February 19, 2013

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William Bohling

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Lori Nelson

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Paul Durham


Lori Nelson

Raising the Bar

Melanie Johnson

February 19, 2013

One year offers a brief window for setting significant change in motion. Lori W. Nelson, recently appointed president of the Utah State Bar, aims to do her best.

Nelson is the 80th president of the Utah State Bar and the fourth woman in state history to serve in the office. If she has her way, Nelson’s one-year term will have a significant impact on the perception of the practice of law in Utah. 

Another top priority is ensuring the continuity of a pair of programs started by her predecessor—the Lend a Learned Hand program and the Modest Means program. The Lend a Learned Hand program is designed to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono representation on some cases. The Modest Means program connects low-income clients with underemployed lawyers who cannot practice full-time because of limited available work.

Both of these programs matter to Nelson because they serve a public need. Serving the public, she says, is a primary mandate for the Utah State Bar.

“I have great respect for the people that created these programs, and I think it would be a disservice to ignore the work they have done to put this into place,” she says.

This marks only the first step in what Nelson wants to accomplish. Some of her effort is focused on improving the public image of lawyers throughout the state. Nelson wants people to understand that lawyers are a part of the community and work tirelessly to serve their local communities.

“It’s not well publicized how much service lawyers do,” Nelson says. “Lawyers are out there all the time, every single day, giving of themselves, giving back to their communities, doing free legal work.”

Among the things lawyers do to serve their local communities, according to Nelson, is offer free legal consultation for homeowners associations, sit on local planning and zoning committees, and serve on community councils.

“There’s a tremendous amount of service that goes on behind the scenes, and I believe even though these lawyers aren’t seeking public recognition, we should acknowledge the tremendous contribution they make,” she says.

Nelson is also determined to improve benefits for members of the state bar. She wants to ensure there are avenues for receiving quality continuing education, so that each attorney can maximize their ability to practice effectively.

For Nelson, serving as Utah State Bar president gives her a chance to give back to a profession that has given her so much—she was a single mother looking to support her family when she decided to attend law school. Nelson has been a member of the Utah State Bar for two decades and has spent the past six years practicing with Jones Waldo.

Her time in the legal system has given Nelson an informed perspective on just how complicated a lawyer’s life can get. It is a profession that continually evolves because laws change over time. Putting in long hours and keeping on top of the changes is a way of life.

“There’s a perception that a lawyer just goes to the office and then gets a bunch of money, and that’s not accurate,” Nelson says. “It’s mentally challenging and can be physically exhausting.”

Still, she would not trade her role for anything else. What she does each day is her reason for getting out of bed in the morning. “I want to help people,” Nelson says. “That’s why I’m doing this.”


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