Musician finds courtroom rhythm

Private practice criminal defense attorney balances criminal cases with four bands

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Courts Reporter

Published:

 

Portrait 2017

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On a typical day, Michael Green can be found poring over a file at his office in downtown Vancouver’s historic Cushing-Caples House, or arguing a case in court.

The courtroom is his stage, he said, as is his office — sometimes.

When the criminal defense attorney needs a break from a challenging case, he turns to music for a bit of inspiration.

“One of the hardest parts of the profession … is learning to deal with the stress,” said Green, 52. “I will pick up a guitar, and then the stress is gone. After a while, I can come back to that case and usually solve what I was trying to think through. (Playing) is a great stress release and a good counterpoint to the practice.”

For Green — even when he’s clad in suit and tie — nothing comes as naturally as fitting a quick jam session into his day. Not long ago, that’s all he did for a living.

He’s spent the better part of his life playing the guitar and bass professionally. Along the way, he has encountered musical greats, such as Prince — then known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince — Collective Soul, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, The Replacement’s Paul Westerberg and Will Smith, when he was just the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

About a decade ago, Green was the bassist for a band called Sweetleaf when they played “Long Haired Country Boy” with Hank Williams Jr. during a gig in Nashville, Tenn. He approached Williams at the bar afterward to thank him, Green recalled.

“And he turns to me, and his eyes get real thin and slitted, and he goes, ‘I could kill you.’ I literally, involuntary, not joking, jumped back a step. I was like, ‘Hey man, I’m just the bass player.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, oh yeah, that was all right,'” Green said in a country accent. “It really scared me when he said that. I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m about to be killed by Hank Williams Jr.'”

Inspired by KISS

Green was raised in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and said he knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician.

“I think ever since I discovered rock ‘n’ roll, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Now, I knew it was difficult to make a living at it, but I figured I’d give it a shot,” he said.

His first inspiration as a seventh grader was KISS. “They are the perfect combination of comic book heroism and rock ‘n’ roll male adolescent sexuality,” Green said.

“Then, I discovered a whole bunch of other bands: Blue Oyster Cult, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin. … I was listening to Styx, Kansas, Def Leppard. … By the time I got out of college, I was more into R.E.M. and The Replacements and Husker Du,” he said. “But I still had pretty wide-ranging tastes.”

Green was 14 when his parents bought him his first instrument — a guitar. “I was probably the worst guitarist over the next five years,” he said, because he was mostly self-taught.

He had actually wanted a bass and lessons, but his parents said no.

“My parents kind of always viewed (playing) as a bit of a waste of time, because no one ever makes it. Someone does, but no one they knew,” Green said.

It wasn’t until he was a 19-year-old college student at the University of Alabama that he traded his guitar for a bass. “And I was in a band a week later,” he said. It was just happenstance that his roommate was a drummer.

After college, he still didn’t have a sense of direction for his life, other than to play his bass.

“I think my parents were a little bit concerned. I think my parents’ friends were, too, especially those first few years after undergraduate school because I was working crappy jobs and making no money as a musician,” Green said.

If he was being honest with himself, he said, he was a bit concerned, too. So after a few years, he decided to get a master’s degree.

“For me, it was a matter of, ‘Well, I’ve been playing for three years in these crappy bands working these crappy jobs, maybe it’s time to get serious about possibly becoming a professor,'” Green said. His father is a religious studies professor at the University of Alabama. However, he discovered along the way that it just wasn’t for him.

In 1996, Green moved to Atlanta to work at Southern Living at its Finest studio. He learned how to be a master engineer, played as a studio bassist and jammed full-time with a band. That lasted for about three years. The hours were odd and long, he said, and the majority of the material he worked on was for local commercials.

“I never had unrealistic expectations. I always said, ‘Look, if I can get into a band and get signed, and we can actually do something, this might be a serious career.’ As it is, this is a good career for now, but I’m not going to be 50 years old still struggling like this,” he said.

Finding law

He decided to head west, where his brother was already living in Portland. Green, who was 39 at this point, got a job at Apple Music in downtown Portland selling guitars.

“I had a career being a professional musician and a master’s degree, but I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said.

He was always told that law or medical school would be good options, so he applied to Lewis & Clark Law School and was accepted on a scholarship.

It was during his first week in 2001 that he met fellow attorney Jack Green, no relation, at a party. Jack was playing the guitar, and someone mentioned that Michael is also a musician.

“We started playing right then and there. It’s kind of one of those things, once it’s in your blood, it’s hard not to do it, regardless of what your daytime job is,” Jack Green said.

The two still play together today and have collaborated in the recording studio.

“I’ve spent a lot of my time with Michael over the years. Michael can get along with anybody. I think that’s one of his better qualities,” Jack Green said. “He’s well-suited for a defense lawyer in the sense he’s going to try to remedy a situation the best he can, and I think he’s largely successful doing that.”

After law school, Michael Green worked for the city of Vancouver for about two years handling criminal misdemeanor cases. He did a stint in Nashville, Tenn., but hated it, so he returned to the Pacific Northwest and went to work for Vancouver Defenders. He struck out on his own a couple times, tried out family law and teamed up with another attorney. However, in the end, he decided his own private practice was his best bet.

He handles a little more than a dozen cases at any given time. The vast majority are criminal defense: 60 percent felony and 40 percent misdemeanor, most are domestic violence-related or DUIs. He does a little bit of family law, canna-business and intellectual property law. And until recently, he also practiced in Oregon for about three years.

“You’re in court a lot. It’s like being on stage. It’s a performance piece,” Green said.

Although his focus is on his practice these days, Green is not ready to hang up his axe.

He’s currently in four bands, two of which are with his brother. He plays with fellow attorney John Terry in The Kick, and plays bass in Way Below Average with friends. Another group, Concoctions, comes together a couple times a year to play a private party.

The Lark with Jack Green recently got back together to play the annual Battle of the Lawyer Bands fundraiser. But they’ve enjoyed it so much, Michael Green said, that they’ve kept it going. They’ve mixed old Lark songs with new ones that he helped record.

“He can really pull out the Paul McCartney when he needs to, but he still sounds like Michael,” Jack Green said. “He’s a very melodic rock ‘n’ roll bass player. What I mean by that is he’s got good rhythm. … He’s able to balance that rhythmic part while writing an interesting bass part that fits the need of the song.”