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