Abbey Wallach drew on the strengths she developed, as well as the network she cultivated, at Colorado Law to find an ideal workplace at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP. As an associate attorney, she exercises research, writing, strategic recommendation, and interface skills; as a networker, Wallach constantly seeks ways to pay it forward.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am an associate at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP (WTO), a nationally recognized civil litigation firm in Denver that focuses on trials. Because I’m lucky to work at a firm that values giving associates real experience, I do a variety of things. On any given day I might research, draft a memo or a brief, interview witnesses, depose an expert, negotiate with opposing counsel, or discuss a case with a client or a partner.
How did you find your job?
By networking with great people. During my last semester of law school, I mentioned to then-Dean Phil Weiser that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my upcoming clerkship, and he offered to introduce me to WTO Managing Partner Carolyn Fairless ('98) and WTO President, Hugh Gottschalk ('79). At the time, I was interning at Xcel Energy and working for Jennifer Jaskolka, so I wandered into her office to ask her opinion of the firm. She sang its praises and introduced me to Miko Brown, a former WTO partner [now partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP] who handled a lot of Jennifer’s cases. Miko helpfully introduced me to several associates. After talking to those partners and associates about the firm, I knew I didn’t want to work anywhere else.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Colorado Law’s help was invaluable. I jokingly refer to Phil as the “godfather” of my career because of the connections he orchestrated, but Phil truly cares about Colorado Law students and often graciously leverages his broad network on our behalf. Before that, Colorado Law was extremely helpful when I applied to clerkships. Rachel Sheikh in the Career Development Office (CDO) looked over my cover letters and helped me determine which judges to apply to and when. I also reached out to Colorado Law alumni who were clerking to ask how I should prepare for the interviews. And I know that I was offered at least one interview on a Colorado Law alum’s recommendation.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
On a daily basis, I research, write, make strategic recommendations, and interface with clients and opposing counsel. The best preparation for these tasks came from my various law school internships, some of which were eligible for law school credit and all of which the CDO helped me find. I also credit my writing and speaking skills to competing in three moot court competitions in law school. In addition, I’m glad I took a deposition course and several writing classes.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
A lot of people think networking is about having good “people skills” like being comfortable with the dreaded “ask” or seamlessly working a room, and that can be intimidating. But Jennifer told me once that it’s also about paying it forward, and I really took that to heart. So, while I’ve learned not to be afraid to utilize my network when I need to, I also consider helping others to be an important part of networking. Even at my vintage, I can connect people, describe my experiences, or proofread a friend’s job application. Recognizing that paying it forward is more important than receiving advice or introductions makes networking much more comfortable.
And I have a lot to pay forward. Simply put, without my professional network, I wouldn’t have my career. Phil, Jennifer, and Professors Melissa Hart and Scott Moss connected me with a lot of job opportunities. And when I clerked, Judge Gale Miller [of the Colorado Court of Appeals] was a calming career sounding board. But while having contacts more senior than me is great, I haven’t overlooked the value of including my classmates in my professional network. For example, I was nervous about my law firm interviews because I’d never worked at a large law firm. I reached out to my classmates Amanda Levin (’14), Mike Havlik (’15), and Liz Alexander (’15), who already had big firm experience, and they all patiently talked through the do’s and don’ts of law firm recruiting with me.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
First, be confident. Many of us are self-conscious about competing for jobs with Ivy League graduates or classmates with better grades—those whom we (falsely) perceive as more deserving. But it is important to push those negative thoughts aside and focus on selling our strengths. I firmly believe that there is no job a Colorado Law graduate can’t land, regardless of the employer’s published hiring criteria.
Second, leverage your contacts. I love Colorado Law because of its culture of camaraderie and helpfulness, and everyone looking for a job should feel comfortable tapping into that. Many of us benefited from it, and we are eager to pay it forward (myself included!). Plus, reaching out doesn’t always require the intimidating “ask.” Often, I focused the conversations on gathering information about law firms and hiring processes that informed my decisions about where to apply and ultimately, whether to accept my current position.
Finally, use the job search to make new contacts. Once, to prepare for a clerkship interview with an out-of-state judge, I googled the judge and found his former clerk’s law firm profile. I was nervous to email the former clerk because he was a complete stranger and not part of the Colorado Law community, but I did it anyway. He actually called me and gave me a lot of helpful information for the interview. I didn’t get that job, but I did learn the value of being assertive and willing to ask for advice.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
At the time, I was overly concerned with cost and rank. I thought the school’s comparatively low cost and great reputation made it a good deal.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
In addition to its reasonable tuition and fantastic reputation, Colorado Law has great professors and an alumni network that is deeply entrenched in the Colorado legal community. More importantly, it is a community of people who support each other during law school and throughout their careers.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts