Attorney Lisa Nelson, B.A. English ’05, has been on a dynamic path since graduating from Chapman, making partner in a law firm after roughly 10 years. In her work, she examines the intricate details of tax law ranging from foreign tax to small disputes. She credits her Chapman experience with giving her the support in her education as well as the self-confidence to steer her career and forge ahead in a complicated field. An active local legal volunteer, she also teaches tax law at Chapman’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law.
Chapman University: Tell me about your job and career. How are your days spent at work and what has your career trajectory been like?
Lisa Nelson: I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be an attorney. I credit this ambition to my seventh grade history teacher who forced me to step out of my comfort zone and participate in a mock trial of Christopher Columbus. The practice of law can be consuming, so it was important for me to find an area of law that I would be passionate about. I have been blessed to have had many mentors who have guided me to where I am today.
My tax clinic professor, Richard Carpenter, introduced me to the area of tax litigation and tax controversy law, and helped me secure my first job with Ronson Shamoun at RJS Law. Both Shamoun and Carpenter dedicated an extensive amount of time teaching me, and I was able to work with Shamoun to grow his firm from one attorney to a group of seven attorneys. I then moved back to Orange County and joined the Law Offices of A. Lavar Taylor in 2013.
After about two years of working with Lavar Taylor, I became the first partner of his firm that he founded in 1993. My practice is focused on working with clients from all walks of life with a myriad of tax disputes ranging from foreign disclosure compliance to tax court litigation.
Every day is different and dynamic as each client’s facts and circumstances are different. Additionally, our firm prides itself on giving back to the legal community. I volunteer my time, and am currently chairing both the Orange County Bar Association tax section and State Bar Income and Other Tax Committee. I also volunteer my time with the Jarret Meeker Foundation, which sponsors an annual camping trip for local disadvantaged children to teach them about environmental conservation.
CU: What do you like best about your job?
LN: The best part of my job is that I am able to help my clients get a resolution to their tax. It is incredibly rewarding to see the impact of my work when I am able give my clients piece of mind and an opportunity to start fresh. Additionally, I work with the greatest group of people. We truly are a team and a family. It makes coming to work each day not feel like work. We support one another and learn from one another.
CU: How has your Chapman degree helped you?
LN: I am incredibly proud to have my B.A. from Chapman. Going to Chapman molded me into the person that I am today. It is a small and truly personal school with all the benefits of a large school. The quality of the professors and the interesting classes that I was able to take while I was at Chapman enabled me to get the grades and experiences that I needed to help set me up for life and for achieving my goals.
CU: How have you grown since graduating from Chapman?
LN: Since graduating Chapman and after eight years of practicing law, I have learned to be more confident in the contributions that I can bring to a case and to the job. Also, I love learning and have realized that learning never stops, even after eight years of practice. You must continuously keep learning in order to continue improving yourself.
CU: What insight do you have to offer current students and alumni who are searching for employment?
LN: While I was focused on my studies at Chapman and in law school, it is equally important to also nurture relationships not only with friends but with colleagues and professors. I appreciated how Chapman balanced the importance of one’s education while pursuing other opportunities to get involved.
I recommend getting involved in any way that you can. Volunteer your time, join a club/organization and/or work. It is important to continue to grow and challenge yourself. Grades are important, but so is your life experience. Also, do not be scared to go to your professors for advice. I would not be where I am without the mentorship of my professors. Be humble and gracious. Do not be afraid of working your way up in order to get the experience that is needed to accomplish your goals.
CU: Which Chapman faculty member(s) made the greatest impact on you and how?
LN: I was very fortunate to have fabulous professors while attending Chapman University. However, there were two professors that were truly impactful in helping me achieve my goals. Dr. Ron Steiner was my adviser and mentor, and was instrumental in my path to law school. He encouraged me to think outside the box when looking for internship opportunities that would merge my love for the law and for my mother’s country, Nicaragua.
Due to Dr. Steiner’s advice and encouragement, I had an invaluable experience working in Nicaragua at a financial institution that allowed small business owners the ability to borrow capital in order to run their business. This experience was humbling, enabled me to practice my Spanish, and helped open up my additional law school options.
Additionally, I am thankful for Dr. Kevin O’Brien. He was my English professor during one of my most difficult semesters at Chapman University. During the fall semester before graduation, I not only had my classes to worry about, but I also had to take the LSAT. He worked with me to ensure that I was able to successfully complete all my assignments and enabled me to have the time to focus on the LSAT.
CU: What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their time at Chapman?
LN: As stated above, Chapman provides all the benefits of a large school, but with the personal attention of a private school. Regardless of whether you live on campus or not, Chapman has many options for you to get involved. Be committed to the process of going to school at Chapman. Get involved.
CU: How were you involved on campus during your time as a Chapman student?
LN: I was a member of Gamma Phi Beta and was a founding member of Phi Alpha Delta (pre-law fraternity). I also was an orientation leader during my second year at Chapman.
CU: What is your favorite Chapman memory?
LN: All four years at Chapman provided great memories, but some of my favorite memories were during my first year. I had the best roommate and suite mates. I have fond memories of late movie night sessions with my roommates. I also loved the various fundraising events that Gamma Phi Beta put on each year. I specifically loved our annual AirBands event. All the sororities, fraternities, and other organizations would come together and go all-out in their performances for a great cause.
CU: Have you been involved with Chapman since graduating?
LN: I am currently a professor teaching federal tax research class at Chapman’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law. It has been a wonderful experience to return to my alma mater as an educator.
CU: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Chapman Family?
LN: I am always impressed with how Chapman is always working to improve itself and grow. Since graduating, Chapman has continued to flourish and add even more resources for its students. Going back to teach this semester, I was happy to see the new facilities that it has added for its students, along with Chapman’s continued commitment to diversity. Chapman is truly a unique school that I was fortunate to have attended.
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