CLARK B. WILLIAMS
I love being a lawyer. I get to help people, often at critical junctures of their lives, to accomplish their goals or to solve their problems. I regard myself as a servant of people. My greatest source of satisfaction is helping clients best address their legal issues so they can move forward again with their plans and their lives.
My relationship with many of my clients is continuous, stretching back over many years or even decades. Many clients have become good friends, too. And I take great satisfaction and pride in participating, vicariously, in the growth and success of these clients over the years. That is fun.
In my role as a lawyer in the Salem-Keizer community, sometimes I serve as a problem solver, sometimes as a negotiator, sometimes as an “information broker,” and sometimes as a community activist.
My role as problem solver. People often come to me for help solving a legal problem. My goal is to resolve their problems in the most efficient and least costly way possible. Other lawyers see themselves primarily as advocates. But I see myself as a problem solver first. There is a time and place for advocacy, particularly in court. But often a lawyer who advocates first will only exacerbate and inflame the problem. To be a problem solver, I work first to fully understand the client’s problem and help the client define realistic objectives and goals. Then I try to develop practical strategies and solutions and help the client evaluate the chances for success and the risks and costs of each strategy. Finally, I help guide the client along the chosen path and prepare the legal documents necessary to implement the solution.
My role as negotiator. Sometimes clients come to me for help in negotiating a business transaction or resolution of a dispute. I help the client define his or her “bottom line” objectives and to determine which aspects of the negotiations are “deal killers” and which could be compromised. Then I work with opposing parties and their legal counsel, if any, to explore and negotiate solutions. Some negotiations come together naturally when the parties have overlapping and complimentary objectives. Other negotiations can be difficult, especially if one party is not particularly motivated. And some negotiations will fail if the parties’ objectives are too far apart. You never know when you start a negotiation because it takes both parties to agree. But the best result is a “win-win” for both parties. One lesson that I have learned in 30 years of practice is to not insist on winning every negotiated deal point. It is important that the opposing party does not feel beaten down or discouraged. Sometimes it is best to leave a few chips on the table, as I like to say. I won’t compromise my client’s essential goals, of course, but sometimes it is good to compromise on lesser points that are more important to the opposing side. The best deals are those after which both parties come out smiling and where friendships are left intact. If a client wants a transaction to come to fruition, I will do my best to make it happen while still protecting my client’s best interests.
Clark the information broker. A client once told me: “Clark, more than being a lawyer, what you are is an information broker.” That is apt description of what I do, often times. I take this complex subject called “The Law” and break it into bite-sized pieces that my clients can understand and apply to their lives in useful and meaningful ways. If I can’t communicate “The Law” in an understandable way, I am not doing my job. Sometimes it means slowing down and circling back with clients to ensure they fully understand what I am doing or proposing. Sometimes a client’s eyes will glaze over and they will say, “Clark, I don’t quite understand but I trust you.” When that happens, I say “time out” and I try again. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but it is more important to me that clients understand so they can fully participate in the solution. I take pride in being able to communicate complex legal matters in a simple, understandable way. That has taken years of practice. I have had many clients tell me that this is one reason they like using me.
Clark the community activist. They say it “takes a village” to raise a child, and I believe that is true. As a father and now a grandfather, I am concerned about our youth. I am always looking for ways to give back to the community and to improve the lives of people around me. I have served on a number of boards of non-profit organizations and churches, including as the Keizer Young Life committee chairman, as a youth sports coach (Little League, football and basketball), and on the Keizer Parks Board (including as chairman). I regularly volunteer my legal services to non-profit groups and churches, and I have helped many non-profits with their corporate organization and tax exemption processes. I enjoy the way that my volunteer work connects me with so many other quality citizens in Salem-Keizer who are doing their part to make this community a better place in which to live and work. I can hardly walk a block in downtown Salem without running into someone I know. My typical run to Starbucks two blocks from my office takes an hour because of the people I see and greet along the way.
I was born in San Jose, California, the fourth of six children. I grew up on Northern California, moving to Sacramento when I was 12 and then to Menlo Park when I was 17. My father was a lawyer, too, and finished his legal career as a federal judge in San Francisco. So you might say that I followed my father’s footsteps. Although each of my siblings are successful in their own way, I am the only one who pursued a career in the law.
As a child we traveled a lot, including a summer trip to the Pacific Northwest when I was in high school. I loved the beauty, the mountains, the trees and the water. I decided right then that I wanted to come back up here for to college. I applied and was accepted to the University of Washington in Seattle, my first choice. When I left for college at the ripe age of 18, I never looked back. I still love the Pacific Northwest, and I am here by choice!
At UW, I majored in geology. Because I was a geology major I had to take a field course that was offered only in the summer, in 1974 before my junior year. Since I was enrolled for the summer term, I also took an English class. That English class is where I met my wife, Julie. After dating for two years, we were married after college graduation in 1976 just before moving to Salem for me to start law school at Willamette University.
We came to Salem as newlyweds, both just 22, fully expecting to return to Seattle when I graduated three years later. But we fell in love with Salem. We found a church, bought a house and, most importantly, our daughter Linnea was born during my third year of law school.
My daughter’s arrival changed our perspective. I was a “top 10%” student. My professors told me I was the type of “clean cut conservative-looking” young lawyer that the large law firms in Portland and Seattle usually look for. And initially that sounded attractive. In fact, my first year after graduation from law school I served as a law clerk for a federal judge in Portland so I could position myself to jump to a large firm in Portland or Seattle. That judicial clerkship was a wonderful first job, but it also gave me a window into the large law firms in Portland and the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog environment that new associates are forced to endure. Suddenly as a new father, raising a family in a smaller town sounded like a better choice.
I had worked as a law clerk at the Heltzel law firm while in law school. After graduation and while serving my one-year judicial clerkship in Portland, the firm decided to hire a new lawyer. I received a surprise call from Jim Heltzel offering me this position. He knew I was likely headed to Portland or Seattle. He explained that the firm had another candidate in the wings, but that they would rather have me if I would consider returning as an associate. I asked how long I had to decide. I had a week. I recognized the magnitude of the decision. Once a lawyer becomes established in private practice, it is very hard to move. After a week of contemplation, discussion and earnest prayer, Julie and I decided that we wanted to live and raise our family in Salem. So I said “yes” to Jim Heltzel’s offer. That was 1980. I have been with this firm, working on the 4th floor of the Pioneer Trust Building, all these years since. And I have never regretted that decision, not even for a minute. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
- B.S. (Geology), University of Washington, 1976
- J.D., Willamette University College of Law, 1979 (tenth in graduating class)