79 years young and still learning

July 16, 2021


By Debbie Juniewicz

When then-cadet Barry Steinberg, R’63 and L’66, informed his ROTC commanding officer of his post-graduation plan to go on active duty, the answer he got was not at all what he expected.

“He told me, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say,’” Steinberg recalled. “Then he asked me if I had ever thought about going to law school.”

Steinberg had not.

His commanding officer then explained the query: “You argue about everything, and even when you’re wrong, you’re very persuasive.”

That January day at the University of Richmond proved to be life-changing. His next appointment, at the insistence of the commander, was with the dean of Richmond Law, during which he was conditionally admitted to law school. His mom was delighted that he chose law school over his early 1960s, pre-ROTC career of choice. “I wanted to be a professional folk singer,” Steinberg said, smiling.

Steinberg’s penchant for persuasion did more than guide his career path — it laid the groundwork for his role creating the Army’s Environmental Law Division in the mid-1980s. Standing up a new division meant convincing the Secretary of the Army of the need for environmental legal expertise.

“I had a 45-minute briefing ready, and 15 or 20 minutes in, the secretary stopped me,” Steinberg said. “He said, ‘Colonel, how many people do you need?’ I told him 17. He said, ‘Approved.’”

While Steinberg retired from the Army in 1989 as a full colonel, he continues his work in environmental law as a partner at Kutak Rock LLP in Washington, D.C. Now 79 years old, the father of four and grandfather of nine still regularly deals with issues ranging from water contamination and unexploded ordnance to the impact of global warming. His children regularly question him about outright retirement.

“I tell them if I found something I’d rather do, I’d go do it,” he said. “But I like what I do, so why stop?”