Alum of the Month July '13
Jenni Luke is living proof that the path to finding your dream job after law school is not always linear. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jenni attended the University of California, San Diego for undergraduate studies, and in 1994 graduated with high distinction and honors in history. Luke had always been deeply interested in social issues, and decided to attend law school because she saw law as the best way to impact social change. She enrolled at Colorado Law as the result of a summer road trip with a friend because, as Luke put it, “you can’t visit Boulder in June and not want to live here.” While in law school, she interned with the Fort Collins district attorney’s office, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and tried to use her time in law school to explore a variety of career paths. She earned her JD from Colorado Law in 1998, and began her legal career at the Denver firm of Rees & Associates, where she had been a summer clerk during law school.
While she liked the idea of federal plaintiff-side litigation, and the issues often involved, Luke began to realize that she wanted more day-to-day interaction with clients than a federal practice allowed. After a year with the firm, she moved to Breckenridge and joined the firm of Carlson, Carlson & Dunkelman, where she handled matters ranging from dog bites to corporate dissolutions to child custody. In spite of the valuable skills she was honing in practice, Luke found that she wasn’t enjoying being a lawyer. “If you can’t enjoy being a lawyer in Breckenridge,” she observed, “you’re never going to like it.” At the end of 2000, Luke returned to her native California and spent five years as a literary agent for the Broder, Webb, Chervin, & Silbermann Agency, representing writers and directors for film and television, where her client advocacy and contract skills proved extremely useful.
Luke decided to get back to what she cared about during the 2004 election season. She attended an event at which the ACLU’s director of development was speaking, and immediately knew that she wanted to have the same kind of job. She became director of development for The Alliance for Children’s Rights in 2005, where she provided leadership, strategic direction, and coordination for all of the organization’s fundraising efforts. She remained there for three years before getting a call in 2008 from her dream employer–the ACLU of Southern California. Fittingly, Luke’s first day on the job with the ACLU was the 10-year anniversary of her graduation from Colorado Law. Unfortunately, Luke’s time at the ACLU was short-lived: the recession and other political factors caused many non-profit organizations to fall upon hard times financially, and after six months the ACLU was forced to lay off Luke in an effort to cut costs.
At the same time that one door was closing, another door was opening. Luke was approached by Step Up Women’s Network, but not for a development position–Step Up wanted Luke to become its CEO, and she has served in this position since 2009. At Step Up, Luke has been able to continue working on the social issues that she cares about, but using a different approach: direct service. The organization focuses on providing empowering pathways to success for talented girls who have great potential, but are constrained by their circumstances. Luke’s role at Step Up involves not only the management of an organization with 50,000 supporters and offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago, but also finding ways to continue moving the ball forward with respect to equal opportunity for some of the nation’s future leaders. Colorado Law is extremely proud of Luke, and is fortunate to call her one of its own.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
The people in my class. I made some great friendships, and while it was an intellectually stimulating environment it was also a great place to play.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
That law doesn’t have to be such a linear career. When I decided to end my career as a practicing lawyer, I kind of got away from the reasons I went to law school in the first place, before rediscovering them.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Think about the why behind your law practice more than just being a lawyer. The why will always be a guide for your next steps.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Professor Emily Calhoun. Her classes and career were really inspiring to me.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
Two things: I’ve always been extremely proud of my law degree, even though I don’t practice any longer. Also, it’s been an accomplishment in and of itself to chart my own path and feel good about the evolution.