“I haven’t had a specific plan for my future,” said Larion Barsukoff, member of the Class of 2007, “but I’ve always had a vision of where I wanted to be 20 or 30 years down the road. I started from that and worked backward. As doors have opened for me in life, I tried to figure out which ones would help get me where I want to be. Law school was one of those doors.”
The first-generation American son of Russian immigrants, Barsukoff was born into a tight-knit community of Russian Old Believers in Woodburn, Ore. “Both sides of my family fled from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution,” he explained. “They made their way to the Willamette Valley in the 1970s by way of China and Argentina.”
Of the more than 10,000 Old Believers in Oregon, approximately half are farmers, including Barsukoff’s father, who grows berries and hazelnuts. His mother is a teacher’s aid at a local elementary school. “I have this really large extended family,” Barsukoff explained. “It has always been important for us to stick close together. I’ve had to balance getting a good education with being close to my family. Fortunately, Willamette allowed me to do that.”
Barsukoff double majored in political science and German as an undergraduate at Willamette University, where he participated in a year-long study abroad program in Munich, Germany, during his sophomore year. The experience ignited his wanderlust, as well as a keen interest in international affairs and law. Following his graduation in 2003, he enrolled in Willamette’s Joint Degree Program, through which he will earn both a J.D. and an M.B.A. “You can be a really great lawyer, but at the end of the day, you also need to understand the value of a dollar,” he said of his decision to pursue both degrees.
Barsukoff, who is fluent in English, German and Russian and who can get by in a few other languages, will also leave law school with a specialized Certificate in International and Comparative Law, which reflects his true passion. “I cannot pinpoint where my interest in international law came from,” he said. “I like the idea of practicing law across jurisdictions. It is an exciting area that is always changing.”
During his second year at the College of Law, Barsukoff took advantage of the school’s partnership with Bucerius Law School in Hamburg and spent five months studying international law in Germany. While there, he attended a seminar led by an attorney from a large corporate firm, Hengeler Mueller. His discussions with the attorney led to a four-month summer clerkship. “It was an amazing experience to see those lawyers in action,” Barsukoff said. “These are some of the top corporate attorneys in the world, but at the end of the day they are just normal people trying to do their best. It was interesting to see that even at that level people don’t always have all the answers. Sometimes they would really struggle to figure out how to approach a case.
“That’s probably my biggest take-away from law school,” he added. “Before ever trying to find a solution, first figure out what questions to ask.”
Barsukoff also has learned that he is ready to take on the world. Following graduation in May, he plans to move to the Big Apple and take the New York State Bar exam. He also hopes to land a position with a New York firm specializing in international transactions. “I would love to work in international law abroad, but I need to gain expertise in my jurisdiction before working abroad,” he explained. “I need to become the most effective advocate for my clients.”
Although Barsukoff’s parents are trying to come to terms with the idea of him moving to the East Coast, he knows his family and friends in Woodburn will be rooting for him to succeed. “My family will always be here for me,” he said. “Knowing that gives me a certain freedom to go and give this a try.”
“I cannot pinpoint where my interest in international law came from. I like the idea of practicing law across jurisdictions. It is an exciting area that is always changing.”