Nicole Salazar-Hall has embarked on a diverse career path since graduating from the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2010. Currently, she practices civil litigation at Salt Lake City-based Parsons, Behle & Latimer with a focus on domestic law, representing individuals in domestic cases, juvenile court child welfare cases and actions challenging DCFS agency findings. She also assists clients with divorce, custody, parentage, adoption, child welfare, minor child guardianship matters, and Department of Child and Family Services agency actions.
Since 2015, Salazar-Hall has been a lecturer on family law issues and continuing legal education classes. She is an active volunteer, working with Utah State Bar Indian Law Section (Section Officer); Centro De La Familia De Utah (Board of Trustees); the State of Utah Division of Child and Family Services – Child Welfare Improvement Council and DCFS Oversight Subcommittee Co-Chair; and the Salt Lake City Human Rights Commission.
Her broad expertise is one reason Salt Lake City leaders invited her to serve on an advisory panel to examine the policies, budget, and culture of the city’s police department. The Commission of Racial Equity will play a “significant step forward” in addressing systemic racism in Salt Lake City, officials said when announcing its creation earlier this summer.
Salazar-Hall recently spoke to the College of Law in a Q&A to discuss her time in law school and her new appointment
Q: What made you interested in going to law school?
A: I initially became interested in going to law school by watching attorneys on TV. The Hollywood version of law seemed so dynamic and exciting. After I graduated from college, I worked as a social worker for three years, two years as a permanency worker with the State of Utah Division of Child and Family Services and one year as an outreach HIV case manager with the Utah AIDS Foundation. During my time as a social worker, I attended many legal proceedings, either as a representative for the State of Utah or as moral support for a client. During the proceedings, I felt as though I was a spectator, largely powerless to affect changes for my clients. While social work is a noble and rewarding field, I realized that I didn’t want to be just a spectator, I wanted to be able to do more, both for individuals, and society as a whole.
Q: How did your time at the law school shape and/or help you in your career?
A: The academic training definitely trained me to read, analyze, and apply the law. However, that is only one part of my law school experience. The law school’s legal clinics and student organizations prepared me to serve the community both inside and outside of the courtroom. The law school’s legal clinics gave me the opportunity to work as an attorney representing parents in the Juvenile Court and defendants in the District Court. My work with the law school’s multiple student organizations gave me the leadership experience and confidence needed to work with and lead civic commissions and non-profit boards.
Q: What is one memorable experience from law school that will always stay with you?
A: It’s difficult to point to one memorable law school experience. During my criminal clinic I volunteered with the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association. I walked into the Third District Court at the Matheson Courthouse to observe what I had been told was a typical district court docket. The sheer number of people present in the courtroom amazed me. I knew the criminal system was substantial but being personally faced with its enormity took me aback. I realized that the criminal justice system was far more complex and nuanced in reality than in the theory presented in my criminal law class. I think back to that experience each time I approach a new project. It helps open my mind to tackle unforeseen problems and to develop creative solutions.
Q: You are among those who are working hard to change the landscape of equity, diversity and inclusion in Utah through a new appointment to the Commission on Racial Equity in Policing. What drives you to be a part of this important work? Where does the conversation start with so much work to be done?
A: Growing up in Utah as a person of color, I was very much aware of racial inequity and disparities from a young age. I always knew I wanted to address those inequities in some way. My family has never shied away from hard work, and I learned at a young age that if you want social justice you have to work for it, not just hope for it. That desire to work for justice has never waned. The current political climate and recent events have only strengthened my resolve to work for change.
Where to start a conversation on equity, diversity, and inclusion is difficult. One place to start the conversation on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion is to take stock of and recognize your privilege. Once you are able to identify your privilege, you will be able to examine where others lack the privileges you have come to expect as part of your daily life. I admit I have far more privilege than many other people of color. Because of that, I feel that it is my duty to do what I can to work for equity and inclusion.
Q: How can the legal world help to move Utah and its communities forward to a more just society?
A: Law has the fundamental power to change society. Lawyers are so versatile in how they can apply their legal education, which gives us the ability to challenge systems of inequity in all spheres of society, not just in the courtroom. The legal community can lend its expertise to projects as small as revising your HOA covenants that are unintentionally biased or supporting non-profit organizations that focus on social justice issues, to as large as shaping policy in State and local civic groups or litigating civil rights cases in state and federal courts, both for paid and pro bono clients. The possibilities for the legal world are endless. My advice is to be creative and to not be afraid to jump into a volunteer opportunity that feels foreign. I am always surprised at how useful my legal education is.