Keith Dubanevich | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Keith Dubanevich


Deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest and nationally recognized for outstanding legal work for more than 35 years, Stoll Berne has achieved  results for its clients through practical, strategic and tenacious representation.

The Mistake:

I think the biggest mistake I made early on in my legal career was focusing on the short term, and not planning for both the short term and the long term. I think you really have to keep an eye on both.

You’re not going to get to tomorrow and build your business if all you’re focusing on is today. You need to plan and map out your destination so you can get to where you want to go. But at the same time you have to be in the present and be sure to enjoy the present.

As a lawyer, it’s easy to get caught up in focusing on the billable hours and doing great work for your client. Both of those tasks are critically important to present-day success. But recognizing that relationships are critically important, too, can get missed in that mix.

My definition of relationships includes spouse, children, family and friends in addition to work colleagues and clients. Even with clients, you should remember that the relationship is bigger than the one individual case, task or project that presently consumes you.

I am certainly not unique. This definitely is a trap many attorneys fall into in the first five to 10 years of their practice. The goal of every attorney at a law firm is to become partner, and that means working extremely hard on your legal skills and developing good work habits. When you come up for air at the end of that, you realize you forgot to develop the soft skills, or remember to have any quality of life.

By the late '90s, I had been practicing law in Houston for many years. I was making a lot of money and working ridiculously hard.  Professionally, I was, by all accounts, successful. But when I took stock of my life, I realized what was missing was personal. I wanted a closer connection to my family and friends. I wanted to have time to go skiing and hiking and biking – all the things that gave me pleasure outside the office.

There is more to life than busting your butt in the office.

The Lesson:

For me, the decision to move to Portland from Houston was pivotal. I would never have been able to have the fuller life that I wanted had I not made the break to come to Portland. This city was the key that unlocked a life of better balance for me and the ability to focus on the short term and the long term.

By taking a more holistic approach, I realized I could learn what my clients’ goals and objectives are. Perhaps what I think is a really important case is one of 100 projects in the pipeline for them, or not a place where they want to invest a lot of time and money. I can be more valuable to them over time by not focusing on the short term.

On the personal side, my mistake and lesson are certainly not novel. But it’s something that I believe is always worth repeating. There is more to life than busting your butt in the office and having good clients. You need good friends and good hobbies, too. Those outside interests are the things that will keep you more productive over longer stretches of your career.

In the Pacific Northwest, I found employers that promoted career fulfillment and longevity. They even adjust their workflow, hours and office culture to encourage work-life balance. Many of the law firms in the Pacific Northwest have sabbatical programs. That’s unheard of in many other parts of the country.

But here, law firms like Stoll Berne recognize there is a big role in everyone’s career for clients and family and friends. Sure, there will be episodic events where you will be focused solely on your practice. But if you do that constantly, and ignore the long term, time will pass by very quickly. And even the best lawyer can’t reverse the clock.

Follow Keith Dubanevich on Twitter at: @KeithDubanevich

Pictured: Keith Dubanevich. | Photo courtesy of Stoll Berne.

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