In May 2022, the Portland Business Journal celebrated the 25th anniversary of its popular Forty Under 40 award program. Since its inception, 10 Tonkon Torp attorneys have been recognized as Portland area business and community leaders who were under 40 years old at the time of their recognition.
The anniversary gave us an occasion to check in with some of Tonkon Torp’s Forty Under 40 honorees, to see how their practice and community service have evolved since they were recognized by the Business Journal.
By and large the practice focus of the attorneys hasn’t changed, however they have each taken on more responsibility within their respective practice groups, and in leadership roles for the firm. Steven Wilker (Forty Under 40, 2005) is Co-Chair of the firm’s Litigation Department and Information Privacy & Security Practice Group and previously served on the Managing Board.
Sherrill Corbett (Forty Under 40, 2006) is Co-Chair of the Business Transition Practice Group and a member of the firm Managing Board. Jeff Cronn (Forty Under 40, 2008) is Co-Chair of the Business Department, Anna Sortun (Forty Under 40, 2017) is Co-Chair of the Litigation Department, and James Hein (Forty Under 40, 2021) is Chair of the Tonkon Torp Pro Bono Committee.
Blerina Kotori (Forty Under 40, 2018) has played a significant role in helping labor and employment clients successfully navigate the highly dynamic regulatory environment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the attorneys’ practices haven’t changed much, the world and business environment has. The lawyers prioritize keeping with trends in their areas of expertise. Steven notes, “The work is always reflective of the broad trends facing Oregon companies.” Blerina adds, “The environment always changes, but since the pandemic in particular, we have worked constantly to stay ahead of the game and come up with strategies and policies that help our clients face these extraordinary circumstances— all while maintaining our excellent standards in evergreen areas of law.”
In addition to professional achievements, the Forty Under 40 Award places great weight on a person’s community involvement. Tonkon Torp’s commitment to pro bono and community service is a source of pride for any attorney who is asked about the firm’s values, and the Forty Under 40 alums are no exceptions. The organizations supported by the Forty Under 40 attorneys are a good cross section of the community organizations supported by Tonkon lawyers.
“As part of a Tonkon Torp community that has made Oregon a better place for decades, I am motivated to maintain and add to this legacy,” says Jeff.
He is currently on the board of Albertina Kerr, which provides essential mental health counseling services to kids and provides temporary and permanent support to intellectually and developmentally disabled kids and adults. He also supports the James Beard Public Market and a number of other community nonprofits.
“We give back through a variety of causes and purposes, and to me this is one of the most important things we are and do,” shares Steven. “This commitment is reflective of our founders’ values and it’s an essential part of who we are to reach out to folks in the community who need legal services and can’t afford them.”
Steven recently concluded more than 15 years of leadership service to the Lawyers Committee and Board of Directors of the Oregon Chapter of the ACLU. Adding to the hundreds of hours he has dedicated to civil-rights cases through the ACLU, he is currently part of the pro bono team representing the Oregon State Bar against challenges to its existence. He is completing his term as Board Chair of Classroom Law Project, which supports civic education in Oregon schools, although he will continue to serve on its Board and Executive Committee. Steven also currently serves on the Board and Executive Committee for the Classic Wines Foundation, which raises funds to support organizations serving vulnerable children and families in the community. In 2019, he was presented with the inaugural Don H. Marmaduke Pro Bono Service Award.
Anna says, “It makes me proud that every lawyer in our firm participates in some form of community service and that pro bono work is encouraged and celebrated. The list of nonprofits and community organizations that our lawyers engage with is long and varied.”
In addition to serving on the Board of Oregon Humanities, Anna continues to work on or supervise pro bono matters through Roseburg Legal Aid and the Lewis & Clark Law School Criminal Justice Reform Clinic. She was honored with the Multnomah Bar Association Pro Bono Award of Merit in 2007.
“I agree with our founding partners who believed that the privilege of practicing law includes helping the community as a whole access legal services,” adds Sherrill. “I’m proud that we focus on tangible ways to make the world a better place. In addition to financial donations, our firm commits the time and effort to pro bono work which can have a longer impact and creates long term relationships in the community.”
Sherrill is the Board of Directors Chair and member of the Governance and Finance Committees for the Sexual Assault Resource Center of Oregon, which works to eliminate sexual violence in the community.
Blerina observes, “Tonkon Torp’s commitment to giving back to our community speaks volumes of this firm and its people. I am very proud of the dedication of our team to offer time and expertise in support of our community.”
Having helped the Raphael House continue providing support to victims of domestic violence, who were especially vulnerable during the pandemic, Blerina recently rolled off its Board of Directors after completing her maximum term limit.
“It fits perfectly with the soul of the firm to be dedicated to the community, and pro bono service runs the gamut from the arts to expungements,” shares James. “Our founders set the bar, and the current generation of leaders central to the firm who keep it going by their own example show that it’s a fundamental value. As Chair of the Pro Bono Committee, I love helping associate attorneys find projects that are personally meaningful.”
James provides significant pro bono service for Legal Aid Services of Oregon, the Oregon Law Center, and the Small Business Legal Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School. He is further active in the community as a board member of the Montessori Children’s House and Transition Projects, which helps people transition from houselessness to housing. In 2020, James received the Multnomah Bar Association Pro Bono Award of Merit.
The core values that have always guided Tonkon Torp include being client-centric, valuing diverse perspectives, being personally and emotionally invested, and serving as good stewards – to clients and to the community. As the firm moves closer to its 50th Anniversary in 2024, we asked our Forty Under 40 honorees about these core firm values and how they guide their work. As a whole, they agreed that these founding values remain integral to the firm’s structure and integrity.
“Our core values are timeless,” Sherrill explains. “The ones we’ve established will withstand the test of time. However, our values continue to evolve in how they are implemented specifically through the lens of current business and societal developments and cultural context.”
“We all still aspire to live the core values set by our founders,” adds Steven. “Look at Brian Booth’s legacy. I’m not sure how many other firms have a state park named after one of its founders. We treat this more than just a business, because as Ken Stephens would say, this is a profession. It’s more than a business and the bottom line, it’s about doing well, and doing good to meet your obligations to the community. We take the privilege of our law license seriously.”
“We have a strong barometer for the business atmosphere and what our clients are facing,” says Blerina. “We view our role as beyond providing excellent legal representation. We make it our goal to understand their business and become their trusted advisors. I’m proud and fortunate that many of my clients also become valued friends.”
James agrees that one of Tonkon Torp’s distinguishing characteristics is being grounded in Oregon. “We are the last large firm that’s not part of a regional or national firm, and that makes a difference, because I think our culture is uniquely Oregonian.”
The core values of Tonkon Torp are supported by a strong emphasis on a collegial atmosphere. Anna explains, “The energy at the firm is directed at working together, across departments, to deliver top-notch legal services. It’s exciting to see our associates and newer partners align so well with the values our founders had in the beginning: excellent legal service with an emphasis on our local community and the importance of giving back.” Jeff agrees, adding, “Our core values haven’t changed and are sustaining. We take care of each other, we take care of our clients, and we take care of our community. This is a special place created by the work of many over many years. We are lucky to be a part of it, and we have a responsibility to preserve it and cause it to evolve to meet the current needs of its members.”