ASU alumna builds law career from liberal arts and sciences education

By

Sarah Edwards

Samantha Winter grew up with Arizona State University in her backyard. As a Tempe native, she spent her childhood around campus, watching shows at ASU Gammage and participating in Sun Devil traditions. Now an alumna of the university, she's in the Valley growing her career in law.

“It was hard to turn down the opportunity to go to a major research university in a major city,” she said. “ASU offered me the best of all worlds, and it was something I was very familiar with.”

As a Flinn Scholar from a small high school in the Valley, Winter decided to attend college in her hometown, but she knew the university’s large size could be an adjustment. She quickly found comfort in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College.

“It was just sort of a culture shock in terms of how large it was,” Winter said. “Both the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and The Honors College really helped me ground myself.”

Winter chose to pursue undergraduate majors in English, Spanish and history with the hopes of attending law school in the future. As an avid reader, English was an obvious choice for her. She chose Spanish because of its usefulness, and she added a dual emphasis in American and Latin American history to provide context for her other studies.

“What really attracted me to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is this idea that they are teaching you to think critically, and I knew that would be important generally in life, but also in what I thought would be my chosen career,” she said.

With different fields of study came interactions with a range of professors, which Winter enjoyed. Two of her close mentors later became her thesis advisers, and many wrote letters of recommendation for her as she pursued law school after graduation. Winter’s most influential mentors were Ted Humphrey, founding dean of Barrett; Janet Burke, former associate dean of Barrett; and Ileana Orlich, professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

“It was really nice to be able to have really talented faculty to go to and say, ‘I really liked this class — what should I do to follow up on this?’” she said. “I found the faculty to be very open and invested in their own research. It was very helpful having people who were passionate about what they were doing and share that passion.”

After graduating from the university in 2008, Winter attended law school at the University of Notre Dame. At the time, the job market for lawyers was daunting, but she decided to be flexible with her location and hoped for a chance to return to the Valley. Today, Winter is an attorney with Sacks Tierney, a law firm in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she does estate planning and probate litigation.

“I’m particularly pleased with what I’m doing now, because I get to help people sort out problems before they occur … and I also get to get involved and advocate for people with something terrible that has happened to them,” Winter said. “It’s very rewarding and intellectually challenging.”

Winter attributes much of her success in law school to her liberal arts degrees, which she says taught her to think critically, argue effectively and become a strong writer.

“Getting to spend four years broadening my perspective, learning about the world, learning about what my place might be in it … was really valuable,” Winter said. “The liberal arts program in general provided a really strong foundation for me to build my profession.”

Winter recently went back to school to receive her Master of Laws in taxation in 2014, which was a major career change for her. She quickly discovered her liberal arts background would give her the confidence to tackle an intimidating new subject.

“As you’ve noticed in my degrees, there’s not a lot of math involved in any of those,” she said. “If you told me five years ago that I would be doing tax law, I would have laughed at you because it was my hardest course in law school, and I hated it because it was scary.”

As for the future, Winter plans to continue on her current career path, although the practice of law does have many options. She hopes to continue making a name for herself at Sacks Tierney. In her personal and professional life, Winter looks forward to having a family with her fiancé and having the chance to impact the people in her life.

“I would like the people I’m closest to to be able to feel like I was an active member of their life who helped them achieve their goals,” she said. “You should try to make yourself the person who you needed when you were younger. And I would love to be able to do that professionally.”