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Paul Lehto Profile Page
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Paul Lehto

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I grew up in the biggest wilderness east of the Mississippi: the wilds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I remember swearing that I would never live in the big city for fear of dying there, but here I am on the outskirts of Seattle, practicing law and changing the law here and there, hoping for the occasional snowstorm to force everyone to slow down and change perspective for a moment. And it happens from time to time. Maybe that's one reason why I originally wanted to be a meteorologist: the power to know in advance when those moments would come that might change one's perspective, even if only to see the beauty of a whitened landscape. I've always believed that there is more to the world than meets the eye: transformation is only a few degrees away in terms of frost, a spoonful of mercy can set free the soul, and a bottle of wine can sometimes create more transformation than a roomful of saints (as someone once said).

I did my undergraduate studies at Northern Michigan University because a professor there wrote the book on wildlife management used in many schools at the time. I thought I would be a forester or something like that, and spent a summer and a winter in Yellowstone as a volunteer with the Student Conversation Association, and also was able to participate in a study on radiotracking wolves in northern Minnesota, even receiving credit for that.

My other "major" in college was student government, which led to my first job after college in 1987 in the state senate in Michigan, which then led to a stint on Senator Mitch Irwin's campaign staff while he ran for Congress in 1988.

After resisting the periodic suggestions of a few that I go to law school, my work on the state senate in Michigan as a legislative assistant and my work for a general counsel to a securities law firm expanded my mind about the utility of a law degree. Before that, I told people "I didn't want to be in a courtroom" doing litigation. So after some exposure to politics and business, I entered law school in 1992, after selling my only asset (a Geo Metro) to finance a trip through Europe in what I thought would be my last chance to ever take a summer off. I remember that like I remember my mind blown in the 6th grade with the realization that I would never again get a recess. Mr. Becker noted my report card with the observation that I seemed to spend a lot of time looking out the window. Was I hoping for snow?

Law school was the usual story, plus I entered all the moot court contests I could and advanced to regional competition in all five by myself, except for mock trial where I partnered with Peter Mazzone. I just barely graduated cum laude. But I did have professors who made an impact on my way of thinking, including Professors David Skover and John Strait.

After graduating from Seattle University School of Law in 1995, I joined a ten lawyer law firm for a couple of years, before striking it out on my own. One of my early challenges included a solo litigation against an English multinational and the second largest law firm in Washington State, which led to the published case at 954 P.2d 279 (1998). I immediately began to see why 70% of the winners in litigation are not satisfied with the process, and presumably 100% of the losers aren't satisfied with it either.

The urge for something more led me into Bar Association work in 1998 while I was practicing alone. I served first on the Board of Trustees for the Young Lawyers Division, and then was elected thereafter to the Board of Governors of the Washington State Bar Association for a two year term as the first person ever elected to a new Young Lawyers' position on the Board. While on the Board, I tried to provide a unique and often effective voice on issues from the development of young lawyers to the reform of the adversarial system. This included chances to address Governors from all of the Western states on the future of the practice of law, and why (after more and more of the routine and the drudgery is taken out of the law by technology) lawyers will be left with little choice but to offer wisdom, judgment and counseling if they wish not to perish as a profession. Getting to work with talented lawyers on the task of shaping the future of our profession was very interesting.

More interesting yet was helping to organize a retreat in 2001 at Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, Washington for the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics. Meeting likeminded people from around the country further energized my thinking and my efforts.

These efforts have not escaped notice. I have been elected Rising Star 2003 and Rising Star 2004 by Washington Law and Politics Magazine. I have an upcoming essay entitled "Respecting Lawyers" to be published in the February 2004 edition of Washington State Bar News. In 2003, the journalist who is forced to yawn through all of the two day meetings of the Board of Governors and report to the membership of the association the doings of the Board, managed to refer to my service as "dynamic and effective", when some had predicted that a Young Lawyer would not be fit to serve on the Board of Governors.

My latest project is a March 5, 2004 seminar on Collaborative Law and other Appropriate Dispute Resolution, to be keynoted by Washington Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge. This seminar is bringing together activists, lawyers, judges and bar leaders around the idea that more dispute resolution alternatives simply must be made available to the adversarial system, and helping to edit an entire issue of the Bar News for February 2004 that will feature these issues.

Right now I'm technically no longer a solo practitioner because I have a partner Robert Penfield. But the primary reason I feel I am no longer practicing alone is the group of friends and soul mates around the country that I know through the Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics, and the important work that each of us is doing and how it encourages the others' work toward a more just, caring and sacred society. The perfect society, or utopia, would never seek to eliminate disputes because that would require eliminating competing points of view; something that is anathema to freedom of thought. Those of us who take the oath of the lawyer to mean that upholding justice means creating a just system, can take inspiration from the idea that creating just means of resolving disputes (in addition to just substantive rules for those disputes) is indeed moving us toward the just society.

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10/19/2006 01:57:05America is No Longer Free

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