Barker Keith L’97

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Written by: Savana Conrade

Barker Keith is the General Counsel of Sovereign Risk Insurance Limited (“Sovereign”), a political and credit risk insurance company in Bermuda; and has worked there for the past 22 years. In his role as General Counsel, which he describes as a fulfilling and enjoyable job, he advises Sovereign on a host of regulatory and contractual matters and as to whether companies they insure have experienced losses that qualify for insurance compensation. Barker finds himself on the forefront of economic development, as the insured companies seek to tap into emerging and frontier markets, countries in their earlier stages of development. Insuring companies in these countries involves analyzing a wide assortment of political risk events, including expropriation, breach of contracts, and political violence risks, as well as credit risks stemming from defaults on cross-border loans, to determine if a claim is compensable.

After moving from Kansas City to Venezuela, where he spent ages 12 to 20, Barker knew he wanted to be involved in international affairs. Barker’s path to his current career has been both challenging and rewarding, including many experiences that helped shape him for the general counsel role. Barker received his undergraduate education in international relations from American University. After receiving his degree, he knew he wanted to give back and joined the Army where he served as an officer for five years. During his time in the Army, which included a stint on the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea, Barker decided he wanted to go to law school and did so upon his return.

Barker attended the College of Law because he enjoyed the beauty of upstate New York and wanted to practice law in New York. Having an eye toward international business law, he soon realized that many attractive professional opportunities were in New York City. Upon graduation, Barker seized one such opportunity and took a job as a first-year associate at Shearman & Sterling where he worked for over four years. His associateship was truly international, including three years in Shearman & Sterling’s Hong Kong office and six months in the United Arab Emirates. While working in Hong Kong, Barker was offered the opportunity to become the assistant general counsel of Sovereign and he decided to make Bermuda his home in 2002. He was assistant general counsel for Sovereign for ten years before assuming his current role of general counsel in 2013.

Barker also continued his education after graduating from the College of Law and entering the workforce. Since Bermuda, as a British Overseas Territory, operates under the English legal system, Barker took night classes, studied, and passed the English bar exam all while working for Sovereign. In 2005, he was admitted to the Roll of Solicitors under the laws of England and Wales. Additionally, Barker received a master’s in international relations from Tufts University and an LLM in tax law from New York University.

While a student at the College of Law, Barker was the Senior Notes and Comments Editor of the Syracuse Law Review. He recalls primarily working over the summer on notes and comments to make sure that anything eventually published by the Law Review was at the level of prestige which the journal required. Barker and his fellow notes and comments editors would proofread these notes and comments to perfection, making sure there were no mistakes before they were sent off for publication. The skills he acquired from critically reading and combing through these notes translated well into his career. Barker also recalls his note writing process, which made him both a better writer and more effective communicator. Barker appreciated the note requirement as one that helped develop skills that he employs to this day when writing memorandums and other legal documents for Sovereign.

Looking back on his time at the College of Law, Barker also recalls the positive influence of his legal writing and trial practice professor, Travis H.D. Lewin. While other professors aided Barker’s growth, Professor Lewin had the most impact. Further, if Barker could take one more class at the College of Law, it would be National Security Law. After the events of September 11th, a new era of domestic and foreign pressures arose in the United States and new laws emerged to address these threats. As a result, Barker would love to be able to take this class in order to have a better foundational understanding of the legal aspects of this new political era.

Barker is proud of the legal skills he has developed, starting first in private practice and then moving in-house to facilitate and encourage foreign direct investment and financing from the developed world into the developing world. Part of the cultivation of these skills depended on the ability to communicate. Barker advises students to actively foster these communication skills within themselves in order to succinctly communicate legal issues to laypeople and other lawyers alike. Further, he wishes to impart to students the wisdom that strict adherence to the rule of law is non-negotiable and we should all strive to speak truth to power.