It's Going to Have a Ripple Effect

Hanna Niner's Passion for Helping Others as a Lawyer

Hanna Niner (J.D. ’23) has always had a passion for helping others. She dreamed of becoming an attorney, practicing public interest law and helping those who can’t afford quality legal services. As she pursued her goal, however, she found she needed a boost of her own.

“I almost didn’t go to law school,” Niner said. “I put it off because I was so concerned about the cost. I didn’t have a lot of financial support and that made me pause to think about the realities of taking out substantial loans to pay for law school.

“I was afraid that taking out loans would inhibit my ability to do public interest work, so I put off the question of going to law school and joined the Peace Corps instead. I figured serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer would give me an opportunity to really serve people, so I spent the next 27 months of my life dedicated to making one little corner of this earth better.”

While in the Peace Corps, Niner again felt a calling to go to law school after witnessing the devastating impacts violence had on her community, students and friends. Niner recognized that so many people need better access to legal services, so she decided to attend law school in the hopes of helping people in similar situations like the ones close to her. When she was not teaching at local Paraguayan schools, Niner studied for the LSAT by using secondhand study materials and traveled to the capital for internet to send in her applications.

Niner's room in Peace Corps where she studied for the LSAT

Niner's room in Peace Corps where she studied for the LSAT

“I applied to law schools from Washington state to Washington D.C.,” she said. “After spending two years of my life volunteering in the Peace Corps, my main concern about attending law school was finances.”

Niner was interested in helping people who otherwise would struggle to find legal services.

“I think one thing I do appreciate about the legal field is that you're able to have such a big impact on people’s lives,” Niner said. “I think a lot of times it’s very undervalued in the legal community.”

"It’s important that we as attorneys realize that we can use our legal degree to help others because so many people struggle to access not just legal services in general but high-quality legal services. I firmly believe that someone’s financial situation should not dictate the quality of the legal services they receive."

She understood that this career choice wasn’t a lucrative one. Niner’s goal was to minimize the financial cost of attending law school so that her career path would not be controlled by her need to repay loans.

As she considered her educational options, Niner prioritized a school where she would be able to get a superior legal education. Niner remembered her father, who played baseball for UH as a student, telling her about how great the law school at UH was growing up. The University of Houston stood out not only because it was highly ranked but also because the law school invested in its students, literally, and provided Niner the financial assistance she was searching for.

“So it was always on my radar, yet what really made me end up choosing UH was the opportunity for a substantial scholarship that allowed me to go to law school and not feel hindered by so much law school debt. The financial support allowed me to graduate without letting finances dictate my decisions.”

Niner said that perhaps the most fulfilling experience of her law school years was receiving the Marvin D. Nathan Fellowship.

“Almost right away during my fellowship, everything just clicked in my mind,” she said. “I was able to apply what I had learned during my 1L classes to real issues faced by people. That’s where it struck me — This is why I went to law school.

“I think that we spend a lot of time during law school learning specific law, but I really liked that UH provided me an opportunity through the Marvin D. Nathan Fellowship and the law school clinics to learn more about how social factors impact people's experiences with the legal system. I think that’s something that’s often missing. There are not a lot of opportunities to learn about such things once you’re in the legal field unless you’re working in public interest. This experience was invaluable.”

Niner credits receiving the Alvin & Susie Zimmerman Endowed Scholarship as the factor that made her dream a reality.

Niner with her family

Niner with her family

“I think of the people who have given to scholarship funds, and I cannot describe how much of an impact it’s made in my life,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to know that donors were supporting my passions and my drive to become a lawyer. It’s because of the generosity of others that I’m able to pursue public interest opportunities. I like feeling that I make an impact — like an ocean and it’s gonna have a ripple effect. I like helping people and helping move the needle.”