DU Law Student Wants to Continue Giving Back to His Community
From Legislation to Legal Practice, Nigel Daniels Strives to Help Underdogs
It wasn’t just a burgeoning career in politics or a passion for public policy that pushed Nigel Daniels into law school.
Growing up, his family was poor. His mother worked to support two sons, and his brother had developmental disabilities. The family relied on the state for support in custody battles and for his brother’s health care.
Once, as they waited at a Denver bus stop, his mother told him they were meeting a lawyer.
“I’m thinking, it’s going to be a suit and tie and all those stereotypes you expect of lawyers,” Daniels recalls. “We’re sitting at the bus stop. The RTD pulls up, and there’s that ‘beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.’ It’s this woman in a wheelchair.
“She rolled off the bus and said, ‘I’m your lawyer.’ Watching her fight for my brother, she fought harder than anybody. That’s where I think I learned you can really do something with this profession.”
That put him on track to eventually attend the University of Denver, where he will graduate from the Sturm College of Law this weekend. As if that’s not enough, he’s also the student commencement speaker for the law school.
His path to the legal world was not entirely divorced from public policy and politics. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science and government as a Daniels Scholar at Colorado State University, serving as president of the student government and pre-law club.
After that, he was a special assistant for the U.S. Senate for a year, then joined U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s successful reelection campaign in the spring of 2016.
While coordinating student outreach, Daniels planned a campaign event for Bennet to connect with students on the Auraria Campus. Traditionally, such events are held in a lecture hall or university center, but Daniels insisted the event be outdoors in a high-traffic area. He initially received pushback from officials over security concerns and expected turnout, but Daniels persisted.
“Let’s do what the students do,” he told them. “Let’s get out on the plaza, get the senator out there.”
They finally conceded, Daniels says.
“We were deciding whether to host it in Boulder, at DU or Metro, and we went for Metro because there was more traffic between buildings, stuff like that.
“I was like, ‘We need to get somebody who’s popping in Denver.’ The mayor (Michael Hancock), he’s kind of hip, he went to (CU-Denver). It made sense.”
It was a right-place, right-time situation. The event was a success, and Hancock noticed. Shortly thereafter, Daniels was interviewing to be Hancock’s aide.
“I was interviewing, and he made me an offer right on the spot,” Daniels says. “I said, ‘Uh, I’ll think about it.’ That’s what you’re supposed to do. To this day, he still won’t let me live that down. He joked that he wanted to tell me I didn’t have the job anymore.”
Their relationship has lasted, and Daniels now is a senior advisor to the mayor.
In between, he pursued law school in earnest, applying only to the University of Denver.
Daniels grew up in Denver, attending schools in and around the city. His undergrad studies took him only 65 miles north on Interstate 25, and his work with Bennet and Hancock brought him back from a short stint in Washington, D.C.
The city of Denver is at the center of his passions, he says, and the University is tied directly to the municipality.
Daniels said one of his proudest achievements at DU was the work he did with the Black Law Student Association and other student affinity groups to further diversity, equity and inclusivity.
“This is our 1L summer, and we were just so perplexed with what was going on,” Daniels says. “We have Black Lives Matter protests, (the murder of) George Floyd, COVID, and we’re locked in our homes. My classmate wrote this three-page letter about everything wrong with the system and just sent it. We had all looked over it as a group to make sure it was in line with what we thought, but the response we got from the campus was amazing.
“He got e-mails from students, faculty and deans who were telling him thank you and how everyone needed to talk about this more.
“From that letter, we were able to come together — all of us, not just the Black law students — and force a dean to meet with us monthly. We were able to set benchmarks for diversity and equity, for scholarships and recruitment. It was truly an opportunity for us to practice some of these advocacy skills.”
In 2021, Daniels sunk his teeth into the professional legal world as a summer associate for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a Denver firm with 13 offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C.
He’ll join the firm fully after graduation. For now, he plans to stay in Denver, though he’s considered returning to the nation’s capital. He says he’ll specialize in government affairs, looking specifically at land use and real estate, two facets with an outsized effect on low-income Coloradans.
Now that he’s ending law school, Daniels says, he’ll need time to properly reflect and honor those who supported him along the way.
“This isn’t just about me. It’s about all these people who supported me,” he says. “It’s overwhelming to think about what that looks like.”
To learn more about this year's Commencement ceremonies, please click here.