The A’s Have It

by Liz Schick

These three lawyers stick together because they like each other and love what they’re doing

‘All for one and one for all’ is the motto of Stephen A. Unsworth (left), Glenn A. Jarrett and David A. Barra, partners in the law firm Unsworth Barra & Jarrett of Essex Junction, Rutland and St. Johnsbury.

What do a competition sailor, soccer referee and cyclist have in common? 

In this case, all three are attorneys, partners in a statewide law practice who share the letter “A” as a middle initial.

Stephen A. Unsworth, David A. Barra and Glenn A. Jarrett run the 17-person firm of Unsworth Barra & Jarrett PLC in Essex Junction, with offices in Rutland and St. Johnsbury, three Web sites, and toll-free telephone numbers that help to make theirs a local firm from anywhere in the state. 

Unsworth, age 54, is the competitive sailor. A former commodore of the Lake Champlain Yacht Club, he races his 35-foot sailboat, has sailed the Caribbean, and recently returned from a sailing trip in Baja, Mexico.

Barra, age 49, devotes much of his leisure time to soccer, a lifelong passion. A soccer referee for youth, high school, college and adult teams — including the Vermont Voltage — he is also the U.S. Soccer Federation’s state referee administrator for Vermont, and registers and trains referees for youth and professional soccer.

Jarrett cycles nearly every day in the summer, weather permitting, even though, he maintains, “I’m not serious about it.” Recovering from a heart attack 12 years ago, he took up cycling and has been at it ever since, mostly on weekends. He also volunteers at the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon — biking to guide wheelchair athletes — and in charitable bike-athons.

In 1993, Barra and Unsworth met through work on an industry seminar. Barra was with Paul, Frank + Collins, and Unsworth was in private practice. As they talked, they discovered they shared a philosophy about the law and how they would like to practice it. It took only three months for them to form their partnership. The plan was to focus on civil litigation, small business and corporate work, landlord/tenant issues, real estate, municipal law, insurance defense, and mediation. 

The new partners’ philosophy was, and remains, simple, Barra explains. “For clients, we perform high-quality work for a reasonable fee; for staff, we provide a relaxed and family-friendly office; for partners, it’s ‘all for one and one for all.’”

Unsworth is a third-generation Burlingtonian who attended South Burlington High School. After graduating from the University of Maine at Orono with a major in psychology, he earned his juris doctorate from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Mass. He devotes his personal practice to real estate, landlord/tenant matters, wills and probate, with a special focus on helping small businesses. 

Barra, whose specialties are zoning, planning, municipal law, and real estate matters, is a graduate of Williams College and Georgetown University Law Center. He serves as attorney to nearly a dozen towns in Vermont, including Essex Junction, and he is a designated mediator/arbitrator for various courts. “Mediation is a growing trend,” says Barra. “All of the courts are now requiring cases to go through mediation.” 

Specialties are quite defined within the firm. Cathy Colt (left), title abstractor; Steven Sultan, attorney; and Amy Benway, closing coordinator and processor, handle the real estate side of the business.

Because of that trend, when the firm remodeled and connected two historic buildings on Railroad Street, three conference rooms were included to accommodate the growing staff and office needs. 

Through their focus on real estate law, the partners created ABX Title, a division of Unsworth Barra & Jarrett. Since 1999, ABX Title has grown, they say, into one of the largest title, closing and abstract companies servicing Vermont and northern New England.  

As the practice grew, Unsworth and Barra realized there was a segment of the public they wanted to serve — the area of estate planning and elder law. They joined the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, but recognized they needed an expert in the field. 

They recruited Glenn Jarrett, who had developed an abiding interest in estate planning, probate and trust administration and elder law after graduating from Middlebury College and Georgetown University Law Center. 

“I became a Certified Financial Planner, unusual for an attorney,” Jarrett says, “but  the firm I was working for wasn’t interested in joining the AAEPA, so I was more than happy to join as a partner in Unsworth Barra & Jarrett, and in ABX Title, in 2001.

“As team leader for the firm’s estate planning group, we concentrate on Medicaid planning, probate and trust administration, elder law and estate  planning,” says Jarrett. “We  run frequent seminars to inform people of the importance of basic estate planning and elder law issues, because I firmly believe that everybody needs to be prepared to grow old.” 

One of Jarrett’s specialties is to advise those with special needs. John Bourland, CLU, ChFC, of Professional Financial Associates in Colchester, calls on Jarrett to administer to his special-needs clients because he is so familiar with the law. 

“There are specific laws that relate to establishing trusts to ensure that dependent children, as they grow into dependent adults, will have funds that don’t interfere with their government services,” says Bourland, adding, “Glenn has so much patience and understanding and such an easygoing manner that he puts everybody at ease.” 

“Patience” is the word that Donna L. Deal, property manager of Northgate Management Office in Burlington, uses when she refers to what she likes best about working with Unsworth. 

“He has so much patience. I’m not an attorney and Steve is more than willing to explain the way in which the law and the courts work when something comes up that I have to deal with, like an eviction. In addition, he’s really a nice guy,” she says.

Even such a specialized firm needs a crack administrative team. Carol Martin (left) is a paralegal and legal assistant to Dave Barra; Donna Weed is the firm’s receptionist; Holly Keough is the estate planning coordinator and marketing coordinator; and Judy Hill is a paralegal and legal assistant to Steve Unsworth.

“Nice” is a word that comes up often as clients and employees are asked to describe the partners and the company as a whole. Donna Weed became the receptionist at the Essex Junction office four years ago. 

“This is a really nice place to work,” she says. “A lot of our clients are seniors, and it’s rewarding to be able to help them. Clients come in to consult with the attorneys, plus all the real estate closings, so there are times when everything is happening at once and those three conference rooms are filled. It’s busy but not stressful, because everyone is so nice,” she says. 

Two years ago, after graduating from UVM, Allison Bevins joined the estate planning group. She thought she would go to law school, but now isn’t too sure. “I like helping people who are in this part of their lives. Besides, everyone here is very nice, and the pace isn’t frenetic. For my first real job,” she says, “this is a great experience.”

Even clients use the “nice” word.  For 10 years, Charles Safford, Essex Junction village manager, has worked with Barra, who serves as village attorney. 

“David is very smart and personable at the same time,” he says, “which is a great combination. Not only is his judgment sound — as legal counsel he has always steered the town in the right direction — but on top of everything else, he is a really nice guy.”

Barra usually doesn’t get much notice as village attorney and that’s the way he likes it. “I feel as though I’m doing my job well when the needs of the community are met and everybody is happy. The point is to stay out of the news.” 

Even so, one of his cases is currently making headlines — as attorney for St. Albans town, he is involved with the Wal-Mart building application.

Although each partner has his specialty, long-term decisions about the firm are made collectively by the partners. “We meet informally, frequently, and try to have an out-of-office partners meeting at least once a quarter,” Barra says. 

“We divide the day-to-day decisions that execute the policies we have collectively decided upon by having Glenn deal with personnel issues, Stephen with marketing, and me with financial matters. Anything that doesn’t fit into those categories usually finds its way to me first,” Barra adds with a laugh.

Running a statewide business means there is a lot of travel. Indeed, the attorneys have the distinction of having represented clients in all Vermont state and federal courts on both the trial and appellate levels.

When not traveling for business, the partners like to travel with their families. Jarrett and his wife, Judy Barber, like to  visit Europe — more easily done now that their sons, Ben and Jeff, are grown. 

Unsworth and his wife, Shona, enjoy sailing far-flung seas and their three children, James, 23, Katherine, 18, and Rachel, 8.  The couple met on a camping tour of England in 1983, when she was a South African Rotary Club Exchange student in Iowa. 

Taking time out from soccer refereeing, Barra met his future wife, Barbara, at an ABA function at Basin Harbor. They were married in 1984. Their son, David, lives in New York. 

A daughter, Carolyn, died in 2002 when she was a senior at Essex High School. In her memory, the Essex Rotary Club administers the annual Carolyn Barra Scholarship Award: $2,000 to a graduating senior to be used for higher education and a $500 donation to the Pulmonary Hypertension Center at the Children’s Hospital of New York. 

“Even though we are lawyers,” Unsworth says, “we all have personal lives and are committed to the Vermont quality of life. 

Oh, and by the way, those middle “A’s,” stand for — in company order — Albert, Allan and Alan. •