Bryan Huffman had plenty of successes to report to his classmates at the St. Thomas Law Class of 2011 five-year reunion in May. Working as assistant general counsel for St. Paul Public Schools since January 2015, he keeps himself busy advising district administration on a wide array of issues, including intellectual property law, lease agreements, data requests, and labor and employment matters. The variety of work has given him a new appreciation for the research skills he obtained as a law student, as he is never sure what type of issue he will face at work on any given day. He is one of just three attorneys who represent a system that oversees nearly 6,000 employees and over 39,000 students.
With each new experience at work, Huffman credits his St. Thomas Law education for training him to confront problems with a “holistic approach,” helping him reach positive long-term outcomes. Working in a school district that seeks to distribute opportunity and resources equitably among students from a variety of neighborhoods and socio-economic backgrounds, Huffman frequently asks himself, “How do we give everyone equal opportunity to solid educational opportunities without penalizing students from higher-income areas or short-changing students from lower-income neighborhoods?”
Before joining the district, he spent three years working in the Health Licensing Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. There he represented the boards that set licensing standards for the health and medical fields by participating in consumer protection litigation and advising them when civil violations of licensing standards occurred.
From Down South to Up North
Huffman’s journey to St. Thomas Law began in the South. After graduating from high school in McKenzie, Tennessee, a town of about 5,000 people, he headed to Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, to earn a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications with minors in leadership and business. To further his career goals, he chose St. Thomas Law in search of “a change and a new culture,” he said. He was drawn to St. Thomas Law because of its unique mission.
During his time at St. Thomas, Huffman participated in the Community Justice Project and worked for the Minneapolis City Attorney, where he spent time in the office’s civil and criminal divisions. He wrote for and edited the Journal of Law and Public Policy and earned his master’s in public policy before his legal education was complete. His courses, such as Advanced Legal Research and Trial Advocacy, helped him “hit the ground running” in his legal career, he said. Legal analysis was a “180-degree change” from the way he was trained to think as a corporate communications major. At St. Thomas, he acquired the “lawyer way to think” about issues he would encounter at work and in the world around him.
A Supportive Law Community
Being from a different part of the country, he appreciates that the St. Thomas Law alumni network provides a sense of community for him when so many of his immediate family members live far away. Huffman said he found the St. Thomas Law community to be really unique, noting that the cohesiveness is something many law schools claim to value, but “St. Thomas strives to really live it.” Huffman enjoyed the faculty and staff’s willingness to work with him and guide him as he discerned his career path.
In addition to serving on the St. Thomas Law Alumni Advisory Board and working as a career strategist for the school’s J.D. Compass Program, Huffman is a member of the board of directors for Minnesota Continuing Legal Education, and he has taught at Mitchell Hamline College of Law.
He so deeply enjoyed his teaching experience that he will be an instructor in the St. Thomas Mentor Externship Program this academic year. Among many insights he hopes to bring to students in his class, he will discuss the importance of networking and reaching out to other members of the legal community. He plans to be “transparent and honest,” he said, as he gives his students a comprehensive picture of the legal landscape postgraduation. Drawing on his own experiences reaching out as a young professional, Huffman appreciates that it can be daunting to email a stranger or reach out to an unknown alumnus. But his own path has taught him that building that network and reaching out to others are keys to success in the Twin Cities legal community.
Looking forward, Huffman hopes to serve his community through an elected or appointed position in a public office. He said he admires that public officials have the ability to positively impact the community around them, and he desires to be an advocate, influencing the laws as they are changed to benefit more individuals.
A six-year resident of St. Paul, Huffman has great affection for his adopted hometown and looks forward to assisting in the development of the city to effectively and efficiently serve its citizens, improving quality of life for his neighbors who also call St. Paul home.
Martha Price ’15 practices family law, criminal defense and general practice through Martha Price Law in the Cannon Falls, Minnesota, area.
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