Women of the Northwest

Jody Stahancyk: Facing Challenges and Stereotypes

March 25, 2024 Jody Stehancyk Episode 90
Women of the Northwest
Jody Stahancyk: Facing Challenges and Stereotypes
Show Notes Transcript

Stahancyk Law
Opinionated Lawyer

Jody Stahancyk, a remarkable woman ,shares her inspiring journey from a ranch in Prineville to becoming a successful lawyer. 

From facing initial challenges and stereotypes, Jodi's determination and resilience never wavered. 

She believes that failure is a gift from God, throwing light on the importance of recalibrating and learning from one's mistakes. 

Jody's passion for empowering others led her to spearhead a program that transforms legal assistants into limited scope lawyers in family law.

This groundbreaking initiative not only provides affordable legal assistance but also creates opportunities for those with a strong desire to learn and help others. 

With her motto of never giving up, Jodi continues to challenge norms and break barriers, all while uplifting women and giving voice to the voiceless. 

Through her stories and experiences, Jodi inspires us to overcome fears, embrace change, and fight for our dreams.

Jody Stahancyk has earned her reputation as a strong woman with a generous heart,a formidable opponent in the courtroom, and a pillar of her community. She began her legal practice in 1973 as a Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney, where she successfully prosecuted for six years. In 1979 she was appointed as the pro tem judge for the Multnomah County Juvenile Court, where she sat until 1982. After this appointment, she spent a year as an Assistant Oregon Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division. From 1983 until she began private practice in 1986, Jody was a full-time mother and wife. In 1986, Jody founded this firm and has continued making innovative and creative advances in the area of divorce and family law to this day. She prides herself on creative solutions to difficult problems in every area of her work. Stahancyk, Kent & Hook has grown from one office in Portland to include offices in Bend, Prineville, Eugene, and Astoria, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. SK&H is one of the leading divorce, family law, and estate planning firms in the Northwest.

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Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:07] Jan: Are you looking for an inspiring listen, something to motivate you? You've come to the right place. Welcome to women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives. Motivating, inspiring, compelling.

[00:23] Jody: I believe a failure is a gift from God because it shows you you're going the wrong direction. And if you don't fail, you just keep going, and you would never stop. But by failing, then you know that this isn't a good idea. So we recalibrate. 


Jan: Hello, listeners. Welcome to Women of the Northwest. My extraordinary woman of the day is Jody Stahancyk. Welcome, Jody. How are you? 


Jody: Good to be here. Good. 


Jan: Very good. Well, let's just. I don't want to start clear at the beginning, but why don't we start in Prineville? 


Jody: That is the beginning. 


Jan: That is the beginning. Okay. All right. 


We're going to start in Prineville way back in the 19 hundreds. Well, we could, but my family didn't arrive in Prineville until 1924. Oh, well, there we go. And this is our 100th year anniversary of being in the Otico valley, which is what the bowl that Prineville sits in is called. And my grandparents had come over from Poland in the 19 hundreds. And my grandfather worked in a coal mine in bank in Banff, Canada, which is near. It was called Bankhead, but it's in Alberta. And he and my grandmother took in laundry, and they amassed what would have been considered in this time a great deal of money. They were on their way back to Poland, and they heard you could double your money by buying property in Cook county. It's the original land fraud case. 


And so they, with another family, came into Prineville. And Prineville is unique in that it has the only place that has its own city owned railroad, and it's a spur that they built when the major railroads bypassed them to get their lumber and cattle and things to market. And so they rode in on the train, and the land guy picked up the two families and put them in a buckboard wagon, took them down for their only free lunch. My father was four years old at the time, and he was a persnickety little stinker. You come by? Naturally. I do. And he behaved so badly, he was left out on the buckboard wagon. And so he introduced himself to Prineville by just screaming and wanted to go to college because Slatskill recruited him out of high school to go play basketball. My father was six five, a little bit over six five. And my grandfather said, no, he couldn't go. He needed him on the ranch. 


So, Susie Yancey Pape— Pape cat and tractor fame. Well, her grandfather was the sheriff, her great grandfather, and so he came out and visited with my grandfather. And I think my grandfather had a still. And he also ran usurious rate money, loaned money at usurious rates, and played poker. And I think he had some epiphany because he allowed my father to go to college. Now, that would have been fine, except, unfortunately, my father met my mother at Oregon State, and that completely flummoxed my grandfather because she couldn't drive and she'd been to college. 


Now, her family were settlers in Lane county, and each of my grandparents on my mother's side were born in Oregon in 1895. And she was going to college, and she was going to college because that was rare. No, not 1940, but some of the girls had gone to teacher school, who were her aunts. And then I was born in 1948, so I was born in July. And my mother had, by that time, learned to drive because we were clear out. And they put in indoor plumbing and electricity for the new bride. And my poor mother was. She said that if she'd known how to drive, known anybody in town or there'd been a taxi, she'd have left. And so here she is with me out there. And as my father bought the ranch from my grandfather for the same amount, he had it published for everyone else. And my grandfather went to town, and he told everyone not to worry. He wasn't really retiring, because since my father had been to college in the army and married so poorly that he'd be able to buy it back for taxes when he went bankrupt. And my grandfather was, frankly not particularly happy that my father succeeded. 


So I come from hearty stock. I see that. And everybody and I teach my granddaughters about our family because I read a book called Happy Families, and it said, if your children and grandchildren could know that bad things happened and it was still okay, they can be okay. So I have explained about how their great great grandmother came over from Poland with a two year old child, arrived on Christmas night. She didn't get the best seat on the boat. She got steerage. She didn't speak English. She didn't speak German. And it was a German boat. She had to go from Ellis Island over and get on a train and go out and meet her husband, because, of course, he wasn't going to come in to meet her mail order bride. No, they had been married in Poland.


 And so she was bringing their two year old child, and he made enough to come and get her. And the point is, she didn't cry, she didn't wimp. And so I caught one of my granddaughters when we were entering a country in Europe that the girls were a little discombobulated because they couldn't understand the language. In one album, the other, it said, Grandma Anna would be ashamed of you. And that is a constant theme through my life, which is, you can do it, and you don't need to be ashamed, and you just need to want it enough. 


So I went to school, and I graduated from high school in 1966. I'm six foot two, so I would have been the third tallest person on the boys basketball team. I played women's basketball, and there was only one woman who could even get near me when I held my hands over my head, and that was my cousin, who was 5’10”. And to this day, she's six months older than I am, and she still tells me what to do. And that's the way of the family that we do these things. I went off to Linfield College. I was so homesick, so terrified to be in a place that seems so big. I demanded my parents return me. Oh, really? I had a $500 telephone bill for one month. Oh, my. That's because you didn't have. No. There were no cell phones, and everything was charged by the minute. And I would beg to be taken home.


 My father said he would drive the tractor, and he would wonder, are we destroying her? And he had a sense that he couldn't allow me to give up. Why? What was so bad that you didn't like. I didn't know anybody. They didn't look like me. It was scary. I was so out of your element. Homesick. I traveled, but I had roommates that were older. I didn't go with a friend. And so my father and mother stopped by. I think they wished they hadn't. On the way to go to Portland to an Oregon state game, football game. And so my father said to my mother, Bertie Lee, would you get into the car, please? My mother's. And so my father gave me a great big hug. And you started crying. Well, no, I was crying the whole time. And he gave me a shove and shoved me down into the. Just toppled me over onto the ground. I was just gobstopped. How could this man do it? And he turned and he ran, and he got in the car, and he drove off. And I chased after the car, don't you leave me here.


 I got the best grades I've ever gotten. In my entire life. But then I met some friends, moved to a dorm of kids that were freshmen. Suck it up, buttercup. And it worked. And I have, during my lifetime, not liked change. Yeah. As a result of that experience, I have a program where I have lots of student workers who are in high school. When they go to college, they all get the talk from me that if you are afraid, if you are homesick, I will staff with you all night. We can talk, we can do whatever. And there is no shame. I have had two of them on the phone at the same time. That's right. And then I said to these, and some of them are boys, and one of them was in Europe, and he called from a pay phone and he think, I want to come home. I said, well, let's just think about this for a minute. He said, well, where are you? He said, I'm outside of Harris, actually. I guess I'm outside of Marks and Spencer's. He said, you know, we were there a couple weeks ago, and there was an outfit for one of my granddaughters up in the third floor. Do you think you could go up and see if it's still there? He said, you want me to go up? I said, yeah, I want to do that. And then there was something on the fifth floor, too. Can you go do that and then call me back? Only call me collect this time. Yeah. And he called me back and he said, you did that deliberately, didn't you? Called your number? And I said, yes. And it worked, didn't it? I said, and it isn't as scary now that you've gotten over it. 


And so when I graduated from high school, a lot of the people in Prineville did not go on to secondary education or they went to St. Florian community College. And so someone said, well, it's awfully lucky you're going to college because you don't have a man to marry. Was, back in the day, it was a real thing. And so when I graduated from Linfield and I made the decision I would go to law school, someone said to me, well, it's a good thing you're going to law school because you haven't got any guy to marry you. And I was just terrified that by the time I graduated from law school, it was going to be an old maid. Well, I wasn't worried about that. It'd be the same thing. I would just be timing out everywhere. So I signed up. Actually, the day before I signed up, I called my father and I said, the application to take the law school exam called. The LSAT is tomorrow. I can't do it. And he said, why not? I said, it costs $25. He said, well, that is a lot of money. He said, but I'll tell you what, go collect cans. He said, I'm sending it to you. And I said, well, what if I don't make it? He said, well, then you and I'll be the only ones that know. He said that there'll be no shame. Nobody else is going to law school. What do you care?


 So the night before we went to take the exam, I went out with a guy and we had some beers, and the problem was he was 20 and I was 19. And he got picked up for a minor in possession. And I said, well, what are you going to get me for? Adding to the delinquency of the liner, at which point the young man elbowed me in the stomach, and I went. And the officer said, is she okay? And he goes, she will be if she keeps her mouth shut. And he said to me, officer said, you drive the car. Said, I don't know how to drive a stick shift. He said, well, jump you out of the time to learn. You better learn. And so I again called my father and said, oh, I might be arrested and I can't go. Take this. And he goes, you're going to go. You're going to go take the test.


 So I got admitted to two schools. Now, remember, my father went to Oregon State. Okay? One of the places was the University of Oregon. My father said, no child of mine will attend a heathen school like that. You know what those people do there? And I said, okay, I've also been accepted to lamb it. And he goes, okay. I think that would. I feel better there. I said, well, it cost $1,800 a year to go there. And it cost $600 a year to go to the University of Oregon. You said, you just won your first case.


 So in September or in August, they sent me, or they took me down, moved me into a place called the college end. And I then decided that I couldn't go to school because I was too scared. So my father said to my mother, well, why don't you make her bed and get things straightened here? And he said, how about if I walked you to school? That would make me feel really good today so that I could think about the path that you're going to take tomorrow. And he had enormous hands, like plow shears. And he stuck out his hand, and I took my hand. My hand is equally large, but quite feminine. And he said, let's go. And he walked me to school five blocks down the street. 


Jan: I would love to know your father. Well, today would have been his birthday. 


Jody: Well, he was born in 1920, but he was born on February 29. And so I walked to school. I had seen the movie love story, so I thought I would be attending law school with all these men that looked like Ryan O'Neill and behaved like him and had little patches. It turned out they were dirt bags. This was a brand new school, and it was the first year, and they had an open staircase. Those sons of ******* were looking up my dress. I went home and put on a pair of blue jeans at lunch. I mean, I was like, excuse me. I mean, I met dirt bags before. These are just dirt bags. So I went to walk home, and a fellow who I was in my class, and he turned to me and he said, and that was about the fourth or fifth or 6th time someone had said this to me on my first day of school. What's a nice girl like you doing going to lust? I looked at this guy and I said to him, ask 49 guys to marry me. None of them would. Will you marry me? And ran. I thought, well, there's my first friend.


 So law school was. I really didn't understand why I was there. It was something to do different. When I had been in high school or in junior high, they had to tell you to decide what you wanted to be. And I was, I guess, 13. And so I came up with two things. One was to be a psychiatrist and one was to be a lawyer and at the dinner table, and we would all eat at the dinner table, and we'd have discussions about these things. Well, I came up with the fact that one you got paid to listen, and one you got paid to talk. And therefore, since I love to talk, this was a better thing. 


But I actually realized after an incident at law school why I was there. In the first year of law school, everything is very intense, and everything you learn, you think is like the holy grail. And you just are sure, if you don't remember it or you don't get it, you'll never be a decent lawyer. And so there were a number of us standing in the hallway discussing, at the end of the day, a particular case or something. And I began to win the argument and the fellow across from me. So we stood in a kind of a semicircle, looked down at my bust line and said, my, you have a fine bust line. I looked at him, and I have no idea where this came from.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. 


For three more years of law school, that man never faced again. He would see me coming and he would turn. I obviously hit a rather large button, and I really probably called it much more than I realized. So I went, and what do you do when you think you've just been a terribly bad girl? You call your mother. My mother was a bit of a worrier. And she said, well, do you think you'll be reported? Don't know. I've never been here before. It was okay for men to say things right, and they did, but it gets better. And so she said, well, I don't know. I think it'll be all right. Just don't talk. So I thought, okay. And I got a call from. And they paged and they said, your mother's on the phone. It's the middle of the day. And I went to the phone and I could hear people in the background, and my mother said, you know, I'm at bridge club, and the ladies and I would like to hear this story again of what happened in law school the other day, said, okay. Are they embarrassed? Well, just tell the story. I told the story, and when I got to the punchline, the ladies were banging their hands on the bridge table, screaming, you go, girl, you go. We've had to tolerate this for years. We run these ranches. We work as hard and nobody hears us. And I had an epiphany, which was, I wasn't just there for me. I was there for everybody who didn't have a voice, who'd wanted a voice, and either didn't have the opportunities. 


Before I went to law school, the men who all came in for coffee in the morning, and they said, you're going to do what? And they'd say, joe, you're going to let her go. Well, you know that this isn't a job for girl. And my father said, she wants to do it, and there's no reason she can't. So when I came back at thanksgiving, they said to me, well, how'd they teach you down there? Jody said, well, they looked up my dress, they were obnoxious, and they make fun of me. Why, those sons of *******? Don't they know who they're dealing with? Do we need to go down there and deal with them? I said, no, we'll be fine. 


It was an interesting experience, because between 1970 and 73, we begin to have birth control. We begin to have Gloria Steinem. We have all kinds of things. And there were eleven women in my class. The class before had two, and the class before that had one. Luckily, they built a new woman's bathroom. And in those days, you were required to put a bed in by state law. And so we could all eleven of us fit in this bathroom. And so the boys had a golf tournament. And they had a sign that said first place. And they showed a picture of a naked woman. And there were a couple of women who were quite radical in our class. And we ranged in age from, I was the youngest to a woman who was in her forty s and had gone back to law school. And so one of the radical women showed a picture of a man with a huge ***** that he had wrapped around his hands. Which point the 40 year old woman said to me, do they come that big? Jody, you're late. I don't have a car. I don't have any brothers. I don't know what you're talking. And so we decided that that fighting fire with fire in that incident was not appropriate. But we learned from some of these women. 


They would call on us and they would say your name. And if you were a man, then you were Mr. And if you were a woman, they say, are you miss or Mrs. And one of the more very radical woman said, what's the matter? You want a date? And that professor was pretty quick. He said, well, you must be Ms. Woodhouse. So she was, she was in the bathroom with me. And my father had come down, he was a county commissioner. And he was going to take me to dinner. And I said, my daddy's going to take me to dinner. And this woman says, does he **** you too? I said, excuse me, what are you talking about? And she said, well, I asked that question because you really like your father. And sometimes women who really like their fathers have been subjected to this. And I said, like who? How do you know these people? And she said, well, some are my friends, but you say it like it was you. She says, you say it because then if it's true, they know they have a sister in the room. I was again, just a sight of the world I had never thought about, never imagined. And it was interesting. 


So a man came to school and he explained that there was successful lawyers, that women shouldn't be lawyers because they had hormonal imbalances. And we all just sat there and nobody said anything. Everybody just sort of watched. And it turned out that one of the people who suggested this was a lawyer from Bend, he daughter was a professor at Central Oregon Community College. My father happened to be chairman of the board. I introduced myself to him, said, I'm fascinated after your comments here, how would you feel if my father had that kind of behavior? Thoughts of your daughter? And he said, I'd sue his ***. And I thought, okay, this is all in whose ox is getting gored? 


But we expected not to be accepted. We expected that they would say things. And so you had two choices. You could fold and go to the ground and say, it isn't fair, or you could just have a comment and say, well, sorry you feel that way. We'll just keep going. Yeah, keep shoving on the wall. 


Yeah. Tell me about, currently you're shepherding some paralegals. Tell me about that program. What you got going there? Sounds fascinating. 


I think this is the crowning glory of the 50 years I have practiced. The Oregon State bar came to me and they asked me if I could, and that's the governing body for lawyers. And the president of the Oregon State bar is a woman I know. And she and a senior judge came and said, you have a strong voice in the family law field. Would you agree to support this program where we would take legal assistance and we would, in fact, have standards for them and we would then license them as limited scope lawyers. They would become members of the bar. They would pay bar dues. And I thought, I have people who work for me who can do better at forms than I can, who are as smart or smarter than I am, and I can change their lives. 


Yeah. So I said, sure, I'll support it. And I want to know what the criteria is. So we began at that .2 years ago, training every Tuesday for a half an hour because there are certain requirements that each of these people had to accomplish. They had to have a certain educational background. They had to have either a degree from a community college in paralegals or a paralegal program. They had to have a BA or bs. They could have a law degree, or they could have long, long experience of having been a legal assistant. It is only in family law and landlord tenant. We only know about family law because that's all we do. We offered this opportunity to all of the legal assistants. I said, you do the work, this law firm will back you 100%, will do all the training, and we'll pay for it all. 




 And you will be able to do all of this on the time that you are working for us. Nine people chose to do it. One in Astoria. Actually, there were two in Astoria, but one moved to Portland so there's one in Astoria, four in Portland, four in bent. These people had to do the following. They had to work 1500 hours. That's a lot of hours in family law, 1500 hours as they had to have the educational background. And there are way more hours if you don't have a degree. But if you have a degree. Most of these people needed 1500. They had to track all their time. 


At least 500 of it had to be family law. They had to have 20 hours of continuing education. Now, if you'll remember, we had those trainings for a half an hour. So we recorded all of those. There you go. Did them on rise so that they could continue. And if we picked up someone later in a program, we could do it next. They had to submit, they had to apply, they had to submit a portfolio of work that consisted of twelve separate items to fulfill twelve different categories to show that they had the basic ability. They had to take an ethics exam. They had to take a scope of practice exam. How is this different than what you have to do to become an attorney? Well, you have to go to three years of school, but probably not so much anymore. 


But the comment has been made by the judges who've been hearing this is. This is what lawyers should have to do, because these people are practical, then they have the ground, then they have to pass a standards and fitness. I have been told that all nine, there are ten in the state of Oregon, nine of whom are from us. They will be announced next week and we will then swear them in. We will pay for them to become lawyers, and they will then have the ability to leave me, go out on their own. Fly, little birds, fly. In this case, I don't think any of these nine will, but we're prepared to do a second round of people. And the idea is that people need help and they can't afford it. They are not doing their divorces right. They are not transferring property. Correctly. 


And so what ends up happening is these people can do all of this and then the client is protected because if they screw it up, they have malpractice insurance. If they became unethical, they would have the PLF, the professional liability fund to help. And right now, there are people out there just saying they're the legal beagle, they're the legal eagle. They'll fill out all of this. They don't have any of the training. They don't have any of the licensure. And so in Astoria, we will have somebody who will be able to work with people on what's called an unbundled legal service. That's exciting. And as one of them said, never in a million years could I ever have imagined I'd be a lawyer. I'd be a member of the bar. Yeah. And I'm just so proud of them. Yeah. They've given up. That's right. That's amazing. So that is something. And we're doing press releases for them. We're just going to make them just famous. 


If you had a motto in life, what would it be? Never give up. Right there and say, when they say, you can't do it, you say, why not? Yeah. Give me a good reason why not. Don't even give me a good reason. Just why not. In so many times, I've watched people be stopped by their own fears, their fear of failure. And who cares if you fail? It's a learning experience, but it's more than that. I believe a failure is a gift from God because it shows you you're going the wrong direction. And if you don't fail, you just keep going. And you would never stop by failing. Then you know that this isn't a good idea. So we recalibrate and it doesn't matter. 


The irony is people say, well, yeah, you're lucky. No, I'm a mediocre student. There's a joke. There's no word that is too small for me not to be able to misspell a dictionary. Doesn't help me because I can't even figure out how to find you for autocorrect. The up with phonics was lost on Jody. My father said that we could have had free lunch because the ranch wasn't doing well. I didn't look like anybody else. I mean, I was so coarse that when a boy said to me, what's the weather up like that up there? I spit on him and said, it was raining. No wonder I didn't have any boyfriends, when you think about this. But what? I live by the code that if I give my word, I follow through. And if I absolutely can't, then I go straight and tell them I hold myself more accountable than anyone else. I forgive myself. 


That's huge. 


Yeah, huge. And I don't trust anybody very much. There's only one little girl that I bother to trust at all, and I don't trust her very much. And she lives right in the center of my soul. And sometimes she's got some real cockamamie idea. Jody, thank you. This has been entertaining, but educational as, and I just, I look forward to seeing your results. Of all your little. My little chickadees. Your little chickadees. Your paralegal to become attorneys. What a neat gift to the world, to them, and to the world.


[40:53] Jan: That's all for today. Did you know it's easy to share an episode with your friends when the podcast is open? Look for three dots, click on them and you'll see various options. You can download the episode, play it next or last, go to the show, save the episode, or copy the link. Isn't technology amazing? Using hey, I'm looking forward to you joining me next time. I hope you have a great week.