Trial lawyer Laura Fowler is always dressed for success. On any given day, at any hour of the day, you can bet you’ll find her sporting her signature outfit: tailored jacket, pressed skirt, dress blouse and a custom bow tie to complete her look. Fowler jokes that she even goes to sleep in her suit—similar to the Navy’s “dress blues.”
“Once you have a custom-tailored suit, you never go back because it fits you like a glove,” she said matter-of-factly.
From her acceptance to Baylor Law School to her time as an officer with the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps to now, as the principal of her own law firm, Fowler has been a pioneer for women in law. Since the inception of The Fowler Law Firm in 2007, she and her employees have been dedicated to giving back to the community through their collective involvement with 42 nonprofits in Austin. Fowler is especially passionate about giving scholarships, funded by textbooks she has co-authored with her law partners.
As a student at the University of Central Florida, Fowler was actively involved in campus political organizations and held leadership positions at a time when there weren’t many women leaders. Her passion for politics motivated her to go to law school, and she ultimately chose Baylor for the generous scholarship she was awarded. She was one of only a handful of women who attended in 1977.
“I was not a Baptist, there were not that many women in law, I had no connection with the school, I had no family who had gone there, so for Baylor to just out of the blue give me a whole scholarship was very moving, and I was very grateful,” she said.
Once she was in law school, Navy recruiters promised Fowler the opportunity of immediately being a trial lawyer and traveling the world. Excited by the promises, she became a commissioned officer during her first year at Baylor and each summer served as a drilling reservist on active duty.
After graduating in 1979, Fowler went on active duty for three years. She was stationed on Guam, a tropical island in the Western Pacific, and was sent to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Australia, where she would interview witnesses and work up cases that she would later prosecute on behalf of the Navy. “To be that young and given that kind of responsibility was just thrilling.”
When she returned to Texas, Fowler had three job offers lined up but decided to come to Austin to be an assistant general counsel for a state agency. After two years, she was hired to work at a private firm, where she quickly climbed the ladder. In 1987, she was named a partner in that firm in a time when few women carried the same title.
Once she paid off her student loans and was financially comfortable, Fowler was motivated to give back to her community. Just like the generous scholarship to Baylor that was bestowed upon her, she wanted to do the same for other students. “I have a moral imperative to give back. What a rotten person I would be if I were given all these blessings and I don’t give back.”
The first student Fowler gave a scholarship to, in 1998, set the precedent. The gift was given to a “lovely” young woman from a low-income background who was studying early childhood education at Texas A&M Prairie View and dreamed of teaching students with disabilities. Giving a scholarship to someone who wanted to help others was a profound moment for Fowler. “Once you have an incredibly spiritual experience like that, it’s just intoxicating. So I did more of that,” she said.
In 1983, Fowler met her husband, Robert Penn Fowler, while serving as a drilling reservist in the legal unit at Camp Mabry. She fondly remembers eating barbeque sandwiches at a Navy League meeting on their first date. In 1992, the couple married and a few years later welcomed a daughter into the world. “Julia was absolutely a statistical miracle,” said Fowler, who was 40—and her husband was 59—when she gave birth.
Julia, who just finished her freshman year as an astrophysics and philosophy major at Tufts University in Boston, also serves as treasurer for her campus’s Queer Straight Alliance.
“When she told me, ‘Hey Mom, I’m the treasurer for the Queer Straight Alliance,’ I thought, ‘This is wonderful that my daughter has the courage to openly advocate her convictions for a cause she cares deeply about,’” Fowler said. Before then, Julia had never acknowledged her sexuality to her mom, but it didn’t surprise her when she announced it. “A mother just knows…”
Throughout her years in college, the Navy and private law practice, Fowler has known many gay friends, coworkers and clients. “There are just so many remarkable people who are gay. They’re not remarkable because they’re gay but because they’re remarkable.”