WHEN JOHNNY TURNER entered the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, he didn't dream that his son-in-law, Richard Yeoman, would also pursue law. Now, as Turner approaches his final semester before his graduation in December, Yeoman is beginning his second year.
They represent the first father-in-law/son-in-law team believed ever to attend the law school.Although Turner and Yeoman were already close, they have developed a deeper relationship as a result of their common studies. During Yeoman's first year in law school, he and his wife, Alana, lived at the Turner home in Provo. He and his father-in-law arose every morning and drove to school together.
"I'd tell him all about what I had experienced the first year," says Turner. "Plus, I gave him all my books for the first year. He's very bright. When we have our first class together this fall, I'm looking forward to him helping ME out. He's a totally different personality than I am. He's very laid back and I'm type A. But Richard and I have a special relationship."
"He helped me a great deal my first year, because he had a lot of insights into the classes I was taking. He could answer my questions, because he'd already been through it. He was a calming influence."
Now, he says, they talk about legal issues all the time. It's interesting, because their opinions are often opposite. "But that's what being an attorney is all about. You don't always pick your side. People need help, and whether you ultimately agree with their position, you still have to take up their cause."
Turner enjoyed a 20-year-career in the FBI in several Southern states before taking early retirement at age 50 in Salt Lake City. The most exciting thing he did for the FBI was to prepare for criminal trials, especially those involving financial or computer fraud.
So it should not have been such a surprise that, following his retirment, he selected the study of law to fulfill a life-time dream. In a way, it was like starting over. He had previously obtained an accounting degree and an MBA from Brigham Young University.
Turner is convinced it is his claim to diversity that won him admission. He knows that BYU is selective, with some high quality students. He also knows that BYU student performance on the LSAT (the law school entrance examination) is in the 90th percentile.
"I didn't score that high, but I was admitted anyway. BYU has really struggled to recruit someone other than the cookie cutter returned missionary. They even did a brochure about diversity and put me in it, because I represent the old guy."
That brochure states, "The Law School seeks each year to diversify its student population by recruiting students from all ethnic backgrounds, cultures and physical circumstances. The current student body reflects this diversity."
Turner likes to say he was No. 1 in his class for one day, because he was the first person admitted.
Now he stands in the top 40 percent of his class.
"This sounds crazy and even scary to say - but I can't think of anything I've really wanted to do in life that I haven't been able to do. This is a dream come true - the last big thing I wanted to do."
Yeoman decided on law school in part because of the good things his father-in-law had said about it. After working hard to prepare, he landed in the 95th percentile on his LSAT exam.
"It was shocking. I didn't expect to do nearly that well. I did better on the actual test than I did on any of the practice tests. Pressure doesn't get to me that much."
As he prepares for his second year, he is among the top third of his class.
Yeoman plans to pursue corporate law, to complement his bachelor's degree in international relations. Turner, on the other hand, prefers criminal law. He wants to be a prosecutor. In fact, he has already been hired by the district attorney's office in Hickory, N.C., his hometown. He will move back there following his graduation.
Turner sees the first year of law school as intense. "They look at you and say, `So, you'd like to be a lawyer. Well, you've got to pay the price like I paid the price. I'm gonna see how much you can take.' The first year is like drinking out of the fire hydrant."
The process has taught Turner to think like a lawyer.
The first year was similarly stressful to Yeoman. "I went to school at 7 a.m., then ran home at 6, ate dinner real quick, then went back to school to study until 11. When I left in the morning and when I came back at night, my wife was asleep. That started to grind on her after awhile. So I stopped going back to school after dinner - and I was careful to spend time with her on the weekends."
Alana admits to being frustrated by the long hours. When her husband and her father were away studying, she and her mom "just hung out together." Next year, Yeoman will be on the staff of the Law Review, an honor that allows him to write for publication and edit articles by others. So he told her, "Alana, get prepared. It might be just like the first semester."
Fortunately, Alana finds it easy to spend time with her mother. "Next to my husband, she is my very favorite person, so we've always gotten together."
Alana says her father's and husband's new closeness caused all four of them to go out together often. "My dad and Richard talk about law, while my mom and I carry on our own conversation. I'm interested in what Richard does, but not at that complicated level. I just don't understand all the terms. He and Dad seem more alike now. Sometimes, I think, `Oh, no - I married my father!' They have a similar sense of determination and responsibility."
Donna Turner, who has three grown daughters and a son about to serve an LDS mission, is taking her husband's schooling in stride. Her husband is effusive about her support and her decision to go to work for the first time in their married life. "I have a wonderful wife. We would be totally broke right now if she hadn't worked. The amount of money we have in the bank is exactly the amount she earned."
Donna, who worked for 21/2 years as a cosmetics consultant for Clinique at University Mall, is now busy getting their Provo house ready to sell. She says she is proud of her husband's accomplishments. She loves his modesty and his determination to plan his life several years in advance.
"You see, life with Johnny is never dull."
Donna knew that one day he would go to law school. "Now, Johnny and I are back to where we were when we first got married. He's a college graduate again. He's starting a new career. It's exciting."
Since Turner was an FBI agent as well as an LDS bishop and stake president, she is accustomed to his spending many hours away from home. During his FBI days, his time at home was hers. In law school he's likely to have 100 pages to read before class the next day - or a lot of writing to do.
"But he doesn't do anything on Friday night or Sunday. I really haven't had any complaint, except that I wouldn't want to do it again."
The highlight for her was watching her husband at work in a mock trial setting. She "really got into a murder trial" that generated a migraine headache. "I was deathly sick afterward, yet it was really fun watching him. Of course, I'm his wife, but he's quite good."
Turner has enjoyed "bouncing issues" off his wife. "I've been amazed that she is always right on point. Her thinking is so clear. I've said she is the one who should have gone to law school."
Turner has become fast friends with several members of his law class, especially Greg Greathouse, a farmer from Delta, "a brilliant man in his mid-40s." But the rest of his friends are typical law students in their 20s. "I have to look in the mirror to remember that I'm the old guy. They treat me like a colleague. It would have made me feel bad if people had called me Mr. Turner. But they don't."
The professors treat him the same way. "In the Socratic method, you know, you always lose, because the professor zeroes in on you until he's plumbed the depth of what you know. He's always very kind in doing it, but you always end up saying `I don't know' or giving the wrong answer."
When Turner graduates it will be exactly 28 months since he started. He is doing it in less than three years because he worked in public service law though externships for law school credit without pay and attended class in the summers. Since BYU's law school does not offer summer school, he attends the University of Utah during the summer term.
He has always had an intense desire to learn, but law school has finally "cured him of it." Yet the experience has been everything he expected it to be. He believes he can understand an issue more quickly now that he is trained in law. He also thinks highly of the law faculty. "We don't get a biased, conservative legal education at BYU. We look at the whole picture."
Turner thinks he would not have gone to any other law school if BYU had rejected him. "I just feel comfortable there. I'm glad they rewarded me for my life experience."
According to Scott Cameron, law school dean of admissions, BYU has always been careful to evaluate life experience as an important factor for admission. "Those things made Johnny stand out - but we have quite a number of non-traditional students attending the law school."
Cameron remembers that in 1973, the law school's first year, Reed Ivins, a retired air force colonel, was a prominent member of the class. Although the average age of law students at BYU varies from 25 to 27, there were six students in last year's graduating class who were in their 40s or older. Besides Turner in his 50s, Turner's class has five students in their 40s.
But there is still only one set of in-laws in law.