Profiles: Faith Ireland

Faith Ireland

Justice Faith Ireland

MS Taxation 84

Owner, Faith Ireland “Just Results”

Judicial Power

Faith Ireland brings a whole new meaning to the term judicial power. She's been beating the odds and shattering stereotypes for most of her life. At 70, Faith is a world-champion power lifter, one of a handful of women ever elected to the Washington Supreme Court, and a powerful voice in a highly personal campaign to eliminate shame around adoption issues.

Her parents were patriotic and civic minded; their involvement with the local Democratic Party helped young Faith realize a lifelong passion. Her first political campaign, at 15, was for a family friend, the legendary R.R. "Bob" Greive from West Seattle, who was running for re-election as a state senator. Later, she began working at the State Democratic Headquarters and built a strong network. She would work on numerous political campaigns, and even meet the future President Kennedy long before she was able to cast her first ballot.

Faith had started thinking about a career in the law as a young girl watching the McCarthy hearings on television. She chose the University of Washington for undergraduate school, studied political science, and worked at the Washington State Legislature for three sessions while in college. All those years of working on campaigns and building her network were paying off. Her first job in the statehouse was to keep track of the action on bills. In the last session, she worked as the statistician on the redistricting bill that my state senator introduced.

When Ireland started law school in 1967, just 4% of America's law students were women. When she started practicing law in 1970, the number was under 10%. Today, nearly half of all law school graduates are women. The big jump came in the late 1970s when the ABA banned quotas for women; quickly about one-third of all law students were female. To pay her way through law school, Faith worked in real estate with her parents. She had her eye on becoming a US attorney and had friends in that office, but a change in presidential administrations closed that window of opportunity. To make matters worse, she failed the bar exam on her first try.

Nevertheless, she eventually landed a job at a small Seattle law firm that was looking for a litigator. Ireland then practiced privately for 10 years doing personal injury work, real estate and dissolution work. Early on, she realized she had become the go-to attorney for cases that nobody else could or would tackle. Sitting down with a business consultant friend, they laid out a business model. Everybody recognized her as a champion of the underdog, but it was time to be seen as an expert in something else. The conclusion was that a master's degree in taxation would be most helpful. Golden Gate University's Seattle tax program was a logical choice. The MS Taxation degree she earned in 1984 helped change her family law practice.

"It was the only tax degree possible in Seattle in the late 1970s. I thought a tax degree is a tax degree; it didn't really matter to me whether it was an MS in Taxation or an LLM. It was instantly useful. The professors were excellent."

A few years earlier she had married Chuck Norem, a software engineer, and they wanted to start a family, and decided that the judiciary might be a better fit. Plus it met long-term goals for public service and my interest in politics. When an opening arose on the superior court, Faith's husband and a neighbor convinced her to apply, despite the fact that the governor making the appointment was a Republican and Faith was a lifelong Democrat. No sooner was she appointed to what would become a 15-year run on the superior court bench than it was time to start her re-election campaign. It would be the last time she was ever opposed in an election for the superior court.

"I went through the process and in the interview; one of the things that Governor John Spellman liked was that I was pursuing a master's degree in tax at Golden Gate University. He was business-oriented and believed that a judge with a master's in tax would have some knowledge of business. He also liked that I was a lifelong learner. That was what he wanted in his judges."

Just two weeks after her appointment, Ireland was rear-ended in a hit-and-run collision, which resulted in a serious back injury. The back pain would linger for a dozen years until, ironically, during jury empanelling, she heard a juror say that he had overcome his back injury by lifting weights. She found that working through the pain was often successful. To Faith, the concept made sense. Besides, nothing else had brought relief. She found a physical therapist whose office was over a gym just a few blocks from the courthouse. She was intrigued by the power lifters, though, and asked one to become her personal trainer. She would ultimately become the president of his foundation, which provides free fitness training for urban youths. So Ireland began participating in power lifting competitions in the US, Europe, India, and South America. She has won five world championships, seven USAPL national championships, and holds 12 world records and 27 American records from three federations.

Looking at the next phase of her multi-faceted career, Ireland decided to focus on public policy work, arbitration, mediation and strategic legal consulting, particularly to lawyers. She hopes to increase the public policy side of her consulting business because she feels there are many justice issues still waiting to be addressed. Ask Faith Ireland how she sees herself and the answer comes quickly. She wants to be the poster kid for, "it's never too late and you're never too busy."