Oregon’s volunteer art lawyers level up

With new leadership and a growing groundswell of support, Oregons attorneys-at-arts put their volunteer practice on the map.


Photo by Sean Clancy.

How many artists do you know who could use legal support? And how many lawyers do you know who might affordably offer it? Odds are, you run in one circle or the other…but more and more, they’re starting to intersect.

Last week, hipster haven Holocene felt a bit out of character, with a white-coated caterer piling up hors d’oeuvres for a milling crowd of suits, as PowerPoint slides were projected on the big screen over the bar. Here and there, the crowd was dotted with more casually-dressed folks, recognizable from my usual beat: painter/curator Chris Haberman, animation booker Sven Bonnichsen, several at-risk-youth mentors from P:ear.

Introducing OVLA

Oregon Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (or OVLA) officially launched on Thursday, June 20, a mere 25 years after out-going president Kohel Haver first pulled a ragtag group of lawyers and artists together to organize the less-formal Northwest Lawyers for the Arts (NWLA). The big news is that with a critical mass of support from Lewis & Clark Law School, the group finally has enough momentum to become a “real VLA“. “The Parent organization NWLA has been a 501(c)3 since 1988,” Haver explained, “teaching and providing educational services. The board members have [already] delivered many thousands of hours of pro bono services in their individual capacity.”

Author’s Note

I can personally back him up on that. I first met Haver several years ago, in the throes of my own intellectual property micro-crisis. My zine, “the bookmark,” long retailed at Powell’s and featured at Zine Symposium and Wordstock, appeared to have been knocked off—concept, cardstock, and brand—by a consortium of better-connected writers than I in Seattle. Taken aback by my wrath over this development, Powell’s small press coordinator and author Kevin Sampsell referred me to Haver, who agreed to give me a pro bono consultation.

I still remember feeling like Orphan Annie as I approached the building, prime downtown real-estate overlooking Pioneer Courthouse Square. I remember wondering if there was catch as I was admitted by reception and ushered into a nice office, invited to sit and discuss my problem as though it mattered. Haver had good news and bad news about my project, and ultimately he helped me file “a trademark in conjunction with trade dress” for the State of Oregon (a compromise that was within my budget). Throughout the whole process, I was baffled with gratitude. My zine problem wasn’t the kind of issue that one typically got to discuss with lawyers…it was the kind of thing bike messengers bitched about at the bar. But Kohel Haver, who represents, among others, Storm Large and March Fourth Marching Band, is not your average lawyer—and his organization has always treated kooky artists with mad respect.

Keynotes and Bullet Points

As law and art types mingled over the veggie plate and piles of rice pilaf, keynote speakers outlined the vision. Board President Lydia Loren of Lewis & Clark Law School shared a personal connection to artist advocacy. Her dad, a sculptor with a low opinion of lawyers, was nevertheless her inspiration. “I’m going to learn everything about your business and I’m going to help you,” she recalled telling him. Then Haver took the podium, joking about his “zombie president” status: “I cannot be killed; I’ll come back again and again; I’m looking for brains.” A wellspring of funny metaphors, he also touted the OVLA launch as a “Pinocchio story—we’re becoming real.”

City Commissioner Nick Fish, a personal friend of Haver who inherited water, sewer, and the arts in Mayor Hales’ recent reshuffle, spoke about his years practicing law in New York, and shared a nugget of special intel from an art lawyer associate: Even “Guys and Dolls” composer Frank Loesser had once had trouble finding an attorney to represent his interests. “I wish there had been a VLA when I was in law school,” he mused, coming back to the present: “So many creatives are coming to our community…and they’re underemployed. You have a vital role.”

OVLA’s To-Do List

Law student Amber Buker made a call to action and laid out suggested steps. 1) Creatives are encouraged to set an appointment with OVLA—a 45-minute consult for a shockingly modest $20 fee. 2) Students can sit in on clinic sessions, assist with publicity, and help out at special events. 3) Attorneys are needed to volunteer at clinics, give presentations on their areas of expertise, and become members of the group.

Meet The Team

NWLA Inc. (Northwest Lawyers and Artists)
Professor Lydia Loren – Lewis and Clark Law School – Current board president
Kohel Haver – Past President
City Commissioner Nick Fish
Amber Buker – Law Student – OVLA Committee

New Board 2012-2013

Lydia Loren – President
Karen Davis – Vice President
Larry Reichman – Treasurer
Tichelle Sorenson – Secretary

Bart Day
Katie Lane
Amy Richter
Windy Walke
Bill Will
Pollyanne Birge
Michael Davidson
Kohel Haver
Anne Koch
David Poulshock

A. L. Adams also writes for  The Portland Mercury and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

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