Nicole R. Poursalimi is an attorney at Waters Kraus & Paul in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Nicole’s practice concentrates on complex civil law, toxic tort matters and product liability. She earned her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she made the dean’s honor roll, and her Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Nicole is a member of the State Bar of California. She is fluent in English and Farsi.
Read on to learn what Nicole had to say during our Women’s History Month virtual roundtable.
Waters Kraus & Paul Women In Law Roundtable Q&A: Nicole Poursalimi
Waters Kraus & Paul: According to the American Bar Association, there are approximately 1.4 million licensed attorneys in the United States. While there may be obvious overlap in experiences and reasons for choosing to become a lawyer, no two people are the same. What, or who, inspired you to pursue a career in law?
Nicole Poursalimi: In college, I studied chemistry. I learned rules, formulas and processes that describe every aspect of the world around us. Working with often unstable materials and considering the magnitude of the reactions that occur between infinitesimally small components shaped the way I perceive my environment. And while I continue to be in awe of the way our physical world operates — I found that I missed the moral, interpersonal exploration. This and my inherent desire to interact with people, bring them together and solve problems are what drew me toward becoming a lawyer. The opportunity to understand the laws that shape our human experience was attractive to me. Living in communities with laws and standards we benefit from rituals and concepts that promote peaceful coexistence and respect for others. And where imbalances or disruptions occur, as they all too often do, I wanted to serve as a bridge to balance conflict and create evenness.
WKP: Continued determination and a tough work ethic are part of a universal code shared among successful attorneys. In fact, a career as a lawyer has been a hallmark of prestige for generations now. But what exactly enabled your career to flourish? How would you personally encourage young girls thinking about becoming attorneys?
NP: Since I’m a brand new lawyer, I’ll describe what enabled my success in school, with the bar exam and what has continued to work for me so far at the start of my career.
Consistency, community and a good attitude is what got me to where I am today. Throughout law school students are told that the experience is “a marathon and not a sprint.” I’ve come to understand that the point this exhausted saying is making is that consistent effort pays off.
Marathon runners do not wake up one day able to run 26 miles straight — they train little by little until the big event. Like training for a marathon, becoming an attorney is a lot of work. You’ll be reading, writing, outlining and memorizing a ton. But success doesn’t come from grinding yourself down to a shred, it comes from breaking things into smaller steps and then putting one foot in front of the other until you’re there. Allow yourself rest and nourish your body (the brain is a muscle!). And of course you’ll need friends to hand you little snacks and water bottles as you go. More practically, your friends will help you grapple with challenging concepts; proofread your writing; and provide moral support (and you’ll do the same for them!).
If you’re consistent about going to class, reviewing the material, working on that memo etc., you’ll do well. And if you’re consistent about checking in with your professors and your classmates you’ll have a community who will make the experience more enjoyable and who will help you out along the way, so you’ll all succeed.
Finally, your attitude is of utmost importance because you’ll get from the experience what you give to it. Believe you are capable, because you are, remain humble and ask for help, because we all need it, and make it fun!
WKP: The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many people work and affected many routine legal proceedings. How have these changes impacted your own career?
NP: I spent half of my law school experience on Zoom! One of my summer internships was an entirely remote position, I never met my co-workers in person. By the time the world began to reopen I was in my third year at Loyola but, still, we learned how to do depositions, hearings and mediations on Zoom (only) and practiced courtroom/trial skills with a mask on. So, this new normal, the post-pandemic version of legal practice, is truly the only version I’ve known. I am comfortable with it and I am grateful for the flexibility we enjoy because of it.
WKP: Where do you think we are in terms of gender equality in the legal profession? Do you believe that people’s expectations of women lawyers have changed in the past 50 years? Or will the majority of Americans always be more willing to put their faith in men practicing law?
NP: Within the profession, I think great strides have been taken and continue to be taken. In terms of women’s representation in the profession specifically, we have come a long way. Women make up more than half the current population of law school graduates, there are more women practicing law now than there were 50 years ago and we now see more women holding higher level positions. They’re calling the shots, blazing the trail for future generations of women lawyers. That said, the everyday experience of women lawyers reveals that significant disparities still exist. A recent ABA study showed women continue to report negative work experiences including demeaning comments, stories or jokes, being mistaken for a lower-level employee, being overlooked for advancements or promotions and experiencing lack of access to business development opportunities. So we’re not quite there yet.
Regarding Americans’ willingness to put their faith in female lawyers — I don’t believe it will always be the case that people will prefer men. Learning from the women at WKP — seeing the way that they connect with their clients, empathize and build trust, and the way they advocate with poise and passion — I am confident that we’ve moved far away from the times of requesting “someone else” to handle the matter.
WKP: What is the single most important lesson you have learned in your career as a legal professional, and how has that skill proven to be vital for your professional growth?
NP: The single most important lesson I’ve learned so far is the power of precise language. I remember being in my first-year legal writing class, frustrated with the concept of active versus passive voice and even more frustrated by word-count limits. With practice, however, I came to understand that we were being taught to say exactly what we mean — nothing more and nothing less. Internalizing this concept improved not only my writing but also my verbal communication skills. These skills are vital to any lawyer’s professional growth because our success entirely depends on our ability to communicate effectively. We communicate with clients, other attorneys, courts, etc. constantly and need to learn to be efficient and effective in order to achieve the desired results.
I once heard that Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a habit of taking pauses before speaking in a conversation – sometimes long and potentially awkward pauses – because she wanted to organize her thoughts and give a well-formulated response. She had the right idea.
To read more interviews with our attorneys, check out our Waters Kraus & Paul Virtual Roundtable Q&A: Women In Law.