Karen Samuels Jones ('90)

Alum of the Month May '14

Colorado Law is proud to recognize Karen Samuels Jones as May’s Alum of the Month. Jones, a highly successful Denver-based alum, is a partner at Stinson Leonard Street LLP where her practice emphasis is on commercial real estate, loan foreclosures, receiverships, and loan sales. Jones was recently honored as a recipient of the Joy S. Burns Woman of Enterprise Award from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, as well as the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce Women in Leadership Volunteer of the Year. She is also a former President of the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) and Chair of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.

A native of Kansas, Jones completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan. She moved to Colorado shortly after and took a job as a systems programmer. While she enjoyed the work, Jones found herself drawn to the law out of a desire to find a more relationship based profession. Jones enrolled at Colorado Law with a plan to blend her previous experience as a programmer into a commercial litigation practice. However, during her second year of law school, Jones accepted a clerkship at a boutique commercial real estate firm, Senn Lewis, Hoth & Leiser, where she met her first mentor Wynn Strahle. Jones credits Strahle as her first great instructor in the profession.

The clerkship turned into a full time position following graduation, and due to the poor economic conditions at the time, Jones feels quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a terrific group of attorneys who in her words, “really knew their practice.” While she never intended to end up focusing on real estate law, Jones developed a passion for the specialty and eventually moved on to Ballard Spahr. There, Jones worked closely with another important mentor, Beverly Quail. According to Jones, Quail taught her not only how to perform the finer points of law but, more importantly, how to “have a practice.” In working with Quail, she learned that having a practice means being engaged with the community by giving back, being responsible and invested in your clients, and looking for opportunities to be a mentor, role model, and exemplary citizen.

Jones took those lessons to heart as she developed her own practice in the subsequent years remaining heavily invested in numerous mentorship programs within the industry. After spending a decade with the firm of Perkins Coie, Jones recently joined Stinson Leonard Street which was particularly exciting for Jones because the firm has one of the largest banking practices in the region, and the bulk of her clients.

After nearly 24 years in the real estate industry, Jones is quick to point out that her success was more luck than anything else, in that she found a specialty that played to her strengths, and that she really enjoyed. Her love for the practice has allowed her to build a career in a highly competitive field and to do it her way.  

Five Questions for Karen Samuels Jones ('90)

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

One of my fondest memories was one time when I was called upon in Prof Hynes' Contracts class.  To set the stage (because I understand Prof. Hynes has retired), he did not typically take volunteers for questions in class and instead circulated the room in order, so we knew exactly when we would be asked to speak.  I could hear my heart beating in my ears when it was my turn – and although I'm not shy, I remember being very tentative to speak.  After he asked me a question, I was very relieved when he did NOT say:  "Do you have a shorter but better answer?" and he merely moved on.  It doesn't sound like much – but that was a very good day for me.

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

I wish I had known that much of the practice of law is about client service.  The hours of practice can be very long and projects are on our client's timeline, not ours.  Law school and undergraduate degrees teach us to think and to question how others think, but in the practice of law, to have a successful client base, client service includes not questioning a client's ideas, but helping make certain their ideas become realities, on their timetable, with proper legal protections in place.

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

Three thoughts:  First, find a skill you are good at, that you like to do in the practice of law (or otherwise) and use it to make yourself indispensable to your firm and your firm's clients.  Second, work on meeting people who can become your clients, and keep in touch with them regularly.  Third, when you are working on something or with someone, be present.  We have many distractions in our lives, including e-mail, phone calls, mass media, work, clients, kids, and family.  Each of those segments is better served if when we're doing just one of them at a time and can be completely and totally there for that moment.

Who was the biggest influence on your career?

Beverly Quail.  I have several mentors and sponsors over the course of my career, but she taught me not only how to practice commercial real estate law, but how to have a commercial real estate practice.  The two are very different.

Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

I am most proud of the mentoring and sponsorship I am doing now with younger women who have various occupations throughout the commercial real estate industry.  I am currently chair of the Industry Research Committee of CREW Network and we are studying and researching various issues in order to effect change and help equal the playing field for women in our profession.  If we effect change on even a small level, it will be worth the effort.  To my colleagues reading this interview, please make certain you have a woman in the pool of talent you are considering hiring – and you may be able to effect change as well.

Another accomplishment that I am proud of occurred in December 2007 when in one month, I had multiple transactions on my desk valued at just under $1 billion.  When I look back on that month and the hours spent in the office, I cannot believe our team successfully handled all the work there was to do.  One of the closings in that month was the sale of properties for a company that was in financial distress with properties in multiple states with businesses operated at each of those properties.  The sale permitted the company to be restructured and repay more of their creditors.  I was honored to have been entrusted with such a great responsibility.