Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 27, 2022

Evans’ path to law, Chattanooga seems inescapable

Family plays hand in career path, choice of locale

Nicole Evans is a family law attorney practicing with Mincy Law in Chattanooga. She cut her teeth as a Texas prosecutor and is now using her trial experience to advocate for clients locally. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Growing up, Nicole Evans ate meals at an incubator for future attorneys.

It was actually her family’s dining room table, where she sat with her father, a police officer; her mother, a professor of criminology; and her now-late grandmother, a criminal defense and family law attorney and one of the first female lawyers in Oklahoma, Evans says.

“You can imagine the conversations during dinner,” Evans, 35, laughs.

The years of legal chatter steered Evans toward the law, which she paired with economics when she began her undergraduate studies at the University of Oklahoma. Uncertain about law school and less than enamored with economics, she switched to communications.

“I didn’t want the kind of job an economics major could get,” she explains. “I didn’t want to sit at a desk looking at numbers.”

Evans’ change of direction turned into a mere detour. She graduated in 2010, when law school applications were rising and the number of law school graduates with jobs were declining, so she decided to work in marketing after moving to Colorado Springs.

The recession was impacting that industry, as well, so Evans interned with a public relations firm called The Jive Collective to acquire experience. While there, she handled the marketing for an innovative retail project that turned an abandoned historic high school into a loose co-op of individual businesses.

Armed with newfound knowledge, Evans secured a public relations gig with The Arc, a nonprofit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Observing the organization’s judicial advocacy placed her at the crossroad that led to law school.

“The advocate would go with individuals who were in trouble to meet with the public defender or prosecutor and explain how IDD is different from other mental disabilities,” Evans says. “The punishment we put in place to deter someone from committing a crime isn’t always the right punishment for someone with IDD because they can’t make the connection between their actions and the repercussions.”

When Evans saw how many of the attorneys who were dealing with cases involving a person with IDD were unaware of the complications involved, she felt drawn to law school.

Married by that time, Evans moved with her husband, Thomas, to Austin, which served as a base for her daily commute to St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.

After graduating, Evans worked as a prosecutor with the Hays County District Attorney’s Office in the hopes of acquiring trial experience.

“My grandmother told me working at the DA’s office would get me in a courtroom,” she says. “Practicing criminal law made sense for me, because of the dinner table conversations I heard [while] growing up.”

Despite the reputation Texas has for being exacting and rigorous in its application of its law (Evans jokes that the state has its own case law its jurists say supersedes that of the Supreme Court of the United States), Evans’ DA gave her considerable leeway when deciding how to approach a case.

“There can be a lot of autonomy with cases in Texas, so as a prosecutor, I was able to work out deals that better suited people with IDD,” she adds. “As long as justice was served, I was given a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do.”

Evans used this latitude effectively in several cases, including one in which she arranged for a man who assaulted his group home facilitator to be treated for IDD in exchange for the charge being dropped.

“I liked being able to implement part of why I went to law school,” Evans notes.

During Evans’ four-year stint as a Texas prosecutor, she tried misdemeanors, felonies and even a murder. While she liked the work, she acquired the trial experience she wanted and eventually began to consider changing her focus.

Moving to Chattanooga provided the opportunity.

Evans met and married her husband – a native of Chattanooga and an air traffic controller – while living in Colorado Springs. Born and reared in Hixson, he wanted to someday return to Chattanooga to be near his family.

Knowing transfers for air traffic controllers can take a year or more, Evans took the Tennessee bar exam in 2020 to prepare for the move.

The Great Texas Freeze of February 2021 solidified her resolve to relocate to Chattanooga.

“I said, ‘That’s it! I’m not raising my children where we don’t have electricity in the middle of winter!’”

After arriving to Chattanooga in March of this year, Evans met family law attorney Chrissy Mincy on Facebook and then connected with her in person for what she thought would be an informal chat about the differences between Texas and Tennessee’s legal systems.

It turned out to be a job interview.

Mincy practices the complete spectrum of family law with Glenna Ramer, who works with Mincy Law in an “of counsel” capacity. As Evans re-envisioned the future of her practice, she liked the thought of shifting to family law.

“It’s still a position of servitude,” she points out. “I’m helping people who are going through one of the worst things they’ll ever experience.”

Although Evans is thrilled to be far removed from the specter of another Texas freeze, she says she and her husband now find themselves in a different kind of crisis.

Evans and Thomas are the proud parents of two daughters, one 3 and the other 6 months old. Last fall, as Evans began to prepare for the move to Chattanooga, she placed them on the waiting lists at several day care facilities.

However, the girls had barely risen in the ranks by the time the family arrived in the Scenic City.

“There were no openings,” Evans reports. “And there will be none for the foreseeable future.

This concerned Evans on two levels. First, she worried about her oldest daughter losing the momentum she’d gained at the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) facility she’d attended in Austin.

“She knows a lot of things for her age,” Evans notes. “She recognizes shapes and letters and can count to 10. They also instilled a desire to learn, so she constantly asks questions. ‘What day is today? What day is tomorrow? Am I going to school?’ She always wants to learn more.”

Evans also fretted over being able to work. Fortunately, she and her husband were able to secure the services of a nanny.

They consider themselves to be fortunate, Evans adds, as the Chattanooga area is also experiencing a shortage of child care professionals. (Evans’ says the shortage is widely discussed in a local parenting group on Facebook.)

Although evenings at the Evans’ household are an exercise in controlled chaos, Evans looks forward to returning home and spending time with her husband and daughters.

Since she’s the only lawyer at the dinner table, the conversation tends to be more about her and Thomas answering their 3-year-old’s constant queries and less about the law.

This suits Evans fine, as she says she loves interacting with her children and answering what are usually easier questions than her clients pose during the day.

Evans knows from firsthand experience how the conversation at mealtime can shape a young mind. Considering this, she gives her full attention to those moments, not knowing where they will lead her children but believing it will be a place of servitude and personal fulfillment – much like the place where she now finds herself.