Scott Dunbar is an assistant attorney general at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. He represents the trial staff of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a semi-independent group of engineers, economists, and other policy experts within the PUC. They intervene in most major cases involving the electric and natural gas utilities (e.g., Xcel Energy) and telecommunication companies in the state of Colorado. He regularly deals with utility ratemaking, wind and solar resource plans, demand-side management (e.g., energy efficiency) goals, and Boulder’s efforts to form a municipal utility.
How did you find your job?
I had been networking consistently with public utilities lawyers, including several lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office. Fortunately, through my contacts, I learned that a position was going to open, so I prepared my application before the job was even posted. I submitted my materials two hours after it appeared on the Attorney General’s Office website. While it may be hard to replicate, I am sure it helped me get noticed.
Colorado Law was extremely helpful and supportive throughout my long job search process. Since I always wanted to work in energy, the Career Development Office let me know whenever they found an interesting opportunity. When I ran out of networking contacts or job search strategies, the CDO, my professors, and even Dean Weiser provided me with helpful suggestions. We also have a very supportive alumni network–a 2009 graduate first introduced me to someone at the Attorney General’s Office who turned out to be essential to landing my job.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I think a lawyer’s most important skill is critical thinking and developing that skill was certainly emphasized at Colorado Law through the teaching style of the professors (who never cease asking questions!). Colorado Law also provides an excellent balance of practical skills and theory. It was crucial that I learned the fundamentals and mechanics of litigation, but the values-based discussions we had in every class I took helped me be a much more effective advocate. Of course, subject matter specific courses, such as Energy Law and Regulation, were hugely helpful for my area of practice.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure that networking would ever pay off, but it certainly did for me. Once I began focusing on becoming a public utilities lawyer, I tried to meet everyone I could that worked in the area. I was a finalist for two law firm jobs focusing on public utilities law, neither of which were posted but that I became aware of through my network. I was not selected for either of those jobs, but I kept at it. After I interviewed at the Attorney General’s Office, at least four people that I had met made calls on my behalf to recommend me to my supervisor.
Networking can be awkward until you get used to it and realize that most attorneys have been doing it for so long that they do not find it strange at all for someone to shake their hand and ask to meet for coffee. The network I built paid off in a big way for me in the form of a job, but the many people I met along the way also helped me refine my goals and develop strategies for my search and career.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Paradoxically, it is important to cast a wide net while also focusing your job search. Your net should be wide so you do not miss any opportunities you could be interested in, however, professionals do not respond favorably to students who tell them they are willing to do anything. People respond when you have a demonstrated interest in an area of law and can speak intelligently (and hopefully passionately) about it. Also, though it can be tough, networking is key.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I think many people go to law school because it is a great way to make money and get ahead in life, but most of the students I met at Colorado Law were there because they wanted to make a difference in the world. The professors and the students represent a diversity of values, but everyone is very mission-oriented. Going to law school transforms your entire life, not just your career, and Colorado Law is a place where you can experience that transformation under the guidance of thoughtful, challenging professors and in the company of reflective (not to mention, fun-loving) students. I chose Colorado Law in large part because of its great energy program, which has only grown and improved since I graduated. Two of Colorado Law’s main focuses are environmental law and technology and innovation law, and the energy program draws on the best of both areas. The school is also demanding and professional, while not being unnecessarily uptight. And, of course, I love playing in the mountains and living in Boulder.