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From Plaintiff to Attorney: Making the Leap into Law School

Christian Barton (bottom left) after one of his many successful dives

Just as you would expect of a consummate skydiver and sport parachutist, Christian Barton has never been afraid of big leaps.

Even when his last dive in 2006 ended in an accident that broke his spine and left him temporarily paralyzed, never stopped taking risks. He walked, even when doctors said otherwise. He pursued a four-year legal battle and subsequent personal injury appeal when attorneys eschewed handling his case. Then, on the five-year anniversary of his injury, he walked into California Western School of Law for his first day of law school.

Set to graduate this winter, Barton is working to be able to stand in the gap for victims of personal injury who believe they are not adequately represented by the judicial system, by offering contingency-based appellate representation.

"I had to be sorely injured to get to where I am now, but we all have a destiny and it’s up to us to reach out andgrab it,” he says.

Barton confesses that, while he took a rather circuitous route to becoming a lawyer, he had a lifetime desire to practice law. "Growing up I had always wanted to be a lawyer. To be specific, I wanted to be a lawyer, then a magician, then a lawyer, then a stock broker, then a lawyer. But constant in that mix was my desire to be an attorney,” he says.  Little did he knowthat his first experience with the law would be his own rigorous legal battle after his skydiving accident.

For Barton, the trial that followed his injury was like a law school primer. “Being a plaintiff in a major trial was perhaps the best possible preparation for law school,” he says. “I was able to participate in every single stage of the process, which is more thanmany paralegals can claim."

That preparation was particularly helpful when it came time to learn civil procedure. “For most students, civil procedure is just a bunch of separate parts of a trial with their own rules,” says Barton. “It’s like trying to assemble a puzzle without having ever seen the puzzle box picture. Because I had the benefit of a full trial and appeal, I had that big picture and could understand how everything fits together much easier.”

While Barton’s first-person experience with the legal system was part of the equation that landed him at California Western, he credits his intense rehabilitation program with helping him manage the rigors of law school.

The rehab process taught me the value and benefits of hard work,” he says. "Learning to walk again was the hardest thing I have ever done. Countless days I was nauseated and in tremendous pain and wanted to quit, but even more than that, I desperately wanted to get back on my feet again.”

Barton intends to practice and teach appellate law. Plus, he has an idea for a nonprofit organization that would partner with gyms to match their personal trainers with persons recovering from serious illness or injury.

“Rehab and personal training was grueling, but I believe that is one of the main reasons I am walking now,” he says. “I just want to pay that gift forward."