Nichols honored with WLAM Mary Foster Award

Photo by Frank Weir

By Frank Weir
Legal News

Well-known local attorney Margaret (Margo) Nichols received the WLAM Mary Foster Award on Dec. 9 at the organization’s annual holiday meeting and celebration.

A founding partner of Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach and Buiteweg in Ann Arbor, Nichols is semi-retired and flew in from Arizona to receive the award, named for Ann Arbor’s first woman lawyer who graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1876.

According to a WLAM spokesperson, the award is “bestowed annually on a member of our organization whose leadership, talent, and significant contributions to women provide a role model for women in the profession and women in general.”

Kate Sharkey, a firm associate, and Elizabeth Jolliffe nominated Nichols for the award.

In her introduction, Sharkey said, “Margo’s career path and style of advocacy are perfectly aligned with what we, as a region, are looking for when we bestow this honor each year.  Margo began her career with Legal Aid and Defenders in Detroit in 1977 and continued with U of M Student Legal Services.  Like all legal aid attorneys, she has war stories that could keep you entertained all night from her years in the trenches.”

Sharkey noted that Nichols’ commitment to aiding those of limited means did not end after her time in public interest law. “Margo’s commitment to providing legal services to the poor continued beyond her days in legal aid.  She has provided pro bono services – direct services to clients in poverty – throughout her career in private practice.  In fact, she just did a full parenting time trial earlier this year for a pro bono client.”

In 1994 Nichols formed a new law firm with founding partners Monika Sacks, Eileen Slank, and Rebecca Sweet, that is now known as NSSS&B. “Margo and the other partners created NSSS&B in part to create a workplace where our families come before our clients’ families.  They knew  –  something that is so often forgotten by employers – that if you’re not taking care of yourselves and your loved ones, you’re probably useless to your clients, and you’re certainly bound to burn out.  Such an important takeaway, and the success of the firm is a significant contribution for women,”?Sharkey said.

Sharkey noted that, throughout her career, Nichols developed a reputation of being a strong advocate, but professional, a superbly skilled negotiator, and focused on collaboration with opposing counsels and clients before litigation.

With Nichols now semi-retired, Sharkey and her colleague Liz Solomon have  taken over some of her cases.  “I was in court this morning with a former client of Margo’s,” Sharkey said. “He excitedly asked me, ‘how is Margo?  Is she in town?’ He said in no uncertain terms, ‘she is so great.’  Liz and I have remarked to one another how Margo has a certain way with clients – she is firm, tells it like it is, doesn’t sugar coat, but is compassionate and kind.  The language she uses in her correspondence is particularly eloquent and persuasive.  Perhaps that is because she was trained as a librarian.’

Sharkey added that when Nichols was involved in a serious hit and run bicycle-car accident in 2007, partner Eileen Slank said, "She exemplified strength, courage and ultimately forgiveness.  It was inspirational for everyone at the firm.

“Above all, Margo is committed to her family – her husband David, son Ian and daughter-in-law.  She has set the bar very high for all of us. She has been an important mentor and I have learned countless lessons from her conviction, generosity, and remarkable work ethic.”

 Nichols, who is  current president of the State Bar of Michigan Foundation among other community activities, noted the courage Mary Foster had exhibited. “I have enjoyed the practice of law and I’ve especially enjoyed the folks at the firm. I thank you for this tremendous honor and I am joining a wonderful club of those who have received the award.”


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