Alum of the Month Jan. '17
As a child, Janet Drake dreamed of becoming a lawyer before fully understanding what it entailed. Now, as a senior assistant attorney general in the Special Prosecutions Unit of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and immediate past president of the Denver Bar Association, Drake embodies success both in and out of the courtroom.
Growing up in Colorado—both in Denver and Littleton—Drake had quixotic notions of law as a profession and dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
“When I was really young, I made this declaration that I was going to become a lawyer,” Drake said. “We didn’t have any lawyers in my family. I didn’t really know what the job entailed. I think my idea was that of a prosecutor.”
For a day, Drake shadowed a family friend who was an attorney. The family friend was a transactional lawyer who didn’t go to courtrooms. Drake considered the experience dull, as she craved courtroom action. Years later, her goal of being an attorney took a brief break, and she attended Colorado State University to pursue a career in music therapy. However, she quickly realized law was her passion, and she transferred to the University of Denver to prepare for law school.
Drake graduated from undergrad and entered the legal world, first as a victim’s advocate (which she had started while she was still at DU) then as an assistant division clerk to Chief Judge Ken Stewart in Arapahoe County. These jobs gave Drake a good idea of what the legal world was like, and assured her that she was on the right path.
“These positions gave me insight into the justice system,” Drake said. “I felt like the criminal justice system was interesting to me, but I also recognized it had some flaws. I felt like I could make a positive influence if I got involved. Being a prosecutor made the most sense.”
Choosing between DU and the University of Colorado Law School came down to a question of reputation back in the mid-90s. Drake liked Colorado Law’s teaching and learning style, and she decided to come to Boulder for law school.
Drake knew that prosecution was the path for her, so she focused on studies that would prepare her for that. Colorado Law turned out to be a congenial fit that prepared Drake to enter not only the prosecution world, but the firm world as well. When Drake graduated, she worked on Federal Employers’ Liability Act litigation, representing injured railroad employees at Rossi Cox Kiker & Inderwish PC. She progressed from being a contract lawyer to non-equity partner, an impressive rise for somebody who had made clear to her law school classmates that she was set on being a prosecutor.
“The whole thing was a comedic situation the way it developed, but it was a great experience. John Rossi and Jim Cox were tremendous mentors,” Drake said. “They molded me into the lawyer I became.”
After eight years at the firm and earning partner status, Drake moved on to Brownstein Hyatt & Farber (now Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP) for almost two years doing complex commercial litigation. Drake eventually realized that while firm life was great, she’d prefer to work as a prosecutor given the chance. That opportunity came in the form of a job with the Special Prosecutor’s Unit of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, and Drake jumped to take it. In this role, she investigates and prosecutes multi-jurisdictional organized crimes in Colorado.
“I’ve done a lot of economic crime work, human trafficking, and drug trafficking—anything like that. My specialty area is human trafficking, and I do a lot of training in that area for the National Association of Attorneys General,” Drake said.
“I’ve worked on interesting, big cases in my career, and they’ve all been special to me because I’ve been helping people,” she continued. “Some of the victories that stand out to me are the smallest cases. The work that’s the most meaningful for me is the work that has a direct influence on people. I’m more interested in working on a human trafficking case than a drug trafficking case. I remember cases that have people as victims because I’m helping individuals.”
While Drake’s career outlines her success—she’s thrived in firms and the AG’s office alike—she stays humble about her accolades. She won’t list cases as being her biggest successes because she says the job is more about the people. From trying to ensure that victims get justice to ensuring that defendants are treated fairly and criminals get rehabilitated, Drake is working to make a difference. In fact, she has not only made a difference herself, she’s encouraged it from others.
“My presidential theme (at the Denver Bar Association) was ‘Make a Difference,’” Drake said. “That developed out of the interactions I had with law students. Universally, people said to me, ‘I want to make a difference.’ Most of us start law school with that in mind. Once we get into practice, we lose sight of that, or don’t know how to balance that with other demands.”
Drake served as president of the Denver Bar Association from 2015-16. She’s also been president of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, and is active in other groups within the bar associations. Drake advises young lawyers to join groups and be active within the law community.
“Whether that’s taking a pro bono case, or making a contribution to a nonprofit, there are a number of ways,” Drake said.
From having successes in the courtroom to being a leader in the legal community, Janet Drake is a strong example of a successful lawyer. But if you ask her, she’ll just say she’s trying to make a difference.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
Meeting my husband, Todd Drake (’96)! :-)
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
Life is more political than you might think.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
My parents—they instilled a strong work ethic in me, and encouraged me to be genuine and professional.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
I’m not really a proud person. I’m grateful to have enjoyed the opportunities that have presented themselves to me, and look forward to continuing my rewarding career.