Spokane Journal of Business

Litigation becomes more complex, costly

Etter, McMahon counters with courtroom expertise

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Michael McMahon, left, and Carl Oreskovich, partners in Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Van Wert & Oreskovich PC, say most of the firm’s new business comes via word-of-mouth.

Lawyers Michael McMahon and Carl Oreskovich, partners in the Spokane firm of Etter, McMahon, Lamberson, Van Wert & Oreskovich PC, say one of the greatest challenges in practicing law these days is the growing cost of litigation. 

 “I would say hourly rates in Spokane haven’t increased much over the years. What has increased tremendously is the cost of the discovery process,” says McMahon.  

Oreskovich says, “Litigation has become so much more expensive. It takes time to develop a case. It’s also a challenge to keep justice equal between two sides with different resources at their disposal.”  

McMahon adds that he feels some of the inequality may be due to changing technologies. 

“Technology has been both an improvement and a detriment in some ways. It certainly makes gathering information faster, but there’s also more information being put out there.”  

He says new technology sometimes makes it difficult to resolve fights before a trial.

“There just isn’t the face-to-face time, which I think is important for each side to gain some perspective,” he says. “We just don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Founded in 1985 by McMahon and William F. Etter, the firm now includes three other partners-—Stephen M. Lamberson, Ronald A. Van Wert, and Michael F. Connelly. The firm also includes associates Jeffrey R. Galloway and Megan C. Clark, along with 10 other staff members. 

“Our most recent partner is Michael Connelly, who specializes in government law and land use. We’re also looking into hiring on a third associate,” says Oreskovich. He has been the firm’s president for the past nine months, a rotating title that passes from one partner to the next every two years. Prior to Oreskovich, Steve Lamberson held the title and related responsibilities.

The firm is located at 618 W. Riverside in a 7,500-square-foot, second floor office space. 

“We moved into this space in 2007,” says Oreskovich. “We’ve done some minor cosmetic remodels in the last couple of years, new paint and carpeting that kind of thing.” 

McMahon notes that the firm formerly had offices in Idaho, and consequently does still have three lawyers licensed to practice there. 

“We no longer have offices there, but we do still maintain a presence,” he says. 

While the two decline to disclose the firm’s annual billings, they say it derives a steady flow of work due to its depth of experience and the relationships it has developed over years of practice. 

Oreskovich says the firm is able to sustain itself based largely on its reputation with clients and colleagues, adding, “It is very important to us.”

“With advertising, it’s sometimes hard for people to sort the good lawyers from others which might not be so great,” he says. “Most of our clients are referred to us by other lawyers or previous clients.” 

McMahon adds, “In Spokane, a lot of people aren’t familiar with lawyers, so most of our business, almost all of it in fact comes to us through word-of-mouth. Our clients trust in us, knowing that when it’s their turn in court, we’ll give their case our utmost attention.” 

McMahon says the firm deals with labor and employment, land use, criminal defense, medical malpractice, professional licensure, and personal injury cases.

“Over the years, we’ve seen the biggest increase in what we call alternate dispute resolutions,” he says. Alternate dispute resolution refers to a variety of processes that help parties resolve disputes without a trial. 

McMahon says a lot of cases are settled outside of court, so it can be difficult for newer lawyers to get in court practice. “We’ve been around so long, our in-court experience is tough to match,” he adds.  

The two say they’ve also noticed an increase in licensure actions, particularly concerning regulatory agencies mostly involving health care licenses but also including professionals such as stockbrokers, insurance agents, engineers and architects. 

“For a lot of these people, if they lose their license, they lose their livelihood, so it’s important work. We’re definitely seeing a steep up curve in those areas,” says McMahon. 

McMahon has been a lawyer for 39 years, having settled in the Spokane area in 1973, earning his law degree from Gonzaga University in 1976. He says he works mainly in the practice areas of labor and employment, mainly representing employers in cases of employee discrimination. 

“Most of my clients are public clients. I’ve done work with the Spokane International Airport, Spokane Valley Fire Department, and the city of Spokane,” says McMahon. He is also one of only two attorneys on staff who specifically provide more advice-based practice, advising clients on situations before there is any need for a trial. 

“Most of our attorneys are more trial-based, providing counsel to clients who are already being sued and are set to go to trial. I offer legal advice for how not to get sued, but if you do eventually end up getting sued anyway, I’m also here for advice about what to do next,” says McMahon.

 Originally from Butte, Mont., Oreskovich earned his law degree from the University of Montana, moving to Spokane in 1981 to practice law. He primarily works with criminal defense, class action employment cases, commercial fraud, and personal injury.

“Currently I’m defending the employers in two larger class-action suits, as well as working on a large bank fraud case in federal court. Any and all of these cases are going to be what I would call consuming,” says Oreskovich.  While he still finds practicing law fun, Oreskovich says it does involve a lot of work. 

“Some cases take a long time to develop and try. We have great staff that help with the burden of those,” he says. “We work night and day, seven days a week until it’s done. Rest is a necessity after something like that because afterward, it can be hard to come down from that cycle in your mind.”

Both say that in the future, they would like to see more young people interested in becoming lawyers. Oreskovich says “I think that being where we are now at the height of our careers, our goals are to lead and shape the ones coming in. We have an opportunity to lead and give the courts feedback, to make sure we’re getting things right.” 

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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