Throughout his decades-long career in water law, University of Colorado Law School alumnus Glenn Porzak found ways to integrate his love for the outdoors with his career.
As a managing and founding partner at Porzak Browning & Bushong LLP, Porzak specializes in water law and represents clients like Vail Resorts and the City of Golden. He is also extremely accomplished outside of work. He led the first American team to climb two peaks over 26,000 feet on the same trip: Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse. He was also the fourth American to climb the 'Seven Summits’ (the highest mountains on each of the seven continents).
While attending CU as an undergraduate, Porzak was active in student government. He knew he wanted to stay in Colorado after graduation and received an early admittance to Colorado Law.
“I may have applied to one other law school, but not really seriously because I knew I wanted to stay in Colorado,” Porzak said. “Why go out of state if you’re going to practice in Colorado, particularly in water law?”
Unlike many law students, Porzak was certain he wanted to specialize in water law from his first year of law school. After taking a property law course, he was drawn to water law and never looked back.
“Water is an asset that you can literally touch and feel, and it was an asset that had, to me, a real relevance,” Porzak said. “In my mind, water is one of the true essential elements that you absolutely need to survive. It’s also a finite resource with an ever-expanding demand because it is such an essential element.”
Porzak followed his passion for water law for the first 23 years of his career at Holme Roberts & Owen, one of the largest and oldest law firms in Colorado at the time. While there, Porzak saw a demand for smaller boutique firms.
“I saw as time went on that billing rates were going higher and higher, and I just felt that you could be much more efficient in a small firm, especially in more of a boutique firm that specializes in one field and run a leaner shop, if you will,” Porzak said. “That has proven to be true.”
A group of attorneys from Holme Roberts & Owen, who were mainly water law practitioners, moved on to found Porzak’s current firm, Porzak Browning & Bushong LLP. Porzak said all of his clients from the larger firm chose to make the move to the new firm with him, and additional clients engaged him right off the bat.
“I had people coming in within the first couple of weeks who said they always wanted us to represent them, but they didn’t want to deal with a large firm,” Porzak said.
Today, Porzak’s firm has grown into a highly respected water law firm with clients all over the nation. Porzak represents large ranches, major resort communities in Colorado and elsewhere, and local governments seeking to gain or retain water rights.
Porzak said that Colorado’s position at the headwaters of the Colorado, South Platte, Arkansas, and other rivers make it a prime location for a thriving water law practice. Colorado feeds the essential water supply for nine different states.
“In terms of the future, I see on the Colorado River side more and more conflict, and there are going to be major issues for future water lawyers in terms of these interstate compacts and dealing with those issues as time goes on,” he said. “I’ve always felt that it’s an ever-expanding field.”
Porzak encourages future water lawyers to develop a background in other states’ water law, such as California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. He also emphasized the importance of being a skilled litigator.
“One of the unique aspects about water law is that you not only have to have a real background in water law and property law because you’re dealing with the land, but you also have to litigate,” Porzak said. “To secure water rights or to change a water right, you have to get that approved by water courts, and those are state district courts. Water is one of only two fields where you have an appeal as a matter of right directly to the Colorado Supreme Court.”
During his career, Porzak has argued well over 30 cases before the Colorado Supreme Court, as well as hundreds of trials at the lower courts.
Porzak’s interest in water law corresponds directly with one of his biggest passions—the outdoors. He grew up climbing the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park and has been on nine Himalayan expeditions. He was also one of the first people to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.
This passion for climbing and the outdoors contributes to his ability to be an excellent water lawyer.
“As a climber, you become experienced in reading maps and studying maps. Sometimes we tend to think in terms of where highways are, but that’s not necessarily the way water flows,” Porzak said. “So, a lot of times, if you study maps, they give you ideas for where to secure water for various areas.”
Porzak has also served as president of the Colorado Mountain Club, the largest recreation-based organization in Colorado, as well as the American Alpine Club, the nation’s premier alpine organization.
Adding to his illustrious career, Porzak also served in the U.S. Army as a military intelligence officer.
“In those days, it was the Vietnam era, so no one really thanked you for your service, but I’m very proud of having served in the Armed Forces,” Porzak said.
Porzak also served as chairman of the board of directors for the University of Colorado Foundation, and he co-chaired the capital campaign for Colorado Law’s new building. A seminar room on the third floor of the Wolf Law Building is named the Everest Seminar Room, recognizing Porzak’s passion for climbing.
Over the years, Porzak has donated his time to a multitude of organizations and efforts. Now, he continues to be very active with the Catholic church and loves to climb and ski in his spare time.
What are your fondest memories of being a student at Colorado Law?
My friendships with fellow classmates, the four classes I took from Professor Clifford Calhoun, and my clerkship with John Holloway (’51), the university’s legal counsel.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
The knowledge gained during 45 years of the practice of law.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Choose a career path that you will enjoy and that is consistent with your personal values.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
The senior partners at Holme Roberts & Owen who were my mentors.
Of what accomplishments are you most proud?
Adjudicating the state’s first in-channel recreation water rights and becoming the first lawyer to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.