Alumnus Spotlight: Nathan W. Nelson

Nathan W. Nelson
Nathan W. Nelson

Paralegal graduate co-founds law firm

Nathan Nelson, 41, was a second grader when he decided to become an attorney. Thirty-some years later, Nathan is co-founder and managing partner at Virtus Law, a prosperous firm based in the Twin Cities metro region. Virtus Law attorneys have expertise and experience in a range of practice areas, including estate planning, business and corporate law, asset protection, income tax planning, real estate, probate, business succession and more.

“My mom was a legal secretary and I grew up around lawyers,” Nathan said. “I remember meeting lawyers who came to my elementary school and admiring how kind and smart they were. Advocating for someone else is such an honorable thing to do.”

Nathan grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota, and attended Woodbury High School, graduating in 1995. He went on to earned his Associate of Science (A.S.) degree from the Paralegal program at Inver Hills Community College in 2000. He worked full-time as a production control manager at a manufacturing company and part-time at night and on weekends at a gas station while going to school. He had zero free time.

“The Paralegal program at Inver was a whirlwind experience,” Nathan recalled. “The program was a ton of fun and I loved the classes. I was a challenging student, though, and I asked a lot of questions.”

As it turned out, the program emphasized a team-based approach to projects—and that was one key aspect of the curriculum Nathan resented.

“Everything required teamwork,” he said, “and I hated it. What I’ve learned in my law practice is that working as part of a team is absolutely essential. We operate in a high-stress environment at our firm and everyone feels like we have become a family. We like each other and enjoy what we do. We have disagreements, but they are intellectual. You won’t be successful in the field of law without focusing on teamwork.”

More about the Paralegal program at Inver Hills…

Approved by the American Bar Association since 1978, the Paralegal program provides a highly challenging curriculum designed for new, career-changing and diverse students. The program is well respected in the legal community and delivers in-depth training in law and legal procedures with a practical internship experience in a legal environment. This program is for you if you wish to:

  • Become a paralegal
  • Continue your legal studies
  • Pursue a career related to litigation, contracts, business organizations, real estate and/or probate
  • Enroll in law school

The Paralegal program offers an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree and a Post-Graduate Paralegal certificate. The program’s mission is focused on:

  • Developing graduates who are prepared to assume the general and ethical responsibilities of paralegals or legal support professionals
  • Offering quality, practical coursework (traditionally or partly online) that includes a paralegal internship
To learn more, read About the Program.

Please note: Paralegals and graduates do not practice law or give legal advice unless permitted by law.

Law school and beyond…

After Inver Hills, Nathan enrolled at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law (then Hamline University School of Law). He continued to work full-time at the manufacturing company.

“Many people who go to law school identify as overachievers,” Nathan said. “Law professors know that and they push you. The workload and amount of reading are tremendous. Information comes at you through a fire hose. Law school is a challenging experience. Law school makes you read. One super-important skill you have to master is time management—and you continue to use that skill in your day-to-day practice as a lawyer.”

Nathan graduated from Mitchell Hamline in 2005. Ten years later, he joined the Inver Hills Paralegal Program Advisory Committee. In 2016, he graduated summa cum laude from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law with a Master of Laws (LLM) in Taxation. Summa cum laude is the highest academic distinction and is customarily reserved for 5 percent of a graduating class. Nathan finished the LLM program with a 4.0 GPA and was automatically admitted into the school’s Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) program.

virtus-law-logoVirtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. The term carries connotations of valor, excellence, courage, character and worth. Virtus was thus a frequently stated virtue of Roman emperors, and was personified as a diety—Virtus.


Nathan’s main focus at Virtus is business law, including contracts and mergers, as well as estate planning. He often serves as QB on professional teams overseeing all aspects of a client’s business and legal needs.

“I was also doing a lot of tax work at the firm and I wanted the credential,” Nathan said. “While earning my degree at Thomas Jefferson, I completed assignments every Wednesday and Sunday night for a year. You have to keep an open mind as an attorney. What you think you want to do in the beginning might not be what you end up doing. I started out thinking I wanted to be a divorce lawyer. Doing tax analysis was not something I would ever have foreseen. But it’s been a fun ride.”

Sally Dahlquist: Director perspective

Sally Dahlquist
Sally Dahlquist

Nathan Nelson was a hard-working, driven student who arrived at Inver Hills with previous business and computer technology experience. As a full-time employee changing his career, Nathan worked well independently and challenged his fellow student team members to produce high-quality assignments on time.

Nathan learned quickly how to take what he studied and successfully apply it. He tackled the process of conducting legal analysis using the “Issue-Rule-Analysis-Conclusion” method in Professor Kathleen Knutson’s course. He dove into the legal research and writing classes to find that he had the ability to convert his writing style to the legal world with assistance of Professor Mary McLaughlin’s in-depth feedback and direction.

From long hair and jeans to short hair and business suit, Nathan transitioned to a law clerk intern with Judge Gordon (Gordie) Shumaker of the Minnesota Court of Appeals as part of the Paralegal program coursework. His internship experience catapulted him to pursue the dream of becoming a lawyer.

Nathan was accepted to the 3–3 program at Hamline University using the Inver Hills Paralegal program transfer agreement. Nathan said that he was exceedingly prepared for his first year of law school because of his training and education in the Paralegal program. In one year, Nathan earned a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies and entered Hamline University School of Law. Following law school, Nathan joined the law firm of BenePartum Law Group, P.A., in Mendota Heights. Two years later, Nathan co-founded Virtus Law, PLLC, acting as chief manager and attorney. Virtus Law started as a boutique niche firm practicing in real estate and business law. In his tenure, Nathan argued and notably won an equal protection in land use regulation case before the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In 2008, Nathan Nelson’s stated that his paralegal education greatly influenced his legal career and he wanted to give back to Inver Hills. He contacted Paralegal Program Director Sally Dahlquist, JD, to invite paralegal students to complete their internship and gain paralegal experience at his law firm. Since that time, he has been taking paralegal interns continually and has also hired our paralegal graduates to work alongside him.

Nathan did not stop there. He quickly joined our Paralegal Program Advisory Committee. His high level of education and legal experience in real estate, business, litigation and taxation is extremely valuable. He has helped shape and maintain the quality of our American Bar Association-Approved Paralegal program. Nathan is dedicated to helping our paralegal students and graduates achieve their dreams of working as legal professionals.

Sally Dahlquist, Director, Paralegal Program, Inver Hills Community College

Legal highlights…

Nathan was recognized in 2015 and 2016 as a Super Lawyers Minnesota Rising Star. Researchers at Super Lawyers select less than 2.5 percent of attorneys across the state to compile a “credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.” The researchers rely on a patented, multi-phase process that includes the following:

  • Statewide survey of lawyers
  • Independent research evaluation of candidates
  • Peer reviews by practice area

In 2016, Nathan argued an important case before the Minnesota Supreme Court involving landowner rights. Virtus Law represented the prevailing landowner. The Court ruled in favor of the landowner, reversing the lower court’s unpublished holding. Nathan led the Virtus team to victory, presenting oral arguments with support from Thomas Fafinski, Virtus Law co-founder, Steven Rose, a litigation attorney at the firm, Lesley Adam, a former attorney at the firm, and the Institute for Justice. To learn more about the opinion, read ZWEBER v. CREDIT RIVER TOWNSHIP on FindLaw.

Who We Are

Virtus Law is on the cusp of breaking into the top 100 sized law firms in Minnesota. Led by real estate investors and privately held business owners, Virtus Law is acutely aware of the challenges faced by those we serve. We get it. Virtus Law is the anchor tenant of the Virtus Professional Center in Brooklyn Park. It also has location in the four corners of the Metro. To offer the most flexibility, we offer private in-office meetings, and comfortable technically equipped conference space.

Our Founding Principles

Virtus is a Latin term with a special meaning, “strength and excellence in adversity.” Virtus Law PLLC is passionate about achieving excellence in problem solving, excellence in work product and excellence in customer satisfaction. Virtus Law is about the clients it serves and has abandoned the lawyer-centric model of branding itself after its founders.

The Way We Work

All matters are subjected to a process called the Virtus Triangle:

  • Solution design and planning between the client and lead attorney
  • Implementation and quality control and
  • Followed by work product delivery.

This process is intended to generate a strategy often at the rates of associate attorneys, but always reviewed by senior principals.


Courtesy of Virtus Law

More about Nathan…

In his free time, Nathan enjoys watching NFL football and mixed martial arts (MMA). He also enjoys stand-up comedy and his favorite bands are Shinedown, Senses Fail and Underoath. He especially likes spending weekends at his mom’s 5-acre residence with his two dogs, Bisou, 13, a Chihuahua rescue, and Mickey, 10, a dachshund.

Nathan is a huge fan of Marvel Comics. His favorite Marvel superhero is Spider-Man; his favorite villain is Magneto; his favorite movie is The Avengers (2012).

“I like Magneto because he’s complex and shaped by his experiences,” Nathan said. “I fell in love with Spider-Man while I was in the Paralegal program at Inver. I identified with how he struggled to balance all the things happening in his life. I was going to college, working two jobs and finding very little time for a social life so I could understand how he felt.”

Nathan Nelson Q & A

Nathan Nelson
Nathan Nelson

What did you learn that helped prepare you to become an attorney?
The program gives you a foundation to enter the legal field. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer. My paralegal instructors taught me to think about the law. They gave me the wisdom to appreciate what it means to be a practicing attorney. Now and then, I hear myself sounding just like one of my teachers in the program. It’s very humbling.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of practicing law?
I get jazzed up by two things:

  1. Getting to know my client’s values and long-term goals
  2. Intellectual challenges of problem-solving; there are always new wrinkles

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing law?
As a strong advocate for your client, you can become the villain in their opponent’s story. You have to accept that as part of the job. You don’t personalize the relationship, but you need to understand how your role impacts their lives.

What is the most intriguing case you have argued in your career?
Minnesota Supreme Court landowner rights case (see above)

Three words that describe you as an attorney:

What should all future paralegals know about the legal field?
You need to have the ability to communicate and problem-solve as part of a team. You have to listen to your teammates and be receptive to their ideas. I have found in my own practice that attorneys who started out as paralegals and legal assistants can use the knowledge they gained to be more effective advocates for their clients.

Who is your favorite living or dead attorney?
Tom Conlin. My mom was his legal secretary and he was very influential in my life. He helped me find out what kind of lawyer I wanted to be. He taught me that you can be a good person and treat people with respect and still be an effective lawyer.

What would you tell students thinking about pursuing a legal career?
The law is a super-rewarding and challenging field. I believe the law is also one of the most diverse of all fields. If you don’t like one practice area, you can try something else.

What person has influenced your life the most?
My father, Wayne. He was a welder and supervisor at the same manufacturing company where I worked. He lived through the Great Depression. He defined success as having family around him and cookies on the shelf. He found his dream and rarely worried about anything. That’s a great way to look at life.

To learn more about the Paralegal program at Inver Hills, contact:

Sally Dahlquist, JD
Paralegal Program Director


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