Wednesday, January 9, 2002/lk
After 75 years, a new shingle will be hung on the door of the Teunis J. Wyers law firm.
On Jan. 1, Lesley Apple Haskell, an associate for more than three years, became the first non-family shareholder in the long-established business. With that move, the sign over the door at the 216 Columbia Ave. address will soon read "Wyers & Haskell, attorneys at law."
"Being a lawyer in a small town is natural, it's providing service to a community in an old profession that is just part of American society," said Haskell, 32.
She will lend her specialized experience in employment law to the firm that was established by the late Teunis James Wyers, Sr., in 1926 and has been run for the past 25 years by his son, Teunis James Wyers, Jr.
Haskell is a 1996 graduate of the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College and, like Wyers, is licensed to practice in both Oregon and Washington. She is well-versed in family law and currently assists Wyers with the duties of county general counsel that he assumed 11 years ago.
That has freed up time for Wyers to devote toward his new role as the city of Hood River's prosecutor for misdemeanor crimes. He is also now delving into the complex estate planning and tax laws.
"I've become more of a transactional lawyer than a trial lawyer, although I am enjoying my work as a prosecutor because it's a creative opportunity to fashion a consequence that can become a learning opportunity for everyone," said Wyers.
He said "seasoned" litigator Eric Einhorn was hired last summer to join the growing staff which now includes legal assistant Leisa Bulick, who has been with the firm for 17 years, receptionist Becky Keys and third-year law student Lisa Knight.
By dividing duties as a team, Wyers said the firm can expedite cases while keeping costs down for clients. For example, he said a linked computer system allows everyone in the office to promptly answer inquiries about cases since all new information is available at the touch of the keyboard. In addition, Wyers said the business maintain ties with legal experts in a variety of fields to gain quick answers to any questions that might come up during a case.
"We're very involved in networking so that we can continue to provide Nordstrom services at Hood River prices," said Wyers.
His commitment follows the legacy of the Wyers' firm to provide a full array of services for rural community members on both sides of the Columbia River. The origins of the family law firm are classic American, the determination of individuals to persevere through tough times and take on legal challenges that frequently drew fire from the establishment.
Early in his legal career, Teunis, Sr., waged the battle against a private power provider to pave the way for Cascade Locks and the upper valley to have publicly-owned utilities -- a move that the family believes created enough competition to keep local energy prices down.
Several decades later, Teunis, Jr., followed a similar path to protect the public interest by successfully challenging a plan by the Port of Hood River in 1978 to fill in the riverside jetty known as the Hook for use as an intermodel transportation system.
"It was a project that didn't pencil out economically but it was a grand scheme," said Wyers.
Conversely, the family has also served the public by working from within the establishment. Teunis, Sr., earned distinction as Hood River County's first appointed District Court Judge and his elder son, Jan Wyers, became a member of the Oregon State Senate.
Today, Teunis, Jr., 55, admits that his formerly liberal stand on issues, particularly in the arena of land-use, have moderated somewhat and he finds the more technical direction of the firm both "stimulating and rewarding."
If 24-year-old son, Teunis Gerbrand Wyers, decides not to take the helm of the family business, his father is not worried. He believes whether there is a third generation Wyers at work in Hood River or not the family will continue its commitment to serve fellow citizens.
Meanwhile, Wyers and Haskell plan to schedule goal setting sessions once a year to continually improve and expand services in their shared venture. They have also made it a challenge to ensure that all telephone calls to the office are answered expediently -- eliminating a common complaint against legal service providers.
"Our philosophy is to like what we do, do it well and serve our clients," said Wyers.