Oregon State Bar Bulletin DECEMBER 2014
Reflections on a Year as OSB President
By Tom Kranovich
In the past year, OSB Executive Director Sylvia Stevens and I visited 10 downtown Portland law firms. In June, we met with bar leaders in Hood River, Bend, Ontario, Baker City, La Grande and Pendleton. In October, we traveled to Corvallis, Eugene, Florence, Reedsport, Coos Bay, Brookings and Roseburg. Including these events, there have been 115 days in which I made one or more official appearances as president of the Oregon State Bar. What I have seen and learned has taught me a great deal and given me much to reflect upon and ponder. In this, my last article, I would like to share a few of my thoughts with you.
In one of the communities we visited, there was but one lawyer; the other had recently passed away. Over the years, I have driven through this town several times but I had never left the main drag. My impression of the community was solely based upon what could be seen from Highway 101. After our visit, our guest offered to show us the local museum. We were to follow him in our car but the route he took was far from direct. Instead, we were taken on a winding tour which “happened” to take us through nice neighborhoods, past nice schools, a modern hospital, a very attractive golf course and some wonderful scenic vistas. (By the way, once we got there, the museum was lovely.) There was evidence of new building and growth. I found myself wondering why more professionals were not drawn to this area.
I had similar experiences in most of the communities we visited. Once away from the main road, I found heretofore undiscovered attractions and, at least for me, what appeared to be signs of a comfortable lifestyle and professional opportunity. In all but a few of the communities, especially when away from urban centers or college towns, we were told that it was difficult to attract and retain young professionals, be they doctors, accountants or lawyers. The explanations offered were many but commonly included: a lack of nightlife; a lack of jobs for spouses; a perception that lawyers in rural areas were less talented or skilled; and a perception that local politics was rampantly conservative on all social and economic issues. A consistent detractor, in every community, was the pressure to land a “big city” job in order to meet law school debt obligations.
In every one of these places, we broke bread with attorneys who had been actively involved in their communities for years. What impressed me was not the practices they had built or the cases they had handled but the contributions they had made to the viability of their communities and the respect they had earned from the citizenry. Every significant civic project or event seemed to be associated with the name of a local lawyer. Without fail, the local attorneys were quick to sing the praises of their community while refuting the supposed reality of the explanations offered for why young professionals were staying away.
If I understood correctly, what their communities lacked in nightlife they more than made up for in recreational opportunities. The inability of spouses to find work depended upon the type of work being sought but, for the most part, a college-educated spouse could usually find employment. The cost of living, especially for housing, was such that the need for having two incomes was less. While no one claimed to be living in a modern-day version of Mayberry, all boasted of the quality of their schools and their modern hospitals. Being rural is not what it was in 1955. While every community offers traditional “wholesome” family events such as organized youth activities and some sort of summer festival, they now have high-speed Internet access and digital television by cable or satellite. If someone needs a Nordstrom fix or has an insatiable need to attend a concert in situ, those activities are only a day trip or an overnight stay away.
There are rural residents, other than those who qualify for legal aid, who have unmet legal needs. With all the concern about unemployed or underemployed lawyers, I wonder if our profession is missing a chance to find career opportunities for lawyers while at the same time meeting rural legal needs. Since the need for professionals in rural areas extends beyond our profession, I wonder also if the legal and medical professions should be partnering with their respective professional schools, the local chambers of commerce and local business leaders in a unified effort to dispel myths and promote the benefits of establishing professional practices outside of the urban area.
At last month’s Oregon Area Jewish Council luncheon, in her acceptance speech, Lifetime Achievement Award winner Lisa Kaner said: “Find something that is meaningful to you, then go out and do it.” Of all the lawyers I have met and talked with this year, the most satisfied seemed to have done just that — they found something meaningful and did it. Regardless of the nature of their practice or the size of their firm, the most content older lawyers and the most excited younger lawyers were the ones who defined meaning in a context other than what they report on their Form 1040. What they reaffirmed, for me, was that “meaning,” like “character,” is defined more by what you contribute and less by what you make.
I have been told that the closer one’s expectations are to one’s reality, the more likely it is that one will be happy. After all, the reasons why young law students chose to pursue careers in law are, often as not, articulated in terms of “making a difference” or “serving people in need.” Do our rural communities offer young lawyers a chance to find happiness via a meaningful career path? Can career success be measured as much by the contributions made to the community as it can be by the size of one’s house? It is a matter of degree, but I think both measurements are plausible, but they are possible only if we address unrealistic monetary expecations with the reality of the rewards and nonmonetary benefits of practicing outside of the metro area.
I will close with three thoughts on being president of the Oregon State Bar. First, the reality of being bar president met my every expectation. It enriched my life (if not my pocketbook) and enhanced my happiness. Second, this was far from a thankless job. During my 115 days of presidential appearances, I was always sincerely thanked. I have been openly thanked by bench and bar alike. I have had contentious conversations with opposing counsel end with my being thanked for serving as bar president. And third, this job has been one in which I have found great personal meaning. In going out and doing this job, to paraphrase Harry Truman, I did my damnedest and, if you have said or are inclined to say thank you, you’re welcome.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OSB President Tom Kranovich practices law in Lake Oswego. Reach him at email@example.com (at least until the end of this month).