John Wright

John Wright says his love for Shakespeare has come in handy in the legal profession.

Photo illustration by JAMES WOODCOCK

''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,'' a line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, was uttered by a character known as Dick the Butcher.

Through the years, scholars have debated the meaning behind one of Shakespeare’s most quoted lines.

Some believe it's a blanket condemnation of the legal profession. Others argue that the character was a follower of Jack Cade, a rebel leader who advocated killing lawyers and disrupting law and order as part of a scheme that would allow him to grab the English throne.

Billings attorney John Wright devoured Shakespeare while studying for an English degree at the University of South Carolina. Despite the obvious disdain for his future profession from the fictional Dick the Butcher, Wright said Shakespeare’s works are still relevant.

Shakespeare was “one of the few things I didn’t really expect to enjoy. But I took a comedies and history class, and that class showed how timeless his writing was, how original it was, and how it still applies today,” Wright said.

“That’s what really opened the door for me; when you see how much he came up with and the everyday idioms that we still use today,” he said.

Wright moved west to attend the University of Montana Law School, and to ski. 

He said his liberal arts background has proven useful in the legal profession.

“It’s applied literature,” he said. “Sometimes it’s combative writing. There are theatrics, battles between champions. You are writing reams and reams. Your stuff gets out there. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.”

Describe how you got where you are in your work today:  Dedicated perseverance and the support of loved ones has been critical to all I have done. I also developed the grit necessary to succeed in competitive and hostile environments by helping steer a small business through the depths of the recession.  This experience built the resourcefulness and adaptive qualities that have helped me excel in civil litigation. 

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job?  The practice of law is never just a full-time job; it spans every element of your life. In addition to the hours spent in the office, the practice, and in particular civil litigation, stays with you constantly. Waking up in the middle of the night thinking about deadlines, developing arguments in the shower, and Friday evening email bombs lobbed by opposing counsel all require consistent vigilance and the ability to find relaxation and peace in unforgiving circumstances.

What’s the best business advice you have received? My father, a serial entrepreneur, once passed down advice from my grandfather, a lawyer, preacher, businessman, and school superintendent: “All you need to know in life is the Bible, Shakespeare, and the law.” With this in mind, I structured my education and career around these critical areas, striving to be well rounded and prepared for all life can throw — after all, nothing is new under the sun.

Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community:  I would like to see Billings take pride in itself as the economic and cultural epicenter of Montana.  Critical to development of cultural pride is the continued revitalization of downtown Billings and its magnetism in attracting fresh, young folks to town.  

Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job?  Leaving the office at the end of the day knowing you have helped someone deal with a serious problem and have gotten them good results. When a client is genuinely grateful for the work you provide, there is no greater feeling.

Which living person do you most admire?  My father. He spent his life building fresh ideas for new businesses as well as troubleshooting struggling ones.  

What do you consider your greatest achievement?  My family.  

I’m happiest when I’m… Having an IPA after an exhausting day of skiing.  Pounding through the trees chasing fresh powder will take it out of the best of them, and there is no greater feeling then pulling off your gloves after a long day and enjoying a crisp Montana craft beer.

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