Spokane North Notes
A weekly bulletin of the Spokane-North Rotary Club
November 2, 2015
Editors: Chuck Rehberg and Sandy Fink
Photos: Eric Johnson
Program Coordinator: Brad Stark
          See you at GU: Our Nov. 9 field trip meeting is at the new $60 million Hemmingson student union at Gonzaga University.  Park at the BARC (bookstore – 4th floor only), cross DeSmet to the new building, get your sandwich and salad at noon on the second floor, and the tour begins from the lobby at 12:30 p.m.  Thanks to Sandy Fink for coordinating the lunch.
It’s the law – thanks to Brian and Robbie
           Club members on Nov. 2 learned new perspectives on the legal profession in Spokane.
           Providing insights were members Brian Hipperson and Robbie Jackson.  They presented “expanded classification talks,” a program idea which will be repeated quarterly, said club President Lenore Romney.
          “The legal profession is something everyone loves to hate,” said Hipperson.  Brian easily has the club’s deepest connections.  His dad, Roy, was club president in 1968-69.  Brian joined Spokane-North in 1979 and served as president in 1990-91.  He is a partner in a three-person firm.
          Robbie Jackson, who joined the club in March, is the legal administrator for one of Spokane’s five largest law firms, Winston & Cashatt (a.k.a. “Win-Cash”), which, she said, “has about 30 lawyers, including 16 owners, five associates and nine of-counsel attorneys.”   The firm lists about 10 “special areas of emphasis” in the Spokane Journal of Business Book of Lists.
          Demonstrating how times have changed, Hipperson started the presentation showing a framed display of medals surrounding a large combat knife.
          Brian asked the audience what this has to do with the legal profession, to which Steve Boharski responded: “It’s a cut-throat business!”  The response drew good laughter, but Brian said the knife was brought aboard a flight to Spokane – no questions asked – by Russian visitors attending a 12990 Goodwill Games event here.  Everyone who has had a water bottle or nail clipper confiscated before boarding a plane nodded in agreement that the law has definitely changed.
          Hipperson said he started his law career as a deputy prosecutor in Lincoln County.  He attended GU when the law school was housed in the former Webster Elementary School on West Sharp and was just beginning its transition from night-school-only classes.
          The new GU Law School on the south end of campus was required, Brian said, or accreditation would be in jeopardy.
          “There really has been a metamorphosis in legal education,” he said.  The old school had 700 to 800 students, while current enrollment is just 338, despite huge student growth overall at GU.
          Driving down enrollment is lack of economic opportunity for lawyers, Hipperson said.  Another factor is rising costs.  Brian said his tuition was just $600 a semester.  Now classes cost $1,200 per credit hour.  He graduated debt-free.  Current law students average $130,000 in debt, “and the job prospects are bleak.”
          But he said his mentor, the late Superior Court Judge Jack Ripple, a founding member of Spokane-North, told Brian, “There will always be business for a good lawyer.”
          Hipperson said that much like the medical field, where a lot of primary care has shifted to physician’s assistants and nurses, the legal profession now has para-legals, limited practice officers (mainly for real estate closings) and limited licensed legal technicians (specializing in domestic relations cases).
          Back-office materials, he said, have transitioned from hard-copy filings on onion-skin paper to electronic data transfers.  While the tools are far faster, the downside, Hipperson said, is the never-ending flood of transmissions to cell phones and hand-held tablets seven days a week.
          Jackson described the multi-layered case-handling approach at Win-Cash.  Various groups of owners, other attorneys and support staff, directed by a five-member board, juggle the cases and issues, she said, adding, “It really is like herding cats.” 
          Another of Robbie’s duties is planning the firm’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party, a major local event, though slimmed down in recent years from the several hundred guests who flooded the Inn at the Park ballrooms to a more manageable gathering at the Spokane Club.
          Hipperson said while Win-Cash has “a cadre of assistants and a large research department,” his small firm often refers cases or shares cases with larger firms.  “We have to know when we are in over our head,” Brian said.   
          He added: “When we go to court, we’ve really lost,” citing the push toward settling cases with mandatory arbitration and mediation.