Carmen Calzacorta’s Heritage Guides a Distinguished Law Career & Lifetime of Service
May 18, 2023
Oregon State Bar Bulletin
Maximizing Her Time
It probably wouldn’t surprise anybody who has worked with Carmen Calzacorta for any length of time to find her standing knee deep in a dense blackberry bed, sleeves rolled up, heavy gloves on, leading a group of volunteers pulling and digging out invasive plants on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Over the course of a 39-year career as an attorney, Calzacorta has built a reputation as a hard worker who always put in the extra effort to make sure the job is done well and done right.
The same goes for when she’s spending her free time as a volunteer leader with SOLVE, the well-known, Oregon-based organization dedicated to cleaning up the environment.
Known among her peers as the first one in the office every day and the last one to leave, Calzacorta is someone who leads from the front and walks the walk.
“First off, she’s just really, really, really hard working,” says attorney Bradley Maier, her teammate for the past 18 years at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Portland.
“I used to joke that I didn’t think Carmen slept because I just didn’t know how she did everything in a day. She’s one of our most senior lawyers, working with the biggest clients, but she still finds time to volunteer and get involved in very hands-on cleanup projects.
“She could be playing golf, or doing anything she wanted to do. But she’s spending her time cleaning up the environment for all the rest of us to benefit.”
Heritage Lays Foundation for Compassion
Born in Eastern Oregon and raised among a tight-knit group of European immigrants, Calzacorta learned early in life that hard work and caring for your environment are important parts of building a thriving community.
“Part of it has to do with my heritage,” she says. “I’m part of a community of Spanish and French Basques, and that group, since they were new to the United States, always worked toward improving things.
“So when I would go for walks with my mom and her friends, if they saw any trash on the ground, they’d make a comment about how Americans don’t know what they have. They taught us from when we were very little to pick up, clean up and make sure you leave things better off than you found them.”
From her parents, Fermin and Elena, she learned to make the most of her opportunities. Born in the Basque region of Spain, her parents seized on a chance for a better life in the American West, where Fermin worked on a sheep ranch.
The Calzacorta family — parents, three daughters and a son — eventually went back to Spain briefly before Fermin died of a heart attack at 66. Elena’s family wanted her and the children to remain in Spain, but “my mom said, ‘No, I’m going back to America because in America my children will have a better chance at success.’”
A Distinguished Law Career
Living up to that promise, Calzacorta earned a scholarship to attend the University of Oregon, from where she graduated with a degree in finance. She worked for
U.S. Bank in a Nyssa and Ontario, then Tigard and Salem before returning to Eugene for law school and graduating with a Juris Doctor degree in 1984.
Soon afterward, she came to Portland to work for Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.
“I went to law school thinking I wanted to be a tax lawyer,” Calzacorta recalls. “My first tax class quickly dissuaded me from doing that.”
She found her stride focusing on the business side of law, developing an expertise in corporate governance, mergers, acquisitions, corporate finance and compliance.
While first working for Schwabe as a clerk, she met her husband, fellow attorney Casey Mills. The pair bonded over their love of nature and the environment, and now have been married 34 years.
They also love traveling and bird watching, and have combined those two passions to make trips to places such as Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, Africa and South America.
Both built distinguished careers. Mills, having risen to partner at Miller Nash in Portland, is now retired. Calzacorta stayed with Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt her entire career, where she rose to become a partner and shareholder in the firm. But her working days are coming to a close — she plans to retire in the near future.
Before she leaves, she hopes to leave a lasting impression as a mentor to the firm’s younger lawyers.
“I am the most senior woman lawyer in the firm,” she says. “I had tremendous mentors when I first started, who gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to work with clients. So I’ve always felt that you need to pass that on to the next generation. That’s one of the items that I’m most proud of in my career. I’ve helped build some really, really tremendous lawyers and watched them grow and use their talent in ways that I probably couldn’t. That’s very rewarding to me.”
Leading by Example
Calzacorta says the firm also has a strong legacy of commitment to the community and her leadership has helped that mindset flourish.
“When she’s not volunteering, Carmen’s making a difference from within,” says Schwabe CEO Graciela Gomez Cowger. “At Schwabe, she’s served as co-chair of the Privately Held Businesses & Enterprises group, which counsels business owners on strategic decisions and builds our attorneys’ expertise.
“She’s also previously served as a firm board member where she helped guide key decisions and initiatives. Carmen’s vast contributions to Schwabe and our community are immeasurable. She is the embodiment of leading by example and building community side-by-side with our clients.”
Kris Carico, chief executive officer at SOLVE, sees Calzacorta’s leadership outside the office.
“Both she and her husband Casey come out quite often to do events, and they’ve done everything from beach cleanups to urban litter cleanups and restoration events,”
says Carico. “I’ve worked with her at Mary S. Young Park where she is pulling ivy and digging up blackberry, or downtown Portland cleaning up scattered litter and illegal dump sites and such. She does it all.”
Calzacorta says she picked up the volunteering bug during the early years of her career, watching more senior members of the firm dedicating their free time to serve worthy causes.
“The firm has a strong culture of giving back to the community,” she says. “We want well-rounded people that give back. I hope I continued that legacy well, and I hope I helped instill that in our younger lawyers.”
Like a lot of executives, Calzacorta began her volunteering efforts as a board member. She served several years as board chair for SOLVE, and also on the board for the mentoring organization Friends of Children.
Tapping into their love for birds and the environment, she and Mills also volunteer with the Portland Audubon Society, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and Earthwatch.
“My husband retired nine years ago, and he’s busier now than when he was practicing law,” Calzacorta says. “Last year he was volunteering, monitoring bird nests for the snowy plover and oystercatcher. Something I look forward to doing more in my retirement!”
Back at the office, Calzacorta has served as a sort of pied piper for community service, but without the guile.
“She’s always asking for volunteers, trying to get people at the firm to join her,” Maier reports. “And the Schwabe team has come out and done SOLVE cleanups in downtown Portland before, but this is something she’s doing on her own.”
“She leads by example,” Carico says. “Nothing is too big or too small for her. She does whatever it takes. She’s one of my favorites because she’s very serious but with a wicked sense of humor. She’s direct, and I’ve always loved that about her. Both she and Casey are lovely people.”
Heading toward retirement, Calzacorta isn’t slowing down. She continues to put in the work at the office, using her time away to volunteer, travel and reflect on a career that has seen great change in the business of being a lawyer.
“It was a different time when I started my legal career. The practice of law was more slower paced, more methodical without technology at your fingertips,” she says.
“Now, as the industry has progressed, there’s a greater sense of urgency for quick responses
and results. I strive to mentor the next generation about balancing client service with strong research and analysis to give our clients the most out of every interaction.”
As she sees her law career coming to a close, Calzacorta looks forward to having even more time for volunteering. She sees volunteering as a way for everyone to come together.
“It’s a real passion for me,” she says. “Our world has become so divided, but I’ve seen communities that weren’t getting along come together at a SOLVE event to clean something up and learn they had some commonalities with their neighbors.
“You don’t have to cross political or religious lines. You can all come together to do something good.”
This article first appeared in the May 2023 Oregon State Bar Bulletin. Reposted with permission.