Paul Nelson

Paul Nelson BA '71



Degree and Class Year

BA ’71


Salem, Oregon

Current City

Piedmont, California


Political Science and Communication




Debate team, Student Body President

Overseas study

Washington, D.C., off-campus program

Job Title, Organization

Retired San Francisco trial attorney (Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft, Duane Morris)


Interned for the EPA and U.S. Attorney while in law school

Continuing Studies

JD, University of Oregon, 1974

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Rigorous, Caring, Beautiful

What made you want to come to Lewis & Clark?

I was recruited from a summer high school debate workshop and had some great direct contact with professors. I was a national Presbyterian Merit Scholar, so I could use it at any Presbyterian-affiliated college or university, which gave L&C an edge over other schools. I always had a love of life in Oregon, so the fit was perfect.

What have you been doing since graduation?

I practiced law with a major international law firm based in San Francisco, and a second (merged) national firm over 44 years.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for your career?

It provided an excellent liberal arts and prelaw education. Debate honed key trial skills that served me very well through my career.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?

How to question and seek truths.

What’s your favorite part or most memorable experience of serving on the Board of Alumni?

Organizing and staging the first “era” class reunion for the classes of 1968–74—the Vietnam war years—about 30 years ago. Huge turnout and great events, including the first Alumni College with retired faculty.

How do you stay connected to Lewis & Clark as an alum?

I have been active in alumni affairs and keep in contact with key people at the college. I organized our 50th class reunion. I also persuaded the children of my good friends and law partners to attend L&C.

Have you been to Alumni Weekend or other programming, like Homecoming, etc.? What did you enjoy about the event(s)?

Yes. Most events are largely irrelevant at this point, since I have nothing in common with the later classes or younger faculty and very few people attend from older classes, but we did do a joint 50th for ’70, ’71, and ’72 that was memorable last summer. It is just fun and interesting to return to the campus to see how it has evolved.

How do you encourage other alumni to give back to the college?

However they see fit and are able to do so. I have done a lot of fundraising efforts over the years in different contexts, and am now happy to just be retired. There are a lot of competing factors that go into such choices.

How do you describe the liberal arts?

Learning how to think critically and be a world citizen for the benefit of humanity. Enhancing your knowledge of things that will matter in life beyond work.

Why did you major in political science?

I chose political science because I wanted to either be a lawyer or go into politics. (I chose the law, mostly without regrets.) I also chose communication (now rhetoric and media studies) because debate/forensics became an important part of my life as we had unparalleled success nationally. I finished political science in three years so I decided to add another major, I was student body president for my fourth year and did not want to be drafted.

Why did you minor in economics?

Economics always has interested me, and it has proved invaluable.

What was your favorite class? How did it expand your knowledge?

Probably Jack Crampton’s Comparative Political Systems because there will never be another Crampton and he made you think well outside the box. But George Austin’s Small Group Process proved invaluable in applying the analytic process to juries and literally originating (with a good friend PhD who went to Gonzaga and Wisconsin) the science of juror analysis in the early ’80s.

Where did you find your community on campus?

I had multiple communities, primarily among those who were politically active in the Vietnam era. I came to have my closest friendships with people who were active in debate and forensics across multiple classes because, perhaps, we worked together so closely and often in pursuit of a dream. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer BA ’70, JD ’76 was my debate partner for a time.

Who was your mentor on campus? Why do you consider this person your mentor?

I would say that Jean Ward and George Austin were mentors to me in the classic liberal arts sense, as they provided genuine care and guidance in my life. Don Balmer was an academic and political mentor, but his life was so full of other people and things that we never really developed a close relationship. Kent Hawley (dean of students) became a good friend as we navigated the difficult world of the Vietnam era and protests. I actually came to know a lot of the faculty as genuine friends, so it is hard to limit my appreciation on that level—they all contributed to making me the person I became.

If you studied overseas while at Lewis & Clark, how did you choose your program? What did your overseas study add to your L&C experience?

I went on the off-campus Washington, D.C., program specifically to study national politics in 1969, so I was there for the great March on Washington, among other events. It had a profound effect on me and my interest in national political activities.

What are my best memories?

I will say that deep and intense philosophical discussions with classmates and sometimes professors in the evenings in residence halls or the Trail Room. Walking to classes in winter cloaked in the gray drizzle, across the beautiful lawns and gardens will always stick with me—the sheer beauty of the place, as well as the exuberance of warm sunny spring days when all seemed perfect in the world. Not academic stuff, but those are all genuinely etched in my memory.