Are You Running With Me, Justices?
Meet three attorneys on the fast track
Published in 2009 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on June 12, 2009
Updated on June 16, 2009
Staying Healthy for Health Law
Dayna Nicholson walks (runs) the talk
“Most people wouldn’t tell you this, but I had a very enjoyable summer studying for the bar,” she says. “I was living with someone who was taking care of me and feeding me and letting me just sleep and study and work out.”
The house had a pool and the owner taught adults how to swim for a living. “It was something we did during study breaks,” Nicholson says.
She wanted to learn before she took the bar exam because to celebrate, she and her husband, Jeff, wanted to go scuba diving and hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Before going into law, she worked in health care administration. She enjoyed it, but she discovered that the legal work was her favorite part of the job. So, in 2003, she completed both a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a law degree from Georgetown. Now, six years later, Nicholson is a health practice lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski. “Health care was my first love, and law school came after that,” she says.
She still finds time in her busy schedule to stay in shape. She says it keeps her balanced. “If you sit at your desk all day, you just sort of physically deteriorate. And then mentally, it’s great to have that release—to go on a run and think things through, or think about other things and just let work go.”
Her father encouraged her to be active and Nicholson started playing tennis when she was only 8. “I did sports in high school, but I blew out my knee playing soccer and then didn’t do much in college.”
After college, however, she decided she wanted to start running marathons. It helped that her husband is also an athlete. “If he weren’t, I’d probably be much less motivated,” she says. He’d already been running marathons when she started. “He ran the first one with me, which was painfully slow for him.”
Today Nicholson does a lot more half-marathons and triathlons. “The truth is, marathons are hard on your body. Triathlons don’t pound your body in one particular way, and you get to mix things up.”
Her training schedule and the number of races she signs up for depend a lot on how busy she is at work. But, she says, “I think it’s good to have other goals outside your professional goals.”
From the Walkway to the Courtroom
Gina Browne isn’t afraid of an uphill battle
Gina Browne has been an athlete since she was 5. “I had an older brother,” she says, “and anything he did, I said, ‘I can do that.'”
And she could.
As a child, she was a competitive swimmer, skier and gymnast. Then her gym teachers called her into the office after the class did the 600-meter run. “They said, ‘We need to talk to you. You’re going to be running for the school.'” Sports-wise, she says, running is always what she’s been best at.
In sixth grade she dropped gymnastics because her school was offering an after-school law class, and she couldn’t do both. It was during that course that Browne decided she wanted to be a lawyer.
But, as she grew older, she got sidetracked for a few years. “I started doing some modeling and acting and it was a lot of fun,” she says. When she finished college, with her degree in communications, she was making her living as a sports model and working in television production. But she wanted financial stability, so she decided to fulfill her sixth-grade dream and apply to law school.
As she studied, she made a point of staying active. She would, for example, read her assignments while working out on a stationary bike. “You learn to multitask,” she says. “I raised my daughter for eight years as a single mother, and doing sports modeling I had to stay in great shape. I would literally take her to [her] school on Rollerblades with a stroller.”
Because of her modeling and acting background, Browne figured she’d end up an entertainment lawyer, “but I ended up really liking employment law.” She works at the Feldman Law Firm, specializing in disability discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination cases.
“A lot of my clients are low-wage earners who think their cases are uphill battles that can never be won,” she says. “And it’s true we definitely have to fight hard. I think a lot of my skills and qualities from athletics come into play.”
Browne still runs; she estimates that she’s done 10 to 12 triathlons over the years. A few months ago she started training her 16-year-old daughter, a track runner, but she was forced on hiatus when she tripped while rushing to court in heels and broke her foot. “I’m a complete klutz outside of athletics,” she says. “I can ski double black diamonds no problem, but I can’t walk down the street.”
Browne laughs as she talks about the bright-red scooter her doctor gave her to get around on while she heals. “It looks like a tricycle; it’s quite a sight.”
But she says resilience is another thing you learn from sports. “You deal with injuries and you keep going.”
And a lot of the qualities you need to succeed in athletics are the same ones you need in law. “Just being in litigation, you need a certain drive and endurance. And you’re definitely going to have to be prepared for a big fight.”
Diving into Health Law
Damian Capozzola is running the legal fast track
“I’m not as fast as I used to be,” says Damian Capozzola. He couldn’t be the 1,500-meter Big West Conference Champion today like he was as a college student in 1993. But he’s still active; even as a full-time lawyer with a 2-year-old son, Capozzola makes working out a priority.
“It actually helps,” he says. “Sometimes, if it’s the end of a long work day and I’m feeling frazzled, I find if I just take an hour off and I go work out, when I come back things don’t seem as confusing as they were before. I’m able to make more progress and work more efficiently.”
Capozzola is a partner with Epstein Becker & Green, where he works in both the litigation and the health care and life sciences practices. Since 2006, he has been the co-author of the treatise Expert Witnesses in Civil Trials: Effective Preparation and Presentation, which is updated annually. Capozzola’s most recent successes include co-chairing and giving the closing argument in a successful trial for his health insurer client, and an employment case that settled on very favorable terms for his client.
“In college, I started out as a biology major,” he says, “but then I took a couple of science classes, and that changed pretty fast.” The move to law was not earthshaking for him. He’d been around law all of his life; his father was a criminal defense attorney, and during college he worked at his father’s law firm.
He went to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), for his bachelor’s degree (double majoring in law and society, and philosophy), and technically, he still holds the record there in the mile run. But he says that’s because at most competitions people don’t run the mile now—they run 1,500 meters, which is just 109 meters short of a mile. “I feel a little lame saying I’m still the record holder because if those guys had run the full mile, they would have beaten me.”
But he’s proud of his days at UCSB. “I like to look back and think I was one of the pioneers of the UCSB distance program, which has been very successful.”
His wife, Renee, is also a runner. They knew each other in high school, where they were both on the track team. But, as Capozzola puts it, “I think she found me a lot more interesting when we met ten years afterwards.”
He works out almost every day, he says, but because of his young son, Donovan, it’s hard for him and his wife to work out together. “Usually what we do is I’ll take the kid running in the little stroller thing and she’ll go to the gym,” he says. “I’m actually pretty surprised; you can get in a really nice workout with a good jog stroller.”
He and his wife also go diving together. They started diving about five years ago and they’ve been on diving expeditions to Thailand, Hawaii and all over Indonesia and elsewhere. “We’ve been lucky because our parents have helped out tremendously, so we’re able to get some time to travel here and there,” he says. “Quite honestly, our son has such a good time with them, he doesn’t seem to notice we’re gone.”