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A small town lawyer

Michael O'Neil set out to be a big city lawyer, with his Harvard education, but he couldn't get the country out of his blood and decided to move to King City instead
by: Bob Schoenberg, Michael O'Neil and his wife Helen.

Michael O'Neil, long time King City attorney, familiar to many in the area, is retiring after practicing for 42 years.

Most of his time has been spent with his wife Helen at his side, Michael the small town attorney and Helen his executive assistant. They are a husband and wife team that is admired by the many they have served.

Helen is retired too.

Born and raised in Dayton, Washington in the middle of wheat country where his parents, along with an uncle, owned and operated the weekly newspaper that his grandfather started.

O'Neil said he started working at the paper in the 8th grade starting with sweeping up and eventually 'learning all sorts of jobs in the newspaper and print shop,' he said. 'But my dad thought there was a better career for me and he encouraged me to do something else.'

He worked his all through college but it was his years in high school that pointed him in the direction of law. After getting his degree from Stanford he was thinking of a teacher back in Dayton who had taught him civics. The teacher often mentioned the purpose of law in society and civic duty.

'I studied history in college, afterwards I was thinking of what I would like to do and got myself accepted at the Harvard Law School,' said O'Neil.

Returning to the area and practicing law with a large corporate firm in Portland for two years he got a hankering for small town life again and he opened a private practice in Tigard. Then, as soon as there was commercial office space available in King City, he and his wife Helen moved the practice and focused on estate planning.

He says it is his upbringing that brought him here.

'I like a practice like this, working in a small town,' O'Neil said. 'I've gotten to know the families here, I know three generations of families.'

When he started here, King City was way out in the middle of a rural area and he was the only lawyer. So he was doing wills, trusts and taxes as well as working for some of the businesses in the newly built Plaza shopping center.

'King City was the wonder of the area, the scale of it is amazing. It's a complete revolution, it's amazing,' he said of those early years.

As for retirement, his wife Helen is active in the musical programs at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Tigard and Michael has been in Kiwanis for the past 40 years. As for what he will be doing with all his extra time he said he not totally sure.

'I don't know, I'm going to give it a shot. My friends say I'm intelligent enough to figure something out, but my schedule won't be as rigid, retirement will feel good for the both of us, especially for Helen.'

That's because when he needed a break, he could have Helen clear his schedule, while Helen had to stay at the office and be there to answer the phone and prepare papers.

Helen says, she is looking forward to retirement. 'My days are going to be unstructured I think, I'll be at loose ends for a while before I figure out what to do,' she said.

They both said they love to travel and they would like to be more active in the civic affairs of the community.

The business itself has been sold to Pamela Pariani, who has been sitting in with Michael for the past few months. And they have a new office in the renovated Bull Mountain Medical building on the Pacific Highway.