As a litigator, Bill Gillespie focuses on reaching the right outcome. His decisions involve determining what the law permits, what is best for his clients, and whether a particular action is right for that circumstance. Along the way to his current position as assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Colorado, Gillespie achieved many right outcomes, including becoming more organized and finding a community of collegial classmates. He now works for the right outcome for others both in court and for budding lawyers looking for a place in the Denver legal community.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a "typical" work day look like?
I am an assistant United States attorney for the district of Colorado. I am responsible for the collection of civil and criminal debts due to the United States and to victims of federal crimes. On a typical day, I work closely with my colleagues in the financial litigation unit to ensure that those financial obligations are being enforced, using the methods prescribed by the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, the Federal Debt Collection Procedure Act, and state law where appropriate.
How did you find your job?
I found my position on USAJobs, which I regularly checked towards the end of my clerkship.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Colorado Law helped me with my job search in a number of ways. First, I interned with the district of Colorado during my 2L year. I was selected through the on-campus interview program at the start of my 1L spring semester. Second, the Career Development Office provided resources that I regularly took advantage of, such as mock interviews and extensive help with polishing my résumé. Finally, the law school’s reputation and alumni network in the Colorado legal community go a long way.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Organization is key. I was not a particularly organized person when I arrived at Colorado Law, but I learned to be one during my first semester, just to keep up with my talented classmates. In my 2L and 3L years, I also spread myself pretty thin between class and several extracurricular activities, like participating in student organizations, working with the Byron White and Silicon Flatirons research centers, being a member of the Colorado Technology Law Journal, and working at internships I got through the law school. I could never have juggled so many things without careful time management. Consequently, I was a much more organized person by the time I graduated.
When I am organized, I can confidently focus on what I really love about my job, which is trying to reach the right outcome. Learning to research, digest, and apply the law is what law school is all about. Every one of my classes, from Legal Research and Writing to Income Taxation, further developed those skills. As a litigator, I always have to be mindful of the Federal Rules of Evidence and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—both of which are required classes at Colorado Law. I was able to apply the skills I learned in class through my various internships, which again, I got through the law school.
Of course, reaching the right outcome requires more than determining what the law permits you to do; you have to also ask whether a particular action is right for that particular circumstance. It is important to remember that, as a lawyer, what you do matters and it affects real people. Having a solid group of friends, many of whom I met at Colorado Law, helps me remember that.
Please talk a little about "people skills" and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
People skills are essential. The Colorado legal community is small, and the Denver market is very competitive. It is important to be professional and to develop good relationships and friendships with other professionals, and I don’t mean just lawyers. Every job interview I have gotten has been because someone the interviewer knew recommended me as a promising candidate. I am certain that even the most talented attorneys have a tough time breaking into the Denver legal market without a local contact to stump for them.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
When I meet with law students to give them career advice, I always tell them to talk to someone who works in the office they want to work in, and I try to get them an introduction if I can. Every attorney I know is happy to talk about what they do with people who are interested in what they do. Again, relationship building is crucial in the Denver legal market.
If the student does not have a particular job in mind, I’d tell that student to keep an open mind with regard to job opportunities. It is always helpful to have a plan for how to reach your professional goals, but sometimes the road to those goals is different than you imagined it would be.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I would tell the prospective student that if I had to choose my law school again, I would pick Colorado Law even quicker than I did the first time. Colorado Law is not only a top 50 program and a great way into the Colorado legal community, but the law school’s community is very supportive.
In my 1L year, what really struck me about Colorado Law was how collegial it was. I have friends who went to a less reputable law school in a different state. When I told them I was going to apply to law schools, they told me horror stories about other students giving them false deadlines for assignments, defacing library books, and generally doing whatever it took to get ahead of everyone else. I had a very different experience at Colorado Law. Everyone was competitive, but no one was trying to get ahead by keeping everyone else down. In fact, most people were glad to help you if you were having trouble with a concept that they understood or to share their notes if you had to miss a class.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law for the telecommunications and technology law program, which is excellent, but I found myself drawn to so many different subject matters that it was hard to settle on just one specialty area (although telecom law and regulation still hold a special place in my heart). And I have to admit, the location and the scenery helped me choose Colorado Law over the school that was ultimately my second choice.
The views expressed in this piece are Gillespie’s personal views, and they do not represent the views of the United States Attorney’s Office or the Department of Justice.