It's never too late for law school

Happy endings aren’t always the most interesting part of a story. Take, for example, the educational journey of Ginger Fowler, who will graduate near the top of her class on May 18 from Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

“I was raised in Jonesboro. When I graduated from Fayette County High School, I went to college because everyone expected me to go,” said Fowler, 41. “But it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d much rather work, so I dropped out. I went into management, first at a Blockbuster store, then at a child care center, then ended up getting a job with an attorney, Paul Fleming, about 15 years ago. I still work for him today.”

Fowler loved working at the law office, which handles real estate closings. She had only been employed there for six months when Fleming began pestering her to get a college degree.

“Paul would say, 'You’re too smart not to get an education.’  At the time, I was pregnant with my son and had every excuse in the book for why I couldn’t go back to college,” she said. “And he’d say, 'If you’ll go get your undergrad degree, I’ll give you my practice.’ He was very persistent.”

Fowler accepted the challenge and enrolled at Georgia State University in 2002. She was married, raising two children and working full time, so she attended classes part time for six years. In 2008, Fowler graduated  summa cum laude from Georgia State, with a 3.9 grade point average and a bachelor’s degree  in business with a focus on real estate. The future couldn’t have looked brighter until Fowler applied to  Georgia State University’s School of Law and was rejected — twice.

“The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and I just didn’t get along,” Fowler said. “My practice scores were high, but I didn’t do well on the actual test. It was very frustrating and I didn’t have a lot of options since Georgia State and John Marshall are the only local schools with part-time law degree programs.”

When Fowler applied to Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School in January 2009, it was the same story. First she got a rejection letter saying her application would be held on file. She applied again in July 2009 and was notified that she was on the waiting list for admission.

“They won’t tell you where you are on the wait list, so I decided to call the admissions director,” Fowler said. “And I told her, 'You know what? That LSAT score tells you nothing about me, my tenacity or my dedication. Somebody, at some point, is going to let me in.’ ”

Two days later, Fowler was accepted , and  hasn’t looked back.

“You are never too old to go back to school to learn,” Fowler said. “There are so many things you can do with a law degree.

“To an extent, I will stay in real estate because that’s what I know. But I’ve also been working in the city of Alpharetta once a week in municipal court. I did it last semester as an extern. Currently, I’m doing it for my own benefit for no credit or no pay. I just do it because it’s fun.”

Fowler has also served as a student ambassador on campus, and often speaks at open houses. Her best advice to prospective students: “Don’t give up. Period.”

'A small community’

Admissions Director Rebecca Stafford believes there are many reasons why nontraditional students like Fowler  thrive at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School.

“We take a very holistic approach, taking into account the applicant’s experience and ability to overcome life’s obstacles,” Stafford said. “When students apply, we encourage them to attach an addendum to their application to explain any gaps in their life or work experience, or to state anything they feel is important about themselves that may not be asked on the application form.”

The school , located in Midtown, is fully approved by the American Bar Association. The full-time program offered during the day takes about  three years to complete. Part-time day and evening programs take four years.

“Law school is very intimidating,” Stafford said. “It takes time, effort and money, and that can deter prospective students.

“We only have 650 students across our entire program; it is a small community. You will know the faculty and our alums are very active in events on campus. Networking starts right after orientation.”

The school’s commitment to diversity has resulted in students and faculty with a broad range of perspectives. Of the 182 students that enrolled in the incoming fall 2012 class , 50 percent are women and 37 percent are minorities. The median age is 26 for full-time and 34  for part-time students.

“It’s also not your basic lecture classroom; it’s discussion-based,” Stafford said. “And, we also have an open-door policy. Everyone — from faculty to staff to administration — is dedicated to the students’ success.”