Julie Jacobs never saw herself working at a law firm. However, using the resources available at Colorado Law, she combined her legal education with 12 years of experience practicing as a mental health professional to carve out a unique practice area focused on the needs of mental health providers. Now she is spearheading a new practice specializing in mental health provider law at a Boulder firm.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am an associate attorney at a Boulder firm that specializes in real estate law, but also focuses on many areas of civil law, including family law, trusts and estates, business law, bankruptcy, construction defects, and association law. For me, the most exciting is a new practice area that I am developing focusing on mental health provider law.
My typical day starts by going on a jog with my dog. While this isn’t technically part of my work day, it is a vital part of my self-care strategy and allows me to start each day engaging in something that is good for my body and mood—the dog always does something to make me smile! It is a top priority for me to make sure that I take care of myself in whatever way works.
Once at work, I start my day checking emails and putting out any “fires” that have started, then get to work on whatever projects are facing me for the day. I focus on transactional law, so this usually means reviewing contracts related to real estate transactions; drafting agreements ranging from employment contracts to party wall agreements; reviewing title commitments for prospective purchasers; and drafting or reviewing forms used by mental health providers in their practices. I also spend time writing articles for our website or for various newsletters, and I occasionally teach classes related to license law and regulations governing real estate brokers or mental health professionals. Each day is different based on what the clients bring in, and I am still learning every day.
With my background as a mental health provider, my favorite tasks involve training others in this field to become as ethical and efficient as possible. Mental health provider law is my comfort zone, and nothing is more professionally gratifying for me than helping fellow psychologists grapple with a challenging ethical question and come to a resolution.
How did you find your job?
I came to Colorado Law with the mindset that “I will never work at a law firm.” Luckily, I know better than to say the word “never” and I decided to take a shot at doing an on-campus interview, more for the experience than out of serious interest in a law firm position. However, after making a good connection with the interviewer, I decided that I would give law firm life a chance. It ended up being a good fit and a great opportunity to gain training and experience at a law firm, and I was offered a position as an associate after graduation. I think it is important to find a position that “feels” right, so in-person interviews are important in gauging whether I will fit with an organization. If I am able to feel a certain like and respect for the people around me, the actual work I am doing seems less important.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
As I mentioned, I found the position through OCI, and I probably would never have considered a law firm position had I not taken the chance to participate in OCI. But even before I took the plunge with a law firm position, the staff at the Career Development Office was very helpful in trying to connect me with non-traditional jobs that would fit my interests. I knew I wanted to stay in Colorado, and the connections I made through the CDO were essential in allowing me to find a position that fit my interests and experience.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
The most important service I provide is a relationship. I answer legal questions and deal with legal issues, but at the most basic level, I enter into relationships with people who need help. Listening to learn is vital—don’t assume you know what clients are going to ask for or where they are coming from. Instead, take the time to listen to their stories and find out what they need. My mediation and legal negotiations classes both provided opportunities to practice listening and understanding what is, and is not, being expressed. Of course, it is important to hone your legal writing skills, to understand black letter law, and to be able to conduct legal research efficiently, but listening is a skill that does not get enough emphasis.
Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your professors and get their thoughts on different areas of work. There is a wealth of information available if you just ask, and every professor I approached during my time at Colorado Law was enthusiastic about sharing their experiences.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
In my case, networking has been key. Prior to law school, I practiced as a psychologist for 12 years, and today I am working on creating a practice area focused on the needs of mental health providers. Developing this practice area is completely dependent on networking with other mental health providers. This includes joining listservs, nonprofit boards, volunteering to teach workshops, and doing whatever is possible to get the word out that I exist and that I want to offer legal services to mental health providers. In my case, my niche is obvious based on my past experience, and I have been very focused on creating connections within my professional communities.
Let me add that I HATE networking. It feels artificial and forced, and I always have to push myself to attend networking events or send networking emails. However, networking has proven to be a positive way to spend my time and has allowed me to originate a good number of new clients for my law firm based on my outreach efforts.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Never say never! I am the poster child for keeping an open mind as you look for a job. I was absolutely sure that I would never work at a law firm, yet here I am after two years as a clerk and one and a half years as an associate. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to cast a wide net. Find a position that feels like a good fit.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Attending Colorado Law was a great experience. From the professors to my classmates to the staff in the library and at the Career Development Office, I always felt supported and able to ask questions. Take advantage of the incredible faculty and develop relationships with professors—they are great sources of information and support during and after law school. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience and have as much fun as possible!
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I wanted to live in Colorado and go to a great law school—what more could I have asked for?