OSB Professional Liability Fund

Pausing to Reflect on Good Beginnings: a Timeline of Service to Oregon Lawyers

April 20, 2018
by Sheila Blackford

The PLF is celebrating its 40th anniversary! The PLF began operations as the mandatory provider of primary malpractice coverage for Oregon lawyers July 1, 1978, though the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors created the Professional Liability Fund in 1977 under Oregon State Statute 9.080 and the approval of the OSB membership. It was a good idea and one unique in the U.S. The man who deserves credit for starting the PLF is Les Rawls, the first CEO. A fledgling organization, around 1979, the PLF hired Joan Johnson who started loss prevention efforts to address malpractice claims.
 
 In 1982, the Oregon State Bar and the Professional Liability Fund were becoming concerned with the problems around alcoholism and addiction in the legal profession. Les Rawls did a study that showed that impaired lawyers accounted for a disproportionate share of the malpractice claims being filed in Oregon. Seeking a way to reduce the number of those claims, Les Rawls offered Don Muccigroso, an alcoholic attorney in recovery, a job helping impaired Oregon attorneys and judges into a successful program that was growing nationally, “The Other Bar.” That program’s mission is to facilitate the sharing of 12-step recovery through Lawyers Helping Lawyers groups. Don Muccigroso became the initial director of the program funded by the PLF, now known as the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP). Many long-term sober members of the Oregon State Bar owe their sobriety to the persistence of Don, who traveled around Oregon finding, meeting, and helping impaired lawyers into recovery. In 1988, Michael Sweeney, a lawyer whom Don had helped, volunteered at the OAAP where he was hired in 1989 and became its first certified alcohol and drug counselor.
 
The story of assisting Oregon lawyers to avoid malpractice didn’t stop there. In 1985, CEO Les Rawls believed that the other piece of loss prevention required helping lawyers to avoid malpractice by assisting them in properly setting up their law practices and implementing improved office systems.  He chose Carol Wilson to develop the practice management program and to serve as its first practice management advisor. Having worked in the legal profession since 1965, Carol knew all about keeping lawyers and their offices running smoothly. There was no other program in the U.S. that offered confidential and free practice management services to lawyers in private practice. Carol traveled all over the state visiting lawyers and helping them to improve their office systems. She quickly set about developing seminars, articles, and publications to help lawyers with the business of practicing law. Her first handbook, Law Office Procedures to Avoid Malpractice, was relied on by lawyers and their office staff who were eager to adopt better office systems to prevent malpractice claims. This handbook became the publication that today is titled, A Guide to Setting Up and Running Your Law Office.
 
Because the need for practice management services continued to grow, Carol recruited Dee Crocker, a former legal secretary who had become a secretarial supervisor and law office manager. In January 1992, Dee became the second practice management advisor, and the two of them worked tirelessly traveling wherever Oregon lawyers needed help, and speaking and writing about law practice management and techology. Many lawyers in Oregon now retiring were helped with setting up their law firms by Carol and Dee and remember their visits and warm advice with great fondness.  
 
In 1989, Barbara Fishleder, who began as a PLF claims attorney in 1986, was made the director of the PLF’s loss prevention programs, a position she continues to hold.
 
 In 1996, Beverly Michaelis, an Oregon attorney, joined the PLF as a practice management advisor. Carol, Dee, and Beverly became the dynamic core of the PLF’s law practice management program that flourished because of their committed service. Carol retired in 2005 after 20 years of service as a PMA, Dee retired in 2015 after 23 years of service as a PMA, and Beverly retired in 2016 after 20 years of service.
 
The support of the PLF Board of Directors, OSB Board of Governors, and three successor PLF CEOs has made it possible for the PLF’s practice management program and the Oregon Attorney Assistance program to grow into the comprehensive and innovative programs that today are internationally recognized and viewed as blue-ribbon programs.  Today the OAAP program has four attorney counselors, Shari Gregory, LCSW, JD (also the OAAP assistant director), Karen Neri, JD, MA-MCFC Candidate, Doug Querin, JD, LPC, CADC I,  and Bryan Welch, JD, CADC I. The PMA program has three attorneys who serve as practice management advisors, Sheila Blackford, Hong Dao, and Rachel Edwards. A fourth PMA, Jennifer Meisberger has just left to join the Department of Justice. If you are in need of assistance in Oregon, we’ve got your back!