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Leveraging a Willamette Law Degree

“The economic crisis is affecting all levels of private equity transactions,” said Brian C. Erb JD’89, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP in San Francisco. “Corporate transactions are premised on a sponsor’s ability to borrow money to leverage the purchase price of a buyout. Buyers leverage transactions with debt in order to increase their returns; that’s how they make money for their investors. These days, it is almost impossible for large deals to get done given the dislocation in the credit markets.” A partner with one of the top corporate and private equity law firms in the United States, Erb isn’t one to stand on the sidelines and wait for the market to recover. Rather, he has transformed his practice to meet the needs of clients during these tough economic times. “I’m now helping clients restructure their balance sheets to manage their debt load,” he explained. “I’m also representing smaller companies that are trying to raise money to build their businesses.” Even-keeled and seemingly unflappable, Erb’s resourceful nature showed itself early in life, growing up in Lebanon, Ore. By his early teens, he began working toward a career in photojournalism. In addition to studying photography, he served on the yearbook staff and student newspaper in high school. Following graduation, he enrolled in the University of Oregon to further pursue his interest. “It is one of the best schools in the country for journalism, so it 20 | Willamette Lawyer

was an obvious choice,” said Erb, who worked for a time as photo editor of the school’s daily paper. During his junior year of college, however, Erb’s interest in journalism began to wane. “I knew after three years of studying journalism that I wanted something different,” he said. “I realized I wanted something more challenging.” Erb completed his degree, graduating in 1985, and then took six months off to work with his father and reassess his goals. During this time, he applied to a number of law schools on the West Coast. He chose Willamette University College of Law after visiting it and several other schools. “I immediately felt very comfortable there, with the students and with the campus,” said Erb, who enrolled in the fall of 1986. “I had no idea what law school was really about when I enrolled,” he confessed. “Law school was less pragmatic and much more conceptual than I expected. Pretty early on I realized that having professors tell you the law was not the point; teaching you how to think was. I learned how to apply the law when there is no single right answer to a legal question. I developed real critical thinking skills.”


Willamette Lawyer | Spring 2009 • Vol. IX, No. 1