You just never know what sort of unexpected career twists and turns life will have in store.

John Barrett is an Of Counsel attorney who works in our Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment practice group from our Tucson office. With both litigation and transactional experience, John advises clients on a variety of administrative, real property and environmental matters, and works closely with clients interested in establishing conservation easements on their property.

We recently had the pleasure of talking with John about his life in the legal profession.

In this week’s leadership profile we head to the Old Pueblo to talk with attorney John Barrett in our Tucson office! Are you a person who makes new year’s resolutions? And if so, what are some of your personal and professional goals for 2023?

I like the idea of modest and achievable resolutions. To that end, this year, I will learn how to change all four headlights on my old truck. I know that probably sounds easy, but I promise you it’s a mess under that hood.

From a professional standpoint, I guess I don’t have any specific quantitative goals.  Instead, I’d like to continue growing as an attorney and at the end of 2023, feel like I’ve been a valuable contributor to the Fennemore team of attorneys and our clients.

You’ve walked a very non-linear career path with experience as a non-profit leader. What would you tell your younger self, or a 1L at Vermont Law School currently contemplating a career in the legal profession?

I would encourage 1L students to keep an open mind about the next three years and be willing to engage in any and every class, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to whatever career goal they may have as a 1L, or even a 2 or 3L. And I don’t mean just engage in the class solely as prep for the bar exam—I mean be open to accepting that it may be useful someday. 

You just never know what sort of unexpected career twists and turns life will have in store. And I’d also say take every opportunity to learn and practice explaining legal ideas to non-lawyers in plain English! That’s a marketable skill no matter the job and one that I think is appreciated by a broad spectrum of employers.

And for those 1L students who are leaving Tucson to attend school in Vermont? That’s easy–never go with the cheap option when it comes to buying winter socks.

Without naming your clients, are there any intriguing current matters that you’re working on in your hybrid practice, which includes Natural Resources, Real Estate and Business & Finance?

I started talking to a rancher about conserving his family’s legacy ranch near Mayer, Arizona, back in 2018 while I was at Arizona Land and Water Trust. I was part of the team that secured federal funding from the USDA for a conservation easement on the property in 2019.  Since joining Fennemore last year, I’ve been retained by the associated land trust to help push the transaction to closing. Conserving ranchlands in Arizona is a niche practice, but it’s a fascinating stew of property rights, Arizona’s history and character, food production, rural economics and environmental issues.

Who is your hero – or the person who has had the greatest impact on your life and career?

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by hardworking and inspiring people my entire life and can’t name just one or two. But I do know that feeling of when somebody else’s accomplishment makes an immediate impact and then leaves the lingering sense of “well that’s gonna leave a mark.”

For example, I remembers seeing the artist Kerry James Marshall’s Mastry retrospective in Chicago in 2016 and now (unfairly) I measure every artist against him. But really I just find that people who are the absolute best at what they do, but do it with humility and grace, are inspiring.

Talk about your biggest failure. What did you learn? And how did you pick up the pieces and move forward?

Wait, is this a job interview?

What’s the best – and worst – piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

The best advice?  An experienced attorney once told me that my reputation with other attorneys in the community would be my most important asset and that every professional decision should be made with that in mind. It didn’t seem remarkably profound at the time, but it’s stuck with me. 

The worst advice?  Not sure, and its probably not even worth repeating.

What are you currently listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

I generally favor movies over shows–watched High Noon last weekend, which is classic, and just saw Glass Onion, which is goofy and fun.  I listen to a lot of records—some on regular rotation these days that I might recommend to the musically-curious are Iggy Pop/Apres, Brian Eno/Discreet Music, and Lady Blackbird/Black Acid Soul. But I’m an 80s kid, so New Order and Talking Heads don’t collect any dust in  my house.

What would the title of your autobiography be?

This is a trick question and I’m not falling into the trap of suggesting (a) that I am capable of actually writing an autobiography or (b) that there would be an audience for that book. But in the spirit of the question, how about something catchy like Backpacking with Springsteen! I don’t see anyone leaving the book store with a copy, but I’m willing to bet that it at least gets a few curious people to read the back of the book jacket.

Many thanks to John for his profound insights – and impact on our clients and the community in Tucson, AZ!

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