Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P.: A Portland Institution

Few Portland firms have as rich a history as Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P., which celebrated its 85th anniversary on May 17, 2014. The firm helped pioneer public power in Portland, helped conceive and create the TriMet public transit system, and represented many of Portland’s longest-tenured businesses. Though, Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. has evolved through the years into a general-practice firm, it is still influenced by the outsized personalities of its founders.

Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. traces its roots to 1929, when Gus Solomon established a practice in downtown Portland, relying on business from friends, acquaintances, and word of mouth. Solomon, a graduate of Stanford Law School, cultivated a varied clientele but counted public power as a pet project. The community-minded Solomon actively supported the creation of a public utility district in Portland, along with the development of the Columbia River hydrosystem. In 1939, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) was created to deliver electric power to underserved rural and urban areas. Solomon became the liaison between the public-power movement and the BPA.

In 1940, Solomon met Ray Kell, a graduate of Harvard Law School and member of the BPA legal staff. The like-minded lawyers quickly bonded, and after war service in the Navy, Ray Kell joined Solomon in April 1946. Renaming the firm Solomon & Kell, they centered their practice on public power and a local farmers union, the Oregon Grange.

The law firm experienced several transformations in the ensuing years. In 1949, President Truman appointed Solomon as a U.S. District Court Judge. Ray Kell continued to work in the public power and Grange circles, while also actively supporting a number of community initiatives. Cliff Alterman joined Ray Kell in 1955, and the firm was renamed Kell & Alterman. Alterman was known for his intellect and near-photographic memory, and his personal skills contributed to the firm’s growing stature.

In the following years, the two-person firm cultivated an impressive list of clients, including the Port of Portland, the Columbia River Pilots, Portland’s mayor, and most of the Portland City Council. In 1968, Ted Runstein, a trial lawyer with experience at the U.S. Department of Justice and Oregon Legal Aid, joined the firm, bolstering its litigation capacity. Lee Kell, Ray’s son, joined shortly afterward, bringing a strong accounting and business background.

In 1969, Kell & Alterman helped create TriMet out of the city’s crumbling half-private/half-public mass transit system. The pair, who had earned a reputation as devoted community advocates, helped conceive a streamlined, more efficient bus system.

In 1981, Gary Compa brought their respective business, litigation, and tax law expertise to Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. further broadening the firm’s general-practice reputation. In addition to its traditional business and litigation focus, Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. presently includes numerous practice areas, including estate planning and administration, intellectual property, environmental and natural resources law, personal injury, and family law.

As the legal services offered by Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P. have continued to grow, the firm still holds fast to a proud community focus. The firm’s attorneys are or have served on the boards of local organizations like Oregon Legal Aid, the Portland Trail Chapter of the Oregon Red Cross, Oregon Advocacy Center, Schoolhouse Supplies, Mt. Hood Community College, and the American Cancer Society in Clark County, WA.

Kell, Alterman & Runstein, L.L.P.’s Portland office is downtown in the historic Pacific Building near Pioneer Courthouse. This distinguished space befits a firm that contributed so much to shaping this city’s landscape.

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