As the CEO and managing partner of a well-known law firm, veteran Army officer John Berry Jr. brings passion for defending the U.S. Constitution to the courtroom. And he learned from the best.
Berry Law was founded in 1965 by his father, John Berry Sr., who’d been commissioned as an officer in the Army in 1960 and deployed to the Vietnam War not long after. There he earned a Bronze Star and the Vietnamese Medal of Honor First Class (Gold). His name would become infamous as the chief defense counsel in the “Green Beret Affair,” successfully defending the special forces operators charged with the murder of a double agent.
Berry Jr. said his father left big steps to follow.
“My family has served in every war since the American Revolutionary War,” he said. “I served in Bosnia and then again in Iraq. I finished out a 20-year career with five years of active duty in the rest in the Nebraska National Guard. I have a brother who was a doctor in the Air Force and another who was a surface warship officer in the Navy.”
Serving in the military wasn’t always his plan. Berry Jr. had his eye on football while attending William and Mary but quickly realized it wouldn’t work out as a long-term plan. After graduation in 1997, he was commissioned into the Army and graduated from Army Ranger School. Two years later, he deployed to Bosnia.
In 2000, he pursued law school and transitioned into the National Guard, graduating three years later. As a brand-new lawyer, Berry Jr. managed a civilian career and his responsibilities as a company commander. He started to question his ability to do it all, bringing his concerns to his boss. He was told not to worry about doing both, since his company was about to be deployed to Iraq.
“What I loved about the deployment was you show up and the military is going to take care of you. You just make sure you complete your mission and bring everybody back alive,” he said.
After returning home from Iraq, his new mission was to grow the law firm in serving the military community through defense law and benefit appeals. Its military law team now has clients in all 50 states.
So, what does he think about the bad reputation lawyers get?
“I hate lawyers,” Berry Jr. laughed. “I think there are a lot of lawyers that have sullied the profession … but sometimes it’s a tough fight, sometimes we have to do it as lawyers, especially on the criminal defense side. We have to represent unpopular people; people that everybody hates and nobody thinks they should get a lawyer. But by God, if we don’t step up and do it, nobody else will. And that’s why a lot of veterans become lawyers, because they understand you have to be willing to do what needs to be done to protect the Constitution.”
The firm is proud to employ guardsmen, reservists, and veterans. In 2021, it was a finalist for the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, voted Best Defense Law Team for Nebraska and has been named a U.S. Department of Labor HIRE Vets Platinum award winner multiple times.
“We love having veterans on our team. It’s just there. It’s part of our culture, you either get it or you don’t. We were not going to make you do pushups, although I’ve thought about it,” he said.
Berry Jr. left the National Guard in 2017 as a lieutenant colonel and credits his time in the military for who he’s become as a father, husband, and lawyer.
“It’s important that we have veterans in the legal system because they actually know what it means. And by God, some of them have paid the price for freedom that most lawyers will never pay,” he said. “We’ve tried some innovative things at trial and yeah, I might get yelled at by the judge, I might be ridiculed. But at the end of the day, how could I live with myself if I didn’t just go for it? Don’t be afraid of failing. As long as you’re alive, it’s OK.”
Though you won’t find him rucking for fun or jumping out of airplanes anymore, Berry Jr. is continuing to bring his military values to the courtroom.
“I love going into the courtroom and arguing cases because I’m too old to play sports or do any of the military stuff anymore,” Berry Jr. said. “The body doesn’t last forever for all that but the competitive spirit we learned in the service can.”