Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2009
Profiles in the Law
An Advocate for Justice:
Teresa J. Schmid, OSB New Executive Director
By Cliff Collins

Teresa J. Schmid

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Teresa J. Schmid, who at the beginning of this year became executive director of the Oregon State Bar.

Schmid, although a native of Ohio, took her bachelor’s degree in English from Oregon State University, graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School, practiced in Hillsboro and Tigard for eight years, and, from 1987-88, worked for the OSB as assistant disciplinary counsel.

Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Schmid moved around with her family throughout her pre-high school years. The oldest of four children, she went to 11 different elementary schools, a result of having a father who was a television on-air personality and professional musician. For example, during the 1950s, he hosted "The Billy Johnson Show," a popular children’s TV program in Washington, D.C.

She did, however, have the good fortune to spend all of high school in one place, Atlanta. While attending Trinity College in D.C., she met and married a young man who was in the Navy, who was from Oregon. The couple moved here, and she finished college at OSU.

Prior to attending law school, Schmid, whose mother is a retired registered nurse, worked in hospitals as a business office supervisor, admissions officer and emergency room clerk in Ohio, North Carolina and Oregon.

"The supervisory and management part I enjoyed," she says. "Through hospital work, I got interested in the law. I realized health care was becoming more and more complicated." When she and her husband moved back to Oregon after living in Charlotte, N.C., for three years, Schmid entered law school at Lewis & Clark.

After passing the bar, she was a general practitioner in sole practice and in small firms. As a lawyer, she served on the OSB’s disciplinary procedures committee, and then spent a year working at the bar as assistant disciplinary counsel.

Introduced to her current husband, Martin Schmid, by his best friend, the now-deceased Washington County Circuit Court Judge Gregory E. Milnes, the couple headed to Los Angeles. There, Teresa Schmid spent a decade working for the State Bar of California, starting as a litigator and finishing as assistant chief trial counsel.

The California bar is so big — with over 200,000 members — that it is the only bar to have its own court system for attorney discipline.

In 1997, when then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the bar’s fee authorization bill, the bar closed its doors for six months, and Schmid and all but 5 percent of the total staff got laid off. She went into private practice for a year as a litigator with Daar & Newman, and then joined the Los Angeles County Bar Association for three years as director of professional services.

She managed a department of 11 employees with a budget of $1 million, charged with staffing 23 sections and 52 standing committees, and supervised the production of more than 800 meetings and other events a year, including more than 200 continuing legal education events. Schmid also reorganized department operations and staffing, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in operating costs.

And, pertinent to the current economic downturn but designed at the time for the nation’s previous recession, she established a Career Network Forum to support lawyers in career transition. The move was written about in "Showing the Way: Bars’ Career Services Critical During Tough Times," in the September-October 2003 Bar Leader.

A Student of Management
The 2009 downturn, she knows, will affect not just Oregon’s population, but also its attorneys. Speaking of the OSB she says: "We are economically sound. The question I will have to ask from this soundness is: What more can we do for the members?" The objective, she says, is to find ways to help enhance the economic security of the OSB’s membership.

"I don’t anticipate any major changes in the way the bar runs," says Schmid. "I’m comfortable we have a good-size staff, just about right for the (membership) size we serve." However, she adds that the bar will have to assess that month by month, and to "budget as lean as possible."

At her previous position as executive director of the State Bar of Arizona for the past five years, Schmid reported to a 30-member board of governors representing 18,000 members, making it comparable to, but slightly larger than, the OSB. She was responsible for a budget of $12 million and a staff of 104, and produced a budgetary surplus during each year as chief executive.

A former student of Peter F. Drucker, Schmid is a believer in lifelong learning. Even now, holding several degrees, she is a candidate for an executive doctorate in law and policy with Northeastern University in Boston. The program is conducted mostly via distance learning, but she attends classes on campus once a month in Boston.

"What drove me back to school was Enron and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (of 2002)," which mandated financial accountability of publicly held companies and impacts how they secure, access, recover and validate stored data. In order to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, regulated companies must be able to produce certain records, and prove that they haven’t been altered.

"There is a new vision of the role of lawyers," she says, adding that when the Enron scandal unfolded, a major question that got asked is, "Where were the lawyers?"

"The profession is going to change at the cellular level," says Schmid. She says nationalization and globalization will alter the legal field, resulting in multijurisdictional practices.

She also did post-graduate studies in the executive doctor of management program at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University; holds an executive masters in business administration from the Peter F. Drucker School of Executive Management at Claremont Graduate University; and has a certificate in strategy from the Drucker School.

From her upbringing to the present, Schmid has lived, worked and studied in a lot of different locations. That makes her used to dealing with new people and situations, but it is something she actually enjoys.

"I thrive in new surroundings," she says. "I’m stimulated by change."

Ties to Oregon
OSB President Gerry Gaydos, who like Schmid is an Ohio native, says her history with the OSB was a quality that attracted the OSB Executive Committee when it searched for a new executive director to replace Karen Garst, who retired at the end of the year.

"(Schmid) has ties to Oregon, which I think is important," says Gaydos.

Other characteristics also drew searchers’ attention, he adds — including that she is "very bright and personable," possesses good administrative skills, and has established ties with legal organizations such as the American Bar Association and the National Association of Bar Executives.

"Having exposure to those organizations will bring knowledge and information to our bar," he says.

In addition, at the State Bar of Arizona, Schmid helped design and implement a long-range strategic plan, and was instrumental in developing that state bar’s diversity program, says Gaydos.

Schmid initiated the diversity program in 2007, creating a position of a diversity director who reported directly to her, and a Bar Leadership Institute for the development of diversity in the legal profession.

Encouraging greater diversity — both in the profession and the population — relates closely to what makes Schmid tick, which she defines as: "Ultimately, impacting public policy to ensure access to justice. Helping people get access to justice — that has really been the core driver (for me)," she says.

A Long-Term Thinker
Schmid majored in English at OSU, and, according to Holloway Mulick, a friend of 30 years, Schmid is partial to the literature from the other side of the pond. "Her big passion has always been Shakespeare, and Bronte," says Mulick, now of Port Townsend, Wash. The two friends once made annual forays to Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Mulick first got to know Schmid when both were founding members of Women Entrepreneurs of Oregon, for which Schmid served as counsel.

Mulick says of Schmid, "She’s extremely quick, a very deep, very perceptive person who sees the workable and correct answer every time, through whatever mess you’re in, and cuts right to the essentials without ever having stepped on anyone’s personality.

"It was Teresa’s job to say, ‘Here’s how we get from point A to point B.’ She understands entrepreneurship. She can make disparate situations go down like butter. She says exactly what the truth is, the particular truth you need to hear at the moment, which makes her a fabulous manager. (Schmid says) ‘Do these things, and the rest of the things will fall into place.’"

Schmid also bring a strong ethics background to her new post, experiences that will aid the OSB and which she applies personally to all of her actions, Mulick adds.

"She never compromises the right in order to get things done. She knows exactly what the result of an action will be before she takes it; she’s a long-term thinker."

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

© 2009 Cliff Collins

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