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Barnes to receive top education leadership award from YWCA
has spent a lifetime walking around in other people’s shoes.
At first, putting herself in the place of someone less talented, less fortunate, less loved was something Jennifer’s parents, Barbra and Duane, expected of her, as well as her three younger siblings, as they grew up in the 1960s in Wheaton, Ill.
“In those days, people judged quickly,” says Barbra Barnes. “So, for us, an important part of raising these kiddos was teaching them first to think about what someone else had been through before they judged. There were kids who didn’t have nice clothes, and they struggled in school, and they just came from a different place. And we talked about that, and they became good friends.”
As she moved through life, Barnes, a leader among athletes and band students alike at Wheaton Central High, and winner of the coveted title, Miss Wheaton Belle 1974, naturally assumed the role of empathizer. This early training helped her both in the practice of law, and as a teacher of students of all ages and in all walks of life.
Barnes, who directs both the Social Entrepreneurship and Clinical Education Program and the Externship Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, has been named the 2011 Education Leader by the YWCA of Maricopa County. Along with 10 other women, including former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor (a 1974 College of Law alumna), Barnes will be honored at the 18th annual YWCA Tribute to Women awards luncheon on Thursday, Feb. 17.
“I really am humbled,” Barnes says in typical fashion. “I feel very grateful to be honored as an educator, because I have been so impacted by my teachers, from grade school through law school. Passionate teachers can change the direction of a life, and it’s such an honorable profession.”
Dana Campbell Saylor, Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA, says the selection committee looks for recipients whose contributions will outlast their lifetimes. She called it “the wow factor.”
“Jennifer is so good at creating spaces for her students to be mentored, and that produces incredible young professionals,” Saylor says. “She wants her students to practice law in a holistic way, with respect and honor, and because she got into the legal profession when it was still male-dominated, and she succeeded, she’s a great role model for women.”
Barnes, a 1987 alumna of the College of Law, first taught at the law school as an adjunct professor in 1997, and then came on board full-time in 2001 as a visiting professor in the Civil Justice Clinic. She later taught students in the Indian Legal Clinic, in the Lawyering Theory and Practice course and, most recently, in the fast-growing Externship Program.
In 2002, Barnes was appointed director of the Civil Justice Clinic, supervising law students who represented homeowners and renters who were victims of real-estate scams, as well as cases involving tenants’ rights, and employment law-related disputes. Under her tutelage, the Clinic in 2008 received the top award from the Volunteer Lawyers Program in Maricopa County for providing legal services to Arizona victims of foreclosure rescue scams.
As director of the College’s innovative Social Entrepreneurship and Clinical Education Program, Barnes provides administrative support to 11 different clinics, while in her role as head of the Externship Program, she annually supervises nearly 200 students working in externships in more than 80 nonprofit agencies and judicial placements.
“It’s a privilege to watch Jennifer navigate through a semester with a group of law students,” says Regina Blakely, her partner and witness to much of her work outside office hours. “At first, her BlackBerry is ablaze with questions about assignments and logistics. In short order, they find out ‘reflection’ means exactly that to Jennifer - she’s going to read their writing, she’s going to listen and dialogue with them about challenges, and she expects them to be thoughtful and mindful in the practice of law, right from the get-go, in their externship experience.”
Former students remember her mentorship and stay in touch, Blakely says. “She gets a lot of ‘a senior partner just used my work’ e-mails - and new baby pictures, which she loves.”
Barnes feels strongly that students deserve a good experience at the law school. “But I also want them to know they will be privileged to have this degree and to practice the law, and that they have a duty to give back where they can.”
Mykil Bachoian, a third-year student at the College of Law, met Jennifer the summer after his first year during his first externship. Bachoian, who will do a third externship next semester, calls Barnes a creative, caring visionary who is helping retool public legal education.
“Jennifer’s made the externship more than just an academic requirement,” he says. “She stresses to us that, as externs, we have professional duties to work ethically, and she holds us to a really high standard. She teaches us to treat our externships as we would jobs, to be respectful and kind to everyone we come in contact with, and she imparts the dedication it takes to be an attorney in this world, and how nothing comes easily. And yet, she convinces us to keep believing, to keep working.”
Barnes brings in multidisciplinary speakers, attorneys from state and city governments and in private practice, who focus on various subjects in the practice of law.
“What separates Jennifer Barnes from other professors is they teach us the law, and Jennifer teaches us how to practice the law,” Bachoian says. “She teaches us intangible skills that will get us jobs in this tough economic environment. I think she knows, in a sense, she’s shaping the future of the profession.”
Catherine Gage O’Grady, the College’s Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and the Profession, agreed that leading the Externship Program is the ideal place for Barnes.
“Jen is all about the student – that comes across in her teaching and in her interaction with students every day,” says O’Grady, Barnes’ law-school classmate. “She is compassionate and passionate about education, and her principal goal is to make sure students receive the best opportunities she can put together for them.”
As a former attorney (Barnes practiced for 14 years before arriving at the law school), she knows the landscape of legal work in the community, and she has done an exemplary job of lining up scores of external opportunities for law students at Arizona’s governmental entities and non-profit agencies, O’Grady says.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to see her receive this very well-deserved recognition, because she really puts her heart, energy and time into helping students, and making sure value is added to their education,” she says.
Ian Baranski, a 2008 alumnus of the College of Law, met Barnes in the Civil Justice Clinic where he was a student attorney under her supervision on a complicated landlord/tenant case. There, he learned to prepare for trial by interviewing clients, writing and submitting motions to the court, and working across the table from real attorneys.
“She’s one of those people who has a unique characteristic that just makes you want to work extra hard for her, because she’s compassionate and understanding,” says Baranski, who’s currently working on an LL.M. in Entertainment Law at the UCLA School of Law. “She brings out the passion in her students, and she’s there for them, every step of the way. Any student is very lucky to have had her as a professor and mentor.”
Barnes insists that her students put themselves in their client’s shoes, too, and to realize that they may be their best, their only, hope for justice, he says.
“What I loved the most, though, was her legal teaching, because if we were facing a new issue that we hadn’t dealt with yet, she’d ask, `Where should we go to start? How can we find the answer?’ Not, ‘Here’s the answer’,” Baranski says. “And some professors and some attorneys will never say, `I don’t know the answer,’ but Jennifer would pull out the book and say, `I’m not sure – let’s look for it’.”
Barnes’ teaching prowess earned her a most-treasured honor, the “Outstanding Teaching Award” from the Class of 2004 at the College of Law. Additionally, in 2008, she was named one of the Top 50 Pro Bono Attorneys in Arizona by the State Bar of Arizona for her service as co-president of the Board of Directors of Community Legal Services (CLS), an Arizona not-for-profit law firm that promotes equal access to justice for all.
Lillian O. Johnson, Executive Director of CLS, called Barnes a champion of that organization who epitomizes the core values of the legal profession – integrity, professionalism, service, diversity, promoting justice and leadership. Further, Barnes emits positive energy, and a genuine interest in and respect for everyone she meets.
“Aristotle said, ‘The law is reason, free from passion.’ Jennifer Barnes is an outstanding lawyer and educator who brings ‘passion’ to the law,” Johnson says. “Her ‘passion’ for the law, for teaching and her deep commitment to ensuring equal access to justice for all make her an outstanding choice for the YWCA’s Education Leader Award.”
Barnes’ commitment to teaching doesn’t begin and end at the law school’s curb on the ASU Tempe campus. She has taught underprivileged students in an ABA pre-law program aimed at diversifying the practice of law, and participated in training exercises for lawyers presented by the State Bar of Arizona, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, the Association of American Law Schools and the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association.
It seems there isn’t any group Barnes can’t teach. Several years ago, she tackled a new assignment, that of a Junior Achievement volunteer in a room of first-graders at Jane Dee Hull Elementary in Chandler. Attorney-turned-teacher Teri Raven, a longtime friend, invited her to talk to the six- and seven-year-olds about economics, specifically, the difference between needs and wants. Barnes did not hesitate, even though the task inconveniently required weekly visits, for six weeks, to a school many miles away.
“Jennifer was asking my students if they could think of something they really needed, and one little girl raised her hand, and said, ‘I need a husband’,” Raven recalls. “Jennifer didn’t laugh at her -- she was respectful and kind – and she just moved on to the next student. Her delivery is so fun and engaging. She really has a gift.”
Mary Beth Borkowski, an English teacher at Madison Meadows Middle School in Phoenix, says Barnes is a “modern-day Atticus Finch.” The moral hero and attorney role model in
To Kill a Mockingbird
, one of Barnes’ favorite books, Finch defended a poor black man, Tom Robinson, against charges of sexually assaulting a white girl in Alabama in the 1930s.
As a guest speaker in Borkowski’s eighth-grade classrooms, Barnes spoke of her love for the novel and explained the courtroom scenes to the students, who were transfixed by her message, Borkowski says.
“She was a big hit, sharing her great love of literature and of the law,” Borkowski says. “Like Atticus, Jennifer is a model of compassion. As she shared stories of her work, my eighth graders saw a real-life example of a lawyer who walks in her clients’ footsteps. She really connected with my kids. One of them followed her out to her car and asked if he could sit in on her class at the law school.”
Raven said Barnes is an educator for the ages. “Whether she’s educating lawyers, juror, opposing counsel, clients, or first-graders, she an amazing person who imparts knowledge without judging and from a place in her heart, and she has the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
Baranski says the YWCA couldn’t have picked a better person to win the award. “I’d love to meet the others who won in the past,” he laughed.
The awards luncheon, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arizona Biltmore, is open to the public. For information or to purchase tickets, go to
or call Chris Long at (602) 258-0990, ext. 19, or e-mail