Noah Cecil bloomed where he was planted both in the legal field and in law school. As an assistant city attorney in the municipal operations section of the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Cecil enjoys his diverse workload. While in law school, he befriended new people who formed a support base that allowed him to thrive. His advice for success is gaining experience, making connections, and getting a good haircut.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I won the job lottery. I am an assistant city attorney in the municipal operations section of the Denver City Attorney’s Office. I primarily work on contracting matters and public utility issues but spend a significant amount of time supporting municipal finance projects, providing counsel on special districts, and litigating tax appeals. My days are diverse. This week I drafted an answer brief in a property tax appeal, helped the finance department move through a rulemaking process, reviewed contracts and legal standards relating to tax increment financing projects, drafted filings and corresponded with outside counsel in a variety of Public Utility Commission cases—involving electrical ratemaking, railroad crossings, and telecommunication rules—and attended meetings, lots of meetings.
How did you find your job?
I was hired by the Denver City Attorney’s Office after a yearlong fellowship. I learned about the fellowship from Alexia McCaskill in the Career Development Office sometime during my 2L year. I had little notion what local government law offices did, so I smiled, nodded, and shopped my résumé on Denver’s 17th Street. Later in the year, though, my good friends Amy Moore (’15) and Gabriel Bouvet-Boisclair (’15) let me in on the secret. Both had clerked with the Boulder County Attorney’s Office and had stellar reviews—great projects, great people, high expectations, and genuine public service. A generalist’s dream. So, during my 3L year I spent three days a week working as a clerk for Boulder County. After that experience, I was excited to test the waters in a big city law office and the fellowship was a natural fit.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
The fellowship program that Colorado Law has in place with our office was a huge boon in finding employment right out of law school. It helped me get my foot in the door where veteran attorneys are status quo. The folks in the Career Development Office played an equally important role. Todd Rogers and Alexia McCaskill were tireless supporters—riffing with me about legal interests, networking, firm life, public service, and other important considerations. Finally, Colorado Law helped through its robust network. It may not be widely known, but CU rolls deep in the local government world. Consequently, there were plenty of friendly folks—Ben Pearlman (’96), Brooke McKinley (’05), Ben Doyle (’08), Paul Wisor (’05), and Jeremy Durham (’09) among many others—who graciously served as sounding boards and boosters in the job search.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Every day I research, write, and provide clients with constructive legal guidance. The research tools and tactics that I learned in my 1L year still serve as a foundation for efficient legal reconnaissance. Likewise, courses that involved some element of technical writing provide a touchstone for the briefs, motions, memos, and emails I draft daily. Beyond these essential skills, Colorado Law helped connect sound legal analysis with the practicalities confronted by clients. To paraphrase a story told by Professor Scott Peppet in my 1L contracts course: any attorney can tell a client “it depends”; successful attorneys are able to help clients make decisions. Leg Reg [Legislation and Regulation] with Professor Helen Norton, the Family Law Clinic with Associate Professor Deborah Cantrell, and my senior seminar with Professor Sarah Krakoff all provided space for rigorous legal analysis in the context of real-world decision-making. I regularly refer to the lessons I learned in those classes.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
Fortune has smiled upon me; I am a member of the Class of 2015. My cohort is filled with kind, supportive, and collaborative people scattered throughout the public and private sector, the Front Range, Western Slope, mountain states, and coasts. As mentioned above, the people I have met through Colorado Law—peers, professors, and alumni—have been absolutely essential in my career development. Whether networking is spiritually taxing or enriching, it undoubtedly plays a primary role in job placement. Before accepting the job offer here in Denver, I had job offers from a few private firms, all of which arose out of some degree of networking.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
I recommend three things for current students in the job hunt. First, get out into the legal world and intern, extern, or clerk. Do it every summer and semester that you can. It provides perspective, a broader network, writing samples, and something interesting to talk about in interviews—more intriguing than discussing your favorite 2L course. Second, take a clinic, any clinic. The clinics provide a low-risk environment to make mistakes while developing a practical set of legal skills. Third, get a haircut—and network.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Come for the mountains, stay for your peers. While Colorado Law has a sterling academic reputation, impressive extracurricular offerings (e.g. Silicon Flatirons, the Getches-Wilkinson Center, the 2.5-year JD program, clinics) and a strong job placement record, it has to be one of the best places in the country to spend three years as a law student. Not only is Boulder beautiful, with easy access to world-class sources of joy (e.g. hiking, skiing, fishing, biking, and beer), the school attracts a student body that values a well-balanced life. Colorado Law students sport impressive intellects, but they know that law school is not the end game. They value their friendships and community, time away from academics, and exciting personal projects (e.g. nonprofits they might have started in D.C., art openings in Denver, playing with their band at SXSW, or climbing 5.12 before they turn 40).
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law for a variety of reasons. I grew up in Fort Collins and knew I wanted to return to the Front Range after a decade away. I considered a number of schools on the coasts, but Colorado Law offered a unique mix of academic quality, proximity to family, and financial support. I also talked to a few different CU alumni; all had very positive opinions of the school. So, I packed my bags in Boston and headed back to the motherland.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts