When did you decide you wanted to be a lawyer?
I never planned on going to law school. My pre-conception of the law was that it was boring and overly concerned with minutia and focused on arguing. I have always been a creative person who enjoyed peacemaking and making projects happen. (Little did I understand that my talents and interests actually did support a career in the law, just not in litigation!)
During my last year at BYU, my father essentially bribed me to consider law school. He told me that he would pay for my LSAT if I would take it. I agreed, never intending to actually apply to law school. I did so incredibly well on the LSAT, however, that I figured I should at least apply to some schools to see if I would get in. I was admitted and was able to have a couple schools defer my acceptance for a year while I attended the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, studying international relations.
During my first year at Fletcher and during my summer at the State Department, nearly everyone I with whom I came in contact encouraged me to look seriously at law school. I elected to attend University of Virginia School of Law, mostly because it was a less expensive option for me as an in-state student and because everyone told me it was a "fun" place to go to law school.
My feelings about the study and practice of law "did a 180" when I was at UVA. Shockingly, I found that I loved the study of law. The study of law, after all, is the study of mankind, the study of civilization, and the study of philosophy and morality and justice…all those interesting themes that aren't fully fleshed out in classes prior to law school. And it was so exciting and fulfilling to talk and debate important issues with articulate, educated peers. I loved UVA and the friends I made there have been among my closest lifetime friends.
My reticence to practice law similarly fell away when I discovered the world of transactional legal practice. In transactional law, the lawyer is constructive rather than combative and is able to achieve client objectives that cause a project to be successful, ideally in a "win-win" with other parties. This sort of work was tremendously fulfilling to me personally, since I felt that I was creating value and increasing overall utility for all people and entities involved. I began doing more and more real estate finance related deals because I particularly enjoyed the novel issues and tangible results in real property transactions.
How does being a woman, a lawyer and LDS change who you are in any/all these areas?
I have often felt like a member of a minority population in the law, not just because I am a Mormon lawyer - there are a fair number of those. But because I am a female Mormon lawyer. None of my LDS classmates were women, and almost every LDS student I come across is male. I know this isn't because LDS women are less intellectual or less able to become lawyers, but I suspect this is due to Mormon cultural emphasis on the role of stay-at-home mother to the exclusion of the role of women in society in other roles. (I emphasize that I believe this emphasis is more cultural than doctrinal).
I have to admit that I spent a decade of my adult life as less-active and even inactive in the Church. It is tremendously difficult to be a single adult in the LDS church - again, culturally, not doctrinally. And I had run into some personal issues with members that took me some time to get beyond (I guess I had to grow up). Plus, when I was working in BigLaw in New York, I never ever got a Sunday off. My job was seven days a week, constantly on-call. And balancing that sort of work pressure with the time commitment the LDS Church expects is difficult.
Today, I feel very much that being a woman, a lawyer, and a member of the LDS church make me who I am - all three are aspects of my identity. Furthermore, they inform each other. I am a different lawyer because I am a woman and LDS, and I'm a different LDS woman because I'm a lawyer. I treasure the insight and fulfillment I obtain from all three of these aspects of my life.
How do you manage the work/life issue?
I practiced law full time for 14 years. During that time I went from single to married and had three children (a fourth was born last year, four months after I started teaching at Washburn).
Although I enjoyed transactional practice tremendously, it truly was a constant struggle to balance family and job. When I returned to the Washington, DC office of my "BigLaw" firm after maternity leave with my first child, I was informed that I would only hope to make partner if I could dedicate 2-3 days a week to working in the "home" office in New York City. I was unwilling to leave my 4-month old for days at a time, and started looking around for an in-house position. I loved being in-house counsel and during those years I learned so much about what a client wants and needs in an attorney. I also learned a lot about the business of real estate development. But the pace was still demanding and my job was fairly inflexible about working from home or on a flexible schedule, so I decided to quit and be a stay-at-home mother.
I never did get to be a stay-at-home mother, however. (Here, cue the line from "The Godfather" to the effect that, "Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!"). When I told our company's various outside counsel that I had decided to spend more time at home, two of these firms offered me the option of working part time and working remotely. The offers were good - ones I "couldn't refuse" (?) - so I went to work part time at a firm, doing work that supported developers and using my inside knowledge of client needs to bolster my effectiveness. I began developing an interest and expertise in common interest communities at that time. I also began teaching.
I soon realized that my enthusiasm for the study of law could only be appropriately channeled, and that I would only be completely professionally fulfilled, if I transitioned from practice into legal academia. I spent the next four years making that career transition, and after years of being a visiting professor (at GW Law, Fordham Law, and Catholic U. Columbus School of Law), I joined the tenure-track faculty at Washburn and relocated my family to Kansas.
Balance continues to be a goal - one that more often exceeds my grasp. But I find that because of my patient and tremendously supportive family (especially my husband), and because of the great personal satisfaction that my job brings to me, I continue to strive after that goal (as exhausting as it is on a day-to-day basis).
What inspires you?
I love teaching. I love to be "along for the ride" when someone has a learning moment. And I love learning - having my own "light bulb" moments and brushes with inspiration. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that it allows me to continuously learn and to help others learn. It is incredibly inspiring and valuable.
Similarly, being a mother is a constant source of inspiration. Motherhood has brought me a completely new perspective on the world. And the love I have for my children and the bond with them is the most wonderful and inspiring part of my life.
I am also inspired by the Gospel. Having grown up in the Church, one sometimes thinks that one will not continue to feel a sense of wonder and astonishment about things like the Atonement or the Plan of Salvation. But these moments of insight and immersive emotion regarding plain and simple truths provide continuous inspiration to me. I find myself most open to these sorts of inspirations when I take moments to quietly ponder, particularly when I am outside or engaging in some physical activity. Life is tough, and without this sort of spiritual inspiration and faith in the meaning of our struggles on earth, it would be tremendously difficult to ever obtain peace or happiness.