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Double Bearcat finds niche in global manufacturing company

by Sarah Bello,

Kim Medford
Kim Medford BA’94, JD’99

Lifelong Oregonian Kim Medford BA’94, JD’99 didn’t stray far from the Willamette University campus when she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science. Across the street at the state capitol, she began her career working at the legislature and then with a state agency implementing new legislation.

After developing laws, contracts and so many things lawyers work on every day, she decided it was time to go to graduate school. Willamette Law, she says, made perfect sense, and was the only law school she applied to.

“So, I walked back across the street,” she laughs.

Medford thought she wanted to become a litigator. In school, she worked on appeals for the attorney general’s office and as a clerk with the Marion County DA. Following her graduation, she was offered several litigation positions and ultimately took one at Stoel Rives in Portland.

In a twist of fate, before she fully joined the firm, they asked if she might consider being a part of their corporate practice group for a year, instead. Being new, she said yes, and instantly became ridiculously busy with everything happening during the dot-com boom.

“You really had to be an entrepreneur and the owner of your own practice, learning on your own as it was such a busy time for the entire practice group,” she says. “It was a wonderful time, and I loved it. I never considered going back into litigation.”

While at Stoel Rives, the firm lent her as staff to the House Trade and Economic Development Committee, so she spent a session in the state legislature, rekindling political connections.

She was with the firm for a little more than six years before moving to Bend to take a position with a much smaller practice. Her 200-person office shrunk to just 25 there.

The differences were shocking, in a good way.

“I had to really learn to be part of the ownership and partnership of the firm,” Medford explains. “It was a great business training ground.”

She changed firms a couple of other times, driven by the impact of the recession in Central Oregon, eventually moving her family back to Portland. Along the way, she picked up clients and made connections. One such client was ENTEK, a company that sells lead-acid separators, lithium-ion separators, extruders, and engineering services on six continents. Every battery needs a separator, and as one of the few US companies in the industry, their work is critical to energy storage.

After working on small projects here and there, in 2012, the CEO of the company called to see if she would consider their general counsel role.

“It’s hard to go in-house,” Medford says. “You have one client for the rest of your career. You better make sure it’s a really great one that you connect with and the work is rewarding.”

She accepted the position and says it has been a crazy ride, but a great decision. As general counsel, she dealt with mergers and acquisitions, transactions, human resources and regulatory compliance. The job was a shift into a business partner and operations role, she says.

In 2020, she was offered the role of president of ENTEK Manufacturing, focusing more fully on operations. Even though she has not had a traditional career path for an attorney, she says everything she’s experienced has been helpful in her current position. She still does a lot of legal work with problem solving, issue spotting and thinking differently in operations.

Staying ahead of the regulatory landscape can be challenging, she says. In manufacturing, anything from new taxes to new environmental laws can affect the company, so she spends time monitoring those things. Over the past few years, she has visited Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for meetings on policy, and taken part in a forum with President Biden at the White House.

Although she’s busy, Medford loves what she does. She is grateful for her legal education and says the training she received in law school, along with spending time as a law firm lawyer, allowed her to take her career in almost any direction.

“We volunteer to go to work every day,” she says. “When you don’t want to volunteer anymore, you find something else to do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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