Changing course: Law grad had long career in field sales management

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Scott Nowling who enjoyed a 27-year career in field sales management at Johnson & Johnson , recently graduated from WMU-Cooley Law School and was named summa cum laude of the Samuel Blatchford Class during a graduation ceremony at Michigan State University Auditorium on May 12. He ranked first with a cumulative grade point average of 4.0, one of 17 WMU-Cooley students who have graduated with a 4.0 GPA since the first graduating class in 1976.

Nowling started his career trajectory with am undergrad  degree with a major in economics from Kalamazoo College, and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

Nowling headed to WMU-Cooley Law in 2019, earning many certificates of merit for academic excellence.

He was a member of the National Health Law Moot Court team; participated in Mock Trial; wrote for the student newspaper, The Pillar; and externed at McKeen & Associates in Detroit, and with Justice Elizabeth Welch at the Michigan Supreme Court.

Cooley was a good fit for someone with  life and work experience, he notes. He also appreciated the many opportunities he received through Cooley.

Nowling notes there were definite advantages to being a mature student, bringing experience from work in financial services, health care, real estate, and government.

“Probably the biggest advantage of being ‘seasoned’ is a willingness that comes with age to ask questions and to be wrong,” he says. “I learn most from my mistakes or when I struggle with a concept. The willingness to be vulnerable, and wrong, sharpens and accelerates the learning for me.  So I asked plenty of questions. I probably sounded like an idiot occasionally but it helped me learn.”  

Founding the Health Law Society, he served as president for two terms.

“Initially I wanted to focus my law career on getting people access to the health care they need,” he says. “Health Law is a huge segment of the legal profession. I wanted to expose my classmates to the options available in health law and create relationships within the state health law community and WMU Cooley. I’m proud of the innovative programming we were able to provide to the school. I’m prouder still that a new leadership team has really taken the mantle and made it their own organization.”

Participation in the National Health Law Moot Court team was another highlight.

Nowling notes it was “a very real honor” externing for Justice Elizabeth Welch at the Michigan Supreme Court.

“Being a successful justice requires knowing the law, having an organized philosophy about it, navigating the politics, and managing the people,” he says. “Justice Welch, for a relatively new justice, has a real knack for it. She was so impressive. The staff in her chambers worked hard to serve her, and the state, well. I learned tons from them.

“I did a fair bit of work assessing whether cases should be heard by the court. Many of them were criminal law appeals. It confirmed that that area of law doesn't excite me the way medical malpractice does.”

Externing with the medical malpractice firm of McKeen & Associates in Detroit, Nowling found his calling—and joined the firm after graduation. The very first case he worked on involved a patient who wasn’t properly monitored in a hospital and had a catastrophic brain injury as a result.  

“The very first thing in the file I saw was a picture of her with her granddaughter. The next was a picture of her in a vegetative state in a nursing home. It was tragic. Neither she nor her family had the resources to fight a huge health care system to achieve justice,” he says. “Right there I had one of those moments where you just know—this is what I'm supposed to be doing!  

“I’ve been in health care for 27 years. To use that experience to fight for the ‘little guy’ when they've been wronged feels good. I'm also excited to learn from Brian McKeen, another Cooley graduate. To say that he’s impressive is just a huge understatement.  He has also built an impressive team that I'm eager to join and contribute to in whatever way I can.”

A native of Portage, south of Kalamazoo, Nowling enjoys spending family time with his wife, Dana, and daughters, Alexis and Hannah, as well as cycling, Peloton, golf, and furniture flipping—“I'm deadly with a paintbrush to create a shabby chic look!” he jokes.

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