Growing up, WMU-Cooley graduate Kate Barnaby remembers how much she loved learning about our legal justice system. It wasn't just that her dad was part of the Navy and Honor Guard, it was more than that. She recalls many visits to Washington, D.C., and how her dad made a point of taking the family everywhere, including the White House, Capitol Hill and all the impressive monuments.
"It was just such a powerful experience for me, even as a child," recalls Barnaby. "I think the first time I went to Washington, D.C., I was only five years old, but that experience stuck with me for a lifetime."
As her understanding of the legislative process grew, Barnaby realized how much it all matters in a truly functioning government. It wasn't until after college that Barnaby decided to pursue a legal career, but she wanted to work in a law firm first to be sure.
"I made it clear when I started (at the legal firm) that going to law school was a big decision and I wanted to make sure that the legal profession would be a profession I would actually enjoy," asserted Barnaby.
Barnaby not only enjoyed the work, she loved everything about it. Going to law school was a given, but choosing which law school she would attend was still a decision left to be made. It was another WMU-Cooley graduate at the law firm where she worked as a legal assistant who convinced her to make what she would call "the best decision she has ever made."
graduate with AN edge
"I was working as a legal assistant in a law firm of about 10 practicing attorneys and there was an attorney there that was a WMU-Cooley grad," shared Barnaby. "He was phenomenal in his presentation to his clients, he knew what he was doing, he was kind, he was a great mentor. And when I voiced the idea that I was considering going to law school myself, he said I think you should take a look at my alma mater. He said 'WMU-Cooley alumni graduate with an edge,' and once you go through the program, I would understand what he meant.
"I respected him so much that I thought I would take a look at this school. I thought, I’m going to go down, schedule a tour, and see what it’s all about. He really influenced my decision to attend and I’m really glad I took his advice. I now know what he meant when he said 'WMU-Cooley alumni graduate with an edge.' The faculty are phenomenal; they make sure they challenge you, and they make sure that you are the one doing the work and growing in your understanding of the material. No hand holding. That was so beneficial. They believed in you and your ability to figure it out. They believed that you can analyze an issue, gather the facts, apply the law, do the analysis, and grow from your experience. They know it is about your memory, your understanding, your analysis, your ability to apply information to a factual scenario that you have never seen before. That was instrumental. To this day in my career I use the techniques and analytical strategies and processes that I developed in law school in my day-to-day practice."
According to Barnaby, her decision to become an attorney and attend WMU-Cooley has defined her success, both personally and professionally. Knowing that she is able to help others in so many important ways gives untold meaning to her in life.
everything has a ripple effect
According to Barnaby everything you do makes a difference and there is a ripple effect, especially as an attorney when you are responsible for legal matters that can really impact clients.
"I think sometimes you don't realize that every single step you take as an attorney, every email you respond to, every call you make, counts, and it matters. I think that mindset is very important; it's a perspective that should guide you in the practice of law - always.
Barnaby has always taken her responsibility as an attorney seriously. She knows that success depends entirely on your ability to keep going, no matter what. Your diligence will be your reward.
"It is a wonderful profession to be a part of," smiled Barnaby. "Honestly, it is an honor. I feel blessed to be an attorney, and as you know, there's never a dull moment!"
Even back as a law student, when she was looking at externship options (as do all WMU-Cooley students before they graduate), Barnaby did her research.
"It was an exciting experience," told Barnaby, "but nerve-wracking. Here you are, new in a profession that is very demanding. I remember thinking back to what my dad always told me growing up; show others that you are 'more than a resume and more than a piece of paper.' He said, 'you need to show your character, your passion for what you do, and why you are excited about your work.' I took that approach even when I was interviewing for my externship in law school."
That externship for Barnaby ended up being the ripple effect has led to a 10-year career in the insurance law field.
Another piece of advice Barnaby gleened from her WMU-Cooley externship mentor had to do with the importance of maintaining relationships. He told her that knowing and analyzing the law is important, but it’s also important for you to build relationships with people because you’re working on a common goal and those relationships and connections very much matter.
"I was in private practice for about 3.5 years after I graduated from law school," shared Barnaby. "At the time I enjoyed my career as a litigator very much, but I always knew I wanted to work as in-house counsel for a corporation. My next career move was to start a position as a compliance attorney with a Lansing-based insurance company.
"I did all of their legal compliance-related work across the different departments within that company. I enjoyed it there. I valued the relationships I had with my co-workers and colleagues. And, I never forgot what my WMU-Cooley externship mentor told me - that I should think of every relationship that I have as a bank account. You make a positive contribution, you put time and investment into the relationship, and it pays returns. If you don’t do that, if you don’t put in the time and energy to care about people, to listen, then you’re going to have a negative balance. And that’s not being a good steward of the profession of law. That really stuck with me."
Not only has Barnaby taken advice from those she has built relationships with, she also makes sure to keep in touch, even if it's only to say hello and check-in every once in awhile. To her, it's great to have people who have known you, encouraged you along the way, and have always wanted the best for you.
Barnaby says that her WMU-Cooley externship program gave her the ability to take what she had learned and apply it in a real-life scenario. Nearly a decade later she still uses a principle she learned from her WMU-Cooley externship mentor.
THE OHIO PRINCIPLE
What is that principle? It's operating under the OHIO principle – Only Handle It Once. Which means, according to Barnaby, that you learn to properly analyze an issue and then do it right the first time. Be thorough. Consider all options. In the end, this is exactly what employers appreciate in their employees, and what clients appreciate about their attorneys.
Other core principles Barnaby abides by are to stay honest, respectful, kind, and determined. At the end of the day, according to Barnaby, so long as you are doing the absolute best job you can and you’re being kind and open to considering other people's ideas while speaking up when needed, you will do pretty well as an attorney.
"It helps build who you are," she continued. "It makes you smarter, it makes you better, and hopefully you have that same effect on other people. For me, when you truly engage with someone, you will always learn something, whether it be something positive or negative.
YES, INSURANCE IS EXCITING
For Barnaby, the insurance industry is captivating and interesting, and a field that is pivotal during some of the most critical times in people's lives.
"I think the insurance industry is a wonderful industry," expressed Barnaby with passion. "The insurance industry has a lot to offer our communities and society. Insurers are often there in times of stress and tragedy. We care about our policyholders and about individuals and businesses in the community. It's also a very dynamic industry going through a period of regulatory change. It's exciting to be a part of that change and to see how such changes are impacting the industry as a whole.”
"I am utilizing my skills as an attorney to further help my company protect and support its policyholders, while providing needed services in the marketplace. I think one of the great aspects of a law degree is that it is so malleable. You can use it in so many different ways. A law degree has unlimited potential for whatever you may decide you want to accomplish. You can't put a price tag on that."
As a single mom of two children, Barnaby takes on this role with the same passion and commitment. She says she is focused on raising both children to be good citizens and caring people, who are happy in their own lives. Beyond family, Barnaby feels like her legal career and her interests just keep growing. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and spending time with friends. She is learning to play the guitar and also plays the violin. For her, the sky is the limit, and she is always up for learning something new or taking on a new challenge.
Barnaby feels very blessed to work for Amerisure, one of the nation's leading providers of commercial insurance for over 100 years.
"I value their agile and cutting-edge approach to business tremendously," stated Barnaby. "I’m excited to be here; and very glad that they found me. The people are intelligent, warm, and accommodating. It is also beautiful working environment. Being chosen to be at Amerisure means a lot."