Q&A With 2021-2022 WSBA President Judge Brian Tollefson (Ret.)

Brian Tollefson
2021-2022 WSBA President Judge Brian Tollefson (Ret.). Photo by Gayle Rieber Photography

Q. Tell us a bit about who you are, your background and law practice, as well as where you practice.

I was born and raised in Tacoma where I attended Tacoma Public Schools. The School of Business at the University of Washington was where I earned my undergraduate degree in business administration. However, I aspired from the time I was 12 to be a lawyer like my father, Harold M. Tollefson, and many other family members. 

Willamette University College of Law is where I attended law school and served on the Willamette Law Journal staff for two years, eventually becoming articles editor. After graduating with honors in the spring of 1976 and passing the bar exam, I was admitted to the Washington State Bar in the fall of 1976. I was fortunate to be hired by Charles T. Wright of the Washington Supreme Court as his law clerk to work with him during his two years as chief justice.

After my Supreme Court clerkship, I started private practice in 1979 with a medium-sized Tacoma law firm—then known as Kane, Vandeberg, Hartinger and Walker—where I became a partner before being elected at age 37 to the Pierce County Superior Court in 1988.

Service as a judge on the Pierce County Superior Court bench for over 27 years gave me many opportunities to pursue my belief in lifelong education. To that end, I was awarded a master’s in judicial studies from the University of Nevada, Reno, and studied many different areas of science for judges with a national organization called ASTAR and now known as the National Courts Science Institute. 

After retiring from the bench and returning to active membership status in the WSBA, two of my former judicial colleagues and I started a dispute resolution business in 2017, Black Robe Dispute Resolution Services, PLLC, where I still work today.

My wife, Linda, and I married in 1981 and celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary earlier this year. We have two wonderful adult children.

Q. What were the transitions like—from private practice, to going on the bench, and now serving as a private mediator? How do these roles differ?

As a lawyer, you represent your client and that often involves advocacy for the client. As a judge, you must look at all sides of the matter before making a decision. As a mediator, you assist the parties in making their own agreement or decision. 

The transition from private practice to the bench was easier than I thought it would be. It might be the result of my experience working for a judge. Additionally, I practiced in many different areas of law during my career in private practice and as law clerk at the Supreme Court.  

I enjoyed using mediation while serving as a superior court judge and in private practice as well. While on the bench, I often conducted mediation-style settlement conferences if the parties agreed. Now in my dispute resolution business, I perform a variety of services, including arbitrations, mediations, special-master, and hearings-officer work. 

Q. What motivated you to run for a district seat on the Board of Governors and then to run for WSBA president?

My motivation was my wife, Linda, who has supported our continuing participation in many different community endeavors. We both appreciate that community involvement is important. Linda supported my “public service” career, beginning as my campaign manager with my run for election as a superior court judge. She has worked at the Washington Supreme Court and as a judicial administrative assistant to the late Judge Solie Ringold at Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals. We’re always striving to make a difference and my involvement with the WSBA is just one case in point. 

Q. What do you hope to achieve as WSBA president? What will you focus on as your top priority?

The WSBA’s many members have different career/life priorities. Finding common ground for the benefit of all our members and the public will be the focus of my time as WSBA president. I want to continue to support the Board of Governors in working for all WSBA members and the public. I believe that “common ground” should be the number one priority and should drive every policymaking decision.

Q. What is one critical misperception the public holds about legal services and legal professionals that the WSBA can help to overcome? 

One often-mentioned critical misperception is that one must spend unaffordable amounts of money to obtain justice. The WSBA’s mission, namely its commitment to justice for all, together with a focus on helping the public through many different law-related programs, is the best tonic for overcoming that misperception. 

Q. If you weren’t a lawyer, what career path would you choose? 

The legal profession was my goal, but my backup plan was to be a CPA. 

Q. What do you do in your leisure time?

What is leisure time?

Q. What will you write about in your monthly “President’s Corner” column? 

Something new, relevant, and fresh for each issue of Bar News. I’m rolling up my sleeves. 

About the Author

Judge Brian Tollefson (Ret.) is a principal at Black Robe Dispute Resolution Services, PLLC. He can be reached at:


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