BANGOR, Maine — Lawyers Ben and Nick Fowler are turning a lot of heads in the local legal community.
The 31-year-old identical twins look so much alike that their grandmother, who routinely cut their hair when they were young, used to shave an “N” in the back of Nick’s head so the family could tell them apart.
“To this day our friends can’t tell us apart,” Nick said last week during an interview in his brother’s law office in downtown Bangor.
“To this day our parents can’t tell us apart,” Ben added.
“I get called ‘Ben’ once a day,” Nick said. “I’ll answer to either Nick or Ben.”
“A lot of people have just taken to calling us ‘Fowler,’” Ben said. “They know we’ll answer to that.”
“I tell people I’m better looking,” Nick said.
“I’m obviously smarter,” Ben added.
The Fowlers were born in Waterville to Bill and Christine Fowler of Newport and raised in Passadumkeag. They graduated in 2000 from Penobscot Valley High School in Howland and from the University of Southern Maine four years later with bachelor’s degrees in criminology.
“In school, I don’t think teachers ever had any problems telling us apart, even when we were in the same class,” Nick said. “Once people are around both of us at the same time, it becomes easier to tell the difference.”
Bangor lawyer Aaron Frey, who shares office space with Ben, said he has learned that there are ways to tell the brothers apart.
“The easiest way is to check the ring finger,” Frey, who is also a member of the Legislature, said Sunday. “Ben is married while Nick is not. If they are talking, Nick has a slightly higher-pitched voice than Ben. Once you have heard them speaking in the same setting, the voices are distinct enough that you can tell who’s who when you are chatting with them one-on-one.
Neither Fowler grew up wanting to be a lawyer but both said last week that they love the profession and being part of Penobscot County bar. Ben, who is two minutes older than his brother, graduated from law school at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 2009. Nick followed in his twin’s footsteps, graduating from the same school in 2010.
Ben immediately returned to Bangor. Nick stayed in Illinois and practiced in Springfield.
In 2012, Nick began practicing in Bangor but Ben didn’t tell his colleagues, court clerks or judges his double was in town.
The first time District Court Judge Gregory Campbell saw Nick, an image of Ben, who was acting as lawyer of the day at the Penobscot County Jail, was being projected onto screens in the first-floor courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center. As Ben was telling the judge why his client should be released on bail, Nick walked through the double doors at the back of the courtroom.
“Judge Campbell just did this huge double take,” Ben said. “Word eventually got around that there were two of us.”
While members of the legal community are learning how to tell the brothers apart, their clients often mix them up.
“People will see me at the courthouse and start talking to me about their cases and I have to stop and think a minute because they don’t look familiar,” Nick said. “Then, I have to explain to them, ‘no, you want my brother.’”
“We do cover for each other sometimes,” Ben said. “Then, I definitely have to tell my clients, ‘I’m not going to be there but my brother is and you’ll be able to recognize him because he looks just like me.”
Next month, Ben will receive the Lew Vafiades Award from the Volunteer Lawyers Project for his volunteer work. Since he began practicing in Bangor three years ago, Ben has taken 61 cases and donated more than 250 hours of free legal service to indigent Maine residents, according to Jim Mitchell, Volunteer Lawyers Project staff attorney.
“Maine’s got a huge indigent population of people,” Ben said. “I don’t think that just because you can’t afford a lawyer you shouldn’t have representation in court. It can be really scary going into a courthouse for the first time not knowing what to expect, so I gladly give my time whether it’s a half-hour or an hour consultation or I represent them in court, it’s just a good way to give back.”
Nick also donates time to the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and both Fowlers routinely accept court appointments in criminal cases.