Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JULY 2009
Parting Thoughts
The Rural-Urban Myth
By Carol DeHaven Skerjanec

I just finished an exciting four-year term on the OSB Board of Governors representing Region 1. The region, which takes in nearly the entire eastern two-thirds of Oregon, is filled with wonderful attorneys from varying backgrounds and interests. It is sometimes thought of as the “Red” part of the state, while the remaining one-third is thought of as “Blue.” If only compartmentalizing people, especially lawyers, were so easy. It certainly isn’t justified.

Before I joined the Board of Governors, I was cautioned by a number of well-meaning lawyers that my time on the board would be fraught with difficulties, a real uphill climb. It would be necessary for me to be on my guard, to present the minority view. But, I wondered, what was that view?

What I’ve come to learn is that there are more common thoughts, concerns and issues of importance between the east side and the west side of our professional organization than most people would like to admit. Perpetuating the myth of the differences seems to be of some importance to a number of people. Isn’t it easier to dismiss a thought or a position by simply saying, “Oh, that’s just a Portlander’s view,” or a “Willamette Valley idea,” than to take the time to hear what’s being said and see if it really fits into what your own views might be? How many times is something brushed aside because “it’s a rural, country-boy response.” East vs. West, Rural vs. Urban, Sun vs. Rain.

Of course, over the last four years there were unintended slights that would crop up every now and then. Once, a presentation was made at a board retreat wherein the presenter portrayed rural attorneys in an unflattering manner. It was an unfortunate slip of character for this attorney, an insensitive and unnecessary depiction, one I should have called him on, but did not. What it meant to me was that continuing the myth of this Grand Canyon divide between rural and urban lawyers was important to some and meaningless to others. And yet, for some, it can rise to the surface without a conscious intent. We must guard against this divisive attitude in our own actions.

All of the members of the Oregon State Bar have passed through the gauntlet of admission to the profession. We’ve earned our stripes. The mission of the bar applies equally to all of us. “The mission of the Oregon State Bar is to serve justice by promoting respect for the rule of law, by improving the quality of legal services and by increasing access to justice.” (Oregon State Bar Bylaws, Article 1, Section 1.2.) Focusing on respect for the rule of law should not be a divisive proposition.

During my tenure on the board, different views arose as to how to “promote respect for the rule of law.” These differences did not arise because it was an East view versus a West view. They arose because of the different backgrounds and experiences each of us brought to the table. We each expressed our views openly and without reservation. Each was met with respect and consideration. Decisions are made by the vote of the majority on the board, and I was often not a part of the majority. But in the end, respect for the rule of law was observed. In unison, we moved forward.

I have also learned that the quality of legal services can be high on both sides of our state. That quality occurs when it is backed by an attitude of professionalism. My personal observation of professionalism tells me that it simply depends on the character of the individual you are working with, not on where he or she practices law. In a recent case I represented the plaintiff in a property damage matter. Two “Western Oregon” attorneys from different firms represented the two defendants. One attorney was professional and courteous to work with, while the other one walked the fine line between misrepresentation and withholding information. One earned my respect, the other did not. I doubt that the second attorney is concerned about my view because it is unlikely we will be on opposite sides of another case anytime soon, if ever. However, in less populated areas, attorneys are likely to run into each other again and again in different contexts, and as a result there is less likely to be unprofessional or discourteous actions as it can make life very difficult down the road.

My time on the Board of Governors was challenging, enlightening and wonderful. I’ve made friendships that I believe will last a lifetime. The view from this side of my rose-colored glasses now is one of hope for less divisive attitudes. I hope for a future in which Oregon lawyers don’t begin their communication with other lawyers by categorizing them as Red or Blue, East or West, Rural or Urban. It’s a bad position from which to begin… anything.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carol DeHaven Skerjanec is a sole practitioner in Vale. She served on the OSB Board of Governors from 2005 to 2008.

© 2009 Carol DeHaven Skerjanec


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