Lowell Brown is a dedicated alumnus who provides tremendous support to the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law after graduating in 1982.
In 2015, Brown, began soliciting other law alums in Southern California to name a study room in the new building. He and his wife Sonja recently made a significant gift to their endowed fund, which will provide an annual student scholarship. Brown also serves on the College of Law’s Board of Trustees.
Brown spoke to the College of Law recently in a Q&A about his time spent in law school and his desire to give back at this stage in his life.
Q: What made you interested in going to law school?
A: It all began with an adolescent understanding of what it meant to be a lawyer. When I was 14 years old, the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” enthralled me. Like thousands of other young people, I wanted to be like Atticus Finch: To stand for noble principles and make statements by my behavior consistent with those principles.
Then something happened that changed my perspective forever. A few years later, when I was in high school, I had a brief conversation with my late father. He was profoundly hearing disabled and never had the opportunities that I would have, especially in that era when disabled people weren’t accommodated as they are now. His influence on me was profound – beyond that of anyone I’ve ever known. My dad asked me what kind of work I wanted to do when I grew up. I told him I was thinking I would like to be a lawyer. He thought for a moment, and then his response was something like this: “Well, that is a good profession to have if you like to help people.”
That moment has stayed with me ever since. Until then, in my youth I had never seen practicing law quite that way. The simple concept of using the law to help individual people remained present in my mind throughout the rest of my formal education, including law school, and endured after I became a lawyer in Los Angeles. Now, after 37 years of practicing law, I look back with profound gratitude at the opportunities I’ve had to help individuals who are struggling with the provision of medical care. These are physicians and others who work with them: their medical peers, nurses, therapists, and administrators. They are real people who care deeply about patients and about their colleagues, and who are devoted to patients’ safety while also seeking to preserve the careers of their fellow physicians who are struggling. It is, in essence, exactly the kind of work I wanted to do, and I feel profoundly grateful for having that opportunity.
Q: How did your time at the law school shape and/or help you in your career?
A: On reflection, I’m surprised to admit that what I remember most about law school is the students I studied with, struggled with, laughed with, and learned with. There are many classroom moments, of course, and hallway discussions with professors, but it is my fellow students who made the biggest mark on me. They were from everywhere and were of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. I remember the hours we spent studying torts, the rule against perpetuities, the law of offer and acceptance and contracts; the late nights editing law journal articles; and so forth. We studied hard, but we helped each other learn. For the last several decades I have employed the same approach to working with colleagues. I work best in a group, when I can collaborate, share ideas, debate issues, and eventually come up with the right approach to a client problem. I am convinced that I would not have approached the law that way during my career if I had not been exposed to that collaborative, explorative method while in law school.
Q: What is one memorable experience from law school that will always stay with you?
A: I remember vividly one brief conversation I had with Professor Sam Thurman, who was by far my favorite professor and a man whose teaching style I loved. Somehow, the subject of what it would be like to be a lawyer came up, and I shared with him my expectation that I would have to devote a lot of time and energy to law practice, and that it would be challenging. In his inimitable way, quiet way, Sam looked at me, smiled and said, “Yes, it is a rigorous life.” I’ve never forgotten that. Sam proved to be right, and the “rigorous life” has not been a bad thing at all. Thankfully, I have been able to practice law, have a rewarding personal life, and still immerse myself in the rigors of the profession. To me, that meant rigorous challenges, rigorous thinking, and rigorous devotion to high standards. It has been exhilarating, and I’ve always felt that way about it.
Q: Outside of work, tell us about something interesting that you like to do?
A: I’m not a man of many hobbies, apart from being an almost ridiculously ardent fan of University of Utah football and basketball. My acquaintances and colleagues in Southern California are astonished that I, someone who grew up in Northern Utah, never learned to ski and still don’t ski. About 20 years ago, however, I began to read novels again. I’m afraid law school temporarily ruined my feelings about pleasure reading, because I spent so much time with my face in books in law school and later in practice. I finally decided that I would re-read the classics that I was supposed to read in high school and college, many of which I admittedly experienced only through the Cliff’s Notes. My repentant effort has been very rewarding. The novels I read as a high school and college student might as well be different books to me now, when I read them as an adult with three times the life experience I had when I first experienced them. I have served on nonprofit boards, including the Venice Family Clinic, the largest free health clinic in the United States. I also served as a member of the Executive Board of the Western Los Angeles County Council, Boy Scouts of America. My friends from high school and law school find it amusing that I spent so much time in Scouting, as I am not an outdoorsman. It was deeply rewarding, and I got to know many boys who were eager to learn and make something of themselves. I will have them as friends for the rest of my life.
Q: What inspires you to give back to the College of Law?
A: The S.J. Quinney College of Law is the author of my life’s work. I’ve had an amazing series of experiences, acquaintances, privileges, and resulting opportunities to make a positive impact in the lives of many people. I would not have any of that without the College of Law. The least I can do is return something to the school by helping current and future students pay for their own legal educations at S.J. Quinney. Beyond financial donations, I have loved helping law students find their way to a career, and to find a foothold in Los Angeles or other Southern California cities. I hope to do some informal teaching at the law school. If I can mentor students by meeting with them in classes or in brownbag lunches about what I’ve learned about practicing as a lawyer and using that S.J. Quinney law degree, I will be happy.