Photo: J.T. Wampler
John Logan Burrow
Proof that Independent lawyers still shine amid growing corporate law culture in Northwest Arkansas
By Maylon T. Rice
The road John Logan Burrow traveled to be a solo practicing attorney in Fayetteville had many career twists and some unexpected turns.
But the consummate promoter of all things but himself, Burrow did allow the Fayetteville Free Weekly to interview him on the occasion of Law Day, May 1.
Burrow is not to be self-aggrandized, but rather to talk on and on about: 1) The Washington County Bar Association, 2) Other local lawyers (in glowing terms only), 3) The general practice of law, 4) The Washington County Election Commission (on which he serves as chair and has for a decade), 5) His love for all things Democrat and Democratic, 6) The United States Air Force Association and, of course, 7) Law Day activities in the area.
Whew. One barely has time to take in the swirl of activities that surround this athletically thin bachelor and his long association with Fayetteville.
Burrow is a familiar figure around central Fayetteville. He’s almost always afoot and never in such a hurry that he can’t stop to shake hands, pass the time of day or comment on things, local, state, national or international.
His disarming humor is also a trademark of the solo practitioner of the law at the disarming address (to those who know Fayetteville): 1 W. Mountain St. right on the Square.
But today, it is the upcoming activities of Law Day that Burrow wants to focus on — at least for a few minutes.
Several members (15 and still counting at the time of this interview) of the local bar association will be speaking at area schools about an Arkansas Bar Association DVD production called “A Level Playing Field,” in which the legal system is explained to junior high students.
“I must tell you that Susan Purtle, the manager and senior attorney with the Legal Aid of Arkansas, is doing a wonderful job in this program.” Burrow said. ”Look at all these judges and attorneys who have volunteered their time to participate. That is just amazing.”
The list includes three district judges and several well known names in the legal community.
Talking up what others are doing has always come naturally to Burrow, the younger son of Sadler Hiram Burrow, a printer, and Rose Coleman Burrow, an office worker.
The Burrow family, John’s dad, uncles and other relatives had a long association with the “Ozark Spectator,” the weekly newspaper in Ozark.
With printer’s ink in his veins, it was a statement that Burrow’s late mother once made to him that may have ignited the spark that turned into a late-in-life law career.
“My mother was born in Oklahoma when it was still much like an infancy as a state, still just territory,” Burrow said. “She once remarked to me that as a child she aspired to be an attorney, but she said that in her lifetime that would not be possible.”
Burrow said he took great comfort in her knowing that he would one day be an attorney.
But first, there were those twists and turns on the way to the legal practice.
As a solo practitioner, Burrow says he is always amazed at the “life lessons” he has learned that assist him in his practice.
A Brush With Journalism
After graduating from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree, Burrow, like many other graduates in the early 1970s, headed to the state’s largest city, Little Rock, for employment.
“I was on the ‘crap desk’ at the Arkansas Gazette for a while,” he said and laughed.
The ‘crap desk’ was a re-write station where news releases, obituaries and short notices were written and re-written for the newspaper. It was, and still is, an entry level position.
“They (The Gazette) and I could see that was n-o-t working out,” Burrow said.
So he headed back to Fayetteville for law school.
His first stab at law school — like journalism — didn’t work out so well.
“Basically I knew, after a semester, but they sort of encouraged me to do something else.”
Burrow, not really despondent, but with no plans, went to his favorite Dickson Street spot Restaurant On The Corner aka R.O.T.C.
“I was sitting on one of the stools and T.L. Nelms, the co-owner plopped down beside me,” Burrow said. “I said ‘T.L. I am looking for a job’. He said ‘Good, ‘cause I am looking for some help.’”
Burrow was there 11 years before “getting the itch” to go back to law school.
“I got my formal education in life at R.O.T.C.,” Burrow said. “That job taught me about life, contracts, schedules, purchases, cash flow and boy, did it ever teach me about people … all kinds of people.”
Burrows’ second try at law school, at age 38, resulted in good grades and he even made the Dean’s List.
After completing law school, Burrow went north to Springdale, hanging his law license with Kent Hirsch for several years, before migrating back to Fayetteville to venture out on his own.
Always able to laugh at himself, Burrow said that his election as an officer in the Washington County Bar Association (he is now in his final term as president) was “probably due to being late or missing a meeting.”
Taking a serious tone, he said he has been honored to be selected by the members of the bar to serve. “I mean there have been some really fine lawyers, judges and scholars service this county’s bar association as president. It is indeed an honor for me to serve.”
His first brush with politics, aside from being a lifelong Democrat and supporter of former President William J. Clinton ever since Clinton’s first run as a congressional wannabe against John Paul Hammerschmidt, is as a fill-in of sorts.
“Betty Lu Lancaster’s late husband, Bill, a professor at the UA, was going to China on a year-long fellowship, so I got appointed to fill her term on the Washington County Quorum Court,” Burrow said. “That was easy compared to my next foray into politics.”
Burrow served a couple of terms as the Washington County Coroner, which Burrow called a common sense job. “You have to have common sense and cooperate with the local medical and law enforcement folks, that’s all.”
As a long time member of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, Burrow was elected County Party Chairman in 1995 and with that came the later appointment to the Washington County Election Commission, the group that holds, monitors and most importantly counts the votes in all elections in the county.
That job is a three-person committee, usually two Democratic representatives and one Republican. Burrow says fair play, cooperation and common sense must prevail.
“Our biggest job is getting the correct ballots to the correct locations and then counting those ballots correctly,” he said. Burrow proudly points out that the Washington County Election Commission has rarely been in court and has survived for more than a decade with little or no controversy or scandal.
“And as you well know, politics is a very emotional thing. But on the election commission you have to keep your emotions and party affiliations in check at all times.”
The Practice Of Law
While today there are more than 700 attorneys in Washington County, Burrow still feels the stand-alone, independent lawyer is needed, maybe more than ever.
“I feel like I am a friend to my clients, a part of their family, if you will,” Burrow said. “If they come to me and have a part of the law I am unfamilar with or have no experience with, I will gladly assist them in finding the right firm or another attorney to help them. They will appreciate that and come back to me on other matters they may have.”
Burrow also notes that often those friendship formed over a seemingly insignificant legal issues turn into a lifetime association for that family and their extended family members.
“Sometimes I am humbled by the love and admiration I am extended by families. I am treated like a member of their families at both the happy and sad times in a family’s life.”
Burrow praises the legal community in Northwest Arkansas and also tosses a bouquet to the local media, especially those who have patrolled the courthouses for many years.
“Take Ron Wood (of The Morning News) for example,” Burrow said. “He has done this community a great service for his commitment to accuracy and fairness in his day-to-day writings about legal issues in this community. And there are others, too.”
Burrow says it is no surprise to him that more and more law school graduates want to practice here.
“The court system is active, the judges are judicious and fair, the modern technology is embraced and heck, there is lots and lots of legal business here.”
Even if it took John Logan Burrow some twists and turns to get into law, he has found him a home.
Getting to know John Logan Burrow
The Fayetteville Free Weekly posted 10 quick-answer questions to John Logan Burrow. A native of Clarksville, who graduated from Fort Smith’s Northside High School before stints at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Hendrix College and then back to the UA where he earned his law degree.
Q: If not an attorney? What would you be?
JLB: A General in the United States Army.
Q: Do you have any pets? And what are their names?
JLB: No pets. (Laughs) Got YOU on that question.
Q: Your last arena concert?
JLB: I’ve never been to a big arena style concert. (Laughs) Like in baseball the count is 1-and-2.
Q: Former President Bill Clinton is?
JLB: A dear friend for 40 years.
Q: President Barrack Obama is?
JLB: One hell of a president. And I mean it.
Q: Worst job you have ever had?
JLB: Never had a job that I didn’t end up tolerating or liking.
Q: If not a Democrat, I would be?
JLB: (Laughs) d-e-a-d.
Q: What (fill in the blank) makes you nervous?
JLB: Angry people.
Q: I can really dance the (fill in the blank)?
JLB Slow dance. Any slow dance where I can sway to the music.
Q: Final question: Momma always told me to (fill in the blank)?
JLB: Don’t be so negative.
What is Law Day?
Law Day was created in the late 1950s by the American Bar Association to draw attention to both the principles and practice of law and justice. President Dwight D. Eisenhower established Law Day by proclamation in 1958. Like Earth Day, Law Day is not an actual government holiday. Locally, attorneys observe the holiday through outreach activities. This year they will visit local schools talking about the law using a curriculum developed by the American Bar Association.
This year is the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, regarded by many as our nation’s greatest and most eloquent president. Lincoln, who devoted much of his adult life to the practice of law, was the quintessential American lawyer-president. His background in law influenced both his actions and his oratory.
For Law Day 2009, the ABA is encouraging efforts nationwide to commemorate Lincoln by exploring this rich and resonant theme, “A Legacy of Liberty.”