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In 1915, Houston attorney H.D. “Guy” Burnett began teaching law classes at the local YMCA “to provide an opportunity for men to take up the study of law without interfering with their daily work.” Eight years later, the YMCA founded South Texas College of Law, continuing its effort to give working people a chance for a legal education. The Houston college, promoting itself as a “high-grade night law school,” accepted 34 students, five of them women, into its four-year program. Night school was a success, and a working person still can earn a degree at South Texas. The college offers full- and part-time programs that can be completed with day or night classes or a combination of the two. Of the 1,200 law students attending South Texas, 30 percent are part-time. South Texas gives its students five years to complete their legal education. Two other institutions in the state — Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth and the University of Houston Law Center — offer four-year, part-time night programs. The other six law schools in Texas offer some evening or late afternoon classes, but not part-time night programs. In general, night law schools are located in the bigger cities in the nation, where the demand is greater. Texas Wesleyan’s law school offers night school in order to reach as many people as possible, John Veilleux, director of marketing and communication, says. The school prides itself on its diversity, he says. “If you just run that daytime program, it shuts out a lot of people,” he says. “Our mission of access at Texas Wesleyan is to offer an opportunity to everyone. Some of our best graduates come from our night school.” About 165 of Texas Wesleyan’s 560 law students attend evening classes, he says. Approximately 225 of the University of Houston Law Center’s 1,025 students are in the night program, according to Sondra Richardson Tennessee, assistant dean of admissions. Those students are just as successful in their education as the daytime students, with about the same graduation rate, she says. LOTS OF SUCCESS Texas State Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who went to Texas Wesleyan’s night law school beginning with its founding in 1989, says that in many cases, he and his classmates were more driven than day students. “We had physicians, podiatrists, dentists, CPAs in my class,” says King, who worked as a justice of the peace while in law school and who’s now a partner in Law, Snakard, Gambill & King in Abilene, Texas. “They were serious because they were paying for it themselves.” South Texas, founded for alternative students, also has lots of successes. One of them is John W. Turner, who raced through the night program in three years. He attended classes after finishing work during the day as a claims adjuster for an insurance company. “I really wanted to be a lawyer,” Turner says. “I put myself through with a young wife and child. I [worked] 20 hours a day for three years.” It was grueling. Turner worked at his insurance job from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then started classes an hour later. He was home at 10 p.m., ate dinner, spent a little time with his wife, then hit the books. After sleeping for a few hours, the routine began again. “I had to study at awful times when I was exhausted, basically,” Turner says. In 1970, with a degree in hand, he still faced an obstacle: the stigma that clings to lawyers who don’t go the full-time day route. “When I first got out, someone who went to South Texas night school could not get an interview with any of the big law firms,” Turner says. “It took a while before that changed. Then they started making exceptions, but only a few.” But he had advantages, including a solid education from working professionals and a strong work ethic. Turner landed a job with two lawyers who knew him when he was an adjuster; three months after graduation, he was arguing cases in court. “The night law school, by virtue of being taught by practicing lawyers, gave me a jump,” he says. “The Harvard graduates have to sit second chair. They don’t become first chair for 10 years.” Turner spent 20 years with small firms, 16 of them as a managing partner. He’s been on his own for 10 years representing plaintiffs in personal-injury cases. Like many night school graduates, Turner still faces scorn at times from the status-conscious segment of the legal field. But he shrugs it off. “Some of the people I went up against in the early days were the Yale boys and the Harvard boys,” he says. “They used to make comments about night school, but their attitude changed when I whipped them in court. It didn’t bother me. It would make me work harder and put in longer hours.”

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