Oregon State Bar Bulletin — OCTOBER 2008
Profiles in the Law
A Legacy of Learning
Bill Barton Passes the Torch to Keep Mentoring Vital
By Cliff Collins

William A. Barton

Bill Barton is worried. The courtroom trials that drew many to law and defined trial attorneys for years are dying out.

"When the Elden Rosenthals are gone, who’s behind us?" asks Barton. "There aren’t many cases being tried. I’ve tried 500 cases; I’m a dinosaur. Where is the next generation of Mark Boccis going to come from?"

One answer, Newport’s Barton knows, is to give aspiring and up-and-coming lawyers opportunities to learn from the best in the field.

A highly successful trial attorney himself, he has devoted countless hours over the past 25 years to educate, train and inspire other and younger lawyers who want to excel in a field where chances to develop through workaday exposure often are rare.

Over his 36-year career, Barton has written numerous articles on trial advocacy, and delivered over 350 lectures on the topic to young lawyers in 35 states and four countries. Additionally, in the past four years, he has formalized two groups that further his mentoring impact: what he calls The Sons and Daughters of Bill (SOBs and DOBs), and his Litigation Boot Camp.

Rural Origins
William A. Barton was raised by a father who worked as a bush pilot in Alaska — "a born, risk-taking storyteller," as Barton describes him — and a mother who was an artist. When Barton was in high school, the family moved from the Land of the Midnight Sun to Alsea, a tiny timber town in the Oregon Coast Range.

Barton was an indifferent student and accomplished athlete who today proudly and accurately states on his CV that he graduated in the top 10 of his high school class — not volunteering that he finished ninth in a class of 11.

Still, he completed his political science degree in three years at Pacific University in Forest Grove, where he played basketball, then finished at Willamette University College of Law, where it’s rumored his class attendance is yet to be confirmed.

After Barton spent most of the first decade of his practice in criminal defense, a case against the Boy Scouts of America remade his career. The trial, which resulted in a $3.7 million verdict against a sexually abusive scoutmaster, proved pivotal, both for Barton and for changing "the way major institutions provided services to children," he says.

Thereafter, his practice has been devoted to representing plaintiffs claiming psychological injuries or sexual abuse.

Since the mid-1980s, he has tried many big cases, including the first case in American jurisprudence to state a cause of action against the Vatican under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for the sexual abuse of a minor (now on appeal to the 9th Circuit).

Barton, senior partner in Barton & Strever, has been honored as an Oregon Trial Lawyers Association Distinguished Trial Lawyer and is has been adjunct faculty member for Harvard’s Trial Advocacy Program. Eight cases have generated verdicts of a million dollars or more. He is also listed in "The Best Lawyers in America" in three separate categories.

Passing it On
Barton literally wrote the book on handling psychological injuries (Recovering for Psychological Injuries, 2nd edition, 1990), a fact known to trial attorneys such as Portland’s John M. Coletti, of Paulson Coletti. A few years ago, he had an unusual case: a client with a stress illness called conversion disorder.

"I couldn’t figure out how to explain this to a jury," Coletti says. "I called Bill." Barton offered to review the medical records, and spent much time helping him frame what became a successfully settled case.

"It was great of him to do this," says Coletti. "I really did not know him." Since then, Coletti has talked to numerous lawyers who have had a similar experience. "He’s very willing to help anyone. It doesn’t matter whether he knows you or not." Coletti, who has practiced since 1994, adds, "I have yet to meet anyone who is as selfless as Bill in terms of trying to help other lawyers."

Coletti later attended the first session of Barton’s invitation-only Litigation Boot Camp. These are intensive, 23-hour workshops for eight to 12 lawyers actively in or pursuing a career as a civil jury trial lawyer. Barton is "structured in his advice," Coletti says. "He takes the time to teach. You get a Litigation ‘how-to’cookbook Bill has written."

Barton’s philosophy is that by teaching, he himself learns twice, concludes Coletti.

FOBs, SOBs and DOBs
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edward Leavy, along with Don H. Marmaduke, former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin J. Peterson, and Norman Sepenuk, form what Barton designates as Fathers of Bill — "the lawyers and judges who inspired me and my generation." Leavy says Barton decided years ago to dedicate himself to mentoring.

"I have seen his consistency over a long period of time," says Leavy. "It is not casual; he is really committed to it." Leavy and other seasoned lawyers and judges periodically meet with Barton’s 20-some-member Sons and Daughters of Bill to rub shoulders and share experience in an informal setting.

"You’ve got to give Bill credit," adds Leavy. "He’s been successful in his own way. He is willing to share that and pass on the skills. He truly believes in the justice system. He demonstrates it day in and day out. I admire what he’s done for the bar."

What’s more, points out Jinnifer S. Jeresek, a Daughter of Bill with Karnopp Petersen in Bend, Barton makes his networks extend to different disciplines of practice, giving young lawyers a sense of community.

"You get to meet other attorneys in Oregon who are Sons of Bill and Daughters of Bill, and some pre-eminent names in the state," she says. "You get to talk with them. Bill forms that connection for you."

SOBs and DOBs are members by invitation only — "You have to have the right stuff," explains Barton. And Jeresek adds about members’ meals and other expenses when attending speaking and social events, "He does it all on his own buck."

Jeresek notes that Barton always makes time to help others, offering support and encouragement. "I haven’t heard of anyone (else) doing this on a statewide basis," she says. "He shows a tremendous amount of passion for the law. He wants to make sure his vision of the law continues and doesn’t stop with him."

Coletti adds, "It always struck me that, as successful as he has been, how he is always willing to give credit to those who helped him."

Jeresek concurs. "It’s great that he’s made it and yet he remembers where he came from," she says. "He wants to give back." When Bill is asked to summarize his views on mentoring, he simply says "Pass it on..."

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

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