'What if we had our own firm' Partners: From their Westminster law office, two women attorneys specialize in family law -- separation, custody and divorce -- and education law -- representing children with disabilities in educational services.

November 03, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The two attorneys running Carroll County's only all-female law firm are daughters of Sparrows Point steelworkers with a strong desire to help their clients in and out of the courtroom.

Despite their similar roots, Kathi Hill, 38, a former assistant state's attorney in Carroll, and Zoa Barnes, 40, who used to work as a civilian in the field of biomedicine and genetics at Fort Detrick in Frederick, did not meet until 1990.

"I entered law school, began working as a law clerk and got to know Kathi in her role as a prosecutor," Barnes, who also has been a volunteer counselor, said last week.

"We also got to know each other while working in 1993 to obtain a federal grant for the Children's Advocacy Center of Carroll County," said Hill, who specialized in prosecuting sex and child-abuse offenders in the state's attorney's office.

Their friendship evolved from the working relationship. Conversations of "what if we had our own law firm " evolved as the women learned that helping people was high on both their lists of priorities.

In June they formed Hill and Barnes, operating from a second-floor converted residence on North Center Street in Westminster.

The partners prefer to interview prospective clients together and refer cases that would require defending violent offenders to other attorneys.

"We will not accept those kinds of cases," said Hill, a prosecutor for 12 years in Carroll County and for about 18 months in Howard County.

Hill said she doesn't see the move from prosecutor to defense attorney as a career change.

"If anything, I've expanded," she said. "I can help victims more now than as a prosecutor."

A recent advertisement states that Hill and Barnes specialize in family law -- separation, custody and divorce -- and education law -- representing children with disabilities in educational services.

The women say they believe early intervention, especially in domestic and educational disputes, can defuse legal difficulties before they escalate and require costly litigation.

"We're not here to sue the school systems, but to help get better educational services for the children," Barnes said.

"We want to work within the system and make it work," Hill said.

They're also looking to help those who need legal assistance with traffic violations, drunken driving and guardianship problems.

Choosing Carroll County as the location for their law firm was never in doubt, the lawyers said.

"The nonprofit agencies and services are outstanding in Carroll County," Hill said.

"We've both been involved with these services over the years and know how good they are. It's easy to recommend to a client leaving our office to go straight to one of those agencies to get the help they need," Barnes said.

Such help could include temporary shelter for an abused spouse, mental health care, food and clothing for a child in need, counseling, or parent classes.

The lawyers said their experience with community agencies and the cooperation among agencies make their job easier.

Such an approach, the women said, is akin to a doctor treating a patient with back pain. A doctor can write a prescription for pain medication, but also can order physical therapy to strengthen the patient's weakened muscles.

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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