Trent Thornley: Probate Attorney and Buddhist Chaplain

Emmy Pasternak, Outreach and Case Development Manager, LRIS

Trent Thornley

Trent Thornley

The confluence of religious studies and the practice of law may seem an unlikely pairing, but for Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) Probate Panel attorney Trent Thornley, they are a perfect match.

As an undergraduate at Indiana University, Thornley majored in religious studies and his interest in spirituality continued as he pursued his law degree. He ventured into law practice first as an associate attorney at Latham & Watkins, and then struck out on his own in 2001. He represented small businesses in litigation matters, tenants with habitability cases, and drafted contract agreements. Along the way, he also picked up a few trust and estates litigation cases and found the interplay of family dynamics and legal procedure to be of great interest.

“As any probate attorney knows, the stages of grief and long-standing family dynamics account for much of the conflict and eventual litigation,” says Thornley. “The law can bring much clarity and practicality to a situation. Yet, I love chaplaincy because it more directly attends to the emotions of the underlying suffering and conflict.”

So, after many years away from the classroom, Thornley decided to return to school. He began courses at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and earned a master’s degree in Buddhist Studies and a Certificate of Buddhist Chaplaincy from the Institute of Buddhist Studies in 2013. A year of residency as a chaplain at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco required he take time away from his law practice to focus on his clinical education.

Returning to his law practice is an example of how one can merge two passions and craft a career that satisfies one’s professional, spiritual, and financial needs. According to Thornley, “Far from being a distraction, my time pursuing spirituality and chaplaincy has been critically important to my flourishing as a human being. The benefit to my clients is that I try to bring some of that perspective and heart back into my legal work.”

LRIS is grateful to Trent Thornley for the work he has done in the past on behalf of our clients and the work he will do in the future, with a new found sense of purpose and a greater breadth of skills.

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