Lisa Neal-Graves exudes confidence, creativity, and insight—all qualities that serve her well as she begins her role as chief innovation officer at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office this year under Attorney General Phil Weiser.
Neal-Graves began her career focusing on new product introduction as an engineer. "Many of the products had levels of complexity that required discussions with the legal team about the potential risks for the business,” she said. "I had the good fortune of working in a field where I was debating when products could be truly launched."
While Neal-Graves enjoyed these exchanges, one day when she encountered difficulties with privacy issues in contracts, she realized she wanted to be able to do more at the intersection of law and technology. "I called my husband and said, 'Honey, I’m quitting my job and buying an LSAT book to go back to school,'" she joked. "I just knew we should be able to address some of these issues we were encountering from a technology and law perspective."
Attending the University of Colorado Law School made perfect sense for Neal-Graves, who was raised in Colorado. “I grew up in Colorado and I wanted to come back home. Also, you just can’t beat that view. Even when law school is at its worst, I was always reminded how blessed I was to have that view of the Flatirons on my drive to campus," she recalled fondly. “Also, Phil Weiser was the Silicon Flatirons executive director and faculty sponsor of the Colorado Technology Law Journal (then the Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law). Given these programs, Colorado Law just made sense."
Weiser’s mentorship played a large part in Neal-Graves’s enjoyment of and success in law school. "He had folks like Michael Powell, an FCC chairman, speak at conferences. Dale Hatfield, an FFC legend, was also co-teaching with Phil. I had the great fortune of meeting Dale when he was the chief technologist at the FCC. It was great having such heavy hitters from the FCC at the law school," she said. "One of the things I really respected about Phil was the time he gave to you when you met with him. Even though he had many student meetings, he maximized the ten or 15 minutes he had with you and made you feel heard."
Other professors that Neal-Graves remembers making an impression and inspiring her include former Dean David Getches; Professors David Hill, Scott Peppet, Dayna Matthew; and Judge Allison Eid.
As editor-in-chief of Volume 4 of the Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law, Neal-Graves was able to focus on her combined interests of technology and law. "With help of a staff of amazing editors, including Travis Litman (’06), Alison Minea (’06), Rita Sanzgiri (’06), and others, along with substantive process support from Mike Boucher, we created repeatable processes needed to ensure our publications would run much smoother," she recalled.
When she wasn’t busy with classes or working on the journal, Neal-Graves also led student organizations close to her heart. "I was a nontraditional student when I started law school and you can feel out of place. I thought, if I’m going to be in law school, then I needed to be in law school," she said. "I was the president of the Black Law Students Association and vice president of the Christian Legal Society (CLS). Being part of the CLS community was great because you had a chance to live your faith while you’re dealing with life as a law student."
While in law school, Neal-Graves clerked in a variety of positions to find out where her legal path might lead. "I clerked at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) under Greg Sopkin ('91) after my 1L year. I also clerked for Judge Wiley Daniel, the FCC, and CableLabs," she said. "They were all very different experiences, but I gained valuable insight from each one. At the PUC, I learned more about statutory interpretation. With Judge Daniel, my writing improved significantly. At the FCC, I learned a little bit about what it was like to work for the government during a time of transition."
Her experiences prior to law school served Neal-Graves well in her future legal career. “My previous career positioned me to see things a bit differently from others. I had the opportunity to start out in-house at Intel which was exciting. As an ingredient brand, Intel required each department to have a lawyer, to ensure the right product representations and warranties for every product at every level," she said. "That was fantastic because my first year out of law school I was assigned special projects with various senior leaders. The next three years I served as group counsel for the CIO and helped put privacy policies in place. We were at the front end of the law and it was very cool to be working on the leading edge of law and technology."
In 2012, Neal-Graves took on a new challenge when she moved to China to serve as a director in strategic business development for Intel. "Working in business development was the best of both worlds. I worked on interesting contracts as well as managed complex deals." One of her biggest challenges was navigating the new environment she found herself in. “I always thought I was a good negotiator, but while in China, I learned I was a novice," she laughed. "Learning to navigate and negotiate in a new culture and a new language was a unique and rewarding opportunity."
"After China, I returned to the U.S. to manage Intel’s Technology Strategic Long Range Plan—the corporate strategy for leading-edge technology. Having executive management experience, a technology background and legal expertise was exactly what was needed for that role," she said.
Now, Neal-Graves is moving onto a new role as chief innovation officer for the Colorado Attorney General. She is excited to bring her experience and creativity to this new and interesting role—the first position of its kind within an attorney general’s office. She’s also excited to be able to work with Weiser again. “It’s an unusual and intriguing role. We want to be able to find creative ways to implement efficiencies without disrupting the great accomplishments in the office,” she explained. "Additionally, the attorney general is the people’s lawyer and we want to leverage innovation to extend his reach. The people in the AG’s office are amazingly talented and it’s awesome to be able to work with this caliber of professionals."
When she’s not working, Neal-Graves can be found working on her favorite hobby: shoemaking. "While I was in China, I met a guy who created custom shoes and I was inspired. When I came back to the States, I took a course in shoe design so now one of my favorite hobbies is making shoes," she said. “It’s really not that different from sewing. It’s really cool to design the pattern to fit a shoe last in the same way you design your dress pattern to fit a dress form."
Who are some of your role models, professionally and personally?
My personal role models are my family—my parents sacrificed a lot for my siblings and me to have access to better life choices than they did. My uncle, the Honorable Olly Neal, made the practice of law exciting; my father and his siblings all majored in STEM, which created a path for me. Professionally, I’ve been mentored by the best, from Lucy Sanders, CEO of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, to Laverne Morris-Palmer, former U S WEST executive, to Attorney General Phil Weiser, to the Honorable Wiley Daniel, to Professor David Hill, to the Honorable Claudia Jordan ('80). Each of them have had a significant impact on my life and I am a better person today because of them.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I’m an incredible introvert—but I really do enjoy learning about and from people. I’m a professional extrovert and a personal introvert. I really enjoy public speaking, but I have to recover by reading a book, or just finding a place for quiet time.
What is a book that you read recently that you would recommend?
Becoming, by former FLOTUS Michelle Obama. I followed the president and Mrs. Obama around during their initial bid for president. I was finally able to meet them both, but not at the same time, during President Obama’s bid for a second term. Reading her story, I found our former FLOTUS to be so relatable and grateful to know there are similarities in her story for all of us.
If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
I would love to be a fashion designer (shoes and clothes) for a day—it would be awesome to work on a line for Fashion Week and then get back to reality!