John Black took a less traditional route to becoming an attorney.
Many future law students major in political science or English as undergrads, but Black earned a degree in chemical engineering.
After graduating from the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) he went to work for a metals mining company.
“It was a great company, great people, and great training for a young engineer,” Black said. “But I decided that I wanted to do something that would allow a little more opportunity or flexibility than just investing a career, or a lifetime perhaps, in one particular function, one particular industry.”
After four years in engineering, Black attended law school at the University of Missouri. From there, he returned to southwest Missouri to work for a firm newly founded by Ransom Ellis, Jr. As an attorney, Black’s engineering management experience made him a good fit for the firm focused on labor law, now called Ellis Ellis Hammons & Johnson.
The position also brought him back to southwest Missouri. As a native of the Greene County town of Strafford, Black is committed to the Springfield area. He prefers the laid-back, small-town atmosphere and outdoor opportunities provided by the Ozarks.
“In a more rural environment, a person has the opportunity to be involved in a more significant way in some of the things that go on in a community,” Black said. “Small towns may be a little more relaxed than some of the urban areas.”
As a law firm partner, part of Black’s duties included representing Springfield’s Missouri State University. Eventually, the university decided it needed an in-house counsel position, so Black was a natural choice for the job.
Both the law firm and the university provided Black with influential mentors in the form of Ellis and university president John Keiser.
“They were more concerned about doing things in an ethical, honorable manner than whatever their personal interests might be,” Black said. “They were great role models for anybody.”
After 12 years at the university, Black made the move to City Utilities of Springfield. The city-owned organization provides electricity, natural gas, water, broadband, and public transportation for more than 111,000 customers. He has enjoyed that both in-house positions he has held involve services that improve people’s lives.
“The city is not just streets and roads,” Black said. “It’s an organization that attempts to better folks’ lives… and City Utilities is a part of that. We’re part of the economic development here. We’re also part of an attitude in Springfield to try to be responsible to the environment. I’m very happy to be in a small way part of that effort.”