Q & A with Oregon Supreme Court Justice David Brewer

Sep 17, 2019

The Honorable David Brewer served on the Oregon Supreme Court from 2013-2017, when he retired from the bench. Justice Brewer graduated from Oregon Law in 1977 and after law school, he remained in Eugene to practice civil litigation, family, commercial, probate, and real property law (1977 - 1993).  He previously served on the Oregon Court of Appeals 1999 - 2012 and on the Lane County Circuit Court (1993 - 1999) where he presided over many civil and criminal trials and settled many more cases through the court's settlement conference program.  Justice Brewer is a previous recipient of the John E. Jaqua Distinguished Alumnus Award, which is given to individuals who exemplify the highest quality and ethical standards of the school.  He recently spoke to Oregon Law about his legal journey and what the role that mentoring has in the legal profession. 

Oregon Law: What is one experience that shaped you as a lawyer?

Justice Brewer: Working in a law office as a clerk.  It impressed on me early in my legal education that the most important and gratifying contribution a lawyer can make is to help real people with seemingly ordinary problems that can be overwhelming.

Oregon Law: What advice can you give law students who are still discovering their career path?

Justice Brewer: Be patient.  Let experience take you gradually from ideation about what you imagine yourself doing to the kind of affinity that only can come from trying different aspects of legal work, including things you never thought of doing before trying them.

Oregon Law: What are some obstacles that you had to overcome to get where you are today?

Justice Brewer: Poverty and disbelief both in what can be done to help people and what I personally could do, as long as I was willing to work hard and realistically measure expectations.   

Oregon Law: How did your Oregon Law experiences lay the foundation for your legal career?

Justice Brewer: The good feelings that I have for my Oregon Law experience came from interactions with professors and other students at an individual level.  It was a great place to focus on thinking in an organized and logical way about navigating the complex and daunting economic, social, and legal systems that people confront in every aspect of life. 

Oregon Law: What does it mean for you to return to your alma mater and help shape the next generation of Oregon Law students?

Justice Brewer: I think we have to be careful not to be overly simplistic about the "mentoring" role that judges and veteran lawyers can play for students and newer lawyers.  I'm always willing to talk to students about what a life in the law has been like for me and how I might size up a particular problem or challenge, but all valuable interactions are bilateral.  I learn as much or more from students about challenges and opportunities than they ever could learn from me.   

Oregon Law: Have any of your clerks been Oregon Law graduates? If so, how have you mentored them in their legal careers?

Justice Brewer: Yes. I've enjoyed working with many law clerks and externs from UO Law over a quarter century.  Quite a few have become professional friends and colleagues.  I would say we've mentored each other.  I've had countless interesting discussions with them about specific legal problems and challenges as well as what's going on in our families and lives.  For me, those relationships continue to be a source of inspiration and faith in the future of our profession. 


By Rayna Jackson, School of Law Communications