Picture This

David Wilson Jr. captures courtroom wins—and breathtaking landscapes

Published in 2009 Oregon Super Lawyers Magazine

A picture is worth about 1,000 well-argued legal points to David Wilson Jr. The son of a tax lawyer and a contemporary artist, the Portland litigator is also an award-winning landscape photographer.

“When I have a case, I’m always looking for any excuse to have pictures as exhibits,” he says. “In anything I do, I just love having pictures.”

His prints have been exhibited in Portland’s highly regarded Blue Sky Gallery and Seattle’s Silver Image Gallery, and earned first prize in the Natural World Photographic Competition & Exhibition sponsored by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Most capture the Northwest’s mystic delights. Others depict geological subjects from Wilson’s many pilgrimages to photograph the orange and red vistas of the Southwest.

“Slickrock country is just absolutely stupefying,” marvels the 64-year-old employment law attorney at Bullard Smith Jernstedt Wilson. The firm’s walls are decorated with his photography. For the last 15 years, it has been featured on his firm’s holiday cards.

The Southwest trips began in the early 1980s, but they are tame escapes compared with those that launched Wilson’s love for photographing the outdoors.

While at Princeton University, Wilson, who hails from small-town Ohio, took two intensive canoe trips with his roommate. One covered 1,000 miles over 11 weeks down Dubawnt River in Canada. Eight of those weeks were without any restocking points. “We had to mostly live off the land,” he says. Along the way, Wilson, absorbed by the landscape, snapped photos to relieve the stress.

As he finished law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he found himself at a career crossroads. “I realized, ‘I really need to make up my mind about what I’m going to do,’” he says. “I decided that I was going to keep on the law path, but I felt like I could keep my interest in photography and the outdoors going at the same time.”

Oregon beckoned. “I came out here because I wanted to mountain-climb and ski and backpack and do all the outdoor stuff I could.”

Wilson took a job in the labor law department at Spears Lubersky (now Lane Powell), later moving to Bullard, where he’s successfully defended some of the Northwest’s largest companies against a variety of employment-related litigation—in recent years dedicating a significant part of his practice to potential class actions. He also represents small and mid-size companies and some public employers.

Soft-spoken, Wilson says he understands that “the average person on the street thinks [our clients] have lots of money. It’s a challenge for us get across the point that we’re actually representing people—technically, it’s a corporation—but the people involved in making these decisions are also very hard-working. They invest a great deal of time and energy in doing this the correct way and for the correct reasons.”

Though Wilson has embraced the digital transition in photography, he still cherishes his old view camera. “It’s the one where you put a cloth over your head, then look through it,” he says.

Capturing, selecting and presenting the perfect shot, he says, is about patience, practical ability, perception and, ultimately, discovery.

Not a far cry from his other job description.

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