On the board and in the court: Nicole Hull represents

Running a self-owned law practice isn’t easy, and for special needs attorney Nicole Hull, no two days are the same. Between taking her kids to school, teaching as an adjunct professor at her alma mater Mercer Law School, and ensuring that children with special needs are treated fairly, Hull actively devotes her time to giving others equal opportunities while also serving on the Clarke County School District Board of Education member. 

Working as a special needs attorney entails representing children who may have been mistreated in the school system. With her time being pulled in different directions as a lawyer and school board member, managing time is an essential task for Hull. Born and raised in Milledgeville, Hull knew that she wanted to go into the law field from a young age.

“I knew early on that I was going to end up going to law school or medical school because I come from a line of women that are successful and where failure isn’t an option. That was the standard so it was understood,” Hull said. 

Hull’s career goals first solidified in Macon, where she attended Mercer University from 2002-06 and then participated in Mercer’s law school program from 2006-09. She eventually moved to Athens to join the University of Georgia’s fellowship program for law students.

“Mercer University has always been an amazing spot. I had classmates and a law school that were very active in making sure that I felt represented. The dean was very supportive when I ran for the regional board for the Black Law Students Association. She funded everything that we needed without question,” Hull said. “I don’t know if I saw a lot of Black female professors, but I definitely saw a lot of effort being put into making sure it was a diverse and inclusive space for me.”

FAMILY MOMENT: (Left to right) Special needs attorney Nicole Hull poses with her three sons, Tristan, Trendon, and Jocko. Making time to spend with her family is important to Hull because it allows a work-life balance. “We’re always goofing around and joking with each other and that’s important to me. Being very protective of my time and my boundaries makes me a better mom,” Hull said. Photo provided by Nicole Hull.

Hull has always known she wanted to be a voice for students in her community. Seeing people who look like her experiencing limited opportunities, she was motivated by her environment to give a voice to the silenced. Watching Black female lawyers on television gave her inspiration while witnessing a harsh reality.

“Growing up, I loved Judge Glenda Hatchett. I would watch her show and watch how she took an approach to handling students. I got to see what it was like to have cousins, brothers or siblings not get the same opportunities I did and what it looked like for them to go into the juvenile system,” Hull said. 

Hull’s goal is to serve students and give them equal access to their rights. As a special needs attorney, Hull handles cases involving children with disabilities and where school systems may have been negligent or unsuccessful in meeting the child’s needs. As a school board member and having children in the county, Hull does not take cases representing families in CCSD due to the conflict of interest. Between the many hats she wears as a lawyer and mom, her main ambition is giving families equal treatment.

“A case I take would be a student who either needs some assistance with special education services, or they have them identified and the school is just not providing them. It could be that they need help because they can’t hold the pencil right and so it’s going to affect how they’re writing. My practice works at speaking to those children to make sure they have a voice because I remember what it was like not having one,” Hull said. 

Hull’s uncle Sam had special needs, and he was an integral part of her life. Seeing Sam treated equally motivated her to give that same experience to others.

“I grew up with my uncle, who was more like my brother. He had the cognitive ability of maybe an eight-year-old, and passed when he was 43. Because my grandparents were big advocates for him, he was just Sam. He had a regular life to me. Sam went to the prom, Sam had girlfriends, Sam had Gucci swag. He wasn’t Sam with special needs, so I think that’s where I get my passion from,” Hull said. 

While Hull found her college and law school experience inclusive, transitioning to the courtroom wasn’t as easy. Going into her profession as a woman and a minority means her abilities are sometimes doubted or questioned. 

“Being in the law field as a Black woman was something completely different because I’m all of the things that are supposed to be lesser than. I’m a woman, so I’m the ‘lesser sex.’ I’m Black so I’m the ‘lesser of the races.’ I’m young, so I have no experience. I have this attitude and this voice that it is silenced; it is marginalized and nobody wants to hear it. It has been difficult because this industry is dominated by a lot of older white males,” Hull said.

According to the American Bar Association’s 2020 profile of the legal profession, Black female attorneys account for around 5% of the current law professions, and are often under-recognized for their achievements. Hull aims to impact her community in the courtroom and correct those who underestimate her abilities. 

“I’ve learned to use it to my advantage because I am underestimated until I walk into a courtroom. I think being a Black woman is lit, and it’s beautiful to see us because there’s been so much resistance and marginalization for so long that we’ve become tough. Now we have the firms because you didn’t want to hire us,” Hull said.

In 2009, Hull received a job offer to work at the Carl Vinson Institute right before the economy took a turn for the worse during the Great Recession from 2007-09. In the course of her job offer rescinding, she found purpose while working in juvenile delinquency mediation for children coming through the court system.

“The economic bubble popped so the economy took a horrible turn and my job offer got rescinded, and I’m about to graduate and have a baby and I don’t have a job anymore,” Hull said. “That started me down a path of really getting involved with juvenile delinquency mediation. When kids who get in trouble for school fights or something small get sent to court, they’ll have a chance to sit down with a mediator like myself and try to work out a different plan to divert them from going into court.”

During this work, she fell in love with Athens and decided to stay. Her leadership in the community extends beyond her law practice, as Hull also serves as an active CCSD BOE member. As a mother to CCSD students, she has an insightful view on issues surrounding the school system. Finding ways to advocate for her own children allows her to connect with other families through personal experience.

“They are very comfortable with sharing their concerns and I try to create a safe space for them to be honest with me. I listen to them tell me what their needs are and what they need help with because I believe that they’re the experts on themselves. I let them have control of the conversation and I support them in the way they tell me that they need to be supported,” Hull said.

Becoming a BOE member right before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hull is now running for reelection, remaining an advocate for children in the county.

“I get to represent students,” Hull said. “Even though voters vote me in, I represent all of the students here. My role is to make sure that the superintendent and the school system are spending money in a way that benefits you — to make sure that you get the most out of your education while also making sure that there are policies in place to protect the students and to make sure you aren’t being discriminated against.” 

Hull thinks being successful in a career depends on motivation. Seeing real world examples motivated her to make positive changes in her community.

“Make sure your passion is right, because the cases are emotional and they touch you. They really, really touch you. When your passion is right and your motivations are intrinsic and not motivated by money or clout, it becomes easier to follow your heart. I think that has been what has made me successful, not wanting the fame. I’m just doing the work I’m called to do. That’s the mission,” Hull said.

Ericka Wilson

Junior Ericka Wilson is a new staff writer for Cedar BluePrints. After high school she would like to study speech pathology. For now, she is involved in the Cedar book club, BEE club, DECA and enjoys writing, hanging out with friends, and trying new things. Wilson’s favorite thing about journalism is the ability to report on topics that interest her.

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