Graduate Profile: Nick Velo, L’24

First-generation law student takes hands-on experiences with him into his career

Nick Velo, L’24

For some, law school isn’t a straight shot to the courtroom. Students can make the most of their three years in law school exploring all avenues of the law and finding their niche. Sometimes, this leads to surprising results.

“I was always hesitant to say I wanted to go into criminal law,” said Nick Velo, L’24, “The thought of having somebody’s liberty on the line was always frightening to me. It felt like there was too much at stake, and if I mess up, then someone faces an unjust outcome because of my error.”

His outlook on criminal law changed, however, after he took Criminal Procedure with Professor Jean K. Giles Phillips. It was her advice that gave him the courage to really start looking toward a career in criminal law.

“She said that it’s the people who are the most anxious about doing well who do the best in criminal law because it shows that they care,” said Velo. “It’s the ones who aren’t worried about doing well that will perform the worst.”

After graduation, Velo plans on joining the Emporia office of Kansas Legal Services where he’ll focus on criminal law. Unlike others in his graduating class, Velo wants to stay small and work in small towns like his hometown Emporia.

Velo moved to Lawrence for his undergraduate years where he took part in the LEAD program. He received his bachelor’s in political science and hopped right into a law degree, but law wasn’t always the goal.

“It was a possibility I had considered,” said Velo, “but it wasn’t something I was super set on. I figured I’d leave it as an open option and cross that bridge when I got to it.”

Thanks to Professor Phillips, Velo got involved in Project for Innocence his 3L year to get some more hands-on experience in criminal law.

“The message behind the Project was important to me,” said Velo. “We want to give people who are incarcerated the access to courts and the ability to file things. They have a right to be heard.”

Velo and his co-counsel, Ellie Moser, took this to heart when they were assigned a client spending time in Hutchinson Correctional Facility. They spent time listening to his story and doing what they could to investigate ways to help him. Unfortunately, they were unable to help him, but it was still a lesson that Velo knows he’ll take with him into his career.

Looking back, Velo is thankful for the hands-on experience he received during the last three years. Some of his favorite moments include the time he spent with the Project as well as his final trial held by Professor Adam Sokoloff in his Trial Advocacy course.

“We had a hung jury,” said Velo with a laugh. “It was a jury of two people, but it was still important. It was nice to be able to have that experience of how things really work.”

For future and fellow first-generation law students, Velo shares his experience:

“Law school can be really scary and intimidating,” Velo said. “Coming from a middle-class background and being a first-generation college student, the entire process felt very intimidating, but I’ve still managed to find a niche place here at KU.”

No doubt many more students like Velo can find their niche as well, no matter their background

By Emma Herrman