BYU Law Alumna Heather Farnsworth Sets the Bar High in 2020
By Rachel Edwards
As the first alumna of BYU Law to serve as president of the Utah State Bar, Heather Orme Farnsworth (‘02) is proud to represent the association of legal professionals in her home state. “Utah is often very innovative. We are on the forefront of a lot of programs,” she says. “We have leaders who are interested in taking risks when needed to improve things.” Farnsworth, who will be sworn in as acting president of the Bar in July of 2020, plans to focus on increasing access to justice, promoting work-life balance, and encouraging unity within the membership of the Bar.
A career in law was not always part of Farnsworth’s plan. During college she worked for Southwest Airlines as a customer service representative and realized that she had a knack for troubleshooting and client care. “I’ve always been fascinated by people and how their minds work. I love being able to help people solve their problems,” she says. This prompted Farnsworth to major in psychology. “I did some practicums with troubled youth and thought guardian ad litem would be a great path to follow with a psychology background,” she says. Farnsworth attended an event for prospective law students at BYU, and the rest is history. “BYU Law has so many resources at their disposal, and they seemed really interested in me,” she says. “It was such a good opportunity; I couldn’t pass it up.”
Farnsworth is a co-owner of Match & Farnsworth, P.C., a high-volume, small firm specializing in Social Security disability claims. She guides clients through each stage of the Social Security benefits claim process, including complex applications and disability hearings. “I still feel that sense of altruism. I’m trying to help people have the right tools to support themselves so they can have stability in their lives,” she says.
Farnsworth is committed to being a voice for lawyers who, like herself, fall outside traditional areas of practice. She first got involved with the Bar in 2012 as an ex-officio (non-voting) member representing Women Lawyers of Utah. “At the time there were very few women who were voting commissioners and very few small-firm commissioners. I thought that those voices needed to be represented,” she says. Farnsworth later ran for a commission seat and was elected to represent the 3rd Division. She will complete her second three-year term as a commissioner before assuming the role of president.
As president, Farnsworth plans to support access to justice initiatives in Utah. “We still have a tremendously underserved population. It’s not only low-income individuals; middle income people don’t hire lawyers. It’s not that there aren’t lawyers to service them. If they’ve never used one, never known one, they just think it’s out of their range.” In 2019, the Utah Supreme Court appointed a task force, the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform, to consider ways to increase access to and affordability of legal services. The task force includes representatives from the Utah court system, members of the Bar Commission, leading academics (including Dean D. Gordon Smith of BYU Law), and Farnsworth. “We are trying to create a situation that is good for the profession and good for the public. The Bar has a good relationship with the Court and is charging itself with educating our members on the proposed changes so that they can give feedback and input.”
While in office, Farnsworth also hopes to promote a more flexible approach to the practice of law in order to improve work-life balance within the profession. “For a long time, women have been pushing the balance of family life and career. We are seeing that more now with men and millennials,” she says. “The American Bar Association (ABA) has recently emphasized wellness and made specific recommendations for firms. The Bar can follow the ABA’s lead and try out options with our own staff.”
Farnsworth says her educational experiences at BYU Law continue to impact her life and career in important ways. “BYU Law showed me that you can do things differently and still get things done. A huge part of law is adapting to the situation as it is.” Farnsworth had her first child during her third year of law school and says BYU’s focus on family helped shape her career from the get-go. “They are both important things and you can make room for both.” Another takeaway, says Farnsworth, is “network, network, network. It really is just about showing up and participating. You’ll be amazed at the opportunities that open up just because you are willing to be there.”