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Barrister bands

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Articles - March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Stoll Berne attorney Tim DeJong apologizes for sounding hoarse on the phone. The night before, he was rocking out at Lola’s Room, a Portland venue where his band, Punk Rock Collective, played for a crowd of about 75 people. “The bar liked us,” says DeJong, modestly. “They asked us to come back to play on St. Patrick’s Day.” 

An intellectual property attorney by day, 48-year-old DeJong is a singer and guitarist by night; in addition to the Punk Rock Collective gig, he also plays with Habeas Corpse, a band comprised mostly of legal professionals. Habeas Corpse bass player Tony Kullen is a banking attorney at Routh Crabtree Olsen. Houston Bolles, a courtroom technology specialist for the U.S. District Courts, plays guitar, and Bolles’ 14-year-old son, Max, is the drummer and “the real talent in the group,” DeJong says.

This past October, Habeas Corpse won the Multnomah Bar Association’s Battle of the Bands, a charitable event with proceeds going to the Multnomah Bar Foundation’s civic education fund. Six bands competed in the 2013 event; some play regularly in the area, while others hit the stage only once or twice a year, usually performing for charity. Habeas Corpse, for example, is playing at a Campaign for Equal Justice “Rock for Justice” event in Salem this spring.

Participating attorneys say the musical gigs give them an opportunity to disrobe their lawyer personas at a different kind of bar. “It’s a good excuse to get together some friends who are musicians, have a good time and play good music,” says Kullen. 

Lawyers, of course, like to cover their bases. DeJong, the sort who has thousands of vinyl records stashed in his house, says he made sure the firm’s partners approved of his musical career before moving forward. “People who know me say I litigate with the same style as I sing,” he notes, “relatively aggressively.”

In 2008 a few attorneys from Stoel Rives, the Portland-based firm, formed an in-house band, Bunny Lebowski and the Nihilists. “It was a tribute name,” says lead singer and occasional harmonica player, 37-year-old P.K. Runkles-Pearson, now assistant general counsel for Portland State University. 

 “We all love the movie The Big Lebowski. The guys call me Bunny and they are the Nihilists,” she explains. The “guys” are Dennis Westlind, now associate counsel, labor and employment, at Providence Health & Services; Steve Galloway, a civil litigation attorney at Stoel Rives; and Brad Dixon, a trial attorney in Stoel Rives’ Boise office.

The Nihilists come together “when there is a need” — for charity or social events, Runkles-Pearson says, adding that playing music has been a great way to “kick back” and get to know a kinder, gentler side of her fellow attorneys. It’s also something of an ego booster. “We get to be cool for once,” Runkles-Pearson says.


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