MLS program revives ASU engineering grad's dream of a legal education

June 27, 2018

Vince Nicholes has always had an ambitious and expansive thirst for knowledge. While he was working his way through Arizona State University as an undergrad in the 1990s, getting a degree in computer systems engineering, law school was also on his mind.

“I’ve actually always felt there’s a connection between the law, legal theory, and science,” he said. “Because they’re both very technical. They both are very rule-oriented. And then within those rules, you’re able to play around a little bit. So engineering and the law have always been related, to me. And I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer.” Vince Nicholes Vince Nicholes is enrolled in the Master of Legal Studies program in Entrepreneurship Law and Strategy Download Full Image

But he was already working for a telecom company before graduation, and his career as an engineer quickly took off. In short order, he advanced from an engineering tech, to an engineer and then senior engineer. And going back to law school to get a Juris Doctor degree got pushed to the backburner.

“Once I got into my career, going back to get a JD just seemed too hard,” he said. “One of the requirements here is you can’t work for a year, when you’re in your first year of law school. And my wife would not have that at all.”

But a few years later, his wife, Ericka, decided to go back to school and get her master’s degree.

“It’s funny, my wife actually inspired me to go back to school,” he said. “She doesn’t take the ‘analyze first, figure it out and go’ method as I do as an engineer. She just kind of jumps first. And that’s what she did.”

His wife enrolled in a master’s program at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. Nicholes’ interest in business was also growing, and his thoughts still wandered toward a legal career. He had considering pursuit of an MBA, and had also attended some open-house events at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

And then the universe gave him a sign — in the form of a commercial.

“Driving home, listening to NPR, I heard a commercial about the ASU Master of Legal Studies program,” he said. “And it seemed almost too good to be true at first. Because it was geared toward working adults.”

He was intrigued by the program. And motivated by his wife.

“I started to look into it more and I found out that there was this concurrent MBA/MLS program,” he said. “It’s almost as if they were thinking of me when they put the thing together. I really felt blessed.”

After speaking with ASU Law Associate Dean Eric Menkhus about the program, Nicholes decided it was a great fit. And although the start of the school year was near and there wasn’t much time to prepare, a scholarship offer convinced Nicholes it was time to take the leap.

He took a week off of work to cram for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) required for the MBA program. He passed it, was accepted into both the MLS and MBA programs, and resumed pursuit of the academic dreams that had been on hold for nearly two decades.

Returning to school

Nicholes knew it would be a daunting challenge to work toward a dual MLS/MBA degree while also maintaining a busy career. But he found the law classes — which contain a mixture of working professionals in the MLS program and full-time JD students who are typically straight from undergrad — intellectually invigorating.

“It’s great, because as a person who’s been out of school for so long coming back to it, being in a class with the younger folks who are very energetic, they are, I’d say, intellectually elastic,” Nicholes said. “For me, it was knocking cobwebs off of some of those parts of my brain that I hadn’t used in a while.”

The conversations in the classroom move quickly, and Nicholes said that elevates everybody’s level of engagement.

“The conversations are both wide-ranging and in-depth at times, so you kind of have to be ready to move with it,” he said. “So from my point of view, being in class with the JD students was advantageous.”

Because of his late enrollment, he had to wait a year to begin his MBA classes, which will start in the fall. So his first year has been focused strictly on MLS work. Among his favorite classes thus far have been courses on intellectual property, business relationships and an introductory law class.

“It’s the Law and Legal Theory class,” he said. “It’s a lot of reading, you read a lot of cases, but it really shines a light on how court cases are decided, which is where the rubber meets the road, right? So I really enjoyed that class, and I think it’s prepared me not only to do better on the MLS but the MBA side, too.”

‘It’s already paying dividends’

“I really want folks to understand that the program is geared to be flexible,” he said. “It’s geared to work with working folks like me. I’m a full-time-plus worker. And oftentimes in my job, I’m pulling 10-hour days, and I still felt like the program was made for me.”

Nicholes’ particular focus within the MLS program is Entrepreneurship Law and Strategy, and his goal was to get a better understanding of how the law and business connect. He said he’s already learned some invaluable lessons. For instance, in his job, he continually deals with vendor contracts. And he’s now much more comfortable reading and understanding the language in those contracts.

“I’m doing the part-time program, so I’ve only taken four classes of my eight or 10 classes that are required,” he said. “In these classes, I’ve already taken from each of them something that applies to my job. It’s already paying dividends in my career. And I expect that to continue on.”

For other busy professionals who don’t have the time to pursue a JD but want a legal education, Nicholes says the MLS program is an ideal fit.

“They should really consider jumping in if they are,” he said.

Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law


ASU Law student helps hometown devastated by Hurricane Harvey

June 27, 2018

Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas last August as a Category 4 tropical storm, leaving a trail of death and devastation as catastrophic flooding swamped Houston and surrounding areas. Eighty-two people were killed, and damages totaled $125 billion, making it one of the deadliest and costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

For Ana Laurel, it was personal. Laurel, a third-year law student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, grew up in Port Lavaca, Texas, a small Gulf Coast city that was among those battered by the storm. This summer, she is back home helping residents recover, providing legal assistance as a student fellow in the Rural Summer Legal Corps. Ana Laurel Ana Laurel, ASU Law student Download Full Image

“I learned about the RSLC through the Native American Law Students Association, and when I went through the descriptions, I found that Texas RioGrande Legal Aid was looking for a summer law clerk to work on their disaster relief team,” Laurel said. “Having grown up mostly on the coast, I’ve lived through many different hurricanes and evacuations, and so I became interested for that reason.”

When Laurel learned that she would specifically be serving, among other affected cities, her tiny hometown, she knew she needed to apply.

Her parents suffered roof damage at their home in Port Lavaca, and as frustrating as their experience has been, Laurel knows they are more fortunate than most residents in the area.

“People are still homeless, and they’re still out of options,” she said.

Rural Summer Legal Corps is a joint program of a pair of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organizations: Equal Justice Works, which focuses on careers in public service for lawyers, and Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for civil legal aid to Americans who otherwise cannot afford it. RSLC focuses on underserved rural communities, providing direct legal services. The student fellows complete 300 hours of work in an 8- to 10-week period, during which they gain hands-on experience while engaging in community outreach and education.

“Equal Justice Works recruited highly qualified candidates for Rural Summer Legal Corps through outreach to law schools across the nation, as well as public-interest job fairs and online hubs,” said Kristen Uhler-McKeown, director of public programs at Equal Justice Works. “Ana, and the rest of the talented law students selected, show passion and motivation to improve access to justice for rural residents. We look forward to seeing the incredible impact that they will have on their host organizations and the communities they serve this summer.”

Kate Rosier, director of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program, says Laurel is the ideal fit for such a fellowship.

“Ana is very passionate about serving others and making sure all people have access to justice,” Rosier said. “We need more attorneys like Ana.”

Given the option of applying to three different legal-aid organizations, the choice was simple for Laurel when she found out Texas RioGrande Legal Aid was doing disaster relief work in her hometown. The nonprofit provides free legal services to low-income residents in 68 counties across Texas, and is the third-largest provider of legal services in the nation, assisting about 25,000 clients per year.

“I’m working on a disaster relief team with fantastic women who work at TRLA offices all over Texas,” Laurel said. “My supervisor is located in Corpus, and she’s a walking FEMA encyclopedia. I have already learned so much from her. More specifically, I'm working on a few research projects that have to do with various FEMA issues and two projects involving pooling various resources together for people affected by hurricanes and for lawyers who volunteer their time to disaster relief work.”

She added, “as a woman who was raised by strong women, it has always meant a lot to me to work under other strong women. I’ve been lucky in my law school career thus far because at every position I’ve taken as an intern or extern, I’ve worked for women.”

And when helping desperate clients get assistance from big government organizations, Laurel has learned that strength and tenacity are required.

“I'm also learning how to navigate a seemingly insurmountable bureaucratic institution that holds the lives of so many vulnerable citizens in its hands,” Laurel said. “People often grow exacerbated with FEMA and quit before getting the assistance they so desperately need. What interests me about the work the women I work with are doing is that they never quit or get overwhelmed by the red tape.”

Rural Summer Legal Corps fellows.

“I’ve always told people I enjoy corporate law and tribal/federal Indian law because there’s so much potential for creativity. Here is no different,” she continued. “When you can’t accept the word ‘no’ because your client’s lives and well-being are depending on ‘yes,’ then you find alternate routes to arrive at that ‘yes.’ However long it takes.”

And that desire to serve as an advocate is what led Laurel to seek a legal career. Before enrolling in law school, she had worked as the managing director for Voices Breaking Boundaries, a community arts nonprofit in Houston.

“While we did a lot of work that I am very proud of at VBB, people in the communities with whom we were working faced a lot of issues that transcended the healing capacity of art,” she said. “I realized I wanted to become a lawyer. Whether it be to advocate for them in property disputes, in domestic violence situations, in employment disputes, and/or immigration. Though I had been peripherally connected to these issues through art and activism, I just wanted to commit myself to their causes in a different way. So I decided to take the LSAT and see what happened.”

Her partner at the time, to whom she is now married, was living in Arizona, so Laurel relocated. And she was impressed by ASU Law.

“Ultimately, what drew me to ASU was its Indian Legal Program,” she said. “Before I even applied, I had been sent to Kate Rosier, the director. I admired what the ILP was doing, both in their academic and nonprofit capacities, and meeting with Kate made my decision to attend ASU much easier.”

And since arriving at ASU Law, Laurel has seized on the abundant learning opportunities, inside the classroom and beyond. The Rural Summer Legal Corps fellowship is just the latest step in that journey.

“During my time in law school, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several different types of internships in various fields,” she said. “I’ve worked in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Legal Services Office and Tribal Court, and I’ve worked as a diversity writing fellow at Fennemore Craig, PC. Now I'm working in South Texas for legal aid. The practice of law demands so much of us, and I want to be as prepared and well-rounded for wherever I am most needed after law school.”

Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law