University of Colorado Law School alumnus Jim Coyle has devoted his career to helping other lawyers be the best they can be.
As attorney regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court, Coyle helps to regulate the legal profession in Colorado in a variety of areas, from attorney admissions to continuing legal and judicial education. Under Coyle’s leadership, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel has become “less focused on only being a disciplinary agency and more focused on being an agency that can really help lawyers be better lawyers.”
“Colorado is changing the way lawyers are regulated by being more responsive to professional development needs and developing innovative, proactive programs,” Coyle said.
Before coming to Colorado, Coyle studied business at the University of Nebraska. While in law school, he assumed the important role of getting his fellow students out of the library and into the outside world (usually a nearby bar).
“I was kind of the organizer for after-study activities,” Coyle said. “I liked to talk people into going elsewhere and discussing issues over a cold beer.”
Coyle fondly remembers Howard Klemme (’54), a Colorado Law torts professor, who practiced cold calling in a way that law students know all too well.
“He’d go around and call on people, and one day he called on me,” Coyle said. “I had just happened to have read a particular article, and he was impressed by my answer, so he continued to call on me in later classes. My subsequent performances were never quite as good.”
While in law school, Coyle knew he wanted to do trial work. For five years after graduation, he worked for a small trial firm that primarily represented police officers and other public officials.
On a mentor’s suggestion, Coyle then applied to the Colorado Office of Disciplinary Counsel, now part of the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. Coyle got the job and continued to do trial work in that position, though he assumed more of a prosecutor’s role.
“I enjoyed the prosecution work, but after a time it got kind of old,” he said.
As Colorado began to change the way it dealt with attorney regulation, Coyle moved into management and eventually into his current position. Colorado is different from other states in that it has all regulatory services for practice of law issues under one roof, Coyle explained.
“In other states, they have an office of admissions, office of continuing legal education, office of disciplinary counsel, office of client protection fund, and another office may handle lawyer registration or unauthorized practice of law,” Coyle said. “They’re all siloed with different directors, different missions, and different outlooks, and they all keep their data confidential, even from each other.”
Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel assists the Supreme Court in handling all areas of attorney regulation under one roof. Coyle said this approach allows his office to be more proactive in the ways it works with Colorado lawyers by helping them develop policies and procedures to improve their practice instead of simply doling out discipline.
“We’ve got an initiative that was started in other countries, including Australia, Great Britain, and Canada,” Coyle said. “Now, Colorado is leading the U.S. as far as this proactive, management-based or self-assessment program goes.”
Coyle is co-chair of the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. This August, the task force released a report entitled “The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change.”
The report focuses on five central themes that can help lawyers better their own well-being, and therefore, provide better services to clients and the public.
This holistic approach to attorney regulation is apparent in the ways Coyle runs his Colorado office and its many programs, including a professionalism school.
“Our message is that we want to help lawyers succeed,” Coyle said. “We want to help lawyers have a long, successful, and profitable practice, and we want them to serve their clients well. If a lawyer fails to do so, we’ll be there, and we’ll help reeducate that lawyer. We’ll also help lawyers with professional development, help lawyers who stumble get back on track, and if necessary, we’ll take away the license of a lawyer who harms that lawyer’s clients.”
Coyle has earned national recognition for his devotion to his work, as the National Organization of Bar Counsel awarded him the 2017 President’s Award this August.
“[Coyle] conducts himself at all times with his mantra of ‘promoting the public interest’ as his guiding principle, thereby improving the profession while protecting the public that all attorneys serve,” a news release from the organization’s website reads. “He does so without self-aggrandizement or seeking reward or recognition for his work.”
After 28 years with the office, Coyle is planning to retire in June 2018.
“It is time to turn the reigns over to others, and let them continue to improve the office and its mission,” Coyle said.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
The camaraderie with law school friends, many of whom I keep in close contact with to this day.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
Balance of life and mindfulness play a critical role in being successful.
What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
The practice of law is also a business. Your clients are your customers, and your name is all you have to go on.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Colorado attorney Ted Borrillo.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
Being the primary caregiver for my mom in hospice at my home this spring.