Barton Hacker ’01 never planned to go to law school.
But after pursuing a graduate degree in public policy and successfully leading an Atlanta nonprofit, Bart said the potential benefits of law school became undeniably obvious in his career, despite his not wanting to be an attorney.
Bart, 36, is currently the chief executive officer of the REALTOR® Association of the Sioux Empire in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he oversees the area’s 672 realtors and manages a sound realtor mediation process.
“The skills that I gained at Ohio State have enabled me to run a well respected mediation program that is recognized as one of the best in the state of South Dakota,” he said. “Often I am able to use these skills to mediate problems before they even make it to the program.”
But the road Bart traveled to his current position was not a traditional one. Bart admitted that parts of his life – earning his law degree and living in South Dakota – were both unexpected and invaluable.
After graduating from the Columbus Academy, Bart chose to major in political science at Emory University in Atlanta. Admittedly an underachiever in high school, Bart said that he grew tremendously in college. That’s where he first tapped into his desire to enter politics and fell in love with public policy.
“But I really didn’t have any aspirations to attend law school,” he said. “In fact, I was probably anti law school. At graduation, when everyone was going off to get their law and medical degrees, I didn’t see how a law degree could help me go where I wanted to go.”
Instead, he enrolled at Georgetown University to pursue a degree in public policy. While attending Georgetown, Bart worked for then U.S. Representative Eric Fingerhut and for more than a year with U.S. Senator John Glenn. He said that, after graduation, he wanted to continue work in political and legislative bodies, but struck a road block.
“Consistently I was told that I really needed to have a legal background,” he said. “It was all a matter of the logically trained mind; one, they said, where it is easier to teach a lawyer policy than it is to teach a policy person law.”
Bart then returned to Atlanta and began as chief operations officer of a nonprofit agency where he oversaw the expansion of the organization that strived to provide technology to Atlanta area teachers along with education on how to use the equipment. He spent three years at the agency before coming to the realization that law school could help him.
“I remembered what I was told before when I pursued employment with political and legislative entities. While I had a solid work background to compliment my existing academic basis at that point, I decided it was time for me to take that background and do something more with it,” he said. “I decided that going back and getting a law degree would be that final foundation.”
After contemplating staying in the South, Bart made the decision to return to Ohio for law school to be closer to family and friends. He knew Ohio State was where he wanted to go.
Bart said it was at OSU that he first discovered his interest in dispute resolution. His first summer in law school he spent working for the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management; his second summer he interned for the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association’s Mediation Program. He also entered the Mediation Clinic.
Bart praised Professor Sarah Cole, who is now the director of the College’s Program on Dispute Resolution, for drawing him to the area of study.
“I just really enjoyed her teaching style,” he said. “I wanted to use my law degree to become a better thinker and leader and broaden my perspective on conflict management, and Professor Cole encouraged me to go that route. It has served me well, and it has been a nice foundation for what I do now.”
In his third year of law school, Bart decided to pursue his long-standing desire to enter politics, and he ran for a seat in the Ohio General Assembly. Although he lost the election, the campaign led him to a job following graduation as a lobbyist for the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association.
In 2005, Bart applied for and accepted a position as head of the Sioux Falls, S.D., REALTORS® association, the largest such association in the state and one of the largest in the region. In his current role, Bart said he continually uses skills that he learned at Ohio State.
“You would be amazed at the many different scenarios where mediation skills are valuable,” he said. Bart said that the diversity of his day-to-day responsibilities – lobbying, mediating, proposing laws, budgeting, managing a staff, and working with an ever changing board of directors – are what makes his current position precious.
“There are so many opportunities to use your law degree that don’t require you being an attorney,” he said. “Only later in life did I realize how valuable a legal education would be. I guess I am the right example of how to get to the right place going the long way around.”