Lisa Prato called District Attorneys' offices to find an internship after graduating in 2012, and it led her to a position as Deputy District Attorney in the 11th Judicial District. She encourages students to stay open to alternative paths to their career goals and to embrace networking as more than a business practice.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a "typical" work day look like?
I am a Deputy District Attorney (DDA) in the 11th Judicial District. As such, I am responsible for managing a court room docket in a division of the district court. My case load consists of approximately 250 – 300 active felony cases, but only about 30% of my time is spent litigating in court. Most of the day, I am analyzing cases to determine what charges to file, what “plea offer” to extend, and what potential legal problems might surface in the case. The remaining segment of my work time is filled with meetings with crime victims, defense attorneys, and members of law enforcement. A large part of a DDA’s job is to keep the justice system flowing smoothly by carefully selecting which cases to litigate; ensuring that crime victims have an ally; and, being available to help law enforcement resolve legal issues on and off the crime scene.
How did you find your job?
I found my job during the spring of my 3L year. I simply started calling District Attorneys' offices to see if any office would be open to having me work as a post-graduate intern. Generally, I was able to speak to someone directly on the phone before sending in application materials. I pursued this strategy because I knew that I wanted to work in the public sector. Budgetary constraints often prevent public sector employers from making firm job offers to new grads who have not taken the bar. Eventually, Thom LeDoux, elected District Attorney for the 11th Judicial District, invited me to meet him for coffee. From there, we worked out an arrangement for me to work part of the summer while studying for the bar. While there was not an immediate opening for a full-time attorney, D.A. LeDoux made sure that I had substantive, interesting work to do, and when a full-time job unexpectedly opened, I was able to easily transition into it.
How did Colorado law help you in your job search?
Colorado Law was immensely helpful to me during my post-grad job search! When I took the internship in the 11th Judicial District, I had to move and I did not know if there would ever be a full-time job available in that office. Moving meant that I needed to build a new network of attorneys in my area. Dean Weiser personally put me in touch with several local attorneys who were all extremely welcoming and helpful during my initial job search. Further, a newly established fellowship funded by Colorado Law made it financially possible for me to continue working fulltime, in the legal field, long after the funding source for my internship dried up. Colorado Law provides extraordinary support to its graduates, but career development at Colorado Law starts before graduation. The Career Development Office is full of open-minded, well connected, and approachable people who readily share their expertise with students.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I believe that the most crucial skill a lawyer develops is the ability to think critically. By this, I mean the ability to look at a case or legal problem and not only decipher the path to “winning,” but to also see the case from multiple angles. A decent lawyer can “win” in court, but a great lawyer thinks beyond winning to consider the broader consequences of her strategy. This way, a great lawyer can realistically advise clients of the best long-term course of action, and develop top-caliber credibility with the bench and other legal professionals. Colorado Law helps students develop critical thinking skills by providing access to a diverse and impressive faculty. Faculty push students to think outside the box, and bring unique perspectives about the law into the classroom. Moreover, the student body is composed of smart, tolerant people. The result is lively classroom discussion that encourages everyone to think differently and more deeply about legal issues. I can honestly attest that I did not take a single “bad class” at Colorado Law.
Please talk a little about "people skills" and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
People skills are essential to success as a lawyer. In the initial stages of my job hunt, I discovered that most of the lawyers I contacted were eager to help a new graduate. There are many unadvertised, and sometimes unconventional, opportunities for young lawyers to break into the legal field. Developing some contacts with more experienced attorneys can help anyone identify those opportunities. Two years into my career, I am finding that developing relationships with professionals outside of the legal field makes me a stronger lawyer. The law touches so many areas of American life; it is helpful to have trusted sources to turn to when navigating a foreign field. I would also note that some of my best networking has been done in non-traditional ways. I’ve met great professional contacts in the bouldering gym and on the ski lift!
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
One method that worked for me during busy times was to dedicate 15 minutes per day to doing something related to my job search. For example, I would work on compiling lists of deadlines, adjust my cover letter for a specific job, call a potential employer to follow-up, or compose an email to a new professional contact. You can easily fit one of those tasks in each day when you are looking for a job, and the payoff is huge. When you have larger blocks of time free, you will be able to focus on substantive career development work instead of getting bogged down in the little things. I would also emphasize the importance of being open-minded about what kinds of opportunities you will pursue. It is very easy to get caught up thinking about where you want to be without acknowledging all of the diverse paths that could you lead you there. A first job is a launch point, and in a competitive market, you must determine how you can be flexible and creative to get your start.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I genuinely enjoyed my time at Colorado Law, and I would enthusiastically recommend it. Colorado Law offers a unique combination of top-caliber education and friendliness. The students are wonderful, well rounded, smart people from all different walks of life. The professors and staff are approachable and anxious to help students regardless of class rank or career ambition. Beyond that, Boulder is a beautiful place to live. The surrounding flatirons make it easy to enjoy a hike, bike, climb, or run after class. Colorado Law is a place where you can do serious work while enjoying a healthy and well balanced life.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law because the friendly environment was obvious from my first visit. I valued the opportunity to go to a place where I could be challenged intellectually in such a positive and welcoming environment. Additionally, I knew that Colorado Law would offer all the tools I needed to forge a career in any area of law. The proximity to Denver opened many internship and networking opportunities, and the selection of courses was excellent. As someone looking to attend an outstanding law school without having to sacrifice the joys of Colorado living, Colorado Law was a perfect fit!