Local attorney recognized for pro bono work
John Koch isn't one to seek recognition.
The Lake Oswego lawyer isn't one for flashy awards, or having his name touted in front of a large group of people. But at a recent gathering of the Multnomah Bar Association, Koch had to get past that for a moment and accept a bit of praise for his work as a pro bono attorney for local seniors.
At a gala banquet in May, he was named the association's Senior Law Project Volunteer of the Year for providing representation to those who could not otherwise afford legal assistance.
"A lot of times when I'm using my skills to help people who truly need assistance, regardless of compensation, it feels like I'm doing the right thing," Koch says. "Being recognized for what you feel is doing the right thing, it makes it feel like the universe is in order."
Koch was born and raised in Southwest Portland and attended Lake Oswego High School. Upon graduating, he left the state to attend Rice University in Houston. He says he missed the mountains and trees in his native Oregon, though, and decided to come back to Portland to build his life and career.
After attending law school at Lewis & Clark College, he struck out on his own, practicing business law as well as estate planning and administration.
From a young age, Koch says, he watched his father make tough decisions as a small businessman trying to navigate Oregon's commercial codes and transactional law. At the time, he wished he had the necessary skill set to advise his father and help guide him through the legal process.
Today, Koch has that skill set, and he says he's happy to in a place where he can help businessmen just like his father, as well as seniors looking to tie up loose ends or navigate the legal system.
His pro bono work stems from his involvement in an program called the Senior Law Project of Multnomah County, a division of the nonprofit law organization Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO).
Through the Senior Law Project, LASO sends talented attorneys to senior centers across the Portland metro area, where they give free, 30-minute consultations to any senior over the age of 60 who signs up. The idea is that they help seniors find the right type of legal aid or answer questions about legal and government notices that might seem intimidating to the layman.
In honoring Koch, the Multnomah Bar Association noted that he often meets with clients in their homes when they are unable to make it to a senior center.
"Being a relatively new lawyer, I get nervous a lot about whether I know enough or have enough experience to do this project," Koch says. "But I've met people at the senior centers who may not be familiar with the law, who have some unfriendly, scary-looking government notice from the IRS or other agency. They don't know what it means. They're scared. They think they're in trouble. But I look at it and I can understand what it means and help them navigate their fears.
"I can explain to them that it's going to be OK," he says. "So what I've enjoyed most about doing the Senior Law Project is the small ways you can make a difference by putting yourself out there."
While Koch isn't one to seek the spotlight, he says he's happy to have been nominated by LASO for the pro bono award, and he's excited to continue working with seniors in the community who need legal assistance.
"Being able to make that kind of a difference, basically by just being there, it's something that has been rewarding for me," Koch says.
of course, recognition of Koch's work extends far beyod winning awards. His clients rave about his ability not only to understand situations and provide sound legal advice, but also to empathize and put himself in their shoes. Portland resident Josh West, for example, was recently diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the news of his illness forced him to start thinking about planning for his death.
"(Cancer) can take a long time. I feel good now, but some people can go down in a year pretty quick," West says. "It pushed the issue of getting my affairs in order."
After shopping around and finding that standard fees associated with estate planning through other lawyers were too expensive, a church friend recommended that West give Koch a call. After a single phone call and a meeting in person, West's legal needs were taken care of and his estate was secured.
The experience left West feeling at ease, knowing his valuables would go to the right people upon his death.
"We had a great connection on the phone and he seemed to finish every sentence I started, even though I didn't know what I was asking for," West says. "He was so good at perceiving what goes along with these things. He also has an empathic personality, where he can get on your level and therefore know exactly where you're coming from."