Profiles in Practice: Christopher Fowlkes

Chris-Fowlkes-400Christopher Fowlkes is a seasoned attorney and litigation partner at Barnes & Thornburg in Minneapolis. When Fowlkes is not hard at work, he is on the sidelines of one of his three kids’ sports games cheering at the top of his lungs. Fowlkes lives by the principal “work hard, and play just as hard.”

Fowlkes hails from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he grew up with his mother, father, and three siblings. His mom was a public school teacher and his father was an entrepreneur. Growing up, Fowlkes knew he was indebted to his parents and family members, who grew up in the deep South during times of overt racism, and he was motivated to work hard and never let them down. Fowlkes and his wife Melissa have been married for almost 20 years and lead a legacy with their three kids: Myla (15), Jackson (13), and Shiloh (10). Although Fowlkes is deeply involved with his children’s sports, there is a family understanding that academics is ‘Number One.’ All of his children are near straight-A students.

Fowlkes’ interest in law was first sparked at the age of five through his father’s attorney, who was also African American. They commonly referred to him as “Mr. Drummond”—a reference to the millionaire character from the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes. His father’s Mr. Drummond had graduated from Harvard Law School, had a commanding presence, dressed impeccably, and occasionally took meetings in his limousine talking on the car phone. If there was one thing Fowlkes knew, it was that his dad looked up to Mr. Drummond, so he did the same. The image of an African American man who became successful by helping people was a testament of his dad’s teachings that if you have determination and work ethic, you will be successful. 

From a young age, Fowlkes played football, which continued until the end of his first year in law school. He was a star football player at Brown Deer High School, and he was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2017. In college, Fowlkes was widely known on campus as “Big Train,” or “No. 79” because he was a starting offensive tackle for the Minnesota Gophers. While excelling academically as a philosophy major and being a star D1 athlete, Fowlkes worked in the mailroom at a national law firm. Fowlkes did not just see his job in the mailroom as a way to make money but used the opportunity and connections to decide whether he wanted to follow in Mr. Drummond’s footsteps. Fowlkes asked attorneys to allow him to sit in on depositions and hearings and was eventually invited to observe client meetings. It was not long before Fowlkes fell in love with the thought of practicing law. 

In 1995, Fowlkes enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School while still starting for the Gophers football team. He would begin his day with workouts and film study at 5 a.m., wrapping up with just enough time to make it across campus to the law school for his first class at 8:30 a.m. After a full day of class, Fowlkes attended evening practices and caught up on his playbook with his team before going home to read and prepare for class. “It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was something I took tremendous pride in. And I owed it to myself and my family to do both; and to do both well,” Fowlkes said. At the end of his first semester Fowlkes had both excelled in law school and concluded a successful college football career. For the first time, Fowlkes’ only obligation was focusing on school. He used his spare time to build relationships. Less than a month later he was back at the law firm for which he had worked as a mail carrier, except now he was a law clerk. Fowlkes continued clerking throughout the duration of law school and graduated in 1998 from the University of Minnesota. 

Fowlkes began practicing at a small law firm but after three years moved to Bowman & Brooke to handle complex products liability and personal injury cases. In 2016, Fowlkes joined Barnes & Thornburg and soon after became the hiring partner for the Minneapolis office. Fowlkes is committed to diversity and inclusion, with the emphasis on inclusion. He continues to highlight the importance of a workplace of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas. 

Fowlkes surrounds himself with a network of people who share his principles and values. Whether it is drive and ambition to serve clients or commitment to diversity and inclusion, if he hears about your hard work, Fowlkes will be your ally. Throughout Fowlkes’ practice, he mentions a myriad of talented and influential people but makes special mention of Jerry Blackwell and Alan Mills. Blackwell founded the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and Mills became the first African-American partner at Barnes & Thornburg in 1990. Fowlkes mentions Blackwell’s inspirational legacy and vast experience, naming Blackwell as one of the most exceptional lawyers he’s ever met. Mills and Fowlkes are both litigators and frequently met at conferences and events around the nation. Mills’ dedication to his work, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and overall class founded the beginning of their relationship.

Everyday, Fowlkes finds new ways to inspire other attorneys to join his call to action — giving meaningful opportunities to individuals who are consistently overlooked. Fowlkes continues to be inspired by his mentors and remains dedicated to leaving a legacy reminding everyone, “Nobody can stop you from working hard.” 

By Joshua Franklin

Mr. Franklin is a 3L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and graduated from Morehouse College in 2017. Mr. Franklin currently serves as vice chair of the Midwest Region of the National Black Law Students Association and Student Director of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. 

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