All top-tier lawyers bring to their work the sum of their experiences, but few can lay claim to experiences quite as rich, varied -- and as valuable to a divorce lawyer -- as Napa's Roger Lewis. For starters, the 62-year-old Seattle native launched his career in the notorious world of Beverly Hills divorce law, where "every case was a war." He was mentored by well-known, respected litigators. In 1990 he moved to Napa as a 38-year-old up-and-comer, driven by an independent spirit -- and a confidence in his skills -- that fit well into the uniquely tight-knit, laid-back and, given the brutally competitive wine industry there, high stakes -- Napa and Sonoma counties. (His success spurred less pioneering lawyers, including a one-time partner, to follow him to the region years later.) Most significantly, Lewis's early life in Washington State -- he's from a family of community-focused entrepreneurs - imbued in him the personal skills and temperament to thrive as a community lawyer in Napa, where newcomers don't take root quite as reliably as the vines do. But two decades later, Lewis is every bit the involved and accessible community barrister, and he's clearly proud of it. Distant observers may be tempted to view Lewis's career path as an episode out of TV's "Green Acres", but that would greatly oversimplify both Lewis and the region: In many respects he has helped transform divorce law in Napa; his stature there today has led to natural opportunities, including private judging and divorce mediation.
The middle of three brothers, ("My brothers were much better athletes, and I made up for it by being a good talker.") the voluble and outgoing Lewis found himself president of his Bellevue (Wa.) High School class; but his life focus even then was his parents' restaurant business - the Skipper's seafood chain. "My dad was a visionary -- he recognized what people wanted before others did." Lewis's father appeared in ads and at SuperSonics games with his fisherman's hat, "the Col. Sanders of Seattle Seafood." For the young Lewis the 40-hour workweeks during high school and UW were "my life"; at 17 he wrote an operating manual for the restaurant chain, so comprehensive it spanned 300 pages "all understandable to a 10-year-old." He seemed certain of his future ("Every young guy's dream: To buy a big house on the lake"), but when his father left Skipper's, Lewis had to chart a new course. For a while he worked in the ladies' shoe department at Nordstrom's flagship store, "the best classroom for life anywhere."
After graduating in Political Science at the University of Washington, he considered accounting or teaching, but instead applied to law school and chose Loyola University in Los Angeles, in part to get away and "because I got in," he says. He immediately appreciated the school's adjunct professors - all practicing attorneys. A clerkship led to his first job -- $1,200 per month - at a firm with tort lawyer Bradley Marcus and entertainment and family lawyer Howard Thaler, based in Beverly Hills. Both were "great mentors, great teachers. Sometimes I'd learn just by listening to Howard on the phone. I learned how to advocate, to think like a lawyer." Lewis later partnered with well known litigator Abram Zukor, and focused on family law in part because it "had a real-world component" entertainment law could never have. "In time you have clients of every background, of every ilk. That always appealed to me."
Throughout his 30s he handled hundreds of divorce cases, but he grew weary of LA's congestion. Lewis considered returning to Seattle. Every Beverly Hills divorce case "was a war and that didn't fit my personality." Also, he'd gotten a taste of small town California working in a litigation matter in the San Joaquin Valley, and when Napa lawyer Victor Fershko announced he was looking to sell his practice, Lewis headed up for a weekend. Fershko ("A great guy, a real community leader") had an option on The Napa Register building, one of Napa's historic landmarks, at Coombs and First Streets, which Lewis would later acquire. Within weeks Lewis pulled up stakes, bringing his wife and 8-month-old daughter to Napa, pop. 60,000. His practice thrived from the start; other lawyers liked him right away, in part because he brought a new hourly rate with him. With the courthouse across the street and home nearby, Lewis's life found a sanity that had been missing amid the LA grind. Five years later Robert Blevans followed Lewis to Napa, and they were partners for 15 years before Blevans left in 2010 to open a practice with his son.
Clients will find Lewis's office a welcoming refuge - and Lewis himself, like all the best lawyers, a sensible and trusted advisor. Lewis was divorced several years ago, which has only given him a greater sensitivity for a process he's handled for clients for decades. Lewis and his companion, Cristina Harden, continue to live along the Napa River. Other than an occasional round at Napa Valley Country Club, he remains focused on his three children and Cris's two daughters who are now spread out from Napa to Corvallis (OSU), Forest Grove (PacificU), Seattle (UW) and Washington DC (GW).