Kivel & Howard LLP, Portland
OB: What type of businesses do you represent?
SCOTT HOWARD: We represent a wide variety of businesses and industries, including wood products, manufacturing, high-tech and other closely held businesses. Their biggest legal challenges, and what we spend most of our time on, are government regulations, human resources and tax planning.
OB: How is the legal profession different here than the other states you practice in?
SH: There is still a collegiality in the practice of law in Oregon, which you don’t see as much of in Washington and California. If you go up to Seattle and you litigate, or you litigate in San Francisco or Los Angeles, it’s just nasty for the most part: endless, mindless litigation. The professionalism level here has traditionally been significant.
OB: Does that collegiality transfer from your clients in the business community?
SH: The clients we represent are business clients that make business decisions. [There are] clients that want to use the court system to gain an advantage – I think it’s a fool’s errand – but they don’t fit well with this firm. When we have to litigate, we litigate, but it’s not the way to solve problems anymore.
OB: What can the clients you represent do to avoid litigation?
SH: If you’re going to sell a business, sell it for cash. Don’t sell it and take paper back. If you’re going to sell a house, sell it for cash. I’m not trying to be facetious, but you avoid litigation if somebody paid cash; you don’t have to sue them for it.
OB: Don’t written contracts or agreements prevent litigation?
SH: No, an agreement is an attempted way of misunderstanding at the time the agreement is drawn. You can take a five-page agreement or a 70-page agreement – if you don’t want to perform it, you can find a problem with it.
OB: How are small- and midsize firms such as yours doing?
SH: The advantage of a firm like ours is that we can shift directions. We’re not controlled by others. The challenge of a firm our size is being able to tap the resources necessary to service our clients. Stoel Rives has a wonderful franchise attorney. A firm our size doesn’t have a franchise attorney. The way you structure a firm like ours is that we handle the bell curve of clients’ issues. We handle between 70% and 80% of our clients’ issues. If it’s outside our area of expertise, we get somebody [outside the firm] with particular expertise.