Campaigning for Equal Justice in Oregon
Buried deep within the DNA of Henry H. Hewitt JD’69 is a gene for Willamette University College of Law.
Hewitt’s ties to the school go back five generations. His great-great-grandfather settled near Salem in 1843 — one year after Willamette University was founded. Not long afterwards, the first in a long succession of Hewitt family members enrolled in the University. A good number of them studied law.
Standouts include Hewitt’s great-great-uncle, a circuit court judge, who earned a law degree from Willamette in 1870 — 13 years before a separate College of Law was established. Roy R. Hewitt, his grandfather’s cousin and a prominent Salem attorney, earned his law degree from the college in 1909; he served as its dean from 1927 to 1932.
Despite his family’s propensity toward law, Hewitt said he never planned to become a lawyer. An academic scholarship took him to Yale University, where he majored in economics and performed in several Yale singing groups. During his senior year, Hewitt was selected to sing with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the world’s oldest and best-known collegiate a cappella group. He still travels and performs with the club today. “At the time I left for college, I had never been east of Pendleton, Ore.,” said Hewitt, a partner in Stoel Rives LLP in Portland. “Looking back, I can’t imagine what my parents must have thought about me choosing an East Coast school.”
After graduation, Hewitt joined the U.S. Army and served as a lieutenant in military intelligence, stationed in Germany. After two years in the Army, he returned to his home in Portland. Undecided on a career path, he applied to graduate programs in economics, business and law. Family history eventually won out, and he settled on a career in law. “I didn’t know any lawyers, but a friend of my grandmother told me, ‘If you want to practice law in Oregon, you should go to Willamette.’ I chose the school because of my family’s history with the University and because it is a very good law school.”
Hewitt entered the College of Law in 1966, one year before the new Collins Legal Center was scheduled to open. That year law classes were held on the top floor of Waller Hall. Hewitt did his best to blend into the crowd. “I stayed mostly incognito my first year,” he said. “I never wanted to be called on in class.” Before long, however, Hewitt was recognized as one of the top students in his class; he received four of the five high-paper certificates awarded in his first semester.
Following his second year, an interest in tax and business law led to a clerkship with Davies Biggs in Portland. The firm offered him a first-year associate position after he graduated in 1969. Ten years later, the firm merged with Rives, Bonyhadi and Smith and took the name Stoel Rives. Today, Stoel Rives is one of the largest law firms in the Pacific Northwest. Hewitt, who made partner in 1975 and served as chair of the firm for 13 years, currently heads its Business Services Practice Group.
“When I was a young associate, several senior partners told me, ‘We all need to contribute to the community,’” Hewitt said. “Young lawyers always were expected to put in a significant amount of legal work for the firm, but the partners also were dedicated to civic and pro bono causes. I really appreciated that culture, which valued hard work and community involvement.”
While logging long hours as an associate, Hewitt began volunteering at a legal aid clinic in north Portland. “We worked in a store-front law office that was staffed in the evenings by lawyers from private practice,” he explained. “We addressed everything under the sun — from civil disputes and landlord-tenant issues to social security concerns.”
What started out as a part-time volunteer activity for the young attorney eventually turned into a major state-wide initiative that has helped secure legal services for countless low-income citizens in the state — the Campaign for Equal Justice.
“In 1974, the Legal Services Corporation Act was enacted, purporting to provide stable funding for legal aid services throughout the nation, including Oregon’s four programs,” Hewitt explained. “The Act brought to the forefront the need to serve the community. By 1990, however, federal funding for legal aid services was on the decline and expected to decline even more.”
When support for Oregon’s programs began to wane, Hewitt received a call from Legal Aid Services of Oregon. “They asked if I thought private lawyers would provide financial support for legal services,” said Hewitt, who was chair of Stoel Rives at the time. “I knew they would.” Hewitt was asked to help spearhead the initiative and establish the Campaign for Equal Justice, which supports access to justice for low-income Oregonians by increasing funding for legal aid.
“In 1990, the Meyer Memorial Trust pledged $750,000 for a dollar-to-dollar match over three years,” Hewitt said. “We had to raise the same amount from Oregon’s legal community to receive the matching funds.” The Campaign exceeded the sum needed for the match. That success proved to be a critical jumping-off point. Throughout the past 14 years, Oregon’s legal community has helped the Campaign raise more than $11 million, providing legal services to more than 20,000 Oregonians each year. In 2005, the Campaign raised more than $1 million to support legal services programs throughout the state.
Hewitt is proud of the Campaign’s success — but not surprised by the legal community’s generosity. “The Campaign for Equal Justice is where lawyers from all practice areas meet in agreement,” he explained. “We have a huge number of lawyers working all over the state. All lawyers share a special obligation to ensure all Oregonians have equal access to the justice system.”
After 15 of years leading the Campaign, Hewitt plans to step down as chair of the board. To honor his unwavering dedication, the Campaign recently created the Henry H. Hewitt Access to Justice Award, which recognizes a member of the legal community’s “strong leadership, consistent effort and commitment to the ideal of equal justice under the law.” Hewitt was named the first-ever recipient of the award, which was presented to him by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith at a Campaign luncheon in February. In recognition of his work on the Campaign, Hewitt also received the Oregon State Bar’s Award of Merit, the highest honor the bar can bestow.
“Henry has made an outstanding contribution to the bench, bar and community at large,” said Sandra Hansberger, executive director of the Campaign for Equal Justice. “His vision of access to justice for all in Oregon, and his firm belief that Oregon lawyers should and would meet this challenge, has helped to make Oregon a national leader in private bar support for legal aid.”
As a longtime member and former chair of Willamette University’s Board of Trustees, Hewitt said new lawyers frequently ask him what it takes to be a good lawyer. “I try to have a good relationship with everyone I work with, including those people I disagree with,” he said. “Allowing for different life choices, philosophies and politics makes us a better community, which is true for all organizations. You must have tolerance and respect and support for the whole.
“A day and a week at a time, you have to decide on your priorities,” Hewitt said. “I was never driven to be a lawyer, but I am one, so I try to excel at what I do every day.”