Relationships built throughout law school helped lead Thomas Balmat to his current position of associate attorney at Fisher & Suhr, PC, but he says that networking is also an opportunity to look inward, hone your legal interests, and develop and showcase passion for an area of law. With a focus on commercial real estate transactions, Balmat credits much of his professional success to the advice and skills gained from his time at Colorado Law.
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 with the firm of Fisher & Suhr, PC. I focus on commercial real estate transactions and handle entity formation, due diligence review, drafting and negotiating purchase and sale agreements, leases, closings, and everything in between. A typical day in this field usually starts with many emails back and forth with clients, opposing counsel, and title companies to discuss where we are in certain transactions. To set expectations or simply negotiate the finer points of an agreement, I usually also have one or two longer conference calls throughout the day. Because things tend to be a little calmer in the early morning or evening, I try to do the majority of my drafting that requires “heavy lifting” then. Most of the time, I have nearly a dozen transactions and other miscellaneous agreements that I am working on, either with one of F&S’s partners or some that I am leading myself. As is the case for a lot of transactional attorneys, the time I spend in the office really depends on the complexity of the deal or how close we are to the closing date.
How did you find your job?
I found my job through the Career Development Office (CDO) at Colorado Law. I wasn’t contacted for an interview until the week of graduation. One week and two interviews later, I had an offer. I remember being really surprised when everything unfolded this way, as I knew transactional positions at law firms were highly sought after and pretty tough to get right out of school. I remember thinking that many other candidates would also be interviewing for the same opportunities and so my chances of obtaining a position this way would be slim. Because of this, I focused a lot of my energy on networking, such as going to Silicon Flatirons events, engaging with speakers and faculty, and researching firms and attorneys in the field of work that I wanted to pursue. Let’s just say, I had a lot of coffee during my 2L and 3L years. Through these coffee interviews, I not only met some great people doing really interesting work in the Colorado community, but I also grew my network and honed my legal interests. These experiences made sitting for an interview at F&S a natural and very easy conversation about why I was a good fit for the position.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
The CDO, along with the Colorado Law network, were invaluable in my job search. As noted above, I took advantage of the extra opportunities that are still available to anyone at Colorado Law. I’m talking about attending the Silicon Flatirons speaker series, being a student attorney within the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, poking my head into the CDO on a weekly basis, and actually taking professors up on their office hours or invitations to coffee. These experiences allowed other professionals around Colorado Law get to know me, see my work, and discover my interests and what I wanted in my career. By no means was I ever the smartest person in class or the best student when it came to grades, but I showed that I was passionate about select legal subjects and worked for the opportunities to meet people with similar interests in the Colorado legal community. This network continues to present me with valuable opportunities to this day. Now that I am a practicing attorney, I can finally begin to contribute back to this same community.
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 skills I utilize, or focus on the most, are communication and attention to detail. I utilized attention to detail to add value to deals as a new attorney. Much of the work I was given in the beginning, from proofreading a demand letter or an agreement to making sure the correct entity or signature block was used, simply required someone’s attention to detail. As a new attorney, that someone was me. Second, good communication skills are imperative for my work as a transactional attorney. Very few face-to-face meetings happen in my practice. The majority of my work happens through email or over conference calls. Therefore, the ability to be concise, and yet still thoroughly explain the importance of issues, is key to being a good advocate for my clients. Additionally, I have found good communication is key to gaining new responsibilities or taking the lead on projects. The better my communication has gotten with the partners at F&S, the more confident they are to give me new projects or let me take the lead on a new deal. I believe this extra responsibility is as much a result of good communication as it is my understanding of the subject matter.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
Having people skills and continuing to network is an important practice in my legal career. I didn’t necessarily land my job through networking, but the networking I participated in during law school was not a waste of time either. The Colorado legal arena is fairly small and I can’t tell you how many times certain contacts I made during law school have resurfaced in my legal career. I’ve found that networking is not just about finding a job. Rather—and this is especially true in the Colorado legal community—networking is an imperative way to build value for myself, my clients and those around me.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Two people at Colorado Law had career advice that I will never forget:
Assistant Dean for Career Development Todd Rogers told me very early on in my career at Colorado Law that I should not get discouraged by the process, but instead continue to reach out to attorneys, professors, and contacts, and that eventually good things would happen. He was absolutely right. Although it took a lot of time and a lot of coffee, it all paid off. Furthermore, the contacts one makes at Colorado Law have the potential to create value and opportunities beyond law school.
Brad Bernthal, associate professor in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, told us that most people with hiring influence have a shortlist. This shortlist is made up of three to five people whom they have met or worked with and think would be a good fit for a given position. Knowing this, as students, we should all try to be on the shortlist of certain people in our fields of interest. Furthermore, these people with hiring influence did not just have to be partners at big law firms. They could be professors, deans, business owners, or even friends.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law is a special place. As a law school with extremely bright and motivated people, someone might expect there to be competition or mistrust among students. This is absolutely not the case at Colorado Law. Instead, the school provides the opportunity for good people with different backgrounds and interests to come together both in and out of the classroom. I believe the great work being produced from Colorado Law stems from student and faculty engagement and passion about specific areas of the law. And if you’re just having one of those days, which you are bound to have at some point (it is law school after all), you can always stare out at the Flatirons from the library windows.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I knew that I wanted to focus my practice in transactional law and I had heard great things about the numerous professors with corporate law backgrounds at Colorado Law. I was also very interested in the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic. As a self-described tech nerd, I loved the entrepreneurial spirit in Boulder and thought it would be fun to mix law and technology. Finally, and without fully understanding the small legal community within the state of Colorado, I knew that I wanted to make Colorado my home. Thankfully I was admitted, and I was able to forge amazing relationships that have lasted throughout my legal career and beyond.