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Most law students’ first full-time position upon graduation is not part of in-house counsel. Of course 2011 Cleveland-Marshall College of Law graduate Sunny Nixon has a breadth of experiences not typical of your average beginning lawyer.
Less than three months after passing the bar examination, Nixon was hired by Explorys, Inc. as assistant general counsel. Explorys was founded in 2009 as an innovative spinoff from Cleveland Clinic and its focus is to leverage BIG DATA in healthcare for the improvement of medicine and delivery of care. The company’s nearly 100 employees are based out of the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus.
Nixon, who also graduated from Cleveland State University as an undergraduate, has now been in her current position at Explorys for over a year. She could not be happier with how her career as a rising lawyer has gone thus far.
“I’m really lucky to love what I do,” explained Nixon. “One of the most satisfying things about my job is getting to shape policy within the company. I get to practice on so many different areas of the law while still getting to be myself. ”
Working for a company that has been in existence for less than four years has its challenges but Nixon thrives on the energy surrounding an upstart business.
“I enjoy the culture of working in a startup - it’s incredibly fast paced and we’re on the cutting edge of a lot of things right here in Cleveland,” explained Nixon. “Our leadership team finds it important to create a fun environment where people enjoying being at work. It’s not uncommon to see a scooter racing down the hallway or for the staff to be sitting on balance balls in a meeting at our office. For me it’s fun to be in a non-traditional work place like this.”
Explorys’ unique company culture was one of the reasons it was willing to hire Nixon immediately after law school. Her wide array of experiences in both the field of law and within the local community was another. Civic-minded, Nixon has been actively involved in the community, dating back to her time in high school.
“Civic activity is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time,” explained Nixon. “It’s one of the most gratifying ways that you can truly understand your community.”
While at C|M|LAW, Nixon was heavily involved around campus as part of the Women's Law Students Association, Student Bar Association and the Graduation Challenge Committee among other organizations. Despite going to school full-time, Nixon was also able to maintain her relationships in the NorthEast Ohio community with The Centers for Family and Children and the Cleveland International Film Festival.
A NorthEast Ohio native, Nixon is passionate about giving back to the community and does not pursue such opportunities for her benefit. However, being so active in the community was a major helping factor in her hiring at Explorys. For starters, Nixon’s variety of activities gave her a resume which stood out to employers. These groups also make for wonderful networking opportunities and without them, Nixon would not be where she is today.
“It was really important that I was able to differentiate myself because it is such a competitive job market,” said Nixon. “Volunteering is also a tremendous way to get to know people within the business community. As it happened, I actually was able to obtain my current job because of the affiliation I have with a non-profit. I never would have even learned about it had I not been involved with that group.”
Nixon is also seeing the benefit of being so involved in her day-to-day work in the versatility she offers to the company. She credits her non-profit work with helping to cultivate her leadership, organizational and planning skills, which she now relies on daily. Nixon also points to her involvement with two clinics run by Cleveland-Marshall as a key to helping her thrive from day one on the job.
“Being able to get several months of practicing experience before even sitting for the bar exam was really critical to my confidence level,” recalled Nixon. “I’m so pleased with the education and opportunities I got at Cleveland-Marshall and I’m so proud to be a part of the school.”
After graduating from law school and being hired as in-house counsel, Nixon found that she had a void to fill after getting so used to being involved within the school. She quickly sought out even more opportunities to get involved in the NorthEast Ohio area.
“I think it’s our obligation as attorneys to give back,” expressed Nixon. “Not everybody is so fortunate to have the opportunity to get a higher education and it’s important to pass down the knowledge we receive in the name of good. Cleveland has a history of being a very philanthropic town and I feel comfortable knowing that I play a part in that landscape.”
Recently, Nixon has applied to join the Cleveland Bridge Builders, a group which connects and engages experiential leaders seeking collaborative civic education, interested in building relationships among a diverse group of passionate civic leaders and learning to make positive change in the community. She is also exploring an opportunity to become a board member with HandsOn NorthEast Ohio, an organization with the mission to engage Northeast Ohio individuals and organizations in volunteer opportunities that meet community needs. She has also started an informal networking organization for female attorneys like herself who are in the first three years of practicing law.
“I sent the initial invitations out for our first dinner to approximately 15 people and within a day I received 12 responses that people wanted to be include the group and asking if they could invite other people,” explained Nixon. There’s definitely a thirst for knowledge and networking enhancement in the community and being able to contribute to that has been a lot of fun.”