Some people arrive at their jobs by following in the footsteps of a parent, by blazing their own trail or persevering despite unexpected events.
Chattanooga attorney David L. Barry experienced all of those before landing a spot with Spicer Rudstrom PLLC.
Barry, 40, a native Chattanoogan, grew up admiring his father, longtime lawyer John D. Barry, but he didn’t give much thought to pursuing law school, and his dad didn’t push the issue.
“I always adored his dedication and passion, along with his view that people deserve justice,” he says. “Giving people a voice was important to him.”
That philosophy was shared with David but in a journalistic sense. The younger Barry saw newspapers as a tool for giving voice to the voiceless and pursued a journalism career.
As a history and English major at UT Chattanooga, he began working at the Times Free-Press, first as a library archivist (“my first title,” he says), then, after graduating in 2001, as a writing coach for reporters and finally on the technical staff for its online news.
“I was good with words and reading,” he points out, adding that he didn’t see those skills as something that would translate into a career in law. It turns out, according to Barry, they are crucial skills for a successful attorney.
“But journalism delayed my interest in law, I guess.”
The multimedia aspect of online journalism gave Barry “a greater chance at advancement,” and he wasn’t wrong. In 2005, the Jackson Sun hired him as its online editor.
“That was unexpected,” he remembers. He also didn’t expect to suffer from homesickness, but it hit hard. “It was the first time away from Chattanooga and it was tough,” Barry recalls. He was 25, alone, and started looking for a way out of Jackson.
“There were no mountains or lakes; it was too flat and dry.”
A little betrayed
In late 2008, the Times Free-Press offered him its online editor job and the chance to return home. He didn’t hesitate. The homecoming was short-lived, however. His job was eliminated in 2011, and he was laid off. Although the newspaper industry was in the throes of editorial downsizing, he thought the online folks would survive. His termination from his hometown newspaper really stung.
“I felt a little betrayed, to tell you the truth,” Barry acknowledges.
Convinced that he was done with journalism, he pondered his future.
“Journalism is a great career for a young man who’s single,” he says, but he was hoping to settle down with something “more important” in Chattanooga. He took a job with Brewer Media, headed by the late media executive Jim Brewer.
Then came an Easter Sunday 2012 chat with his dad and the words ‘you can do this.’ Barry’s father asked how the new job was going, and when Barry answered with a half-hearted affirmation he then asked his son, “Have you ever thought about law school?”
Barry, after telling his dad he really hadn’t thought about it, then spent the better part of a week thinking about it. He let his dad’s reply of “You can do this” sink in.
After talking with his then-fiancé Regina (now his wife) and getting her encouragement, as well, he took the bold step of quitting his job to prepare for the LSAT, the standardized test needed for admission to law school. For five months he waited tables and studied. He passed, and enrolled at Nashville School of Law.
“I wasn’t afraid of law school. It was the LSAT that scared me more than anything,” he says.
Feeling like an attorney
While attending school, Barry would take a Tuesday-Thursday class schedule, spending a couple of nights a week sleeping in a relative’s converted garage in Nashville, and then returning to Chattanooga to Regina, family and his job. Splitting his week and getting back to Chattanooga on weekends prevented another Jackson type of homesickness.
It took a semester for Barry to feel like he could be an attorney. A professor, Marshall Davidson III, had told a class he was “convinced that anyone could be a successful attorney if they are willing to do the work.” Barry had always put in the work and effort wherever needed, so this eased his nervousness and gave him more confidence.
Four years later, Barry – now a full-time husband to Regina after their January 2015 wedding – had his Juris Doctor degree. As a graduation present of sorts, Spicer Rudstrom hired him, and Barry now works with his father and lawyers with 20-40 years of experience that he can “lean on” for advice as he pushes headlong into his new career.
His areas of practice already are extensive but civil rights litigation stands out, because of its connection to his childhood recollections of his father’s work. He works in employment law, government liability, medical malpractice, property and casualty litigation, wills and probate proceedings, among other areas.
“I’m a lawyer and I’m proud to say that,” adds Barry, when asked if his dismissal from the Times Free-Press was the catalyst for his law career. “I was professionally and personally hurt by (the layoff), but now I guess it can be seen as a blessing in disguise.”
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Nowadays, his classroom is the courtroom.
Law schools teach you to earn a degree, but they don’t teach you how to be a lawyer, Barry explains, or how to have the confidence to get out there in a courtroom and argue a case. “What I try to remember is prepare, prepare, prepare,” he says, acknowledging that he will practice in front of a mirror before a case.
His law school professor had been seeking a judgeship, but Barry isn’t sure being a judge is in his future plans, though he doesn’t rule it out. He got a late start in law and isn’t rushing anything. He sees judges as being in the hot seat most of the time.
When asked about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court justice hearings, Barry notes he has not watched the television coverage. The hearings really are not legal proceedings, he says. “They are not objective at all; it’s just a lot of political grandstanding to come up with sound bites for those segments of the populace they pander to.”
While Barry doesn’t have another solution to the selection process, regardless of political point of view, subjecting career legal professionals to such harsh treatment is a disservice to them.
Barry is settling into his job and settling down in Chattanooga. He says his goals are to “hone his craft, gain experience and build my practice” by taking cases.
He also now is honing his craft as a parent with Regina and gaining experience by taking care of their baby daughter, who he adds is keeping him focused on “what’s important.” He takes time for other ‘loves,’ including fishing and hiking, as well as rooting on the Atlanta Braves, Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Titans.
His courtroom demeanor is a work in progress, and he won’t use clichés or use a different persona. “You won’t see Jack McCoy out there (the fictional lawyer from the television series, “Law & Order’’) or hear me say ‘you can’t handle the truth’ or something like that,” Barry says.
He is, however, keeping a realistic perspective on his law experience as well, noting that even the most diligent efforts in building a case may not be enough to win over a judge or jury.
“You are going to lose cases you should have won, and you are going to win cases you should have lost, that’s just the way it is,” Barry continues. “So, you just do the best you can do every time, never having to ask what you would have done differently.”
You win some, you lose some may be the axiom, but in his life, Barry has managed to tilt the ledger to the winning side more often through perseverance, determination and hard work. That, and perhaps a few unexpected opportunities.