Spotlight shines on SBM foundation president


– Photo by Frank Weir

Margaret Nichols (center), longtime attorney and president of the State Bar of Michgian Foundation, recently was honored by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan for her years of work as a “role model for women in the profession and women in general.” She is pictured with Kate Sharkey (left) and Elizabeth Jolliffe.

By Frank Weir

Legal News

The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan recently honored well-known attorney Margaret (Margo) Nichols with its Mary Foster Award.

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.”

Nichols, a founding partner of Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach and Buiteweg in Ann Arbor, 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. Kate Sharkey, a firm associate, and Elizabeth Jolliffe nominated Nichols for the honor.

In her introduction, Sharkey noted that Nichols’ 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.”

Nichols began her career with Legal Aid and Defenders Association in Detroit in 1977 and continued with University of Michigan 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 said.

Sharkey noted that Nichols’ dedication 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,” Sharkey said. “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.

Sharkey said that firm was established “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,” Sharkey said. “Such an important takeaway, and the success of the firm is a significant contribution for women.”

Throughout her career, Nichols developed a reputation of being a strong advocate and a skilled negotiator who focused on collaboration with opposing counsels and clients before litigation, according to Sharkey.

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 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.”

Sharkey said the language Nichols uses in her correspondence “is particularly eloquent and persuasive.”

“Perhaps that is because she was trained as a librarian,” Sharkey added.

Nichols “has set the bar very high for all of us,” Sharkey said. “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,” she said as she accepted the award at WLAM’s recent holiday gathering. “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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