Q&A With J. Alan Jensen
Published in 2009 Oregon Super Lawyers magazine on November 12, 2009
J. Alan Jensen is firmwide chairman of Holland & Knight’s family business group. He is a father of seven, an animal lover and a marathon runner who practices estate, tax and family business law at the firm’s Portland office.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I was sent to college with the assignment to become a doctor but developed a hearty dislike for zoology. My father and grandfather were both dentists, so they just assumed I would become one. Law was not a highly regarded profession, certainly not by my father. I was the black sheep of the family.
Why this particular practice area?
I have a mathematical bent and enjoy tax law. I’m not fascinated with it as an end to itself, but it’s a very useful tool and, in planning for clients, obviously essential. I’ve been in practice for a significant time and am looking at two and sometimes three generations of families.
Where were you before you joined Holland & Knight?
My firm was Weiss Jensen Ellis & Howard, with offices in Seattle and Portland. We merged with Holland & Knight in October of 2001.
I understand you have seven children: three biological daughters (including twins) and four younger sons adopted from Korea?
Yes, their ages [now] range from 40 to 46. We adopted the youngest child [Peter] at age 1. About a year after Peter’s arrival, we thought he probably would be aided by having another male sibling so he wasn’t spoiled to death by his three sisters. We contacted the adoption agency to see if they had need for adoptive parents of an older boy. Our case worker said, ‘Well, if you’re considering one, would you consider three?’ We gave a normal response: Absolutely not. Unfortunately, he sent pictures [chuckling]. We took delivery in 1973 of three boys, ages 3, 5 and 7. They were biological brothers and they did not want to divide them into different homes. But they had been in the orphanage for a year and nobody was stepping up.
What was it like living in a house with a mixed bag of seven kids?
We looked like a traveling school group because there’s not even seven years of separation between the youngest and the oldest. Essentially, we had two sets of twins. The two youngest children were 6 months apart, in the same grade. It was interesting to see the same competitiveness we’d seen in our biological twins acted out again in the youngest two boys.
How are they all doing now?
All are doing well, and we have a close-knit family, even though we are geographically scattered. The youngest boy, Peter, has been teaching in Korea for about 10 years, but he comes here frequently.
You apparently also have a soft spot for pets.
I’ve always had dogs. I can’t imagine not having them. We’ve had horses and other types of animals, but dogs have been constant in my life.
I believe you wrote a law making it legal for pet owners to establish trusts?
Yes. I spoke in about 1970 to the American College of Trusts and Estate Counsel about estate planning for pets. In preparing for the talk, I researched the law on establishing trusts for pets, and there was very little law. So I thought, as long as I am doing this, why not draft a statute to allow the establishment of a trust that could be enforced in court. At the time, you could establish an honorary trust, so if you had a trustee who was willing to abide by the terms, that was fine. If you didn’t, the courts would not enforce it. The estate planning and administration section of the Oregon State Bar embraced the concept and lobbied to get a law passed in 2001. We were one of the first states to pass such a law. It was kind of a lightning rod for action in other states.
What dogs do you have now?
We have two bearded collies. The first beardie we got was from the humane society. He was a smart dog with a great personality, whom we dearly loved. I had no idea about the breed when we took him home. Because of him, we’ve been loyal to the breed. We’re on our fourth beardie.
At one time, one of your dogs was in your professional photo?
Yes, one of the beardies and I posed together. That picture you will not find on our Web site.
Holland & Knight wouldn’t go for that?
Besides romping with the dogs, what are some ways you de-stress?
I’ve always been very athletic. I’m a runner, I do some competitive events on my bike, and in the past I’ve been very active as a sculler, a rower. I like to do some cross-country skiing, some racing. I keep pushing.
Any thoughts of retirement?
Absolutely not. Monday I’ll be 71.
You seem more like 40.
I have kept moving and am still competing. I run routinely 30 miles a week or more.
Didn’t you receive the President’s Award from the Multnomah Athletic Club this year?
Yes, I’m very appreciative of that. I’ve completed 42 marathons, most of them in under three hours.
How would you like to be remembered?