by Ellen Arabian-Lee
The SCBA has selected Steve Boutin as its 2015 Distinguished Attorney of the Year. The overwhelming community response is that the award is “well deserved.”
Steve really could not help but become an attorney—it is in his blood. He is, along with his brother Peter, a 4th generation lawyer in his family. His great grandfather, Stephen Wheeler Downey, was admitted to the bar in Washington D.C. in 1863, after being promoted to Colonel in the 3rd Maryland Infantry. Downey later moved to Wyoming and served as the prosecuting attorney of Albany County, Wyoming. Downey was the first person to try a case with women sitting on the jury and later presented a petition signed by residents of Albany County urging that the bill repealing women’s suffrage not pass.
Shortly after the turn of the century, Steve’s grandfather, Stephen Wheeler Downey, Jr., moved to Sacramento and practiced law with his brother, Sheridan Downey. The latter served as California’s U.S. Senator between 1939 and 1950, and later practiced law in Washington D.C.
In 1926, Steve’s grandfather, Stephen Downey, founded Downey Brand. Steve describes his grandfather as a “kind, wonderful man,” as well as an acclaimed attorney who appeared many times before the United States Supreme Court.
Steve, a Sacramento native, is one of six children. Steve attributes his decision to become a lawyer to his family heritage and living through the 60’s and witnessing first-hand the need for change and the need to give people opportunities to be successful. In 1967, while Steve was a 19-year old sophomore at Occidental College, he met and spent the day with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a highlight of his life. Steve recognized, “I’m in the presence of a very special person.” At lunch, King asked Steve to “tell me about yourself,” and King listened attentively as Steve shared his own background and experiences. Steve describes King’s speech at Occidental College as “a wave,” a building crescendo, which drew everyone in for the message and went directly into the soul. Steve was personally moved after hearing someone speak about hope after being oppressed. He was profoundly affected by King’s assassination the following year, and Steve took an active interest in human rights issues and the direction of the country.
After graduating from UC Davis Law School, Steve worked at Downey Brand as an associate and became a partner at age 30. In 1986, Steve co-founded Boutin Lassner, Gibson, Perry & Delehant, which later evolved into the 50+ attorney firm known as Boutin Jones, Inc.
Steve credits the Downey Brand attorneys from his early practice days, especially Jack Downey, as well as the judges of the time, as being “incredible mentors and examples” who shaped his career. Steve worked down the hall from Joe Genshlea and Malcolm Weintraub, who also set high expectations for him. In particular, Steve learned always to be prepared and that an attorney’s duty is to his client—“you give your client 110% if not more.” In addition, he firmly believes that a young attorney learns more by doing than watching.
Steve calls Jack Lassner and Chris Gibson his “dear friends going back to his Downey Brand days.” Lassner, who practiced law with Steve for 16 years (1978–1994) describes Steve as a really good friend and “one guy I really miss seeing on a daily basis. Steve has an incredible ability to be up all of the time. I have never seen him mope around. He is the most enthusiastic, positive, high energy and goodwill attorney I know.” Lassner also pointed out that Steve loves competition and it shows in everything that he does, including the practice of law. “He [Steve] will play anything at any time. He is a sports nut.” Besides playing tennis, softball, flag football, and golf, Steve still holds the Sacramento area high school boys track record for the 1,320 yard race, which was set in 1966. Steve also has won numerous awards at Eppie’s Great Race, and he continues to participate.
Chris Gibson has known Steve since 1980, when Steve hired him to be an associate attorney at Downey Brand. According to Gibson, “Steve was the best partner I could have and remains my best friend.” Gibson describes the highlight of their friendship being in 1986, when “three good friends enjoying the practice of law and each other’s friendship,” decided to start their own law firm. “Steve is the best ‘rain maker’ I know, though I detest the expression. What makes him unusual is his deep affection for everyone in the firm, and he can tell you the details of what makes each firm employee special, a trait he learned from his mother. He has a special fondness for new lawyers, and he devotes much time each year to hiring and then mentoring the firm’s associate attorneys.”
Local attorney and artist, David Post, has known Steve for 50 years. “From the moment I met Steve, I knew that he would succeed gloriously. His contagious enthusiasm, his wit, his intelligence, his drive, his easygoing humility, and his devotion to family have always set him apart and explain why so many attorneys want to join his firm and so many people want to be in his company. I can truly say that in all those years, I cannot recall Steve losing his temper or his positive outlook even once. If for no other reason than that—and as I have noted there are many others—he is an inspiration.”
According to Steve, a successful attorney recognizes that he or she is in a profession and not a business. “Your obligation is to your client and you must do the very best you can—no short cuts and no excuses. Billable hours are not the end-all—quality is #1.” In addition, there is never an excuse for not being prepared. Steve stresses the importance of balance and not becoming “too full of yourself.” He also pointed out that no matter what was going on he would try to get home in time to have dinner with his family. Steve is married to Linda Boutin and they have two daughters and three grandchildren (Rosey, Eva and Charlie). One of his daughters, Gabrielle Boutin, is an attorney at Boutin Jones, and Steve’s other daughter, Alexis Boutin, is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Sonoma State University.
Steve learned from his parents the importance of becoming part of the community where you live and helping others in need. As a result, Steve has served on numerous community boards and organizations including Pride Industries, the Crocker Art Museum, UC Davis Law School Alumni Association and UCD Foundation, and the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. Steve finds profound satisfaction in giving back, and wants to do his family proud.
Dean Kevin Johnson at UC Davis School of Law indicated that Steve “puts his money where his mouth is, and he has personally planned and funded numerous charity events for the school.” For example, Steve has helped the school establish a relationship with the James McClatchy/Central Valley Foundation and to secure support for an annual lecture on the First Amendment and for scholarships for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Johnson describes Steve as “full of energy,” and states that “he is such an admired figure at the School of Law that when the King Hall Legal Foundation, which funds student public service projects, decided to host a fundraising golf tournament, they named it after Steve Boutin. The legal community has benefitted immensely from his leadership, as has the Sacramento community at large.”
Similarly, Dean Francis J. Mootz, III from Pacific McGeorge School of Law, observed “Steve has been the most deeply engaged when I have gone to firms to talk about the structural changes in legal education and practice. It is clear that he loves the profession. Boutin Jones is an excellent place to practice law, in large part due to Steve’s energy and leadership.”
Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) noted: “I have known Steve Boutin for many years. He is not only an excellent lawyer and the leader of a respected law firm, but also a highly regarded community member. What a perfect choice!”
The criteria for SCBA’s Distinguished Lawyer of the Year Award indicate that the award should go to “the lawyer who most exemplifies the best qualities in the legal profession and who, through the practice of law, has made Sacramento a better place to live and work.” Steve exemplifies those qualities, and his contributions and enthusiasm have definitely made our legal community a better place.