Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Caroline Kuerschner MacLaren '89

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Land use and real estate attorney

By Nadine Fiedler

From the Summer 2011 Caller

Can the practice of law be a creative pursuit? We asked Portland attorney Carrie MacLaren ’89 to give it some thought.
“People come to me with a variety of issues: from development to conservation, and all points in between,” says Carrie, who works with Black Helterline LLP. “In many cases the due diligence, research and evaluation, is not creative. Once we know the particulars and evaluate how they affect the goal, then the creative thinking can come in. How do we resolve obstacles and find ways to reach the goals?”
Let’s say she has a client whose land-use project has come against a hurdle: a use that isn’t allowed or a development that is opposed by the planning staff or neighbors. She can try to change the zoning classification, which would be the analytical approach. But she can also talk with the client about finding ways to modify the proposal to fit within the existing zoning or address the neighbors’ concerns. “It’s about not going by the rote book and stepping back to look at the whole picture. It’s being able to look at the obstacles and ask if there’s a different way to conceptualize the project, if it’s too cumbersome and problematic,” says Carrie.
Carrie has also brought some cutting-edge thinking to her practice: she taught a University of Oregon course on the legal aspects of green building, a new field that raises all kinds of questions for lawyers. She’s a veteran in her field of law, having spent many years as staff attorney for the land use protection group 1000 Friends of Oregon.
“When all is considered, critical thinking is definitely key in law, but creative thinking is a big part of it, says Carrie. “I always have to think on my feet.”

“At Catlin Gabel I took weaving, I was photographer for the yearbook, and I took the art survey class. Having that exposure, and enabling the brain to think in different ways, is useful in any field.”