Barnes H. Ellis “The role of a lawyer is to be a good citizen”

“Something inside me said ‘Just say yes.’”

In 2005 Barnes volunteered to assist Portland-based Mercy Corps, an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization, to raise funds for its new building.  He let CEO Neal Keny-Guyer know that he would be happy to be of further assistance, if needed.  Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Bob Newell, who had been a Mercy Corps board member since its early days in 1979, called Barnes, who was out of town, in January 2010,  He told Barnes of a legal issue Mercy Corps was facing. They decided to meet on Saturday at 8 a.m. It was the morning after Barnes’ 70th birthday.

 Within a few minutes of starting the meeting, Neal Keny-Guyer asked “Would you like to be our general counsel?” It was totally unexpected.  Barnes recalls, “Any rational person would have asked a lot of questions and would want to discuss the issue with his law firm and family.  But something inside me said ‘Just say yes’—which is what I did.”

He took his head and his heart out of the courtroom and put them into some of the world’s toughest places. “Places,” as Neal Keny-Guyer says, “where poor governance, conflict, insecurity and extreme poverty collide to trap people.” Mercy Corps works to address short-term emergency relief issues and to build long-term resilience. Barnes began serving as general counsel in 2010 and now serves as senior legal counsel.  Keny-Guyer notes, “Barnes is the epitome of finding ways to get the important things done, solving problems, and/or navigating through. In our world, which has tons of complexity, he’s among the best at that.” Mercy Corps has annual revenues of about $500,000,000 and is active in over 40 countries. One of his areas of focus has been Mercy Corps’ legacy of micro-finance institutions formed in the 1990s. These institutions serve a mission of financial inclusion, enabling small unit farmers and others to have access to financial services.  In recent years, Barnes has assisted Mercy Corps selling its equity yet preserving the social mission.  Keny-Guyer praises Barnes. “ He’s been absolutely so creative in ensuring that with these legal entities with our financial institutions, we’re able to achieve our mission, get back some of the investment that we put into it, and that these entities preserve and keep their social mission.  Absolutely incredible.”

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