The job market for new lawyers continues to be a challenge, but Oregon attorneys in small towns south, east and west of the Willamette Valley say some openings are there for those who have the desire and recognize the opportunities.
Take Joshua D. Zantello, who began practicing April 1 at Andrews, Cramer & Ersoff in Lincoln City. He found work after reading an Oregon State Bar Bulletin story reporting on the OSB’s latest economic survey.
“One of the things that drew me to the coast was an article in the Bulletin, breaking down regions,” he recounts. “It looked like plenty — a large percentage — of lawyers were going to retire in the next five years. It looked like the majority of the competition was going to retire, compared to the metro area, which was much lower.”
Zantello then went about cold-calling firms on the Oregon Coast, landing his present job. He was taking the bar exam and trying for a clerkship, but the now five-person firm was “interested in having me work as an attorney,” he says. Living on the coast appealed to him and his wife, who studied marine biology, and he accepted the job.
Zantello grew up in a small town in Michigan much “like Lincoln City,” he says. While attending LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center, he took a summer comparative law class in Shanghai through Willamette University College of Law. There he met several Willamette law students, who touted Oregon’s virtues enough that he came to visit and decided to move here.
“The money in a small town is not going to be as high as, say, in Portland, but I’ve got plenty of work. You can’t specialize; I do about six different practice areas. With those multiple businesses, I’ve got a lot.” Moreover, “The cost of living is a little lower.”
Another new coastal attorney, Ashley E. Flukinger, established a sole practice in May 2012 in Seaside.
“I came here because I’m from Seaside originally,” she explains. While in law school, she had considered practicing in Portland, but “I noticed the Portland market was saturated. My friends weren’t getting jobs.”
She also wanted to do immigration law, and she found plenty of it on the coast. “I’m the only immigration attorney between here and Portland. I found there was a need. I was very successful at the beginning, because I’m not competing with anybody.”
She admits the first few months after setting up her practice were “a little challenging. Now I’m at the point where my name is out there. It helped being part of this community.” Flukinger says other attorneys in the area have been welcoming, offering their help and referring clients, which she calls a “personal touch” you get from practicing in small towns.
Making money can be a problem, but it’s “an issue wherever you practice,” she notes. “I do smaller retainers and have to be flexible. You’re not going to make top dollar, but I try to accommodate. Pretty much everyone pays.”
Office space is much less expensive than in Portland: only a dollar per square foot in Seaside, she says. “Office rental space I definitely thought was an advantage. I did consider going into another attorney’s office, and not necessarily as a partner but renting, but ultimately I decided to go out on my own.”
Flukinger is not certain if any other Seaside attorneys were raised there. She says only about 10 to 15 lawyers practice in Seaside itself, and only a couple of those are younger attorneys.
“A lot are near retirement age,” she notes. “That’s another advantage to coming here — all the more business that frees up. Three or four of the major attorneys in town will be retiring in the next five years. That gives me some time to learn the ropes and get my name established.”
When Damien R. Yervasi and his wife, Lise Yervasi, were returning from their honeymoon in a cabin along the Wyoming-Colorado border, they passed through Baker City and vicinity. “There was still plenty of snow, a green valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains,” he recalls. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we both got jobs in a rural place like this?’ ”
Lo and behold, the couple, both attorneys, ended up there. Lise Yervasi responded to a classified ad in the OSB Bulletin and landed a job in Baker City. Damien got hired by an Ontario firm — 80 miles east of Baker City. He soon grew tired of the commute and opened a sole practice in Baker City, and he has remained in that or a two-person practice, now called Yervasi Pope, ever since.
Distances are a fact of life in eastern Oregon. The Yervasis own 900 acres 25 miles outside of Baker City. “It’s 25 miles to the freeway,” he says. “Vale is 90 miles; John Day is 90 miles; La Grande is 45 miles. It’s at least 70 miles from my ranch to the Union County courthouse. I take cases anywhere.” He may have to be in Vale for a 10 a.m. hearing that lasts 15 minutes. Lawyers in that part of Oregon are accustomed to needing to drive all the time, he says. He figures he drives on average 40,000 miles a year.
Technology has had a limited effect in overcoming distances, he feels. Allowing lawyers to file motions by telephone or Skype has been a real improvement since he began practicing. He says the OSB’s Fastcase and BarBooks have been the most welcome changes he has seen. “When I came to Baker, there was no law library. You were lucky if you could find one.” But he says filing cases electronically “hasn’t improved my practice at all. I haven’t seen any legitimate substitute for appearing in court.”
A native of New York state, Yervasi grew up 10 miles east of Rochester on 35 acres of land located in what he calls a “rural suburban area much like Aloha was 25 years ago. I don’t know if that’s always appealed to me. I fly-fish, bird-hunt and hike, so it’s a natural fit to get away from the fast pace of Portland.” Still, he had planned on working for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office. “I didn’t go to law school with the intent of being a rural lawyer.” Even after the couple moved to Baker City, he would have liked to have concentrated his practice on being a plaintiffs’ attorney, but he says that is a tough row to hoe in what he describes as a conservative region that generally frowns on awarding liability claims.
As a result, he runs mostly a general practice, though he points out, “I’ve gotten some pretty good judgments,” including winning a half-million-dollar elder abuse case. Still, money is a big downside to practicing in a remote area such as he does.
“I think there’s a lot of work. The problem is, there’s much less likelihood of getting paid for it. Because money isn’t there. The typical clients I see have nothing. There’s a lot of work but a depressed economy.”
That’s a big consideration for lawyers just starting out, he acknowledges. “When you look at what a new lawyer gets in Portland, that’s about what a 10-year lawyer here makes. It’s very difficult if you pay $1,500 a month to service your student loans.” That first law job he got, in Ontario in 1995, paid $28,000 a year, 40 percent less than he had made as a U.S. Navy lieutenant. “It was tough for us. We wanted to live out here, so that was more motivation for us. As you do more work, your reputation spreads. I have more work than I can do, but I wouldn’t want to incur” the cost of hiring a new associate.
Yervasi found that bar service is hard when you live far from Portland. He served on the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association board. “It is not only a commitment of time, but it takes away from your practice, the travel time. Your mileage and housing aren’t paid.”
Occasionally he thinks about moving to Portland, but he and Lise, a former justice of the peace, enjoy the lifestyle.
“Most people who end up here have ties to the community or have a screw loose like me,” he jokes.
An Aging Workforce
In the southern part of the state, a market appears to exist for younger attorneys who can adjust to living in a smaller community.
“I do think there are opportunities for new people to come in,” says Barbara M. DiIaconi, a Salem native who has practiced in Klamath Falls for the past 22 years. But “over the years, it’s been particularly hard to get young lawyers to come, particularly if they didn’t have a small-town background. For a long time, the only lawyers who would settle here were sons and daughters of lawyers here. A lot of the children became lawyers but didn’t come back.”
Over the past decade, from three to five lawyers have come to practice there who had no previous connection to the town. Still, DiIaconi worries that the aging legal population won’t easily be replaced.
When she looks down the list of all lawyers currently practicing in Klamath Falls, at least half are baby boomers, she says. Some have a lot of experience in agricultural and water law. “I don’t know who’s going to do it when they’re gone. Although I plan on working another six years, I know of at least two attorneys who plan to retire by the end of this year.”
Of the about 40 lawyers in the Klamath Falls area, plus four others in the district attorney’s office, “we all are working as much as we want,” she says. “There are people who leave town to get legal services. If there were more lawyers available, people wouldn’t have to leave town.” A couple of lawyers travel to Lakeview — 70 miles one way — three or four times a month. To get to the courthouse in Spray is seven hours from Klamath Falls. “We don’t have a court reporter here; they have to come from Medford, 70 miles to the west.”
Buying and selling practices doesn’t seem like an option, she says. “This is not something that’s done here, like buying a doctor’s practice. I don’t know how this would work in a legal practice.” Referring to lawyers in town, she says, “I don’t know if they could sell out, or if they would want to.”
However, when she joined the firm, DiIaconi herself bought her partnership in Bolvin, Uerlings & DiIaconi. She intended to stay in Klamath Falls for five years, then transfer to somewhere up in the Willamette Valley. She’s remained more than two decades. “I really do like it here,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed the quality of life.” She relishes the natural beauty and bird life of the Klamath Basin and Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
But she recognizes the trade-off for folks who are accustomed to living in a large metropolitan area. Social activities can be a challenge, as can finding pastimes if one doesn’t engage in outdoor-oriented activities, she says.
Previously she practiced in a 25-member firm in Las Vegas. Although she recently signed up to be a mentor to a lawyer who just passed the bar, DiIaconi thinks mentoring opportunities for new and young lawyers are more available in larger firms such as where she practiced before, primarily because of the time required from a lawyer’s practice to provide help to others. In the larger firm there, a lawyer regularly spent time going over the nuts and bolts such as teaching how to take a deposition, and she was encouraged to join outside activities such as Inns of Court.
Bar service takes more of a commitment now that she is in Klamath Falls. DiIaconi served on the OSB Board of Governors from 2009-12, where meetings at the bar center were a five-hour drive each way. But she valued serving on the board. “Part of my feeling was, I’ve been blessed by the bar. That’s why I gave four years.” Being so far from the OSB center and other lawyers and participating in the OSB are difficult if one lives in a remote location, she admits.DiIaconi started out in town doing mostly general practice, but she believes she is like other attorneys with age and experience under their belts, in that she has been able to narrow her practice more to those areas of law she most enjoys. She is corporate counsel for Sky Lakes Medical Center, and she handles civil defense cases, primarily for insurance and private clients.
“The quality of professionalism is much better” in a small town, where people know and trust each other, she says. “In Vegas, it was not uncommon for me to be yelled at by other lawyers or to hang up on them,” but that has happened only twice since she returned to Oregon.
Another lawyer in Klamath Falls, William M. Ganong, plans on making it a century of William Ganongs serving as attorneys in town.
He aims to practice until 2018; his grandfather, the first William Ganong in the family, set up practice in K-Falls in 1918, a year after being admitted in 1917. He practiced until his death in 1970, and his son, the second William Ganong, practiced with his father from 1948 until he died in 2005. William M., his son, joined his father in practice in 1978.
William M., now in sole practice, says his example is not unusual: Many lawyers in town represent the third or fourth generation of attorneys from the same family. The main ways new lawyers have come into the area are that they grew up there and came back after they got their law degrees, or else they were working as assistant DAs and decided to stay. “Well over half were born here and came back,” he says. “They know what’s available for a young person.”
“My view is that there’s a lot of opportunity for young, quality attorneys in this community,” Ganong says. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity down here. I have more work than I can do.” He is serving as a mentor to a 30-year-old attorney who handles child custody cases. “It’s not what she wants to do long term, but it builds her skills,” he explains.
An accounting graduate of Linfield College, Ganong was unsure if he wanted to follow his father and grandfather into the legal profession. He worked as an accountant for a couple of years and then decided he was going to go to law school, which he did, at the University of Oregon. With his wife, who enjoys the outdoors, willing to live there, after he got his degree, he came back to Klamath Falls and joined his dad.
The Ganongs’ son, Nathan, also became a lawyer, after a circuitous career route, but he chose to practice in the San Francisco Bay Area, not in Klamath Falls. “He loves to hunt and fish, but he also likes the culture and social life available in that area. He knows he has an open invitation” to come back and practice with his father, but Ganong doubts that will happen.
Ganong has mixed feelings about that. “A little disappointed, but not much. We are most happy for him. He’s doing well. We’re just so pleased for him. If you’re going to do something for 40 or 50 years, you want to make sure you are happy doing it, and it’s the life you want.”
That is what Ganong himself has. About 80 percent of his practice involves water and water rights. Like both Ganongs before him since 1925, he represents the Klamath Irrigation District. The bulk of what he does is adjudication, serving as counsel to the water district. He also counsels other irrigation districts around the state and does estate planning, business law and real estate law. Earlier in his career he took as much business and tax law as was available, but like DiIaconi, he has been able to narrow his focus more to his chief interests.
“I do travel some, but in this day and age, much can be done electronically,” he says. “I can attend board meetings by telephone or Skype and represent people by not being there.” During legislative sessions, he goes to Salem two days a month to work with irrigation groups and prepare testimony. He enjoys that process and drafting legislation.
“It’s been a good practice for me and a good life for me, because I enjoy what I do.”
Weighing the Pros and Cons
Donald O. Tarlow, who retired from law two years ago, spent most of his practice years in Newberg. Working there was an experience he thinks would not be exactly the same as practicing in more remote small towns, ones far from a metropolitan area.
“I don’t know if I could have practiced in a small town not near a large city,” says Tarlow, who has lived in Lake Oswego for about three decades, a 30-minute drive from his Newberg law office, now called Brown, Tarlow, Bridges, Palmer & Stone.
It was a life and practice he greatly enjoyed there. After spending his first years working for the FBI and in the Multnomah Public Defender office, he moved to Newberg, joining a friend, Allyn E. Brown, in a two-person practice. “We really had a general practice,” Tarlow says, “which, in a small town, you have to do, unless you have a specialty that generates business.”
The firm grew from two to six members, over many years. “For a long time, we resisted growing,” he explains. “It was probably a mistake. With growth, you take on a lot of headaches, but you come to the realization you can work only so many hours in a day. We could have had an eight- to 10-man firm.”
“The population doubled or more when I was there; we always had new people moving in.” That made the city different from if he had practiced in a town with a static population, he feels. Newberg is in Yamhill County, but the town borders other counties: He took a lot of work in Washington County, some in Marion County, a little in Clackamas County.
Nonetheless, “it’s a different practice in a small town,” he says. “It’s got its benefits and deficits.” He saw becoming part of the community as important. He served on the planning and hospital commissions and the Chamber of Commerce board, as well as joining organizations such as the Rotary Club and the Active 20-30 Club. “You really can’t do a general practice if you just sit in an office and go home at night. The only way to do a general practice is to get out and meet people and make friends, who refer people to you and like and respect you.”
In addition, practicing in a small town makes for a “more enjoyable practice; everything is done informally. The grind of the paperwork of practice is easier than in Portland. You know the judges and other lawyers. It’s a lot more collegial practice. In that sense, they’re a lot more relaxed kind of practices.”
One of the downsides is that, because so many people know each other, potential conflicts in representation can crop up, he says.
Tarlow is not sure why more attorneys haven’t come into the area, which he calls a vibrant community. “I’m amazed there aren’t more a lot of lawyers there. Absolutely, there are more opportunities now than when I was there.”
Newberg is situated just 15 miles from the county seat in McMinnville. Yet outside of his former firm, there are probably fewer than a handful of other firms, he says, with the exception of one “good-size firm” that limits itself to insurance defense and workers’ compensation law.
Another attorney who saw the benefits of a rural practice was Carl W. “Bill” Hopp Jr., who was born in Portland. He spent part of his summers growing up on a ranch on the Metolius River. “I loved the area, the horses, the ponderosa pine,” he says.
At the end of his junior year in college at Vanderbilt University, where he obtained an engineering degree, Hopp was visiting a cousin in La Pine and got interested in buying what was then bargain property in central Oregon. “I found a 40-acre piece that was dirt cheap by today’s standards.” It was $350 an acre and now would sell for $10,000 an acre. Thus, after he obtained his law degree, Hopp looked to settle in the area.
After he passed the bar in 1975, a Bend attorney hired Hopp as an associate, A year later, another lawyer hired him, and they worked together for six years. After that and ever since then, Hopp has practiced on his own, in Bend, the population of which was about 16,000 at the time he began practicing there.
“When I came here, there was no public defender’s office. All the new attorneys who came here had to accept court-appointed clients. It was 35 bucks an hour. We thought back then that was pretty decent income.
“The last few years I’ve been extremely busy, and I’ve hired contract lawyers to work for me,” Hopp says. “The ones I’ve used are ones I’ve known and know their work, with one exception, to work on contracts.” He isn’t sure how busy other attorneys are in town, though he’s heard some are not. “A couple of attorneys were not getting any business, so they turned to bankruptcy law because of the economy.”
He credits his own workload to his experience and client mix, which includes an irrigation district, a credit union, a material supply firm and real estate brokerages.
Hopp agrees that practicing rural requires a give and take. “You’ve got to see if the lifestyle is more important or making more money. I would have made more money if I’d gone to Portland. I would say new lawyers coming to a small community are going to make less money,” because you have to bill at lower rates than in a larger area, he says. “The flip side is, you get the lifestyle.”
A pro tem circuit court judge, he serves as the OSB’s Region 1 Disciplinary Board chair, so travel comes as part of those duties, stretching over a large area of Oregon. He tries to schedule board travel on Fridays, but Hopp says he can do a lot of the work by phone or email. “We’re taught in law school that we are to give back to the profession,” he explains of his willingness to participate on the board.
Hopp plans to continue practicing for the foreseeable future, but he also is laying plans for his practice to continue once he steps down. One of his three sons, Derek, chose to follow in the profession and is a third-year law student at the University of Oregon. “I anticipate a year from this fall that he will come in and practice with me,” Hopp says. “That’s sort of an automatic succession plan.”Yet he knows more is involved than meets the eye. “I just learned that you can buy and sell practices,” he explains. When his son told him that he wanted to come in and practice with him and eventually buy the practice, Hopp knew he would have to learn more about how this works.
He heard that the OSB plans a Continuing Legal Education presentation this fall on the topic, and he is going to attend that. Hopp also intends to talk with a large firm that went through such a family transition, and with a Portland attorney, to learn all the ins and outs of selling and turning over a practice.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer who has been a frequent Bulletin contributor since 1991.
© 2013 Cliff Collins