Q&A with Gracey Nagle

Gracey Nagle joined Tonkon Torp’s Litigation Department in the Fall of 2021. We recently sat down with Gracey to learn about her path to practicing law in Oregon. You can read our full Q&A below.

Can you share a bit of your background?

I have a pretty varied background. I worked a lot of temp gigs, did small-scale chicken farming, and worked in administration and human resources at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine and Breitenbush Hot Springs. Before graduating from Yale with my Bachelor’s Degree, I took a year off and lived in Vegas as a 21-year-old, which was an amazing experience! I completed Post-Baccalaureate Studies at Portland State University, and I also enjoyed several years staying at home with my two kids.

When did the legal profession appear on your radar?

Law was part of my life long before I decided to go to law school. My mom was a legal secretary, and I worked as a legal assistant for an employment law attorney in Portland for many years. I decided to pursue a law degree during a transitional phase of my life where I needed more stability and structure as the primary parent for my kids. I knew I wanted to pursue civil litigation since the challenge of resolving a problem that has reached an absolute boiling point is a great fit for me. I’ve always been a problem solver!

I attended Lewis & Clark Law School, and jumped into it completely. I joined Law Review as an Executive Editor and that role became a huge part of my life. It was so fun being in the trenches with a team working hard to get the issue out. I also worked as a research assistant for a professor who was doing really cool work, and in my final year I worked on a brief that ended up going to the U.S. Supreme Court!

You worked for Tonkon Torp as a 2L summer associate, and you joined us in September as an associate. What drew you to the firm in the first place?

I grew up in the Portland area, and have been around lawyers a good part of my life, so there are certain law firms you just know about. Tonkon Torp is known as a firm that invests in new attorneys and helps them build skills and a practice through meaningful work. I was looking for a firm that was big enough to offer training and other support mechanisms for a new attorney, and I hoped to find a work culture that would support me as a single mom. Tonkon Torp ticked all those boxes. It was also gratifying to see that Tonkon Torp has adapted to meet both employee and client needs during the pandemic, and that the leadership team is all here in Portland. I think those factors are important for maintaining a culture I can lean into.

When I started as a summer associate, the emphasis was to have a good experience, get to know people, and build bonds rather than to work as much as you can. I tested that and made sure I maintained time for my family. The infrastructure at Tonkon Torp has been critical as a new attorney. I can focus on practicing law and gaining skills with the mentorship of more experienced attorneys and the support of incredible staff members.

What were you hoping to learn about life at a law firm during your summer associate experience?

All work can be interesting if you do it with great people. So meeting people at the firm and feeling out if I would be a good fit and vice versa was very important to me. It was a bit hard because we were on Zoom and I wanted to pick up on the more subtle aspects of the culture. Luckily, even with COVID-19 restrictions I had some great bonding experiences and got a good sense of the culture and the work.

Another big goal for me was feeling out the opportunities for training. Law school doesn’t actually teach you how to practice law, and you can actually graduate without any trial experience. I was lucky to have had litigation experience before joining Tonkon Torp, but training on the job is incredibly valuable for civil litigators, because there often aren’t many trial opportunities for us during law school compared to criminal lawyers.

What stood out during your experience integrating with Tonkon’s culture as a summer associate?

What stood out was that the program was intentionally structured and well-managed. It was thoughtfully set up to mimic what it is like to be an associate, and to provide a good education about what is going on in the firm. I was there to work on vetted projects that were assigned to me and designed to give me real experience. The partner in charge of the program made sure I worked with different people, and that I had a variety of types of work. I always knew who to talk to if I had questions, and was encouraged to ask them.

Even though I was pretty sure I would pursue litigation, I wanted to keep an open mind and I enjoyed getting both business and litigation experience. It was a well-rounded experience. Most impressively, Tonkon Torp made the decision to put on a comprehensive summer program for four of us in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic. That commitment to new talent even under difficult and unknown circumstances made my decision easy—it showed me that the firm operates on a long-term vision.

Tonkon Torp places a significant emphasis on Community involvement. How did you think your interests will be received?

I just got my first pro bono client! I’m working with a client through Legal Aid of Southern Oregon (LASO) to obtain spousal support. I’m very interested in securing the rights of people living in poverty so I value this opportunity.

I’m also interested in working in the DEI space to look at how our society approaches the effort to build wealth equity. My experience growing up in a rural community was neighbors relying on neighbors, so I’m not convinced that big institutional problem-solving is always the right approach. I’d like to explore the mechanism of how we problem-solve, and how different approaches outside of the traditional nonprofit complex can contribute to wealth equity. This kind of pro bono work also helps me as a litigator. When you’re called upon to solve a problem, your best bet is to examine different approaches and find a creative way to fight for your client’s interests.

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