Professor John M. Burman: A Tribute


The people of Wyoming and, especially but not exclusively, her judges and lawyers lost a major asset with the passing of Professor John Burman.

A life so full cannot be captured in a short tribute, so I will not make an attempt to do so here. Instead, those looking for more detail on John’s amazing life are encouraged to review the packet of letters written to support our nomination of John for the ABA’s Michael Franck Professionalism Award, which is linked here: John M. Burman Nomination Packet. Suffice it to say that John, perhaps more than anyone we know, “filled the dash” with a truly amazing life.

But I will mention two aspects of his career that cannot go unnoted. First, he was an amazing teacher of the law. The College of Law’s outstanding professor plaque has John’s name on it. Eight times! At a law school with a wonderful faculty, winning that award once is an amazing accomplishment. Eight times?!?!

Perhaps even more importantly, when John’s phone rang, he answered it. Regardless of whether you were the Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court or a “just trying to get by” newcomer to the practice of law, he answered every inquiry from every judge or lawyer who found themselves in an ethical bind. I doubt that there has ever been anyone in the history of the practice of law who kept so large a group of lawyers on the ethical high road.

My law practice and teaching career has taken me to many states. Ours is the only one I know where a law professor is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most popular lawyer in the state. Most places, there is a wide gap between the academy and the practice. John bridged that gap better than anyone.

There is so much more to say about this remarkable man, but I will leave it to others to say it. I will finish by quoting a song that, when I hear it, always makes me think of John. From the musical “Wicked,” Stephen Schwartz’s song “For Good” starts:

I've heard it said

That people come into our lives for a reason

Bringing something we must learn

And we are led

To those who help us most to grow

If we let them

And we help them in return

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true

But I know I'm who I am today

Because I knew you

                John had that kind of effect on us. So many of us.

The song’s ending is mighty applicable, too: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

How fortunate we were to have had him in our lives.

~Stephen D. Easton | William T. Schwartz Professor of Law



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