Full Time Practice

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Economy of God: A non-practicing attorney on the value of her law degree

Hi. My name is Nan Barker. I graduated from law school 26 years ago. After graduating and passing the bar, I worked full time for a year and then part-time for 1 1/2 years. After that, I left the practice of law and never returned. I stayed home and raised our 5 children.

Many people, including family, have asked me if I felt as though I had wasted my education. I didn't feel like that, but after years and years of being asked that question, I started to doubt my original answer. Had I wasted my education? I wasn't practicing law, so I guess the answer had to be yes. Wrong.

Last Fall I was asked to address a group of law students at Arizona State University on the subject, "How Have You Used Your Legal Education While Not Practicing?" Tough assignment, right?

That tough assignment took me on an interesting journey. A phrase, I believe coined by Joseph Smith (at least used by Joseph Smith with regard to receiving relvelation), had a huge impact on me. The phrase was "the economy of God." As I pondered that phrase, it became remarkably clear to me that God does not waste anything that has been learned; whether it was knowledge obtained while taking forced piano lessons at the age of 8, calculus classes in hgh school, or skills obtained during 3 years of law school.

As I thought about the skills I had learned in law school, and discussed these things with the ASU law students, we came up with a list of skills that were law-school-learned and life- applicable. Here is a partial list: thinking logically, reading critically, writing coherently, organizing for survival, studying with purpose, recognizing there are two sides to every story, providing an advantage when entering into personal contracts, persuading effectively, acquiring the ability to think on your feet, to respond to questions, and to spot issues.

I have used all of those skills over the past years in dealing with family, friends, neighbors, and Church assignments. Turns out I didn't waste a thing. The economy of God . . . it's wonderful!
--Nan Barker, vice-chair of the international JRCLS Women in the Law Committee, has served as chair of the Phoenix WIL section and as secretary of the international JRCLS Executive Committee. She was recently awarded the Phoenix chapter's Jesse Udall Award for 2010 for outstanding community service.


  1. I don't read the posts on this blog very often, but I was happy to stumble upon yours. I have a similar situation--less than two years of full-time or part-time practice and now I'm home raising babies. While I don't have any desire to return to work while I have children in my home I also feel pressure to return soon so I don't "waste my education." I have associated with working female attorneys who have balanced family and work but I can rarely identify women who have given up the practice altogether for children. It's nice to know you're out there!

  2. Just ran across this post as a mom awaiting my bar results and dreading my awaiting associate position. Very inspiring- thanks!

  3. I love being a mother, wife and practicing attorney. What I love about the law is that I have been blessed with respect from my peers and flexibility in my career. Too many women view the traditional mindset of law practice and become intimidated, believing that as a career is time sensitive and an all or nothing proposition. What my journey has shown me is that in those years when marriage, mothering and church responsibilities were overwhelming, my law practice could be put on a back burner temporarily. One of those periods lasted almost five years! Did I loose clients? Yes. Did I have to reinvent myself and my expertise? Absolutely! But I love that no amount of my education has been wasted, and that my law background is benevolent as a career, and that law practice is something I returned to when the Holy Ghost prompted me to return to it. As an LDS mother of special needs children, and a daughter to a bedridden 94 year old mother who lives at home with me, I can testify that our choices are always in light of the seasons of our lives. In my case, the law has provided me the blessings of knowledge and service, even when full time practice was not practicable. Wonderful post, Nan Barker!