Profiles in Practice: Nadine Graves

Nadine-Graves-400Nadine Graves is living out her passion to advocate for individual and systematic changes in policies that contribute to the criminal justice gap.

Graves’ road to her current position an Assistant Hennepin County Public Defender wound through personal and work experiences that impressed upon her the need to use her skills to make a difference for other people. As a first-generation American, she draws inspiration from her parents. “My parents are from Liberia and just knowing what they went through in order to come to the United States to give my siblings and me a better opportunity, motivates me to continue to strive to do all that I can to make them proud,” Graves stated.

Following college, she worked in a series of positions that brought her into contact with people struggling to find a way to overcome barriers created by having a criminal record. Graves worked with at-risk youth, advocated for families seeking to reunite after traumatic experiences, assisted low-income adults in trying to find work, and advocated for “Ban the Box” legislation and reform of expungement laws. Graves states, “Prior to law school I worked in programs helping individuals recently released from prison try to get employment opportunities and attain self-sufficiency. Many complained about their lack of knowledge as to how their criminal records were going to impact their ability to get jobs and housing.” After seven years of hard work, she realized that she needed a law degree if she was going to make the kind of impact she was looking for.

Graves’ years at Mitchell Hamline reflect her focus on the criminal justice system: clerking at the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, externing at the Council on Crime and Justice, and handling cases through the Mitchell Hamline Child Protection Clinic. Before she graduated, she joined the board of We Are All Criminals, a non-profit that seeks to inspire empathy and ignite social change through personal stories of crime, privilege, justice, and injustice. Graves is an advocate for second chances, especially
since she has received some herself after making some mistakes in her youth that landed her in the same system she now fights to change from within. In fact, she states that if she were not a lawyer, she would have started an organization that equipped formerly incarcerated people with tools and resources needed for entrepreneurship since it is still an uphill battle to secure employment when you have a criminal record. 

As a public defender, Graves represents adults charged with misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors including assaults and DWI cases. Passionate about criminal justice reform, Graves is mindful of advising her clients not only on the present case at hand but on the future ramifications. Graves states, “For me one of biggest things I pay attention to with clients is collateral consequences. In my role I am able to help make sure that however the outcome is for my client, they are avoiding the most collateral consequences.” For example, Graves is mindful of the fact that both present and potential future employment for her clients can be impacted by the results of their criminal cases. Therefore, Graves discusses with her clients how their present case will not just affect their current situation but likely their future as well. Graves makes sure her clients understand the importance of either negotiating or litigating in order to ensure the best results.  

Graves notes that her favorite part of the job is getting favorable outcomes for her clients, especially when she gets acquittals. Graves loves being a fighter for her clients. She states, “It can be stressful at times and tiring but I love getting the affirmation from my clients when they know that I have been fighting hard for them.” She enjoys trial work and, as a person who is highly social, she enjoys voir dire and the storytelling aspects of trials. Graves credits improv classes she attended when she was young with helping her be able to move quickly and adjust during trial. There are cases in which negotiating a settlement permits Graves’ client to avoid the most collateral consequences. However, for other cases it is necessary for the case to be tried to hold the State to their burden as well give her clients the opportunity to have their stories told. Graves is willing to stand up for her clients and take cases to trial to help the client be in the best position to avoid consequences in the present and the future. 

Outside of practicing law, Graves enjoys spending quality time with friends and family. She is also a soccer mom to her two boys who keep her busy and energized. Graves notes that she likes travel which helps her to relax and forget about the stress of work for a while. Graves enjoys music. “If you walk by my office on a Friday you are likely to hear me listening to some type of music,” Graves said. She is a fan of R&B and hip-hop. 

She also loves her job and the people she works with. Graves states, “Hennepin County has the best public defenders and I am blessed to work there.” She notes that the office is full of intelligent and passionate people who push each other to keep fighting the good fight when the days get tough. There are a lot of those days, but there is no other workplace where Graves would rather be. 

By Nick Ryan

Mr. Ryan is an associate attorney at the Law Office of Eric T. Cooperstein where he represents and consults with lawyers facing legal ethics issues. Previously, he was a law clerk at the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. He is also the communications director of the HCBA New Lawyers Section.