Paralegals Honor Wanda Nicholson
Wanda Pitts Nicholson is the 2016 recipient of the Distinguished Paralegal Award, presented annually by the Paralegal Division of the North Carolina Bar Association.
The award was presented May 6 in conjunction with the division’s annual meeting.
Charlie Clement of the Clement Law Office in Boone, where Nicholson has worked since 2002, submitted her nomination.
“In my practice I have learned that clients not only want to deal with someone who is competent in the law, will answer questions promptly and thoroughly,” Clement wrote, “but who also is compassionate and listens to their concerns. In my fifty-two years of practice, I have never employed anyone who fulfills those client expectations as Wanda does.
“She simply has made all of us better lawyers and more mindful of our clients’ needs. Her value to our firm and our clients is incomparable.”
Nicholson followed a circuitous route to both the legal profession and her current residence in Blowing Rock, where she also grew up. However, she spent a good part of her adult life far removed from the North Carolina mountains.
Then, while working for Denny’s Corp. in Spartanburg, S.C., she got bit by the legal bug in the aftermath of Denny’s widely publicized class action settlement, brought about over the restaurant chain’s alleged treatment of black customers.
“I wasn’t actually working in the legal department,” Nicholson recalled. “I was working in operations reporting to the president, but I was designated as the liaison between the civil rights monitor in California and the company regarding the consent decree.
“My title was Director of Consent Decree Administration, which meant I did all of the grunt work! But I worked closely with in-house Counsel Rob Barrett of Denny’s legal department and the civil rights monitor in California, and I found out that I loved the legal part of it.”
Nicholson had earlier experienced a glimpse of the legal profession while living in Venezuela, where she taught English as a second language to people from all over Europe, Asia and South America.
“I assisted with translation of the Venezuela labor laws from Spanish to English for reference by local American-owned companies,” Nicholson said. “I also had the opportunity to travel throughout the region and experience local life.
“Living and working with such a diverse group of people gave me a view of the world that I otherwise would not have experienced. In particular, I believe it tremendously increased and contributed to my sense of fairness, interest in human rights and empathy for others.”
Nicholson ultimately determined that she would take her affinity for the legal profession to the next level by entering the paralegal program at Converse College, where she graduated with honors and subsequently earned the certified legal assistant designation through the National Association of Legal Assistants.
Shortly thereafter, as Clement noted in his nomination letter, “the mountains beckoned, and, to our great fortune, she returned to her Blowing Rock home in 2002.”
“It has been a wonderful experience working here,” Nicholson said. “Being at a small firm, you get the opportunity to do a lot of things you probably wouldn’t do in a large firm with more attorneys, such as legal research and drafting of documents, client interviews and investigations, and things like that.
“Charlie Clement has been a wonderful teacher and mentor in my professional growth since Day One. Having been the first liaison from the NCBA Board of Governors with the Paralegal Division, he has always been very supportive of my involvement in the division and encouraged my participation in the council.
“He truly understands and nurtures the contributions a qualified paralegal, with proper attorney supervision, can make to a law firm and its clients.”
Nicholson has been active in the Paralegal Division ever since returning to North Carolina. In addition to her service as a council member and officer, she served as editor of the Paralegal Perspective newsletter and as the planner and a facilitator of a litigation-focused continuing paralegal education seminar in Boone sponsored by the NCBA.
“The seminar was an excellent learning experience,” Nicholson said. “I can't say enough about how important being involved in the Paralegal Division has been for me. Networking with the professional paralegals and attorneys across the state exposed me to a high standard of performance to which I aspire.”
Nicholson, no doubt, has done her part in upholding those high standards, as evidenced by her selection as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Paralegal Award.
“I knew that I had been nominated,” Nicholson said, “and the thing that made me so happy about that was the fact that my boss and former co-workers and clients gave me recommendations, even though I had not seen any of the letters.
“There were some very qualified people who were nominated from large firms across the state. To be recognized with this award by my peers and associates on the council was overwhelming.”