It’s not uncommon to see S.J. Quinney alumna Tara Isaacson representing criminal defendants in some of the state’s most high-profile trials.
Isaacson’s career has taken her from serving as Utah State Bar Examiner from 1998 to 2005 to the national spotlight of defending polygamous leader Warren Jeffs in 2007 on charges of accomplice to rape.
She graduated from the University of Utah Law School in 1996. She began working with Wally Bugden right out of law school and they created the law firm of Bugden & Isaacson in 2009. To date, she has won acquittals in 32 jury trials.
Isaacson has also served on the Utah Sentencing Commission’s DUI Subcommittee and on the Board of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. In 2011, she was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers.
This year, the Utah State Bar awarded Isaacson with its “Professionalism Award,” a recognition given to a lawyer or judge whose “deportment in the practice of law represents the highest standards of fairness, integrity, and civility.” The award was first given out in 2004. The list of prior recipients includes prominent members of the Bar who have exhibited the type of truthfulness, reliability, and honor which is held as a standard among their peers. Nominations are received by the Utah State Bar Commission from members of the Bar.
Isaacson recently spoke to the U about her law school experience and how it helped shape her in to the professional she is today.
Q: What drew you to a career in law?
A: I spent some time living in San Francisco after college and I became interested in gay and lesbian civil rights. I went to law school planning on being a civil rights attorney.
Q: Why did you choose to go to school at the S.J. Quinney College of Law?
A: I grew up in Utah and really loved my experience at the University of Utah as an undergraduate.
Q: How did your law school experience help prepare you for what you are doing today?
A: Law school certainly taught me the importance of relationships. My closest friends today I met in law school. Relationship and reputation is everything in the practice of law.
Q: Who were your most memorable professors or mentors from your law school years? What made them memorable?
A: Debora Threedy stands out in my mind because of her great energy and enthusiasm. I’ve always looked up to lawyers who seem to really love what they do. When I was a law student I was working for a bankruptcy firm and saw criminal attorney Jim Bradshaw playing his guitar in one of the offices during the work day and I thought I want to do what he does. I can’t play the guitar, but I get to bring my dog to work.
Q: You’ve been in the business for close to two decades. What keeps you motivated and passionate about the challenging work you do? (Why do you keep doing what you do?)
A: The criminal bar is full of really dynamic lawyers – on both sides of the aisle. I am in court most days and the cases are rarely dull. I also have a law partner, Wally Bugden, who has been a great mentor. We also have two great paralegals, Suzanne Williams and Sindra McBride who have worked with us for years. The common refrain at our office is that “we get paid to do this.”
Q: People know you well for your work in the courtroom. What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you outside of work?
A: Like most lawyers, I loved the book To Kill a Mockingbird, so I named my horse Atticus and my dog Scout. We are thinking of Boo Radley for our next dog name. We also host a great Kentucky Derby party each year. My husband and I were both born in the bluegrass state.