Legal interest leads to passion for justice for ASU Law grad

A brunette woman in a grey blazer poses with her arms crossed.

Heather Ashworth


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

After working for 25 years in human resources, Heather Ashworth decided to pursue her Master of Legal Studies and focus on contract administration to enhance her career skills. She had always been interested in the law, but she didn’t realize her time at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University would help her find her passion. 

Ashworth said learning about the mission of the Equal Justice Initiative nonprofit sparked a new interest in eventually earning her legal paraprofessional license, inspiring her to help those wrongly convicted of crimes or those without effective legal representation. 

“I came to ASU Law wanting to learn about contracts and found my passion, where I could continue to develop in my current role while working toward a credential that will allow me to help others and exact positive change,” said the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native. 

Ashworth’s son attends ASU Prep Digital, making them a family of Sun Devils. Getting her MLS degree through ASU Online only made sense for the working single mom. 

She said that her drive to keep learning and growing is inspired by her own mother. 

“When I was 14, she became a single mom, and though our entire world had been turned upside down, she did everything she could to turn it right side up again and give me the best life possible, even if that meant working two jobs,” said Ashworth. “Her drive, unwavering dedication and tenacious work ethic made me who I am today.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the law?

Answer: I have considered a law degree many times throughout my life, but life somehow got in the way. Through the twists and turns of my career, I ended up in my current role at ADP, overseeing contract administration. I felt a bit like a fish out of water. While I knew our products and services and the job I was required to perform, I had trouble understanding and interpreting the legalese of the contracts. I partnered closely with our in-house counsel, but I wanted to learn more. That is when I found the MLS program.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I started researching MLS programs, I was thrilled to discover the program was offered at ASU. While there are many options, especially now with online programs, ASU had everything I was looking for. Not only is ASU Law one of the top schools in the country, but the program also offered the core focus I was looking for and the flexibility I needed. You can finish the program at the pace that is right for you, one class at a time, or double up and finish in a year.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Larry Bridgesmith taught me to "go below the line" to understand the underlying interests rather than just focusing on positions. While it was a class on negotiation, I have found it a valuable lesson in all aspects of my life. You are far better equipped to achieve your goals with a significantly better outcome when you understand what is truly important to the person across the table, whether that is your child, a friend, an employee or a teammate.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Balancing work, family and school can be difficult, but do not take your foot off the gas! Before you know it, you will be done, and the rewards for your hard work and dedication will be worth it. Be present, be mindful and give yourself grace — you are doing an amazing thing!

Q: What about advice for those considering ASU Law?

A: Don't wait or second-guess yourself — go for it! Set yourself up for success and build a solid foundation by preparing your family (there may be more leftovers than usual), your friends (happy hours may be fewer and further between) and yourself (make a study plan and be sure to carve out time for yourself to take a break and relax!).

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to continue working for ADP as a market support lead for comprehensive services, overseeing the contract administration for over 1,300 accounts. I also hope to volunteer with local organizations while working to acquire the required experiential hours to take the Arizona Legal Paraprofessional Exam. Once I am a licensed LP, I plan to work with the underserved in Arizona.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: We must solve the justice gap, and education plays a key role. So I would develop a program to provide scholarships for people who wish to obtain a law degree (juris doctor or MLS with a legal paraprofessional focus). In exchange, they would commit to working in a clinic for five years, providing legal services to the underserved in Arizona. In addition, the program would offer community education like seminars in areas like eviction, custody and child support.

Q: What does graduating mean to you and your loved ones?

A: It means everything to me, and I hope to take what I have learned to drive forward and positively impact my community. For my children, I hope I have inspired them to follow their dreams and shown them that, with hard work and dedication, they can achieve their goals.

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