Byron Chrisman ('66)

Alumni of the Month Jan '13

Byron Chrisman's story is as remarkable as it is inspiring. Born in Missouri, Chrisman grew up in Illinois and left home at the age of 12 to work on a farm. Chrisman, who expected to become a farmer, had little interest in attending high school. However, Chrisman's mother, who had only completed the fourth grade, persisted in encouraging him to get an education, and in the fall of 1951 he moved to Arkansas, where his family had relocated, to begin high school. Chrisman didn't particularly enjoy high school, but remained enrolled because he had a good chance of making the varsity basketball team. When a serious logging injury ended his basketball hopes, Chrisman decided his time would be better spent serving in the U.S. Army, and he enlisted in the spring of 1952, during the Korean War.

Chrisman finished his GED while in the army, and after realizing that he scored as well on aptitude tests as many of his superiors, he decided to go to college. He graduated in 1959 from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a degree in business administration, and soon moved to Colorado with his wife, who was beginning graduate school at the University of Colorado. Chrisman also began work on an advanced degree, and applied to Colorado Law during his first semester of graduate studies. Because of a careless administrative error, Chrisman received a poor score on his LSAT, and was denied admission to Colorado Law. Undeterred, he took a job with the IRS and began the part-time law program at the University of Denver, attending night classes. Finding it impossible to maintain the workload of both law school and full-time employment, he left school after finishing his first quarter. Two years later, Chrisman met Colorado Law's dean, Edward King, to discuss some tax matters, and afterward King offered Chrisman coffee and listened to his story. King asked Chrisman if he still wanted to go to law school–at Colorado Law. Chrisman enrolled in the spring of 1963.

After law school, Chrisman opened his own firm, taking any legal work that came his way. An attorney named Marvin Woolf soon offered Chrisman a job, and in 1968 they opened the firm of Woolf and Chrisman. Chrisman started his own firm in 1973, and in 1975 he joined with an attorney named Mike Bynum to found Chrisman and Bynum, which later became Chrisman Bynum & Johnson. Chrisman retired from his firm in 1997 after 31 years in practice, and the firm merged with Faegre & Benson four years later. In his private practice Chrisman focused largely on business law matters, wills and trusts, and transactional work for people buying or selling their businesses. He was also very involved in developing commercial real estate, focusing primarily on industrial, research and development, office, and retail properties. His real estate enterprises have drawn heavily on his legal background, and he still holds more than 700,000 sq. ft. of commercial space.

In addition to his professional career, Chrisman has taken advantage of many opportunities over the years to give back to CU and Colorado Law. He taught a course in business law at the university's business school from 1969-1972.  When Colorado Law began making plans under Dean Hal Bruff for the construction of its current home, the Wolf Law Building, Chrisman served on the steering committee that was charged with raising $12 million in funding. Chrisman helped honor the man who gave him the opportunity to attend Colorado Law by contributing generously toward the naming of the Edward C. King Dean's Suite in the new Wolf Law Building. Chrisman embodies the attitude of "paying-it-forward" in the very best sense, and Colorado Law is extremely fortunate to count him as a friend. 

Five Questions for Byron Chrisman

What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?

My fondest memory is that Dean Edward King made it possible for me to attend Colorado Law.

What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?

How to practice law. 

What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?

A law degree is a good foundation for many occupations, but if you want to practice law, make every effort to associate with a firm that will teach you how to practice. Only open your own law firm as a last resort.

Who was the biggest influence on your career?

Dean Edward King, not only because he made it possible for me to attend Colorado Law, but because he did what he could to help my career for years afterward.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

I helped create what became Boulder's largest law firm that was deemed to be an exceptional place to work by almost everyone that worked with us.  I also had a very successful career in real estate development that my legal background made possible.  But, perhaps the thing that I am most proud of is that I helped raise funds for the new law school building and my wife and I made a contribution so that the Dean's Suite could be named after Dean King.