Barrister bands

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Stoll Berne attorney Tim DeJong apologizes for sounding hoarse on the phone. The night before he was rocking out at Lola’s Room, where DeJong’s band, Punk Rock Collective, played for a crowd of about 75 people.

“The bar liked us,” DeJong says, in a modest sort of way. “They asked us to come back on St. Patrick’s Day.” 

An intellectual property attorney by day, 48-year-old DeJong is a singer and guitarist by night. In addition to Punk Rock Collective, he plays with Habeas Corpse — get it? — a band of musicians who are also legal professionals.

Habeas Corpse bass player Tony Kullen is a banking attorney at Routh Crabtree Olsen. Houston Bolles, a courtroom technology specialist for the U.S. District Courts, plays guitar.

Bolles’ 14-year-old son, Max, is the drummer and “the real talent in the group,” DeJong says.

In October Habeas Corpse won the Multnomah Bar Association’s Battle of the Bands, a charitable event supporting the Multnomah Bar Foundation’s civic education fund.

Six bands competed in the 2013 event. Some play on a regular basis, while others hit the stage only once or twice a year performing for charity. Habeas Corpse, for example, is playing at a Campaign for Equal Justice “Rock for Justice” event in Salem this spring.

Participating attorneys say the gigs give them an opportunity to disrobe their lawyer personas at a different kind of bar.

“It’s a good excuse to get together some friends who are musicians, have a good time and play good music,” says Kullen. 

Lawyers, of course, like to cover their bases. DeJong, who apparently has thousands of vinyl records stashed in his basement, says he made sure the firm’s partners approved of his musical ambitions before moving forward.

“People who know me say I litigate with the same style as I sing,” he says. “Relatively aggressively.”

In 2008 a few attorneys from Stoel Rives’ Portland office formed an in-house band, Bunny Lebowski and the Nihilists.

“It was a tribute name,” says lead singer and occasional harmonica player, 37-year-old P.K. Runkles-Pearson, now assistant general counsel for Portland State University. 

 “We all love the movie The Big Lebowski. The guys call me Bunny and they are the Nihilists,” she explains.

The “guys” are Dennis Westlind, now associate counsel, labor and employment, at Providence Health & Services; Steve Galloway, a civil litigation attorney at Stoel Rives; and Brad Dixon, a trial attorney in Stoel Rives’ Boise office.

The Nihilists come together “when there is a need”  for charity or social events, Runkles-Pearson says. Playing music has been a great way to “kick back” and get to know a kinder, gentler side of her fellow attorneys, she says.

It’s also something of an ego booster.

“We get to be cool for once,” says Runkles-Pearson.