Campus & Community

No business like show business — except the law

Nick Gonzales poses for a portrait outside of Wasserstein Hall

Photo by Dylan Goodman

5 min read

Nicholas Gonzalez was a child star who felt curiously at home in front of a jury box

A collection of stories covering Harvard University’s 373rd Commencement.

Nicholas Gonzalez found his vocation for the law through his love for acting.

A child actor who booked his first professional job at age 12, he was instantly smitten when he took part in mock trial and moot court competitions in high school. The performative part of arguing a case felt not just familiar, but alluring.  

“On the set, you must be able to take direction to deliver a line in a certain way, and you must do it on the spot,” he said. “Similarly, when you are in a mock court, you have to think on your feet and perform before an audience … When we started winning our moot court competitions, that is when I started thinking, ‘Am I going to do law or am I going to do acting?’”

Encouraged by mentors and teachers who urged him to apply to law school, Gonzalez decided to go for it. Now he will be graduating from Harvard Law School this month.

Growing up as the middle child of five siblings in Brooklyn, Gonzalez was a true theater kid. Acting, singing, and dancing were his favorite pastimes in school, and when a casting director for “Billy Elliot: The Musical” asked him to audition, his passion became a family endeavor.

As an eighth-grader, he had to be accompanied to auditions by his parents, who supported him even though they knew nothing about show business. When he was hired to take part in a national tour of “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” his older siblings traveled with him as guardians as his parents couldn’t get off work.

In high school, Gonzalez became a series regular on the hit show “Orange Is the New Black,” where he played the role of the son of inmate Aleida Diaz, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, who like Gonzalez is of Puerto Rican heritage. He won a 2015 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Despite his success as a young actor, Gonzalez worried about making a living as an adult in the business. Even though he had his parents’ blessing, he decided he didn’t want to deal with the uncertainty.

“When you’re a child actor and you’re booking jobs, that’s really exciting,” he said. “But in my teenage years, I’d see audition rooms with guys who look exactly the same, and I was, ‘Do I want that to be my life?’ It’s such a cutthroat industry. For me, not knowing that it would work out for me is something that I struggled with. And then I also just really liked law.”

Gonzalez attended the University at Albany, State University of New York, and graduated with a degree in political science in 2019. He then worked as a corporate paralegal at Cooley LLP, a firm in New York, and was a Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) Law Fellow at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, also in New York.

During his stint at Cooley, he worked supporting attorneys dealing with emerging companies and venture capital groups, and felt lured by corporate law, especially mergers and acquisitions.

“During my time at Cooley, I didn’t get to experience much of the litigation side,” said Gonzalez. “But I really liked corporate work. I saw the attorneys who were corporate partners and senior corporate associates, and I thought I could be like them. I liked the fast-paced nature of the work and serving multiple clients. From a personality perspective and workstyle, I like corporate practice better than litigation.”

At the Law School, Gonzalez explored all things related to corporations, copyright and trademark issues, entertainment and sports law. He enjoyed his extracurricular activities as much as his classes. He joined the Board of Student Advisers, became the co-president of Harvard Association for Law and Business, senior editor and executive sponsorship chair at the Harvard Business Law Review, and outreach editor and line editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology.

Molly Brady, the Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, had Gonzalez as a student in her property law class. Gonzalez was also one of 80 students Brady, as a faculty leader, guided and supported through their first year at the Law School.

“Nick is the epitome of a community-builder,” said Brady. “I met him at orientation, and he was incredibly friendly, chatting up a table of fellow students. I’ve seen him flourish. He’s so interested in business law. It’s been fun to see that develop over the past three years. I just think he’s a natural because he builds connections among people. He’s a negotiator. He’s a problem-solver. He’s the sort of person who any client will be lucky to hire.”

After graduation, Gonzalez will work at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in New York as a corporate associate.

Gonzalez hopes eventually to work in entertainment law and realize his dream of becoming a Broadway producer. But if he gets a call from a casting director to play a lawyer, he will consider it, he said. It would be a way to combine his two passions.

One of his favorite television shows is “Suits,” a legal drama featuring actor Gabriel Macht in the role of Harvey Specter, who is one of television’s most popular lawyers.

“I would love to play Harvey Specter or one of his associates,” said Gonzalez with a chuckle. “If they call me tomorrow and say, ‘Nick, can you play an associate at our firm?’ I might have to defer the degree and go check out that opportunity [laughs].”