Monday, January 6, 2014

Distinguished Alumni: Magistrate Nicole Lawson

Distinguished Alumni 
of the 
Appalachian School of Law: Magistrate Nicole Lawson

Legal Career

Nicole A. Lawson is another ASL graduate serving as a Magistrate for the Supreme Court of Virginia, along with Elisabeth Griffith and Zack Stoots.   She works in the Norfolk Magistrate's Office. (Lis Griffith, fellow ASL alum works in the same office.)  

Lawson and her husband, Robert Wnukowski, moved from Stafford, Virginia to Virginia Beach, Virginia the week after they returned from their honeymoon in August 2012.  

She was hired the following month as a Magistrate.  After the two-month certification school process, she began holding bond hearings and issuing arrest warrants, search warrants, temporary detention orders for mental health crises, and emergency protective orders.

Robert works as an 8th grade Civics and Economics teacher at Kempsville Middle School located in Virginia Beach.   

The Magistrate Manual describes the position this way:

The office of magistrate is probably more important today than it has been at any other time since the creation of the magistrate system. The enhanced standards for search and arrest warrants, as well as the changing philosophies about bail, have made the work increasingly more difficult, requiring responsible deliberation on the part of each magistrate. Moreover, the frequent contacts with the general public, make it necessary that every magistrate be fully informed of the mechanics of his or her job so there will be no doubt by others that they are being treated by fair-minded and competent officials.

* * * 
[M]agistrates [must] realize that they are members of the State judiciary and his or her actions are a direct reflection on the quality of justice in Virginia, especially to tourists and non-residents who may never pass through Virginia again. Accordingly, magistrates are expected to conduct themselves at all times in a manner consistent with the responsibility and honor of the office. A professional appearance, a suitable place for conducting business, and a business-like, but courteous manner, are essential. Further, as judicial officers, magistrates occupy a position of public trust. Therefore, he or she is expected to meet an ethical standard considerably higher than that imposed on the average person.
Lawson said:  "I enjoy public service and will likely stay in public service in the future."

During undergraduate and law school, she served: 
  • as an extern at the Fredericksburg Public Defender's Office, where she worked mostly with juvenile defendants; 
  • as an intern with a small law firm in Lynchburg,Virginia (her hometown) that focused primarily on family law; and 
  • as an intern at another small law firm in Lynchburg that focused primarily on contract law, wills, and estates.
Law School Career

Lawson always knew she wanted to be a lawyer.  Even in high school, her friends nicknamed her "Elle Woods" and "Legally Blonde." 

That dream soon came true after she graduated from ASL in 2012, having earned the Lawyer as Problem Solver Certificate

Other recognition and awards included:
  • Deans List for Spring 2012, 
  • Book Award Spring 2012 in Client Interviewing and Counseling,
  • Book Award Spring 2011 in Dispute Resolution, 
  • The (much coveted) Willard Owens Award for Excellence in Community Service - Class of 2012, and
  • Best Organization of the Year Award for 2010-2011 for ASL C.A.R.E.S. 
She passed the very difficult Virginia bar exam in February of 2013.

Lawson says:  
ASL was helpful in fine-tuning my people skills and greatly prepared me for my job as a Magistrate.  Daily, I talk with people, respond in a way they can understand, while also correctly explaining the legal process. These interactions let me use the skills I especially learned in the Dispute Resolution and Client Interviewing and Counseling courses.   
Also, I constantly reference the knowledge I gained in the Virginia Procedure and Criminal Law courses.  As part of my job, I determine whether probable cause exists and whether or not I can issue a warrant or bond.  
Community Service and Student Organization Activities

While in law school, Lawson was extremely active with ASL C.A.R.E.S., the animal rights' group on campus, and served as its President during her 3L year.  Her community service focused on the Buchanan County Animal Shelter, sometimes visiting and providing services five days a week.  As part of that commitment to animal welfare, she fostered  many, many animals.  She traveled all over Virginia, as well as into Tennessee, transporting animals to new homes or animal rescues.

She kept for herself one dog needing a good home -- Pepper -- a salt and pepper schnauzer-terrier mix

She served as Treasurer for the legal fraternity Phi Alpha Deltaand was also involved with Appalachian Women in Law.  

She helped at the Remote Access Medical Clinic (RAM) her 1L year. She found it very rewarding to help deliver medical, dental, and eye care to needy local residents. 

Undergraduate Career and Athleticism

Lawson says she was an athletic child and teen, involved in cheerleading, softball, basketball, gymnastics, and karate.

After graduating from Brookville High School in 2005, with honors, Lawson attended the College of William & Mary for Undergraduates.  

Taking her high school cheerleading skills into college sports, she cheered for four years and served as captain of the squad her senior year.  She also served as the cheerleading representative on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.  

Expressing an early interest in community service, she participated in activities sponsored by AVALON -- a Center for Children and Women and by the Heritage Humane Society.  She also served as a volunteer cheerleading coach at the Williamsburg Indoor Sports Complex.  

She graduated in 2009 with a BBA in Accounting and a minor in Marketing.

She currently plays in a recreational kickball league.

She also enjoys spending time at the beach and playing with her dogs.   Her second dog, Sadie, appears in this photo.

Now that life has settled a bit for her, she plans to again volunteer at local animal shelters.

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