by Jennifer Bryon Owen
When changes in her profession urged her toward a new career, Dawn Jones (J.D. ’00) walked across the street from Grady Hospital, where she was a full-time nurse, to Georgia State Law, where she enrolled as a part-time student.
She loved ICU nursing for 14 years and had never considered law school. But during her master’s studies she encountered two nurses with law degrees who worked for the Department of Health and Human Services. Jones was intrigued.
“I didn’t have a clue about being a lawyer or navigating law school,” said Jones. “It was painful, but I figured it out.”
The kindness of students was one thing that helped her.
“Sometimes, I arrived for class late, still in my scrubs. Students, some I didn’t know, would slide me their notes,” she said. “We were all starting second careers, all stressed out together.”
Another was the community involvement professors emphasized. “Their focus was never on making money. It was being a servant, being a successful lawyer who served clients and the community. I’m grateful I was taught at Georgia State.”
Gratitude drives Jones. Serving on the law school’s Board of Visitors allows her to be an advocate, ambassador and participant in the college.
This summer, Jones completed a term as secretary and began another as treasurer for the State Bar of Georgia. She received its 2017 Commitment to Equality Award to Promote Inclusion in the Profession. She’s also recipient of the Justice Benham Award for Community Service for her ongoing community efforts, including mentoring, coordinating clothing drives, organizing nonpartisan voting rights programs and implementing events that support law students and younger lawyers.
Jones’ mission is helping law students “have a clue.”
“How to succeed in law school should not be a secret,” she said. “I want to make it less painful for students than it was for me.”
She created mock interview/resume review workshops in which students spend 30 minutes being interviewed by established lawyers and judges and having their resumes critiqued.
At the annual Black Law Students Retreat, established by Jones and now in its 11th year, all law students in the state of Georgia are invited to learn how to become professionals. At the opening reception, students practice simultaneously balancing food and drink and concisely introducing themselves and their aspirations to judges and lawyers. The second day, these members of the legal profession lead workshops such as essay/exam writing, perfecting job search skills and leaving a good impression. A mock interview/resume review session is also available.
Jones believes most attorneys want to help; they just need to be asked. “Once you give lawyers the opportunity, they’re happy to participate.”
She involves people through motivation and buy-in. Initially, Jones’ leadership focused on completing tasks. Now she also wants volunteers to learn to lead.
“Giving back is something we all should be doing,” said Jones, who admits to a selfish element. “I get a lot out of it. It balances me.”
As far as leaving nursing, Jones really hasn’t. Every position she’s held since earning her juris doctor, including her current plaintiff’s practice, has benefitted from her health care knowledge.
She’s still taking care of people.