From fishing guide to litigator to now running the private equity firm Conscience Bay, Eli Feldman (’05) admits his career seems a bit eclectic. But there’s something tying it all together: a passion for the environment.
“It does seem disjointed,” Feldman said. “[But my work is] profitable and sustainable, which is my goal.”
Feldman grew up on Long Island. He loved the water, spending time on nearby Conscience Bay. He stayed in New York for college, graduating from Hamilton College with a degree in philosophy and religion. His first job was as a fishing guide in the Vail Valley, and his fascination with the rivers developed into a curiosity about water law.
“I came out here to fish and ski and enjoy the outdoors,” Feldman said with a laugh. “[But] I had that job [as a fishing guide] and 10 other jobs at the same time. That was not a sustainable or a profitable position. I realized after about a year and a half of that, it was time to go back to school.”
Following his work as a fishing guide, stone mason, and a variety of other odd jobs, he came down from the mountains and worked with the water lawyers at Western Resource Advocates in Boulder for a year. That year happened to be the drought of 2002, and he testified before a Colorado legislative committee about emergency drought measures. That experience solidified his decision to go to law school and work in water resources.
When he considered schools that could advance his career goals, he didn’t have to look far. In fact, from Western Resource Advocates, he could literally look across the street to Colorado Law. And that’s where he chose to attend.
“I was going to go back to New York and attend Fordham,” Feldman said. “That was probably the runner-up. The choice to attend CU was really because of their natural resources strength and my desire to stay in the mountains.”
After law school, Feldman continued his career arc from fishing guide to becoming a water lawyer himself. He took a position with Porzak Browning & Bushong LLP, where he worked on high-profile cases with big players in water law, like Denver Water. During his time there, he devoted substantial energy to a particular client over a two-year period. Eventually, that client approached him to start a real estate investment firm focused on western ranches.
At that point, Feldman’s career took a turn he had never envisioned back when he was a law student focused on water law: Feldman and his investors created a private equity real estate firm. They called it Conscience Bay for a few reasons. There’s a personal tie; Feldman spent a lot of time on New York’s Conscience Bay as a kid. His primary investors also lived on the Bay. Second, he does business with a conscience and considers impacts on all stakeholders. For instance, the company focuses on land stewardship and water and energy efficiency, and donates one percent of its profits to local nonprofit organizations. Finally, it’s a play on Hudson’s Bay Company, which was chartered in 1670, and is the longest continuously operating corporation in the world.
Feldman’s company invests in institutional-grade commercial real estate, agricultural land, and water assets. Conscience Bay now owns over one million square feet of commercial buildings and hundreds of acres of land in the mountains. Feldman’s primary job is “finding assets, buying them, managing them, and adding value to them,” he said.
He enjoys the variety of working with plenty of interesting types of businesses, from cattle ranches and oxygen bars to artists’ space and parkour gyms.
Feldman is a proud supporter of Colorado Law. He recently announced an endowed scholarship at Colorado Law for students who demonstrate academic ability, leadership skills, and entrepreneurial initiative in the fields of natural resources or real estate.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
Serving on the building committee for the Wolf Law Building. The design decisions that we made will be felt for a hundred years, or more, in that structure.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
Had I known that I would be running a private equity firm, I would have paid closer attention in my corporations and tax classes.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Consider nontraditional legal careers. While the law is tested inside the courtroom, its importance lies in shaping the real world outside.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
There have been so many incredible people that have helped me along the way. Dean David Getches was probably the most influential in causing me to pursue a purposeful career. He taught me that work which was not making the world a better place was not worth doing.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
I am proud to have started a company that is producing profits while leaving a legacy of positive impacts on the landscape.