Notre Dame Law School celebrates the career of retiring faculty member Matt Barrett

Author: Denise Wager

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Notre Dame Law School honored the exceptional career of longtime faculty member Professor of Law Matthew J. Barrett last month. He retired from the Law School after decades of service at the end of June.

Barrett had been on the Law School faculty since 1990. He taught courses such as accounting for lawyers, analytical methods for lawyers, federal income taxation, business associations, and seminars studying the intersection between law and accounting.

In addition, he gave his time and talent, contributing in countless ways to the Law School, the University, and the local South Bend community.

“Students who were fortunate enough to study with Matt Barrett were greatly enriched and expertly prepared to serve as lawyers in business and accounting. Moreover, they witnessed his example as a person who never failed to show care and empathy for his students and colleagues,” said G. Marcus Cole, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law. “From his days as a top student at the Law School to his decades as a faculty member, Matt Barrett has exemplified Notre Dame’s mission to form students in mind, body, and spirit.”

Professor Emerita of Law Patricia O’Hara has known Barrett for nearly 40 years, first when he was a student, and then as a colleague and friend. She notes his dedication to students, his kind heart, and his ability to build community.

“One of the greatest things about Matt is his accessibility and complete devotion to students. He spends countless hours with students one-on-one. And that doesn’t just mean during law school, but for decades after graduation as well,” said O’Hara. “He has a remarkable talent for remembering meaningful details about his students — and just about everyone else he encounters.”

Professor Matt Barrett chats with students in this photo from 2006.

Elizabeth Lombard ’15, ’20 J.D., an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, was a research assistant for Barrett.

“Professor Barrett is emblematic of everything that is special about the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He not only cared about his students’ intellectual development, but also cared deeply about our emotional and spiritual well-being. He took time to learn about our families, our friends, our career goals, our passions — and somehow (miraculously) remembered small, but important, details about each of his students,” said Lombard.

“He genuinely celebrated all of our wins with us — small and big. Whenever our names made it into a ND Law newsletter, he was the first professor to shoot over the note of congratulations, like clockwork. He truly made Notre Dame feel like home for so many students and we were blessed to have learned from him,” she said.

Judge Kenneth F. Ripple, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Professor of Law, said, “Matt Barrett has made an enormous, although sometimes underappreciated, contribution to the Law School. In the classroom he was a demanding, rigorous professor. He knew what his students needed to know to excel in practice, and he required that they meet those standards. He paid special attention to those without an undergraduate business background and made sure that they were equipped to understand and resolve the problems that their future clients would bring to them.”

The Student Bar Association awarded Barrett the Captain William O. McLean Community Spirit Award in 1998 for exceptional contributions to the Law School community. In 2001, the graduating class selected him to receive the Law School’s annual Distinguished Teaching Award.

“One of Matt’s sons uses a basketball metaphor to describe his dad,” O’Hara said. “He says that Matt sets screens so that teammates can get open and take better shots. He never wants to be the center of attention; he sets others up for success. If they don’t succeed and he has to rebound, he plays that role as well.”

O’Hara added, “Matt is a community builder who lives the Gospel every day of his life. He has an unfailing moral compass. He will always do the right thing no matter the personal cost.”

O’Hara points to Barrett’s servant heart, noting the years of service he has given to Law School committees, including the appointments, building, curriculum, Loan Repayment Assistance Program, promotions, and public interest committees.

“If you want someone on a committee who will be fair, equitable, and objective, Matt is your go-to person,” she said.

Ripple commented that Barrett appreciated what it meant for a Notre Dame lawyer to be a different kind of lawyer, because he was a prime example of that standard.

“He embodies all the virtues that are encompassed in that description. He lives the ideal that Notre Dame urges its students to attain. In the daily grind of teaching and learning, he was the voice of the Spirit, constantly reminding us of our better selves,” said Ripple. “Whenever Notre Dame lawyers gather to remember their law school days, whenever they have a difficult ethical decision to make, whenever they have to deal with the practicalities of a complex business situation, they will treasure the time that they spent with Matt Barrett.”

With his knowledge of tax and accounting, Barrett was instrumental in shaping the Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program when it began in the early 2000s. He became fully conversant with the LRAP programs at every other law school, as well as with the pertinent tax regulations. He also served as the interim qualified tax expert when the Notre Dame Tax Clinic began in 2015.

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Professor Matt Barrett stands next to his wife, Kate, at a retirement party in Eck Commons on June 6, 2022.

Barrett shared his talents with the greater University community over the years in numerous ways. He served on the Accountancy Advisory Board in the Mendoza College of Business since its creation in 1994, on the University Committee on Appeals, the University Committee on Libraries, and as the Law School’s elected representative to the University’s Faculty Board on Athletics.

In 2010, he and his wife, Kate, received the Spirit of Holy Cross Award from the Priests and Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Indiana Province for their years of lay service.

He has served St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, St. Joseph High School, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the Center for the Homeless in numerous ways.

In 1997, Barrett joined David R. Herwitz, now professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, as co-author of the second edition of the law school casebook Accounting for Lawyers. Foundation Press published the sixth edition in 2021, and the concise sixth edition in June 2022, with Barrett as the sole active author. Collectively, these texts have been adopted for classroom use at more than 120 law schools.

Barrett earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Notre Dame in 1982 and his J.D. from Notre Dame Law School in 1985. He was the recipient of the Col. William J. Hoynes Award, an honor given to the top student in each Notre Dame Law School class. He is also a certified public accountant.

Walter Brown, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in San Francisco and one of Barrett’s friends, said, “Matt and I met in 1982, as first-year students in the Notre Dame Law School Class of 1985. Over four decades, Matt has quietly demonstrated his brilliance, dedication, humility, loyalty, compassion, and kindness. His affection for Notre Dame, and his contributions to the Notre Dame community, are boundless, and his imprint immeasurable.”