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Nicole Heffel ‘13 Opens Boutique Law Firm

October 23, 2014

After deciding to pursue a career in wealth management as a financial consultant, Alumna Nicole Heffel ‘13 reassessed her path after successfully completing her first trial. Since then, Heffel has opened her own boutique law firm specializing in comprehensive estate planning, personal injury and veteran’s benefits.

“Just a few weeks after completing the bar, I accepted a job at AXA Advisors as a Financial Advisor,” Heffel said. “I passed the bar in November, and I was sworn in on December 15, 2013. After almost one month to the day, I got my first call as a lawyer. Someone needed me to represent them. Reluctantly, I took the case. I had decided to go into the wealth management field and was not actively practicing law.”

“The case that I took on was a criminal one, and we ended up going to trial in April,” Heffel explained. “I was nervous at first, because I had no experience in criminal court. I didn’t even know what to say at the arraignment. After the first few stuttering words of my opening argument, I settled in and ran with it. I absolutely loved being in trial. I had such a rush practicing law.” The impact of her trial experience was only strengthened when the verdict came back, “not guilty.”

Heffel knew she had found her calling. “I knew what I needed to do,” Heffel said, “I came back to San Diego and gave notice to AXA. I was going to practice law.” Heffel hit the ground running and opened her firm at the end of May. “It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been far more rewarding than I had ever expected it to be.”

A Navy veteran herself, Heffel has used her firm to remain active in the veteran community. At TJSL, she participated in the Veterans Self -Help Clinic led by Professor Steve Berenson. “The most exciting and rewarding part of my job is the veteran advocacy. I also continue to volunteer at the TJSL Veterans Self-Help Clinic and I continue to ask the Director of the Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic questions about the practice of law and ethics.” Heffel said. “Professor Berenson has continued to help shape me as an attorney, even to this day.”

“Prior to starting my firm, the highest compliment I ever received was that I inspired someone to do something great in their life,” Heffel said. “After opening my firm, the greatest compliment I have received was when a veteran told me I saved his life. I absolutely love advocating for our veterans and helping them transition from incarceration back into society with a plan in place.”

Heffel’s interest in estate planning stemmed from her extensive research, for an internship, on Medi-cal, Medicare, and their effect on unplanned estates. “I realized that without the proper planning and guidance you stand to lose everything you worked so hard to obtain,” Heffel said. “I love being in a position to advise people on planning for their future. Estate planning is an invaluable service to offer.”

Based on her own experience, Heffel believes new graduates should, “Find what you absolutely love to do and be the best person at doing just that, the money will follow. I would also advise new lawyers to do pro bono work. I have gotten a majority of my paying clients through referrals from the people I have done pro bono work for.”

“All of my memories at TJSL are fond,” Heffel stated looking back at her time completing the Juris Doctorate program. “Even now, when I walk on campus I immediately smile because I am proud to be a part of such a supportive and encouraging environment.” Like many first year students, Heffel initially struggled but credits her professors for helping her succeed. “I remember Professor Ilene Durst being extremely patient and helping me when I felt like giving up and Professor Meera Deo listening to my rant about civil procedure,” Heffel recalled. “I had such a wonderful time there that I decided to come back for my LL.M Degree.”