Erin Anderson Nowell ’96, recently named to the National Bar Association’s 40 Under 40 Best Advocates list, is dedicated to increasing diversity in her field.
Attorney Erin Anderson Nowell ’96 was recently named to the 2016 National Bar Association’s 40 Under 40 Best Advocates list. We spoke with her about her career, how her time at NCSSM taught her to think outside the box, and her excitement about attending Alumni Weekend 2016 in October.
Nowell lives in Dallas, Texas, where she is an attorney at mass tort firm Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett. After attending Wake Forest University for undergrad, Nowell went to the University of Texas School of Law, “with every intention of coming back to NC,” she says, “but kind of fell in love with Texas.”
Nowell has worked on both sides of the courtroom, prosecuting claims and defending lawsuits. Now, she focuses mainly on representing victims of serious injuries or wrongful death from toxic substances such as asbestos or dangerous pharmaceuticals. She describes her practice as centered on “helping individuals injured by corporate negligence, indifference, and simple greed,” and bringing justice for those who have been harmed through no fault of their own. Nowell has grown with the firm, helping them set up a pharmaceutical docket, and was recently named the head of her department.
Earlier this year, her work earned her recognition on the 2016 National Bar Association 40 Under 40 Best Advocates list, which recognizes the country’s leading young attorneys for their legal accomplishments. “The best part of that accomplishment was that I still have no idea who nominated me. It wasn’t on my radar, it wasn’t something that I said, ‘hey, I’m interested in this, would you think about nominating me?’ And so it was a huge deal that the leaders of that association took notice of what I was doing here in Dallas.” The accomplishment is an “especially big deal,” she says, as African American women are a minority in the legal field.
Nowell spends a lot of her time and energy focused on increasing the diversity in her field, calling the issue one of her “biggest bailiwicks.” She serves on several major committees focused on ensuring diversity in the field, and is currently cochair of the Minority Participation Committee of the Dallas Bar Association, vice chair of the Minority Caucus of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and Legal Redress Chair for the NAACP’s Dallas branch. She is also a leader of the J.L. Turner Legal Association, the African American bar association in Dallas, which hosts legal aid drives and helps ensure election protection, among other activities. “During the last election,” for example, “I was on the ground at different locations making sure people were getting the right to vote,” she says.
“We have an amazing bar association in Dallas that is just great,” she says. “I really wanted to get to know the lawyers in my community,” so she got involved with the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association and quickly took on her leadership roles. A sense of community, both in the legal field and in the broader community, is key to her job. These days, “I’m actually rarely in a courtroom,” she says. “A lot of what my job is basically just helping people. The majority of our clients—like the asbestos clients I meet with mostly—a lot of them are older, they’re recently retired, and I’m going in, explaining to them the [legal] process, and then sort of taking over so they don’t have that burden,” she explains. “Being able to give them that peace of mind, that we are on their side, is really important.”
Despite going into a non-STEM field, Nowell says NCSSM was essential in preparing her for her career. “NCSSM was a much better building block for my future than even college was,” she says. “It is absolutely one of those places where you learn to think outside the box.” That skill—the ability to come up with new and novel solutions to problems—is one she uses every day in her practice. “You have to think, ‘how have we always solved the problem? What worked? What is different? What’s the process in place? And how could we do it better this time?’ Explaining how and why you do something, that’s how law works. And that’s the beauty of how Science and Math approaches the learning process.”
“The liberal arts at Science and Math are unparalleled,” she says. “I knew going there that I probably wanted to be a lawyer. The English classes I was taking as a junior [at Science and Math] were basically the same as a freshman in college. So applying to law school, I had a leg up because I knew how to write.”
Nowell says she can’t wait to be back on campus for her class’s 20-year reunion at Alumni Weekend. NCSSM introduced her to some of her best friends. “My very best friend is also named Erin [Erin Corcoran Garris ‘96], so we are Erin squared,” Nowell laughs. “Erin and I met the second day of school and have pretty much been best friends ever since.”
“I really do feel like the friendships that I’ve built at Science and Math are far and beyond the strongest relationships. And the thing about Science and Math is that everybody is everywhere! I will randomly get emails from someone I haven’t spoken to in a long time, and we try to get together.”
Aside from her peers, Nowell also developed strong bonds with adults at the school. “I don’t think I would be anywhere that I am without Gail Hudson, who was my guidance counselor,” says Nowell. In her hometown of Kings Mountain, in “very rural” North Carolina, Nowell had the highest PSAT scores in her class, and yet, when she told teachers and others that she wanted to apply to UNC, Duke, and other schools, she wasn’t exactly encouraged. “Meeting people like Gail Hudson really made such a difference.”