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Gary C. Johnson

Colorado, USA

What type of attorney are you?

My work typically revolves around estate and business planning.  Law school usually does not emphasize specialties but rather an over-all experience that prepares you to be an attorney.  You tend to develop specialties after you graduate.  Some become criminal law experts, some with technical backgrounds become patent lawyers, others specialize in domestic relations, litigation, and so on.  I chose my emphasis because I enjoy helping people create and protect legacies.  I hope that when people are asked what kind of attorney I am that they will reply simply "a good one."

What educational background and experience did you need to open your own practice?

You have to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam in the state where you want to practice.  To get into law school you have to have an undergraduate college degree (such as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science).  To get into college you have to graduate High School or the equivalency test.  In all, it usually takes 7 years of college to be a lawyer.  The ultimate challenge is "the bar."  It is typically a three or four day test that determines what you truly learned.  People often take a course and do well, but they won't remember much if you ask them anything about the course a year later.  The bar asks how much you know and who you are, not your education credentials.

What do you like best about your job?

The intellectual and emotional challenges.

What do you like the least about your job?

Clients will occasionally not pay their bills.

What did you want to be when you were a young boy?  What influenced you to enter law?

I always gave myself two choices: a lawyer or a professional musician.  My father was an engineer and my mother an opera singer.  Neither pressured me to be either of the choices.  I came to the decision because I loved to read (lawyer) and play music (musician) and enjoyed the rewards and challenges of the law slightly more than the rewards and challenges of music.

What were your favorite subjects in school?  Did you have any teachers who were a particular inspiration to you?

English was my favorite subject because it stirred my imagination.  It wasn't the grammar part of it, but rather the concepts it introduced.  I also took special courses outside of school such as music, French, Latin, Geometry, etc.  I had many "favorite" teachers, each for different reasons.  They all shared the ability to inspire me to be better.

What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects?

I did not have a least favorite subject, but my most difficult subjects were mathematical.  Mathematics were more difficult for me because I just did not get the same enjoyment out of studying math that I did out of other subjects.

What activities did you enjoy as a child?  Do you still do any of those things?

I spent a lot of time reading as a child.  I was a member of a few "book of the month" clubs and read a lot of novels, including authors such as Jules Verne ("20,000 Leagues Under The Sea"), Hardy Boys, Charlotte Bronte, classics (such as the Bible, the Koran, Aesop's Fables, Aristotle, Confucius, Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer, Josephus, Julius Caesar, Plutarch, Ovid, Socrates, Sophocles, etc.), Charles Dickens, Dixon (Hardy Boys series), Dostoevsky, William Faulkner, Robert Heinlein ("Stranger In A Strange Land"), Hobbes, Ibsen, Joyce, Keene (Nancy Drew series), Thoreau, Kierkegaard, Herman Melville (esp. Moby Dick), Milton, Mary Shelly, Thoreau, Tocqueville, J.R.R. Tolkien ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy), Mark Twain, T.H. White ("A Once And Future King"), etc.  I loved the smell of new books when they arrived every month in a package addressed to me.  I also read the Britannica Encyclopedia and various dictionaries along with many comic books.  I challenged myself by studying many non-fiction works dealing with a wide variety of philosophical, mathematical, scientific, and theological subjects.  Despite being such a bookworm, I spent a lot of time out in the woods and was very athletic.  In particular, I was a competition swimmer.  I also played football, soccer, track, and tennis and did a lot of calisthenics and weight-lifting.  Today my favorite hobbies include travel, dancing, learning and music.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and spent most of my growing up years there along the banks of the Caney River.  It was a small town but very big in cultural terms.  People lived there who had been all over the world and the town supported major cultural events like the Vienna Boys Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, singers, plays, operas, art and literary events, etc.  So I was both a "country boy" and a "city boy."  Few people in Bartlesville had a noticeable accent.  Even today people find it hard to identify my accent, although it is American and similar to a newscaster's accent.  But if I am around a southern accent I often lapse into that manner of speaking.  I left Bartlesville for high school in Madrid, Spain (The American School of Madrid) and have lived and traveled all over the world including Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East.  My childhood experiences are many and happy ones.  They are so kaleidoscopic that I cannot limit them to one favorite experience, yet I remember each one vividly.  One recurring experience I enjoyed tremendously were family vacations.  We often visited such sites as Yellowstone Park, Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, and other incredible places.  We traveled in an un-air-conditioned car and usually camped out.  My favorite cites in the world include Denver (where I live today); Madrid; London; Nikko, Japan; Geneva and New York.

What languages do you speak and how has being multi-lingual helped in your career and/or life?

I speak Spanish, Japanese, German and a smattering of other languages.  I read and write Spanish, Latin and German, but Japanese is very difficult to read.  I read Latin, but it is a "dead language" so I don't know how to speak it.  But Latin is invaluable in understanding unfamiliar words because many modern languages (and legal and medical terminology) are based on Latin.  I don't get many opportunities these days to practice my foreign languages so I can't say I'm fluent in any language.  Some languages I learned by studying in a formal setting and others I learned by being in the culture.  There are many instances where the original language offers nuances of meanings that simply do not translate into English.  I love the fact that knowing other languages adds nuance and flavor, as Shakespeare said, "A rose by any other name smells as sweet."  Knowing other languages educates your "nose."

What advice do you have for the students reading your interview?

Seek your own passion in life and love learning.  Love other people.  Do your best and do no harm.

Do you have a favorite quote?

I have many favorite quotes.  I rely on all of them in reaching my understanding of the world.  Having only one favorite quote is like looking at the sky and only focusing on one star.  I tend to focus on all of them at once though one may twinkle brighter at any given moment.  The funny thing about quotes is that you can find good ones for virtually every human condition and aspiration.

- 31 May 2004


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Last Updated:
5 June 2004

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