Karen Williams bucks the Hollywood stereotype of attorney as fierce adversary. The Portland real estate attorney calls herself a “synergist” and has a track record of helping people with differing interests find common ground.
“The thing that I do best is make connections between people,” says Williams, 53, a shareholder at Lane Powell.
This quality came in handy this summer when she offered her pro bono services to help close a deal for a large subsidy that helped build the $3 million not-for-profit Community Transitional School, which educates homeless children. She also helped companies use a federal program to credit part of their investment in the project toward their federal income taxes.
Williams may be best known for designing a financing package for the public-private partnership that built Portland’s 5.5-mile MAX Red Line, extending light rail to the airport. The $125 million project, which opened in 2001, required 85 agreements among the city, contractor, developer, port and transit agency.
She also authored the North Macadam Urban Renewal Plan to redevelop a large swath of waterfront property near Portland’s downtown. “We frequently ask her to lead the effort to build consensus among our membership on how to approach these complex issues,” says Portland Business Alliance president Sandra McDonough. The PBA named Williams Volunteer of the Year in 2006.
Though Williams has made her biggest splashes in Portland, she has strong ties to Washington state. Originally from Eugene, Ore., she couldn’t afford her goal of becoming an attorney at first, though the hurdle ended up helping her. Before signing up at the University of Puget Sound’s law school, she familiarized herself with financial documents in various jobs at corporations, then applied that knowledge to her legal finance work after getting a law degree at age 32. Williams worked for Washington’s attorney general before joining the Portland Development Commission as general counsel in 1994. In 2001, she moved to Lane Powell as a partner.
The former science fiction writer—she was a contributor to several Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes during the 1990s—makes her home near Battle Ground north of Vancouver, Wash. Her hobbies include oil painting. “I’m intrigued with the way people’s lives are reflected in their faces,” she says. Williams’ life is reflected most everywhere you look in Portland.