POULSBO — Besides his interest in the law, Jeff Tolman is interested in small town life.
Take a second to sit down with him and he’s more likely to tell you about the amazing Poulsbo old-timers he’s had the pleasure of talking with over the years than about his law practice. Having grown up in a small town, Tolman said he got into law not because of the prestige or the money, but for the ability to be of assistance to his neighbors.
“There were 19 kids in my graduating class and all I knew was small town and helping people when they needed something,” Tolman said. “To me, the world’s greatest honor is when someone comes up to you and says ‘I have a problem. Can you help me?’”
Which may explain why he’s a bit sheepish when you bring up that he was recently voted a Super Lawyer for the third time by his peers throughout Washington State. The Super Lawyer honor is bestowed by Law & Politics magazine on 4 percent of the bar each year based on votes cast by lawyers across the state and also marks by a judging panel. There were between 400 and 500 Super Lawyers in the state for 2002 and Tolman is one of four named in Kitsap County.
“It’s a wonderful honor but in a way it’s intimidating because Kitsap County had some wonderful lawyers,” Tolman said. “It really is an honor to have your peers say they respect your work. Your peers can be the toughest critics and when they give you positive reinforcement, it’s a great thing.”
Many people know Tolman from his part -time work as judge for the Poulsbo Municipal Court since 1994. Just as many people also know him for his 25 years at Tolman, Kirk & Franz in a tiny office space in downtown Poulsbo. Having settled in Poulsbo right after graduating from Gonzaga Law School, Tolman has enjoyed 22 years of marriage and raising two sons in Little Norway. He said living and practicing law in a city the size of Poulsbo can make for some tense moments and while some lawyers have left for larger pastures, Tolman said he likes it here just fine.
“We’ve lost lawyers in this office who needed to be anonymous. I can’t stand to go somewhere where I don’t know everyone,” Tolman said with a laugh.
Tolman said he’d never met a lawyer until he went to law school so he’s never surprised when a new client comes in feeling apprehensive because they’d never worked with a lawyer before. If there’s one rule he lives by, Tolman said it’s to make sure his clients know he cares about them as a person first and then as a case.
“What I always try to do is let them know what team I’m on, that it would be my privilege to work for them,” Tolman explained. “When they hear someone say at a cocktail party, ‘I hate lawyers‚‘ I’d hope they’ll say ‘Not Jeff Tolman, he treated me right.’”