Meet the Class: David Johnson, 1L, A Former Lumber Industry Finance Worker Contemplating a Career in Environmental Law

After more than a decade in financial roles, most recently in the lumber and millworker industries in the Pacific Northwest, David Johnson decided to make a change. He enrolled in Minnesota Law, where he is interested in exploring environmental law. His spouse, Kelli Johnson, is also a member of the 1L class. (A former senior financial partner at a large healthcare organization, she is interested in specializing in health care law with a focus in reproductive justice.)


Could you discuss a bit about your background?

I have over 10 years of experience in managerial and financial roles. A majority of the last five years has been in controller roles within the high-end millwork and lumber industry. There was also a short period following a passion project of mine in the financial role for a brewery.  

You’ve had some interesting life experiences could you describe one or two of them? (e.g. experiences in lumber industry, etc.?).

The last three years, I was the controller of a millwork company in the Seattle area that specializes in ultra-high-end residential projects. This industry faced significant supply and pricing fluctuations during that timeframe especially with harvesting rarer high-end lumber species. Developing financial strategies during this time was challenging and eye-opening.  

What do you hope/plan to do with your legal education (realizing, of course, that may change during the course of your studies)?

The current track of changes in our climate is likely to continue placing stresses on many of our natural resources. Although I am not yet committed to an exact specialty within environmental law, I want to be in a role helping to preserve our wilderness areas and natural resources. 

David and Kelli Johsnon with dog Otto
David Johnson with spouse (and fellow 1L) Kelli Johnson and their dog Otto.

There are many law school choices. Why did you select Minnesota Law?

My spouse, Kelli Johnson, and I were in the relatively unique situation of applying for schools at the same time with each of us having different areas of interest. Minnesota Law has great programs that fit each of our potential areas of concentration. In addition, we were impressed with the alumni network. 

Minnesota Law strives for a diversity of perspectives in the classroom. What are you hoping to add to the mix?

I hope my lengthier professional experience can contribute an additional perspective. Having held high level positions at organizations, I have been exposed to the good and flawed elements that go into boardroom decisions especially when finances can be impacted as a result of the decisions. 

Minnesota Law as an institution emphasizes leadership. What does leadership mean to you?

I view leadership as uniting a group to accomplish a common goal while also helping or creating an atmosphere for each individual in the group to achieve success. 

Thing you are most looking forward to about being a law student?

Having been removed from an educational environment for several years, I am most looking forward to the opportunity to fully commit to academic studies for the next three years. 

What are your hobbies/ interests?

I enjoy hiking, backpacking, and cycling. Over the last year, I have become interested in wildlife and landscape photography but I am still a beginner. I’m a big Seattle Sounders fan and a fan of the MLS in general. 

How do you like to spend your free time?

My spouse and I are passionate about traveling. I try to get out in nature with my dog as often as possible. I enjoy reading and I’m always up for an evening of board games as well. 

Favorite inspirational quote, book, or personal hero that you would like to mention?

I came across this quote early in my summer’s travels and it has stayed with me for my return to an academic setting. “None but the ignorant can be bored by life. To the lovers of learning, life is pure adventure shared with adventurers.” – Pearl S. Buck

Something interesting about me that others might not know.

I spent a majority of this past summer camping in our nation’s public lands. I made it to 18 National Parks and double that number of national forests, national grasslands, and areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

I like to take advantage of every available opportunity to share that I summited Mount Kilimanjaro.