder how other lawyers do without that support."

Rawlinson concentrates his practice on commercial litigation, and has 25 years of trial experience in state and federal courts. He has handled a wide range of cases: breach of contract, torts, construction and design, shareholder disputes, lender liability, real estate, professional negligence, employment and trademark disputes.

When he climbed Mt. Rainier in 1984, Rawlinson took the flag of Ireland
to the summit.
"He’s a superb lawyer, always well-prepared," says U.S. District Court Judge Owen M. Panner. "He’s done a magnificent job with the Litigation Section of the Oregon State Bar," (a section which Rawlinson previously chaired). "We trust his judgment implicitly," says client Kurt Widmer of Widmer Brewing Co. "He’s terribly honest, very smart and extremely conscientious. He never comes to a meeting without being prepared, which as a businessman, I appreciate."

According to Doherty, although Rawlinson is hard-driving, he consistently takes the time to help other lawyers. "He’s always concerned for others," says Doherty, who benefited from Rawlinson’s mentorship in the firm. "He is a very thoughtful human being."

Rawlinson strongly identifies with his Irish ancestry, which he derives mostly from his father’s side, and many of his interests and energies within and outside of legal circles revolve around that subject.

"We were both Irish Catholics from Portland," says Miller Nash cohort Doherty. "Some of my best memories (of Rawlinson) are of St. Patrick’s Day events. He treats it like Christmas, the Fourth of July and four other holidays combined. ... Nobody laughs harder. He loves the whole Irish ancestry."

Rawlinson hosts an annual Irish Heritage Supper on March 17, a private dinner replete with tuxedos, Irish food and drink and Irish stories, jokes and lyrics. Many lawyers and judges have attended over the years. Panner notes that Rawlinson was instrumental in reviving the OSB Tent Show a couple of years ago, in which lawyers and judges perform pantomimes and music. Rawlinson says the show is about "Oregon lawyers getting together for an evening of camaraderie, which used to occur at Oregon Bar conventions," and he felt it was important to recreate that tradition.

"I’m concerned that lawyers do not enjoy the camaraderie we once did," explains Rawlinson, who attributes this loss to the increased use of technology and the growth in the number of bar members. Lawyers are becoming "isolated practitioners who send e-mails and voicemails to each other. That creates a risk of undermining professionalism and civility. If you have a pre-existing relationship with a fellow lawyer, you are much more likely to treat that person civilly (in a legal dispute). I believe that there should be a place and time for lawyers to work on relationships, knowing each other outside the pressure of trials and negotiations."

Rawlinson also founded the Litigation Institute and Retreat about 15 years ago, to provide "seasoned lawyers" with an opportunity to improve their skills in a setting where they could get to know each other, he says.

When he's not at work, you might find
Denny Rawlinson in training for an
upcoming marathon or relay race.
He is listed in the Best Lawyers in America 2005-06 directory, is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and is named as a Recommended Lawyer in Chambers USA and in the Association of Corporate Counsel. Rawlinson serves or has served on several committees, sections and task forces of the American Bar Association, the OSB and the Multnomah Bar Association, including chairing the ABA Litigation Section’s Trial Evidence Committee.

Rawlinson explains his civic and bar involvement the same way. "I was taught in my family and at Jesuit High School that we are social animals and have an obligation to give back to the community, and I believe that," he says. "Being involved in the community and in the profession is not only a social thing, but my involvement in that has made me a better lawyer."

He explains that exposure to other accomplished attorneys teaches you new ways of thinking or going about certain tasks and is both exciting and challenging. Community involvement also does that, in that you "gain a certain amount of energy being involved with others. I find that from all these experiences, I always learned something, along with developing friendships that I can carry back to my practice."

Describing points he will be emphasizing during his presidential year, Rawlinson first stresses fiscal responsibility. "I’m a fiscal conservative. I take seriously our fiduciary duty to our members to spend their membership fees cautiously and conservatively," he says. "I don’t believe in expanding bureaucracy. I think we need to live within our budget," and not start new programs unless there is money to cover them.

"We just went to our members and asked them for a $50 increase in membership fees, promising them we would not come back (with an increase) for five years. Some have pointed out that our fees are higher than in adjacent states. We have a duty to live within the budget we’re given. That means not every president and board coming up with new programs without figuring out where the money is coming from."

Second, he wants to stress that members are at risk of seeing professionalism and civility suffer as a result of the growth of technology and the bar itself. Lawyers should try to create and enhance relationships and friendships with one another, he says. Doing so will "serve them well in enjoying the profession, and it will serve their clients well by making disputes less expensive."

Third, "I want to remind, and pay thanks and tribute to, lawyers for their commitment to their communities and to pro bono and equal access to justice," Rawlinson says. "I think lawyers sometimes forget that we have one of the most challenging jobs. We’re asked to solve the most difficult problems our clients will face in their lifetimes. And when we handle that job and still find the time to give back to our communities, and support pro bono and equal access to justice, we have to take some pride in that."

Lawyers are "better than most in giving back to the community," he contends, such as serving in leadership roles in churches and civic organizations. They engage in pro bono work directly or through financial contributions. If lawyers remember how much they do, "maybe they would not be as worried about their image," he says. "I’m not worried about our image, and I do not worry about the hyperbole."

Fourth, as 2006 unfolds, "it’s important to remember as a board that we have 16 members, not one," he says. "We really are blessed with as strong a board as I can remember." He points out that the Board of Governors includes former bar presidents, "some of the finest trial lawyers in the state," leaders from medicine and the community.

"Each of our board members is one of the most prominent citizens in their region. Each is a governor and an ambassador. I will ask each to take a strong leadership role in areas they have expertise or interest. When we take on our tasks as a team, we will have a stronger bar as a result."

Cliff Collins is a Portland-area and freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

© 2006 Cliff Collins

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