Betty Moore Sandler - a Conversation with Julie Wrinn

Alumni Spotlight: Betty Moore Sandler

By Julie Wrinn

Choosing a college major is harder for some students than for others, but for Betty Moore Sandler (B.A. Political Science ’69, J.D. ’81) it was a piece of cake. “I was always interested in politics,” she explained. “My father was a local politician. He was County Court Clerk in Floyd County for 12 years. My mother was his chief deputy. I literally walked home from elementary school to the courthouse, where I stayed until they went home from work.”

One of Sandler’s earliest memories is of a County Clerks Association meeting in Louisville, where her father at age 23 had become its youngest ever president. “I remember being in the ballroom and Daddy being at the microphone,” she said. Primary elections were always more contested that general elections, and because there were paper ballots, the outcome could take days. “I remember one year when a primary took three days to get the votes counted. Hearing him on the radio, I thought, that doesn’t sound like my Daddy.”

Sandler assumed she would have a career in politics, and because so many politicians were attorneys, she had decided by age 12 that she wanted to go to law school. When Sandler did enroll at UK Law School three months after earning her B.A. in Political Science, she was one of only eight women in the law school’s freshman class of 1969. However, it would take 11 years for her to finish her law degree.

Expecting her first child, Sandler withdrew from school and moved with her then husband to Washington, D.C., where she went to work on Capitol Hill. “I loved the legislative process,” Sandler recalls. “I would have stayed in it forever except for the fundraising part.” As a lobbyist representing corporations and trade associations, Sandler was expected to attend a never-ending series of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that were essential to fundraising. “When I started doing it, there were what were called ‘off years,’” she recalls. “Members of Congress ran one year and then they had a year to legislate.” Soon the fundraising activities consumed the entire two-year term.

Sandler decided to return to Lexington to finish law school, earning her degree in 1981. Her first job as an attorney came from answering an ad in the newspaper for a firm in Virginia. “All I knew was that I wanted to be a trial attorney,” she said. “If I was going to practice law, I wanted to be in court.”

Sandler would spend the next 32 years in court, earning many distinctions in her practice of family law. It was a period of tremendous change in the culture, and family law reflected that. “Between the Virginia Legislature doing something and the Court of Appeals interpreting statutes, it’s been an evolution,” explained Sandler. “Not only in Virginia but across the country as the culture and times have changed. But for me, because I was brand new, I didn’t have to unlearn anything. I learned everything as it was happening.”

Sandler’s advice to young people today who want to be trial attorneys is to take advantage of as many internships as possible to gain practical experience. “I’ve had associates who really thought they knew exactly what they wanted to do,” she said. “They think trial work sounds good, and they think they know what that is because they’ve been a judge’s clerk, maybe. And then they go and stand in a courtroom, and they totally freak out because they don’t really like to be in the spotlight.”

For Sandler, however, the spotlight is where she thrives. She was named a Fellow of the esteemed International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers—the only member attorney based in Prince William County, Virginia—and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Over the years Sandler has served as president or chair of numerous bar associations and matrimonial attorney associations. Earlier this year she withdrew from the firm she helped establish 30 years ago, Nichols Zauzig Sandler PC, and is now of counsel with Northern Virginia Law, PC. She was named to the inaugural list of 42 “Influential Women of Law” by the Virginia Lawyers Weekly in 2019 and has been selected again in 2020 for the Top 50 Women Virginia Super Lawyers List.

Sandler has also assumed a leadership role with the University of Kentucky, where she serves on the Dean’s Development Council for the College of Arts & Sciences and is a supporter of the Wimberly Royster Arts & Sciences Graduate Award Fund. Sandler is motivated to give back to the University of Kentucky because “it’s in my blood,” she said. Most of her family members attended UK, and when she graduated, Sandler’s mother bought her a lifetime membership in the UK Alumni Association. “It was important to them,” Sandler said of her parents. “Education was crucial to them.”

Sandler can be found in Rupp Arena throughout the winter cheering for her beloved men’s basketball team, but her fandom is not limited to athletics. “I’m so proud of the way the University of Kentucky is addressing the needs of young people in Kentucky and the diversity that’s been created,” she said. “I’m very excited about what Arts & Sciences in particular has been doing. When I come back for the Dean’s Development Council meetings in the spring and the fall, I marvel at how beautiful Lexington is at that time, and how vibrant the campus is, and how exciting it is to be there. It’s energizing.”  

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