When Heather Nelson was in sixth grade, she and her classmates performed a staged jury trial that saw them pretending to litigate a case involving an accident between a car and a bicycle.
Nelson was initially picked to be part of the jury, but in an act of fate, she was later “promoted” to defense attorney. It was at that moment she discovered her interest in the law. She promised herself she’d keep an open mind to other professions as she got older, but her love for the law never faded.
“My mind just raced,” she said. “I just found it very intriguing and could think of these arguments and I had my parents drive me down to the actual intersection where I took construction paper and mapped out the scene and I essentially proved how it couldn’t have happened the way the teacher said it did. It was this exercise in logistics that I just found really intriguing and it gave me quite a rush.”
Nelson, a shareholder at The Everson Law Firm, still has the same commitment to clients today. She prides herself on working with clients to help guide them through difficulties even as she makes it a point to show civility in the courtroom.
Nelson started in private practice and eventually became in-house counsel at Hanover Insurance in Chicago, where she worked for 18 years. She developed as a lawyer and learned from her mentor, Loretta Griffin.
“I came in a very raw, young attorney who ended up being a lead trial attorney and trying their bigger cases,” she said. “When I look back at some of my early trials, there were some successes there, but I was practically reading off of a script.”
Griffin, who is the national technical manager for Hanover, said Nelson is a team player who is always willing to help colleagues. She said Nelson never takes a back seat in her profession.
“She’s a very powerful lead attorney,” Griffin said. “She never backs down and she takes a ruling in stride. That’s a good lesson for less experienced women in the profession to see and emulate.”
Nelson is an active member of the Wisconsin Defense Counsel’s women’s division and in the midst of the #MeToo movement, she organized a panel with the WDC centered on women in the law so they could have a candidate discussion concerning difficulties women are faced with in the legal profession.
With more and more women practicing law in Wisconsin, Nelson is optimistic about the future for female lawyers in the state.
“There’s a lot less of the overt discrimination out there, at least from what I’ve seen. But there’s still plenty of apparently benign things that we’ve been taught to just let it roll,” she said. “But part of the point of the panel was to say, ‘Guys, these issues that we’ve been ignoring, maybe you should stop doing.’
“And now I think we’re feeling more empowered to talk about them.”