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Living and Practicing Law in Denver

VIEWS: 16 PAGES: 4

Lawyers practice in Denver. Law alumna has practicing in immigration law.

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									   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                    1.800. 973. 1177




Living and Practicing Law in Denver
[Erica Winter]
For many of us, images of Denver usually include omnipresent snow and mile-high mountains. Those perceptions, and more, are dissected as we explore the
capital of Colorado as a place to live, work, and play.




If you move to Denver and start practicing            The Allott firm, whose attorneys are current-     Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Rangonetti, which
law here, you may find yourself doing things          ly all women, has been handling immigration       has 50 attorneys, three offices, and is among
you did not expect. Like waking up very early,        work for families and businesses in Denver        the top ten largest home-grown firms in
accepting the help of strangers without               for 30 years. The founding partner, Ann Al-       Denver.
suspicion, or enjoying sunshine for 300 days          lott, is both an attorney and an equestrian, so
out of a year.                                        the firm handles visas for athletes participat-   Johnson, a real estate lawyer for three years
                                                      ing in horse shows, as well as other athletes.    who graduated in 2000 from the University
You’ll probably get used to it.                                                                         of Denver College of Law, first came to the
                                                      Komarowsky also works with clients coming         city as a civil engineer doing environmental
Practicing here.                                      to Colorado to do seasonal agricultural work      cleanup at the now-closed Lowry Air Force
                                                      and helps bring in professionals for perma-       Base.
Lawyers in Denver regularly get to the office         nent residency based on “extraordinary abil-
at 7:30 in the morning. Yes, it’s early, but          ity,” a visa class for those who are experts in   Currently Johnson represents clients who
most of them do not stay until 7:30 at night.         their professions and have opportunities to       want to acquire property and then build on
Even associates we spoke with said that they          work in the U.S.                                  it, subdivide and sell it, or some combination
leave the office by 6:00 or 6:30 and (wow!) go                                                          thereof. He also works on litigation, such as
home and spend time with their families.              Komarowsky chose to go into immigration           challenging municipal decisions against firm
                                                      law because “international law is my pas-         clients. Otten Johnson is a “soup to nuts”
One associate we talked with, Melanie K.              sion,” she says. Despite the fact that Denver     real estate firm, handling both the transac-
Komarowsky, said that she works from 7:30             is not a coastal or border city, there is a lot   tional and litigation sides of the specialty.
to 4:30. She does not have children, and she          of immigration legal work to go around. Im-       Johnson enjoys this and says that he chose
is not part-time; that’s just when the office         migration lawyers in town meet on a monthly       real estate law partly for the combination of
closes. Komarowsky, a New England School              basis and are “a very close group,” with not a    transactional and litigation work.
of Law alumna, has been practicing immigra-           lot of competition for business among them.
tion law for two years with Allott Immigration        According to her, there is room for more im-      Richard Harris’s family law firm has an
Law Firm.                                             migration attorneys in Denver.                    unusual associate requirement: all of its
                                                                                                        associates must carry at least one pro bono
“I loved Boston,” says Komarowsky. “It is a           As for being a woman in the legal profession,     case at all times. This work is “an essential
wonderful city.” A Colorado native, though,           Komarowsky sees most specialties in Denver        part of our mission to serve the community,”
Komarowsky wanted to move back west. The              composed of half men and half women, pos-         Harris says.
difference between the East Coast and Den-            sibly with more men in corporate law and
ver? “Colorado just isn’t as old school,” she         more women in family law.                         The firm gets its pro bono cases from Metro
says. For example, most Denver firms do not                                                             Volunteer Lawyers, the Denver legal-aid
require that you wear suits to the office, un-        While Komarowsky has a dollar-earned              society. The cases follow the same lines
less you have a court date or official outside        requirement at her firm (instead of the typi-     as the firm’s paid cases: child-custody and
business. And her law school friends working          cal associate’s billed-hours requirement),        child-support issues, domestic violence,
in Boston are often suited up and in the office       Jim Johnson’s firm has no associate quotas        and divorces. Harris, also an alumnus of the
from 8:00 to 7:00.                                    at all. There are no billed hours or dollars-     University of Denver College of Law, started
                                                      billed requirements for associates at Otten,      his firm as a solo office 12 years ago and




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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                    1. 800. 973.1177




expanded to include associates about five            Hiring for attorney positions in Denver has      tion going on now in Colorado, and there are
years ago.                                           been slow, and competition is tight, says        many lawyers to serve that industry in the
                                                     Tim Henderson, Assistant Dean of Career          area.
H. Michael Steinberg was a prosecutor in             Services at the University of Denver College
Arapahoe County--one of Denver’s neighbor-           of Law. There are two local law schools (his     While oil and gas is hot now, most of the
ing counties--before hanging out his shingle         and the University of Colorado); plus, Denver    local hiring of new law school grads is not
as a solo criminal defense attorney in town.         is a popular place to live.                      leaning that way, says Tim Henderson. Most
Denver is “a wonderful place to practice                                                              of the hiring he’s seen has been for civil
law,” says Steinberg, an alumnus of the              Those who do score jobs in Denver seem very      litigation posts.
University of Oregon Law School and a lawyer         happy to have them. All the people we talked
for 20 years.                                        with noted the collegial and professional        Also, after a five-year drought, water is a
                                                     atmosphere in the Denver Bar. Lawyers here       big issue in the state, says Steinberg. And
Colorado is divided into 22 judicial districts,      have “a good sense of community,” says           Colorado has highly specialized water-rights
usually with more than one county in each            Henderson.                                       laws. If you are interested in going into that
district. Denver is both a city and a county, as                                                      field here, you would have to intern with a
well as the state capital. So it has city/county     Practicing in Denver is “terrific,” says Ed      local firm to establish a practice in that spe-
courts, state court and federal courts. Also,        Lederman, a divorce lawyer in solo practice      cialty, says Steinberg.
there are five counties surrounding Denver.          for 13 years. He enjoys solo practice and
As a defense attorney, Steinberg travels to          does not feel at a disadvantage having no        Water-rights laws are peculiar in Colorado,
all of these jurisdictions; the variety is “excit-   legal staff. “I can pack as much wallop on       as opposed to some other states, says Jim
ing to be a part of,” he says.                       a dollar-for-dollar basis as a large firm,”      Johnson. In Colorado, buying the land does
                                                     he says. With the advent of the Internet and     not give you the water rights to the river or
The density of courts, plus the high number          the growing popularity of e-filing, there is     stream that runs through that land, he says.
of federal agency regional offices here (in-         a changing impact that smaller firms can         There is a separate court system to adjudi-
cluding the EPA, Department of the Interior,         make, even if they don’t have as much legal      cate these issues--the Water Courts--and a
CMS, and USDA), could account for a feeling          staff on hand, Lederman says.                    few boutique firms handle most of the water
that many of our sources noted - that there                                                           work in Denver.
are a lot of lawyers in town.                        And in Denver, even in a specialty renowned
                                                     for conflict and emotion, Lederman says          “There is lots of opportunity to work here,”
Or maybe it’s the weather and the moun-              the vast number of opposing attorneys he         says Melanie Komarowsky. Growing legal
tains. Like many beautiful places, there are         works with are collegial and professional.       areas include agriculture and land rights,
“way too many lawyers” in Denver, muses              In fact, Denver lawyers across specialties-      immigration, sports, and corporate law--
Steinberg. If you are thinking of coming to          -criminal defense, family law, immigration       especially international corporate law, she
town, but don’t have a position nailed down          law, environmental law--told us that they        says.
yet, you need to think of a niche you can fill       see colleagues in their fields on regular and
in order to build up a practice, recommends          repeated bases and noted this as the main        “Real estate firms in Denver need more
Steinberg.                                           reason why there was little cutthroat behav-     help,” says Johnson. One of Denver’s abut-
                                                     ior in the profession here.                      ting counties, Douglas county, is one of the
Specifically, we found that there are 7,493                                                           five fastest-growing counties in the nation.
lawyers actively practicing in Denver itself         This professional courtesy could also have       There is a lot of real estate legal work going
(with 20,453 active in the state altogether).        something to do with the happiness gener-        on in the Denver region, says Johnson.
With a current estimated city population of          ated by nearly constant sunshine, but we’ll
570,901, this means that, in town, one in            talk more about the weather later on.            As you might expect from all of its natural
every 76 people in Denver is a practicing law-                                                        beauty and resources, there is a large envi-
yer. That stretches out a bit when you include       A multi-company town.                            ronmental bar in Denver, says Kemper Will,
the total of 2 million-plus people living in                                                          a Georgetown Law alumnus who got his start
the Denver area. But still, person for person,       In Denver, “oil and gas is exploding, so to      in Washington, DC, 30 years ago as a lawyer
that’s a lot of lawyers.                             speak,” says H. Michael Steinberg. Others        with the EPA.
                                                     concur. There is a lot of oil and gas explora-



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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                 1.800. 973. 1177




When an opening came up in the Denver re-          cally grown firms are Holland & Hart; Holme,        snow storms, or DC- and Atlanta-style ice
gional EPA office, Will jumped at the position,    Roberts & Owen; and Davis, Graham & Stubbs.         storms, might think that Denver’s weather is
looking for life near the mountains, a slower      National firms in town include the DC firm          strange. Fantastic, but strange.
pace, and a job closer to family. Will did legal   Hogan & Hartson, with 75 or 80 attorneys in
work at that office for four years before going    the Denver office, and Faegre & Benson, with        Denver is neither in the mountains (it is next
into private practice in his own firm, which       more than 100 lawyers. Only two or three            to the mountains), nor is it in the desert. The
then merged with his current firm, Burns,          firms in town have more than 200 lawyers,           climate is dry, as we mentioned, and it does
Figa & Will, in Englewood, CO, which borders       says Will.                                          not snow all the time. Everyone we spoke with
Denver to the south.                                                                                   also pointed out that it’s not as cold in Denver
                                                   Living here.                                        as rumored. There are four seasons, with
There was a lot of mining in Colorado, and                                                             summers getting hot (with temperatures in
therefore a lot of Superfund environmental         Denver has two very strange things going on.        the 90s, which is nothing to those of you in the
cleanup sites in the 1970s and 1980s, says         Okay, probably more than two, but there are         Southwest).
Will. Most other areas of the country deal with    two things that almost everyone we spoke with
air-quality issues. In Colorado, it’s more a       noted about this town in one way or the other.      And then there are the strange people.
matter of groundwater and soil contamination,
says Will.                                         One of these strange things is Denver’s             Some of the attorneys we spoke with talked
                                                   weather and the other is its people. Strange,       about the general attitude in Denver as being
As the Superfund cleanup sites were com-           that is, if you are used to things being a          “open, Western,” but were unable to elaborate
pleted, the environmental work changed, says       certain way--the way that things are in many        much, saying that there is just a general lack
Will. Now he deals primarily with ensuring         large U.S. cities--like people you don’t know       of tension that you might find in other cities.
that property contaminated by industrial use-      ignoring you or snow falling and sticking to
-from gas tanks, or dry-cleaning chemicals--       the roads.                                          The “open, Western” feeling in Denver goes
can be cleaned up and used for residential or                                                          beyond that, actually, and we found the per-
other purposes.                                    The weather is easier to explain, so we’ll start    fect story to explain it.
                                                   with that.
One misconception people have about his                                                                It all started at the DMV.
work is that environmental law is either for or    The snow on the Rocky Mountains near the
against one “side.” “It’s not positional,” Will    city does not melt until the Fourth of July.        Melanie Komarowsky, a native of Colorado,
explains. “It’s not one side or another. People    You could ski in June. There is a lot of snow       and her husband, a Connecticut native, were
ask me what side I’m on. I tell them I’m on the    up there. Denver, too, gets a lot of snow. But,     at the Department of Motor Vehicles taking
side of solving the problem.”                      since there are few bodies of water anywhere        care of some car business one day. They got
                                                   close to the city, the snow is very dry. (Chicago   to the front of the line at the cashier’s window
It’s helpful to have a technical background        has “lake-effect” snow, so possibly we should       and realized that they needed to pay in cash,
(such as engineering or chemistry) if you want     just start calling this “no-lake-effect” snow.)     since the DMV did not accept checks or credit
to have success becoming an environmental                                                              cards. Komarowsky put her card away and
attorney, says Will, who has a Master’s Degree     Also, storms do not just park over Denver for       started to rifle through her purse to find the
in Biology and Education. Also, starting off       days at a time. Many of the people we talked        cash, and then it happened.
working in the government is a good way to         with described this phenomenon. Having this
learn the field and gain experience.               kind of fast-moving dry snow means that there       The man standing behind Komarowsky in line
                                                   can be an overnight storm that dumps two            inched up so she could see him. He was taking
There are 15 or 20 very good environmen-           feet of snow on the city, and by mid-morning        out his wallet and opening it up simultaneous-
tal lawyers in Denver who practice in that         the next day, it will be 60 degrees and sunny.      ly as he asked Komarowsky and her husband,
specialty exclusively, says Will; the rest of      The dry snow on the roads will be completely        “How much do you need?”
the environmental legal work is divided pretty     melted, but there will still be a foot of snow on
evenly among large firms and small- to mid-        the grass.                                          The offer was not a sarcastic attempt to get
size firms.                                                                                            the line moving or some sort of scam; nor did
                                                   So those of you who are accustomed to Bos-          the man ask that she write him a check for the
Overall, in Denver, three of the largest lo-       ton-, Chicago-, Minneapolis-, or similar-style      amount, says Komarowsky. It was a genuine



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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                  1.800. 973. 1177




offer, and it stuck in her mind as the perfect      Harris also looks for people with “lots of          a few years and then move on, he says. While
way to describe “open, Western” to those who        energy and good written and oral communica-         you don’t have to be born and raised in Denver
had not been to Denver.                             tion.” Family law is very much about litigation;    to get a job here, you need a reason to job
                                                    lawyers in this specialty are in court as much      hunt here above and beyond enjoying outdoor
Turns out, Komarowsky had the cash after            as criminal lawyers, says Harris. To do this        lifestyles, warns Henderson.
all, paid the fees, and she and her husband         specialty, you need to be able to communicate
went on their way. Still, her East Coast-raised     effectively.                                        4. That open, Western attitude in Denver
husband was so flabbergasted by the episode         Locals are not required. Harris recruits na-        means that if you are looking for a job here
that he still tells the story.                      tionally, although he also hires from the two       and come from a big-name law school, make
                                                    local law schools in Denver.                        sure to “check your attitude,” recommends
If you are coming from another part of the                                                              Melanie Komarowsky. You do not have to be a
country, Komarowsky says, “it’s a very big          More Denver advice.                                 native to get a job here, agrees Komarowsky,
switch getting used to the people here.” For                                                            but you should demonstrate that you will fit
many, that might be a welcome switch to             1. For those still in law school thinking of        into the community.
make.                                               a career in Denver, Tim Henderson recom-
                                                    mends that you get as much hands-on experi-         5. Once you’re here, “don’t step on any toes,”
Money, in short.                                    ence in your preferred specialty as you can.        says Jim Johnson. Even though there are a
                                                    Do clinics and internships. Plus, you need to       lot of lawyers, it doesn’t always feel that way.
Denver salaries are lower than in New York or       not look at both the visible and invisible job      You will see people again and again in your
San Francisco, and housing prices are rising.       markets. Look at advertised positions (like the     practice, so make sure you keep a good repu-
The overall cost of living is lower than in those   hundreds of jobs in Denver on LawCrossing           tation. Some of the smaller, older firms in the
larger cities, however. If you have a position at   right now), but also work on making connec-         towns on the “West Slope” (Aspen, Vail, Grand
one of the large national firms with offices in     tions in the area that could lead to jobs that      Junction) still do business on a handshake,
Denver, your pay will be commensurate with          might not even be open yet. Connect with            says Johnson.
colleagues in DC and Los Angeles, but so will       alumni from your law school, get involved with
your hours. Local firms and smaller offices         the bar and other professional organizations,
both expect hard work, of course, but there is      tell people what your interests and goals are.
less sweat and more family time, which many         “Network and get out there,” recommends
attorneys here see as a fair and desirable          Henderson.
exchange.
                                                    2. Kemper Will agrees, saying the basic rule
He just hired his seventh associate…                in Denver is people won’t hire you unless they
                                                    know of you. Anyone who wants to develop
…so we think Richard Harris is well qualified       a practice in town needs to be active on bar
to give you a window into what employers in         association committees, write articles, give
Denver are looking for in a new attorney. What      speeches, and be active in the community in
was he looking for?                                 general, he says. Local law grads have an
                                                    advantage, since they can intern and clerk lo-
“I’m fairly traditional,” says Harris. Specifi-     cally; a lot of hires are made that way.
cally, in his search for his new associates, he
wanted:                                             3. If you are considering a mid-career move
                                                    to the mountains, Henderson says, remember
Strong academics. Harris looked at law school       that you need a legitimate reason for wanting
grades and writing samples.                         to come to Denver. No firm is going to hire
Clinical experience. Harris says he heard           you so that you can get more sun. Firms in
some candidates say that they always wanted         Denver will ask why you want to be here,
to do family law, but they had no experience.       because some have been burned in the past
He looks for “demonstrated experience,” such        by job-seekers who want to come to get their
as a law school clinic or internship.               feet wet and live lives of leisure and skiing for



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