Fast track: Sports background bolsters attorney in legal life

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

In 2006 and only two years out of law school, Nicki Proulx won a jury trial in Clinton County regarding a property dispute between two neighbors. It was clear that Proulx — an attorney in the Lansing office of Fraser Trebilcock — was showing the same grit, tenacity and strong desire to win that made her a varsity athletics star in high school and college.

Proulx, who specializes in employment litigation and insurance defense, started working at Fraser Trebilcock as a summer associate in 2003 and was snapped up by the firm immediately after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School.

An aggressive litigator, Proulx — the 2009 recipient of the Golden Gavel Award from the Michigan Defense Trial Counsel — enjoys taking on even the most challenging of cases.
She recently avoided a potential big verdict in a nasty premises liability case by arguing and winning on a motion for summary disposition, and then successfully defended that judgment through briefs in both the Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court.

So it’s no surprise that last year she was tapped as one of the “10 Over the Next 10” top young professionals by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce; she also was named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” in 2011 and 2012, and one of Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s Up and Coming Lawyers in 2010.

“My favorite classes in law school were employment law — I found them the most interesting, and they are what drew me to practicing employment litigation,” she says. “I enjoy helping people work through their employment relationships and helping them through the maze of intertwining and seemingly ever-changing laws that affect those relationships.” In her second year as an attorney, Proulx began practicing insurance defense. 

“I really like it because I’m always learning something new,” she said.

Practicing insurance defense, like many other types of litigation, “requires you to obtain a sufficient working knowledge of many different things, so you can understand and be able to properly defend your client,” she said. “The practice requires you to extend yourself beyond the bounds of your legal knowledge and learn about whatever underlying issue may be at the heart of the case, whether it be learning medical terminology or various medical conditions or procedures, learning about the lumbering business, learning about the inter-workings of a client’s business, or any other issue.”

Proulx has found the law intriguing from her youth, and often watched TV shows like “Law and Order” and “The Practice.”

“Even though I knew they were very much sensationalized for TV, they piqued my interest in the legal profession,” she said. “After doing an independent study in high school with a local attorney and probate judge, and being around the courtroom and seeing ‘real’ legal action, it only further solidified my interest and I knew then that I wanted to go to law school after college.”

Proulx was thrilled to get her legal education from a Top 10 law school while still being able to partake in many of the things she had enjoyed at U of M as an undergrad earning a degree in history—“the atmosphere, the great sporting events, and still being able to hang out with a number of my friends who also stayed for post-graduate work, while also making new friends at the law school.”

In April, Proulx was elected as secretary of the board of directors for Downtown Lansing, Inc., dedicated to strengthening the economic health of the downtown community.

She has served on the board since June 2011, after being nominated by Mayor Virg Bernero and approved by Lansing City Council.

Proulx also is a member of the Junior League of Lansing, a women’s volunteer organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and children at risk, and supporting dozens of non-profits in
the Lansing area with volunteers, funding, and/or necessary supplies for their organizations.

“I think it’s important to give back to your community, so I enjoy volunteering in various organizations and helping others,” she said.

 Proulx finds it very rewarding to serve as a mentor to young women law students through the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Mid-Michigan Region’s mentorship program.

“The program teams up women law students with practicing women attorneys to help the law students while in school, whether it be with providing advice on taking classes, finding internships,
studying for the bar exam, or whatever else the students may need,” she said. “I think the program is great and I like being a part of it because I received a lot of help along the way to be able to get to where I am today, and I think it’s important to pay it forward to others.”

And of course, sports are not far from her mind.

Playing sports since the age of 7, in high school she participated in basketball, volleyball and track, specializing in the throwing events.

During her senior year of high school she was asked by the U-M throwing coach to join the U-M track team, and spent all four undergrad years on the varsity squad.

“It was an incredible experience,” she says. “Not only was I able to stay active and fit throughout my college years, but I also met and made a lot of great friends on the team, and had the opportunity to travel to places for competitions that I probably never would have otherwise gone.”

She continued with the team as a volunteer assistant weightlifting coach team while at Michigan Law.

She plays sports year-round, with softball and beach volleyball in the summer, and indoor volleyball in the winter, and has coached children in basketball.

She also enjoys watching all kinds of sports, on TV and in person, and particularly enjoys using her season tickets for U-M football games at The Big House, with her fiancé Nick Sanford, friends and family.

A native of Standish in northern Michigan, Proulx now makes her home in Holt, south of Lansing.

“Being a two-time graduate, athlete and a huge fan of U-M, it admittedly took a little adjustment moving to ‘Spartan territory’ and seeing and being around all the green and white,” she said with a smile. “However, aside from that, I think that living and working in Lansing is fantastic. Coming from a very small town, I love having access to the ‘city’ and to so many wonderful things such as the State Capitol and government, theatres, young professional groups and organizations, sports leagues, and shopping, yet I think there’s still a ‘small town feel’ to the area, which is important.”

In her leisure time, Proulx enjoys reading, being outdoors in the summer, and spending time with friends and family — her parents, sister, two nieces and a nephew live back in Standish, along with much of her extended family. 

“My brother and sister-in-law live close by in East Lansing, which is nice because I can see and hang out with them quite often. Lansing is also nice because it’s not too far away from my hometown — a couple hours drive and I can be back home to visit family.”


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