For Ryan Schneider and Jennifer Tourial, strong mentors have made huge impacts throughout their legal careers and lives.
Schneider, a 1995 alumnus, and Tourial, who graduated in 1994, met in Athens at the School of Law after Tourial – a Georgia native – finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and Schneider – who grew up just outside Philadelphia – finished his undergraduate degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The couple now resides in Atlanta with their three children and have spent the years since law school graduation finding success in their respective fields.
For Tourial, who majored in history, her interest in the law came from the first job she had after graduation from Penn.
“I came back to Atlanta and worked at a law firm for a year and I loved it,” she said. “I worked at a really small firm where there was one lawyer, one secretary, one paralegal and me.”
After a year with the firm, she decided she would enroll in law school.
At the same time, Schneider was working as an engineer with Colonial Pipeline, where his job was to find and repair fails and leaks. After a few years of working on the pipeline and having to explain to local people that leaks were causing potential water contamination, he said he decided he wanted to go to law school with intentions of working in environmental law. He felt that it would be better to prevent the leaks than to have to tell people living along the pipeline about them.
However, once in law school, Schneider’s passion for the environment grew to include a passion for helping others, due to a class taught by the late Caldwell Chair in Constitutional Law Milner S. Ball (J.D.’71), which was “transformative to me,” he said.
“I’d never had a person like that in my life,” he continued. “I saw this person who had passion … passion about the community and what he did, and leadership in the way that he started programs because he saw needs. He changed some of my views.”
In fact, Ball’s impact on the pair was so great that the couple established, and continues to support, the Milner S. Ball Fellowship Fund at the law school.
After graduation, Schneider stayed in Athens and practiced a little bit of everything before he moved to Atlanta to be closer to Tourial. He decided to use his engineering background and look into IP law, in which he had no experience.
He ended up going to a small boutique firm and asked if he could come aboard just to learn – and when the firm said yes, Schneider fell in love with what they did. “They were kind and they were great mentors,” he said. “They were giving in training and … after six months they offered me a job.”
Meanwhile, Tourial was making her mark in the Atlanta legal community. She was working as a litigation associate with Branch, Pike & Ganz (which merged into Holland & Knight) in a position she described as “awesome” and full of “mentors and people who would spend the time to teach me what was going on. They did not hire any other associates my year so I did everything … all kinds of cases.”
Tourial’s mentors were also “forward about understanding” what it was like for women in the workplace. After the couple had their first child, Tourial successfully advocated for extended maternity leave and reduced hours upon her return.
The firm also gave her opportunities to do other work – including a months-long stint at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and teaching a class at Emory University.
After 12 years Tourial left Holland & Knight and began working with solo practitioners, which gave her the opportunity to practice law as well as spend more time with her family. Then, in 2018 she was appointed as an administrative law judge with the Office of State Administrative Hearings – but the pandemic “kind of put that on hold,” she said.
Schneider is now a partner with Troutman Pepper, and he also has seen the pandemic affect the legal world, noting that “it’s very difficult” in the less-personal virtual world, especially when it comes to interviewing students and young graduates for positions at the firm.
“Law is all about relationships,” he said. “Relationships with your clients, relationships with your colleagues and, if you’re learning, you need people to bleed on your work and come in your office and talk about law.”
Despite these temporary hardships, Tourial offered advice for those navigating tough or unclear times. “Take the option that works for you right now,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the best option for you forever because who knows what’s going to come down the path? Every great position has the potential to lead to an even greater opportunity.”