Few attorneys are like John Barham. The criminal defense and immigration attorney lived in South America for many years, he sings in a punk band, and he counts the former lawyer of Hunter S. Thompson as one of his legal heroes.
He also serves on the HCBA Misdemeanor Defense Panel, and participates in the HCBA Lawyer Referral Service.
Here are 10 of the most interesting things to know about Barham:
1. He taught English to astronomers in La Serena, Chile. “I probably had more of a fun practice than any other English teacher there,” he said.
2. He is not the only lawyer in the family. “I think I let my brother talk me into law school. He’s a lawyer with the National Labor Relations Board.”
3. Barham is passionate about racial justice issues. Many of his immediate family members emigrated from Vietnam, and his ex-wife and stepson suffered racial abuse after they moved to the United States. While he says that Minnesota is a more tolerant place, it has not tempered his zeal for fighting for issues related to equality. He currently volunteers with Black Lives Matter in the Twin Cities. "I've always been doing kind of an uphill battle for disenfranchised folks.”
4. Barham’s favorite part of his job is being able to help people. “It's really nice to be able to help people, especially when they have a really tricky problem. I had a guy come to me last week with an unusual immigration situation. At the outset, I am ready to say I cannot help you, which is what everybody else had told him. But it was cool that I have been in practice long enough that I've figured out enough weird things. I was able to figure out an actual plan to help this guy and his family out, which I think has a real chance of success.”
5. He has found a niche legal market in the Twin Cities: the local punk music scene. “I probably was able to start doing most of my criminal defense through my connection to the punk scene here. As the one lawyer connected to the punk scene who does criminal defense on any sort of regular basis, people would call me up whenever they'd get charged for something.”
6. His advice to young lawyers is to enjoy life now. "If you have crazy adventures you want to do, do them now. By the time you're actually a working lawyer, you'll probably never be un-busy again."
7. He counts Oscar Zeta Acosta, William Holland Thomas, and James McNamara, a civil litigation lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, as among his heroes. McNamara’s demeanor in the courtroom inspired Barham. “He was facing attorneys who typically were jerks and the guy was really reasonable and just explained things and got people to agree with him and would take on big powerful monolithic institutions and win. It was a cool thing to see.”
8. He speaks fluent Spanish and conversational Portuguese.
9. Barham’s band, Murrieta, performs all over the Twin Cities.
10. While he knows he is not in the most lucrative field of the law, he enjoys many things about his work. He likes being able to, in a way, reciprocate for all the help he received when he lived in South America. "It's nice to be able to help out Latin American immigrants here."