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Elizabeth Nazari: Resolute Determination in the Face of Adversity
by Douglas May
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Nazari's journey to law school was circuitous indeed, as she was the first one in her family to even go to college. Finding herself at a young age stranded in dire circumstances, she recalls, "After my husband disappeared, I decided that the only way my family would ever be prosperous was if I went to college. I'm the first person in my family to go to college, so it was a huge step that met with a lot of resistance from everyone in my family. I can see their point, I suppose. I was homeless with no education, no skills, and three children (ages 2, 5, and 6) to care for. They were fairly certain that I had lost my mind, and they begged me to get a job at the phone company." Nazari's mother had worked at the phone company, and the pay seemed relatively good and the job fairly secure. But Nazari had other aspirations. She says that it really made her family angry when she declined to apply at the phone company, so angry that they refused to help or support her in any way. "I guess they figured a few weeks on the streets with three kids would bring me back to my senses. I'm a very determined person, however. I immediately went down to the Community College and enrolled in classes. I also applied for every grant, scholarship, and student loan that I could find."
Nazari's fortitude paid off, and she ended up receiving enough in financial aid to get an apartment for her and her fledgling family. She got a full-time job and a part-time job doing data entry. She states, "The first semester of school and two jobs is all a blur, but after my first semester grades rolled in, I was offered enough in scholarships that I quit the second job. I worked at the Arizona Psychological Association as the editor-in-chief of their professional journal. It was very challenging and rewarding work. Because they are a non-profit organization, I was also able to dabble in some web design, which was a great creative outlet."
After having some exposure to law and philosophy in college, Nazari decided that law school was going to be her chosen path. She had "an amazing professor named Peter deMarneffe who taught [her] how to see both sides of an issue, taught [her] the importance of thinking critically, asking questions of your own beliefs and so forth. Law school just seemed to fit perfectly." She says that she waited a very long time before telling anyone in her family what she planned to do, as she was rather apprehensive about their reactions. "When they first found out, they were a little incredulous. One member of my family actually said exasperatedly, 'Oh, Elizabeth! You're not going to law school!' The only thing that did for me was reinforce it in my own stubborn mind that I would most definitely be going to law school." Remarkably, since her admission to law school, her family has "done a complete 180," and is extremely supportive. Nazari says that her mother helps her with childcare when she needs it, and also buys her study guides and textbooks. "She is very proud to have a daughter in law school; she never imagined it was possible!"
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Just starting her 2L year at ASU, Nazari loves being in Arizona and feels that it's home to her and her children. She maintains that she worked extremely hard to stabilize her family and give her children a feeling of real security after all they went through early in their lives. She says that Sandra Day O'Connor is one of her heroes, a woman who, "like my grandmother, never conformed to the status quo."
Nazari says that she's had many influences during her time in law school, and a few that stand out are "Professor Rose, who taught me to 'squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom' when spotting and analyzing issues. Professor Carrie Sperling, whose infinite patience and sarcastic wit have made the tough times bearable. I've also learned a lot from the students around me. I've learned things about patience, dedication, staying-power, determination, and a host of other things from each and every one of them — even those with whom I don't always get along." Nazari says that what she most enjoys about the study of law is having the ability to see both sides of an issue. "Making a valid argument for both sides makes for a good time," she says. Favorite courses she's had include "Torts, because it's sexy, Legal Writing because it's practical, and Contracts because it's good for me!"
|Q. What was the last song you listened to?
A. My iPod has everything from Beethoven to Beck. Right now, I'm listening to Radiohead, Sinatra, Foo Fighters, Chopin, and the Scissor Sisters.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. My 12 year old has a subscription to Time, and I read it whenever she leaves it lying around. I also enjoy reading Rolling Stone.
Q. What is your favorite TV show/movie?
A. Favorite show has got to be Three's Company. It's just so campy. I guess it's kind of like comfort food for me. Favorite movie is either Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail or The Big Lebowski.
Q. Who is your role model? Why?
A. I suppose that would be my grandmother for the reasons I set out above. She was truthful, brave, she respected others, and she never gave up.
Q. What do you think about the current job market? Are you hopeful about finding a good law job?
A. I'm not worried about it. Come on, people are always going to need lawyers.
Q. Will you stay in the state you're in for a law job, or is another state more appealing at this point?
A. I'd like to stay in Arizona because this is our home. I suppose I would consider moving to a place like San Francisco for a few years, but Arizona will always be home sweet home.
Q. What is something that most people don't know about you?
A. I'm very open about who I am and what I'm about. Everything I do, I do with passion — that includes both working and playing. I try to have fun and see the bright side of life, which might lead people to think I'm not as serious as I truly am. I am a firm believer that laughter and hard work are not mutually exclusive.
When asked about any internship experience, Nazari replies, "Well, I'm not sure if you would call it an internship, but right now I work with the Justice Project as a team lead. We work to free those whom we believe to be wrongly imprisoned. It's very frustrating at times, but also quite rewarding.
"I was also fortunate enough to be chosen as Professor Carrie Sperling's research assistant. Right now Professor Sperling is on the federal committee for habeas reform, and she is also writing a journal article on habeas, so I'm doing quite a bit of habeas research, as you can imagine." Nazari's involvement with the journal is something she says she's very proud of and very excited about.
As for the future, Nazari feels that a big firm is a great place to learn "how to be a lawyer," so, she says, she'd like to keep that option open. Her goal is to be a partner in a well-respected firm. She says, "I'd love to find a med[ical] malpractice group within a big firm where I can 'whistle while I work.' Someplace where we can work hard and play hard together as a team. I'd like to specialize in brain injuries — I've been interested in neuroscience since I was a kid."
Among her favorite law school memories, Nazari recalls "Telling my professor that I would do anything but be 'one of those ACLU people.' Then finding out she was the head of the ACLU a few years ago. Good times, good lesson. Law school is not the place you want to be when you put your foot in your mouth. She has a good sense of humor, though, so it's all good."
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Other interests and activities of Nazari's include building things with her children, doing home repairs, listening to music, and the "pursuit of culinary perfection." Her advice for her law peers: "Law school is very competitive. I would say that above all we need to respect each and every student at the law school — even those with whom we vehemently disagree. Everyone has something admirable about them, and we become better people when we recognize this fact and acknowledge others' strengths, rather than focusing on their weaknesses."
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One way to stay positive: Make copies of all the nice things people have written about you- customer letters, performance appraisals, awards. Tape them to your mirror. Read them every morning and night and remember how good you really are.