‘Nerdy’ lawyer has soft spot for the underdog


Terry Schaplow was born and raised in a farm in Bozeman, Montana “dirt poor”, he says, “but with a loving family.” He spent his childhood summers working hard on the farm.

“Summers were very hectic for me,” he says. “I was glad when school started so things would slow down a bit.”

Schaplow, a man steeped in fondness for family, had an extremely close relationship with his father, who passed away just over a year ago.

“When I was little, in the summertime, I never saw Dad. It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I could start working in the field. … My brother started when he was 10, and I couldn’t wait to start working in the fields because that was like you were a man, now.” 

With a well-rounded youth, his mother made sure they were “more than just hired men,” and that meant baseball in the city for him and his brother. Schaplow did well in baseball, but basketball is what he loved. Excelling in high school, he still holds the record at Bozeman High School. Schaplow is 6-foot-3, quick and he could jump, making him an exceptional athlete.

To define Schaplow as a jock wouldn’t entirely be true. He graduated fourth in his class out of about 300 kids, with a few academic scholarships at Montana State University. A self-proclaimed nerd, Schaplow knew the importance of reading, and so he read a lot. He loved Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the magazine subscriptions his Mom got, Life, Jack and Jill, Boys Life and the Saturday Evening Post.

“We didn’t have a TV, which I have thanked my parents for many times.”

When he wasn’t reading, Schaplow spent his days in the shop, taking things apart, clocks, telephones, radios, locks. “I wasn’t very good at putting things back together.” but he could take them apart. “I wanted to know how they were made.”

Upon entering Montana State University, Schaplow worked hard, earning a degree in English literature. However, it wasn’t until his fourth year that he knew he wanted to attend law school. Schaplow approached a professor in the Political Science department to discuss law school.

“He essentially told me I wouldn’t make it to law school.” He didn’t think Schaplow’s scores in the top 20 percent in five of the seven categories and the top 10 percent in the English, syntax and punctuation sections were good enough. In fact, another English teacher he had, tried to discourage him from going, as well. It didn’t bother him though, he said, “I figure I’d show them. Just makes you work harder. Makes you want it more.”

Attending Willamette Law School, Schaplow met his match in nerdiness. “I though I was a nerd but these guys were super students.” Schaplow searched for an area of law to identify with, and he came up with property and real estate. Alongside one of his professors, he began writing a real estate newsletter, sponsored by the state bar, which is still being published today.

After working in Kalispell and Helena, he finally was ready to head back to Bozeman. Schaplow worked at a Bozeman firm for five years before opening his own practice.

When asked if confidence has a lot to do with being a lawyer, Terry replied, “When I’d go to trials over in Virginia City I would say the Lord’s Prayer on the way over. I was just scared to death, doing it by myself. I would write Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,’ on the top of my legal tablet. I was so scared. But after time, it gets easier, and you start knowing people and other young lawyers are scared to death, too.

“In a five-day trial, I would usually lose at least ten pounds because I would just stop eating I was so scared.”

“You start treating people right and I started getting busier and busier. I started doing these civil rights cases and not very many people do those cases regularly. Word got around and I started getting more and more of them.”

Appreciative of highly competent secretaries, Schaplow says the people that you meet is his favorite part about being an attorney. “I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart to help people because I always felt like I was a minority of one growing up. I always felt less because I was raised on a farm. Now I know how silly that is, but that’s how I felt. That is why I got so competitive in sports. It didn’t know what your background was. It didn’t matter whether you were a farm kid or a city kid. It was whether you could make the basket or hit the pitch.”

“I have always had a soft spot for people who were bucking the tide, trying to do something because that is where I have been, or where I felt like I was.”

 – Edited by Maddie Sherrier and Patrick Hill

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