Mr. Startup

Whether it's business or bands, Jim Austin makes things happen

Published in 2009 Washington Super Lawyers — June 2009

Meet Jim Austin, prominent Seattle business attorney, appropriately attired in suit and tie as he ushers clients through multimillion-dollar acquisitions.

Now meet Jim Austin, former member of legendary Seattle rock band London Fog, rocking away the weekends in washed-out denim.

They're the same guy, but rarely do their worlds collide.

"When I am out there performing, I forget about everything else," says Austin, 59, a shareholder at Karr Tuttle Campbell. "I'm not thinking about anything that's going on at work—maybe the beer helps—but really, I'm a complete world away from the office."

Few clients know that the lawyer handling their mega-transactions also performs rock, soul and R&B in local bars and the region's biggest casinos. It rarely comes up. "I don't think that it detracts from my practice, but I'm not sure that it really would be a deciding factor in anyone's mind when it comes to choice of counsel," he says with a laugh.

During high school in the late-'60s, Austin helped to form the pinstripe-clad London Fog. (Years later, a Seattle Times series on Northwest bands ranked London Fog among the top rock groups from that era.)

Undergrad life at Stanford and law school at the University of Chicago yanked Austin out of the Northwest music scene. He didn't perform with any of his instruments-saxophone, keyboard or guitar—until he came home.

Austin cut his legal teeth in Karr Tuttle Campbell's banking practice, which he helped start. He has been with the firm for 34 years. His accomplishments are as diversified as the Washington business landscape.

In one memorable case in the early 1980s, he helped software startup Cosmos Inc.—which created a database-management system that ran on the original Microsoft operating system—stave off some copyright-infringement claims. The case settled with a licensing agreement (Austin says Cosmos had no access to the plaintiffs' code); otherwise it would have been one of the first big infringement trials based on the similarity of user interface "look and feel."

Austin handles the gamut of business issues, including mergers and acquisitions. But he has a soft spot for startups: "You feel a certain proprietary sense because you've helped hatched them, helped them mature."

His current band, No Rules, consists partly of former London Foggers and partly of members culled from other Seattle bands. "Walt Johnson, who was our guitar player in the London Fog ... wanted to form this horn band to play at festivals in the summer and to play as opening acts," says Austin. "These were his exact words: 'It'll be a minute of work for an hour of fun.' Famous last words. Now we're doing four-hour gigs, two nights a month."

No Rules plays music "from '60s soul and R&B to the driving funk of the mid-'70s—with occasional hard-rockin' sounds of the late '70s and early '80s thrown in for good measure," according to its Web site. Austin does lead vocals.

Surely there is some intersection, talent-wise, between practicing law and playing in a rock band? "Probably not," Austin says. Then he smiles and adds: "One does afford an acceptable way to engage in adolescent behavior from time to time that you probably couldn't get away with in the other."

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