My first inclination was to be a social worker," she said. "After World War II, when I was leader of a boys' club for underprivileged eight-year olds, I found that when I observed and complained to authorities about their special needs (health, food, parental inadequacies), I was told that 'the law says this or that.' I decided that…lawyers appeared to have the inside edge."
Nelson, 77, added that she wanted to be in a profession that aims "to serve other people."
"Lawyers have the training and skills to bring about real change in society and assist others," she said.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in political science from UCLA in 1950, Nelson set about launching her legal career. In 1953, she earned her law degree from UCLA School of Law and was admitted to the State Bar of California the following year. For her first job out of law school, she worked as a research associate at the University of Southern California Law School. She worked alongside USC law professor James Holbrook on a project to investigate the courts in Los Angeles and recommend improvements. The study, which took three years to complete, was titled "Survey of Metropolitan Courts—Los Angeles Area."
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