Attorney Nicole O’Connor, J.D. ’18, Fights for Clients
By Eva Richards
Ever since Nicole O’Connor, J.D. ’18, was a child, she wanted to help people by being an attorney. Personal experience taught her the importance of a knowledgeable advocate.
“I always wanted to work in the legal field after my mother and I were in an auto accident, wherein we were hit head-on by a drunk driver,” O’Connor said. “From that point on, I wanted to fight for people.”
O’Connor always had a big heart, enjoying helping and caring for others.
Living in McHenry County her entire life, O’Connor was the “tomboy” of her group of friends. She enjoyed helping her dad work on vehicles, riding her ATV and getting dirty.
“My biggest passion was animals. I loved animals. My mother told me even when I was little if I found a deceased frog, I would bury it. Another time I found a box of kittens and brought them home trying to save them,” she recalled.
After high school, O’Connor earned her bachelor’s degree in general studies from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, completing her entire program online, before beginning to work as a legal secretary in 1999. This experience opened her eyes to issues in the legal field and prompted her to pursue her own law degree.
“When I was a paralegal working downtown, clients were treated as a number and not as a person. The attorneys handled so many cases that it was hard to always have answers for the clients,” she said. “I did not want to be that kind of attorney. I care about my clients. I care about their families. I want to be sure my clients get what they deserve. I want to be sure the files get the attention they need.”
O’Connor enrolled in the J.D. program at NIU’s College of Law in 2016.
“I wanted to attend NIU based on its reputation of small class sizes and the experienced professors,” she said. “The fact that the professors and staff care about their students really resonated with me. During the second semester of my first year of law school, I ended up very sick and hospitalized. I was literally in my hospital bed attending classes. This was when I realized how truly caring the staff at NIU is. In addition, my classmates also helped me. It was not competitive like other schools. Our class helped one another when we needed it. If it were not for the professors and my fellow classmates, I would not have made it back for my second year.”
O’Connor noted that, because the professors had true, real-world experience, they made sure students were not only book-ready for their careers but also practice-ready.
“The extra steps the professors took in helping us understand what the real world was like has truly helped me become the lawyer I am today,” O’Connor said. “Without NIU, I would not be where I am today. They taught me how to use the skills I learned as a paralegal and as a law clerk to make me the attorney I am today. I keep in touch with many of my professors.”
Earning her J.D. in 2018, O’Connor joined Prime Law Group, LLC, in August that year, securing her role helping clients with personal injury, worker’s compensation, and animal law matters.
“Since then, I have helped the firm bring in over $2 million to injured parties. I have become licensed in the federal trial bar representing injured plaintiffs. There are less than five licensed federal trial bar attorneys who represent plaintiffs only in our area,” she said.
O’Connor prides herself on the fact that she is a hands-on attorney.
“I have an assistant who orders my medical records and medical bills, but I prefer to handle my own workload. I do this so I always know what is going on with my files,” she said. “I make myself available to my clients anytime day or night and on weekends. I do this so they know I work for them and am always willing and able to help whenever needed. I do not take every case either, which helps me to focus on my clients. My clients are not a dollar sign or a number to me. I treat each one like they are family and cared about.
Because of her personal approach, even after O’Connor’s cases are settled, she still hears from her clients, and many of her clients are repeats, even if not for injury matters.
“My clients refer their family and friends to me, as well,” she said. “I can go to sleep at night knowing I am helping people and, to me, that’s the most fulfilling aspect of being an attorney. It’s not work if you enjoy it.”