Cooley jumpstarts grad's real estate ventures

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jaebadiah Gardner knew exactly what he wanted.  And he knew exactly what he didn’t want – to be another African-American statistic.

“I came from a low income family. I grew up seeing it all – gangsters, drug dealers, and drug addicts,” he says. “My parents always told me that because of who I was, I needed to work twice as hard as the next person.”

Gardner, a recent Cooley Law School graduate, is founder and CEO of GardnerGlobal, Inc., a real estate development and property management company in Seattle. He is a consultant for several businesses and nonprofits, serves as Marketing Chair on the board of the Seattle Breakfast Group and as Economic Development Chair of the Seattle Urban League Young Professionals.

Not bad for a man working against the odds of being half African-American and half Mexican, humbly raised by his grandparents in Los Angeles before moving to Seattle at 14 to live with his father and stepmother. He earned money by mowing lawns and working in retail. A University of Washington graduate, the first in his family to attend college, Gardner spent three years as an engineer at Turner Construction, building high-rises in downtown Seattle, before losing his job in the recession.

“For me it was all about getting into the next stratosphere of business and separating myself as much as possible. I always knew I needed to get an advanced degree. When I started to look into what that would look like, I didn’t think an MBA would give me what I needed,” he says.

“I looked into law school and said, this is it. I wanted to learn the legal boundaries of the business world and specifically how it relates to real estate. I was on a very focused mission. I knew why I went to law school, to take my family, business and community work to the next level. I’m going to impact the national GDP. I’m over airplanes, I’m in spaceships these days.”

Cooley’s writing and drafting courses taught Gardner how to assemble a shareholder’s agreement, bylaws and other partnership agreements. A course in negotiation and mediation helped develop his approach when negotiating business deals every day, big and small.

   “Tons of hard skills came out of law school and I use them daily,” he says. “Law school makes you think differently. It makes you see the world differently. It equips you with the analytical, writing and research skills that many don’t have. As a developer, I spend a lot of time reading zoning ordinances, landlord/tenant laws, city plans, and demographic studies. The questions you ask are different when you’re a trained lawyer and these questions are vital to the success of my business.”

Not that Cooley was a walk in the park.  It was a serious grind, and one of the most arduous endeavors Gardner has embarked on, second to running his business.
“Sometimes you hear people who have spent time in school or working on projects and they may say they didn’t really get what they thought out of the experience. I can honestly say, I got exactly what I wanted from my legal education. Cooley has a high bar and because it’s so high, they force you to perform. Cooley will test your dedication, will, perseverance, and your focus,” he says.

“Because I was in some ways an un-traditional student – running a business while being a student – I didn’t fit into a box most people could understand and while there were a select few that were not supportive, the people who mattered and who had the power to make an impact understood and that for me was huge. It’s one thing to put your dreams in motion by yourself and it’s another thing to have people around you who help you achieve that dream.”

The biggest supporters who helped root him on through law school, includes his parents, grandparents and Uncle Bruce, as well as many friends. 

According to Gardner, Cooley gave him the opportunity to be a great public servant.

“They made a legal education accessible and after graduating, I have an incredible sense of empowerment and I have to thank Cooley for giving me that intangible. I have to directly thank Dean Miller, Dean Brame, Professor Sorenson, Professor Peterson, Professor Schindler for their honesty, candor and belief in me.”
Gardner enjoyed belonging to Cooley’s Black Law Student Association.

“Being a member of BLSA allowed me to affiliate myself with a great group of people who were going through the exact same thing I was going through,” he says. “Every bit of support, especially moral, you can get from BLSA.”

 A classmate joined him in the first venture for GardnerGlobal – buying and renovating a two-level duplex to provide affordable housing for low-income families.

 “I know the feeling of having to bounce around from apartment to apartment. I know what it’s like to feel real hunger. I know what it’s like to feel like you have nothing to offer,” he says. “At every turn, our society shuts young black males out of opportunities, like employment, housing and education. When you have nothing to lose, you act like you have nothing to lose. I have nothing to lose, but I don’t take my frustrations out on the streets and my own people – I take it into board meetings, development deals and community work.

“If I’m in a position of power, I’m going to use it to give back, to develop and foster self-empowerment in others.  That’s what I aimed to achieve.”

The venture provided expensive, hard-learned lessons.

“Sometimes you want to help people more than they want to help themselves. But I’ll never regret putting my hand out there. If anything, it made me want to help people even more, from providing housing to providing businesses opportunity.”

Gardner also gained experience with an externship at the Seattle Housing Authority, watching four highly experienced lawyers approach certain situations and seeing what they did to remedy them.

“The Housing Authority was ideal since they are a nonprofit developer for low-income housing,” Gardner says. “Getting an understanding of how that system worked was also imperative to my personal goals of becoming a successful developer.”

GardnerGlobal has a lot in the pipeline, working with private individuals to area nonprofits, Gardner says. 

“My future dreams…I hold them close – stay tuned. The GG team is a group of outstanding and amazing Gen Y individuals that are already on the next level.”
Gardner certainly left his mark on Cooley, just as he has on Seattle.

“Law school requires a lot of time, energy, and commitment from students,” says Dean Nelson Miller. “Yet even while in law school, Jaebadiah made time to use his considerable skills to serve others through his housing work. He was also a great team player, drawing law student friends into his work.

“He made Grand Rapids – a great place – his home, even if for a short while. In so doing, he left Grand Rapids a better place than it was when he joined us. Jaebadiah was special for us and to us. The law degree he earned and skills he learned here will expand his impact in his next salutary venture.”

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