Thirtysomething attorneys carve out cool niche

Portland practice represents musicians, artists and athletes

As an attorney for snowboarders, musicians and alternative types, Anthony Davis has come to expect the unexpected.

So when one of his clients asked to be sponsored by the maker of Slim Jim, the spicy beef stick, Davis went for the deal.

'I think I got you Slim Jims for life,' he told his client, a 23-year-old Portland snowboarder considered one of the best in the world. 'He said, 'Oh, my God, this is the coolest!' '

Some might not see the appeal, but to the 31-year-old Davis, it's the kind of business his new law firm is attracted to.

Last summer, Davis and two colleagues at the prestigious Portland law firm Davis Wright Tremaine (the Davises aren't related) quit their jobs and started their own firm in a funky downtown office. They hoped to tap into a new niche.

Now, as partners at Davis Dixon Kirby LLP, they combine their expertise in intellectual property and licensing law with their passions for everything cool: sports, technology, media and entertainment.

Big-name clients include nine elite snowboarders, the swing band Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Portland cybersecurity giant Tripwire.

Their list of smaller clients also is diverse: a local band called Mindframe, the singer who provided the voice for Mark Wahlberg in the movie 'Rock Star,' local screenwriters and production companies with film budgets under $1 million.

'We've already started creating an edge,' said Davis, a native Portlander who frequented Mt. Hood Meadows on his makeshift snowboard as far back as 1986, when the sport was virtually unknown. 'We focus on Northwest talent. We see a need here, a niche that hasn't been filled.'

His cohorts are Dale Dixon, a 33-year-old Duke University law school alumnus who recently wrote and sold a screenplay to a Hollywood studio, and 36-year-old Jim Kuzmich, a native of North Carolina who wanted to be a pro baseball player or lead singer but has ended up representing sports agents and musicians.

A fourth partner, sports attorney Kim Kirby, heads the firm's business in Los Angeles.

Davis, Dixon and Kuzmich could have set up shop in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, but the trio is quite happy where they are.

The exorbitant cost of living in Southern California doesn't appeal to them, nor do they think they fit the image of slick, big-city lawyers with thick skins and no loyalty to their clients.

'We hold ourselves out as artists' and talent representatives,' Kuzmich said. 'In New York and L.A., the entertainment attorneys in the circles represent both sides, and there are conflicts that come with both sides. We want to represent the artists independently.'

Davis speculates that there aren't any other sports-entertainment firms in the Northwest because most undiscovered musicians, writers and the like cannot afford to pay for legal services. Incidentally, the firm doesn't charge about one-fourth of its clients.

But they do hope for good will in return.

'We end up doing a lot for free because we love it,' Davis said. 'I like helping out musicians. You hope, at some point, one of the musicians you represent makes it big and takes you with them.'

Leaving their high-paying, steady jobs at the fourth-largest law firm in Portland in the midst of a shaky economy wasn't easy, the thirtysomethings said.

Colleagues at their old firm were shocked, but then encouraging, as the trio announced plans to leave the firm of 400 for one of four.

But much to their pleasure, the three say their incomes have stayed about the same, and the firm is definitely profitable.

'We set up a six-month and 12-month curve, and we're already at the 12-month level,' Davis said. 'To leave a big firm is a big thing. I think we showed some people it's a viable alternative if you have the drive.'

All three said they decided to leave when they wanted to take certain cases but found that they ran into conflicts at Davis Wright Tremaine.

'I knew it was going to be risky,' Dixon said, 'but for some reason I thought it would work.'

Nowadays, the bulk of their work is in collecting unpaid royalties, signing sponsorship deals and working out licensing agreements for stars Ñ including tennis player Anna Kournikova, pop singers Justin Timberlake and Celine Dion, and rock icon Kiss.

'It's fun work,' Kuzmich said. 'I'm living vicariously through them.'

He gets a kick out of seeing what choices his clients make about licensing. Through their decisions he see glimpses of their personalities Ñ and, more often than not, their egos.

For instance, he says, some stars will approve of having their names linked to an air freshener or Slim Jim. Others might say the product is too cheesy.

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