A scientist wanted to experiment with something more tangible. An electrical engineer didn’t feel the spark. A teacher was ready to go beyond the classroom. The three top scorers on the July Texas bar exam aren’t people who went to law school because they didn’t know what else to do. They were knee-deep in other disciplines when they decided to make a change for the legal profession.

Work That Matters

Tom Owens

Associate, Norton Rose Fulbright, Austin

Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School, 2013

Tom Owens, the top scorer on the July Texas bar exam, earned a Ph.D. in biology in 2010 from John Hopkins University. While completing his studies, he started seeking a career that would remove him from the frustrating environment of laboratory research.

A researcher can do good work, design good experiments, have projects that look good on paper and then execute them according to plan, Owens says, but still not get any results.

“I started looking around for other career paths where I could use my passion for science,” he says.

He started investigating a career in patent law and decided it would allow him to be involved in science and technological innovations without the frustrations of lab research.

Owens is in his firm’s intellectual property and patent prosecution group, and he recently worked on a response to the Taiwanese patent office’s rejection of a client’s application. As a lawyer, Owens says he now accomplishes tasks clients need done.

“When I do that, I’ve done something that matters to somebody,” he says. “Whereas in science, I often went months without feeling like I had accomplished anything that mattered to anybody.”

About earning the highest score out of all 3,023 men and women who passed the July exam, Owens says, “Well, partly it means that I overstudied. And I guess it also just sort of helps me. It gives me some confidence that I can do the work that is required to be a good lawyer.”

Among those sitting for the exam for the first time were 1,759 graduates of Texas’ nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools. Of the 1,759 first-time test-takers who graduated from Texas law schools, 1,561 (88.74 percent) passed, according to the Texas Board of Law Examiners (TBLE). [See related chart.]

Law and Tech

Andrew Langford

Associate, Sidley Austin, Dallas

Indiana University Maurer School of Law, 2013

Originally from Wichita, Kan., Langford earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Kansas State University. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to be an engineer long term.

“I went to law school and became very interested in patent law,” says Langford, an associate at Sidley Austin’s intellectual property litigation group in Dallas. “I liked the mixture of law and technology. There are skills you develop as a lawyer that you don’t develop as an engineer. It was an opportunity to mix a lot of interests together for me.”

Langford says he interviewed nationally for jobs and was attracted to Sidley Austin’s Dallas office. “I just interviewed with the Dallas office and liked it and wound up here,” he says. “It’s a good fit.”

How does he feel about having the second highest score on the July exam?

“I was thrilled that I passed the bar exam and had that off my shoulders,” Langford says. “This was just a nice bonus.”

Latin, Then Law

Stephanie Schwab

Associate, Naman Howell Smith & Lee, Waco

Baylor University School of Law, 2013

Schwab earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin at the University of Texas in Austin and then taught Latin to high school students in Houston for more than four years before seeking another career.

Schwab says she decided to leave teaching for several reasons, “but mostly I just felt it wasn’t a good fit anymore. I was teaching at an excellent school with great colleagues, so I knew if I wasn’t happy teaching there, I just wasn’t happy being a teacher.”

“I took the LSAT to see how it went,” says Schwab, a transactions associate. “I really enjoyed law school.”

Not only did Schwab do well enough on the LSAT, she also earned the third-highest score on the July Texas bar exam.

“It’s just kind of one of those things that it’s nice to have,” she says. “I would have been happy just to pass. I’m just happy to be able to practice law.”