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When Jerry Carleton talks …

Clients should listen, because he’s been in their shoes

Published in 2012 Oregon Rising Stars magazine

Business attorney Jerry Carleton knows what his clients are going through—he’s a business owner himself. “I’ve got the healed stomach ulcers to prove that we had hard times launching our company and that sometimes I almost missed payroll,” says Carleton.

Fresh out of college, he co-founded Keen Mobility, which creates equipment for people with disabilities. Years later, he  founded Immix Law Group, where he practices business law. Carleton’s college roommate Vail Horton, who was born without legs, largely influenced his friend’s unique career path. After spending most of his life using artificial legs and crutches, Horton was told by doctors that he must switch to a wheelchair because the years had greatly damaged his shoulders. Horton responded, “No way,” and asked why crutches couldn’t be created with shock absorbers that would allow Horton to continue life as he knew it.

“That question was the beginning of our company,” Carleton says. “We started prototyping and found that it worked and said, ‘Well, this is for more than just Vail; let’s roll it out to other people.’ And we did. Now we’re 60 product lines and growing. … We’re pinching ourselves on how the company’s grown.”

Naturally, jumping into the role of business owner right after college wasn’t easy. Carleton and Horton started their company out of the dining room in their North Portland home when they were still roommates. “We didn’t have a lot going for us other than passion and vision,” Carleton says. “And when we really went out to start fundraising, we found that passion and vision aren’t as credible as additional education or other experience.”

So Carleton decided to enroll in law school at night. What he learned quickly became invaluable. “It was the coolest way to learn the law,” he recalls. “I mean, I was learning it by night and applying it by day.” While studying at Lewis & Clark Law School, he realized that maybe he wanted to be more than his company’s legal adviser—he actually wanted to become a lawyer.

So after spending four years practicing transactional law at Bullivant Houser Bailey in Portland, he branched out on his own last year and founded Immix Law Group, which has grown to six attorneys.

“[I enjoy] understanding what the business owner is going through and being able to relate to them and then help them,” he says, “so that the law isn’t a scary thing or an intimidating thing. It’s an empowering thing.”

He continues to serve as a corporate officer and on the board of directors at Keen, now run by Horton. Carleton has found the time to be active in the community as well.

Incight, a nonprofit that focuses on providing education and employment opportunities for the disabled, was co-founded by Carleton and another former college roommate, Scott Hatley, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. “It came about because we saw a need,” he says. While spending the day at a trade show for Keen in Los Angeles, he started chatting with some kids. “We asked the able-bodied kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, and they’d all have an incredible answer: Firefighter. Astronaut. Police officer. They’d always have an answer. We’d ask the kids with disabilities what they wanted to be when they grew up, and they would give us a deer-in-the-headlights. They didn’t know, because they hadn’t been asked that question.” The organization gave out one college scholarship in 2004; the last two years, it’s been more than 100.

In 2011, Carleton also founded The Hope Squared Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds for maternity homes for girls in crisis pregnancies. Carleton’s dedication to this cause stems in part from personal reasons: His own mother was in crisis pregnancy while in college. Carleton and his wife have two daughters of their own—both under the age of 2—who were adopted from mothers in crisis. “Those two little miracles are a reason that I just want to do whatever I can,” he says.

Carleton is the first to admit his good fortune with the success of his many ventures. “You gotta pinch me,” he says with a laugh. “Each of these phases of my life, I have felt very called to do the things that I have done.”

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