Justin Plaskov did not let a potentially daunting job description deter him from applying for the job he wanted. Even though he had not yet graduated law school, Plaskov landed the position of associate attorney at Lohf Shaiman Jacobs Hyman & Feiger PC in Denver. He finds meaning in his day-to-day work and encourages current law students to fearlessly and confidently pursue the work that interests them.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
Most of my work is on behalf of plaintiffs in employment matters, either counseling them on their rights and options as an employee or pursuing claims such as discrimination, retaliation, and wage claims. At this point in my career, I am in charge of managing my cases and am rarely given specific tasks by partners. Rather, I work collaboratively with my partner, Lynn Feiger, to develop case strategies and implement those strategies. Recently, I advocated for our firm to hire a law clerk. I led the application process, and we ended up hiring a new associate and a law clerk for whom I act as the primary supervisor. Our new associate, Sara Maeglin (’16), is a Colorado Law alumna and our law clerk, Alex Kirven (’18), is a 3L at Colorado Law.
In a typical day, I spend a fair amount of time corresponding with clients and opposing counsel through email and phone; a portion of my day is spent assigning tasks and supervising completion of tasks that I have assigned to our paralegal, law clerk, or associate. I do less legal research than when I was initially hired but still do some. I also meet with our paralegal to discuss potential new clients who have contacted our firm. I meet with about one to two potential new clients every week. I spend significant time talking with Lynn Feiger in order to strategize on our cases, bounce ideas off of her, and/or generally seek advice. Lastly, depending on where we are in our litigation cases, I spend time drafting briefs, taking depositions, and going to court.
The most meaningful and rewarding work I do as an attorney is examining witnesses during trial and taking depositions. I feel fortunate to work with Lynn Feiger because of her mentorship, wealth of litigation successes, and because early on in my career she allowed me to take depositions and participate in trials. In 2015, we tried a race/national origin discrimination and retaliation case in federal court where we obtained a nearly $15 million verdict for seven low-wage earners. I was lucky enough to examine and cross-examine about a third of the trial witnesses, many of whom were key witnesses in the case. During law school, I did not participate in the mock trials and focused my energy on law review and other activities. Nevertheless, I have come to love examining witnesses. I find that it is largely a psychological game between the attorney and the witness with the objective to give the observer a clear picture of the original facts of the case, as well as a story about the witnesses’ behaviors, personality, and instincts. I’ve found that being prepared, confident, and patient during a witness examination goes a long way toward extracting favorable testimony.
I was particularly drawn to plaintiffs’ employment law because of the opportunity to help individuals assert their legal rights and to hold companies responsible for breaking laws. The work I do is incredibly rewarding, whether I am representing low-wage earners or company executives.
How did you find your job?
I found my job through CDOnline. There was a job posting was for an employment law associate. At the time, I was a 3L and had yet to secure employment for the fall. I figured it could not hurt to submit my application, even though the firm was seeking a full-time employee with a law degree. I submitted my résumé with a brief email stating that I was interested, could begin right away as a law clerk, and did not yet have employment for the fall. I got a call back, interviewed, and walked away with a job.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
Colorado Law helped immensely in my job search. I frequently went into the Career Development Office to pick the brains of the staff and eventually worked closely with Assistant Dean for Career Development Todd Rogers. Prior to joining Lohf Shaiman, I wanted to clerk for a judge. I had worked for a federal judge, a district court judge, and a Colorado Supreme Court justice during law school. In the fall of my 3L year, I received an offer to work for the Supreme Court Chief Justice of Nevada following graduation. I felt immense pressure to take the job, but for multiple reasons, did not think it was the right fit for me. Assistant Dean Rogers spent a significant amount of time understanding my dilemma and helping me to make the right decision. The Career Development Office was invaluable in helping me achieve my goals.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
There is no doubt that Colorado Law provided a great foundation for the work I do today. The most important thing that I learned is how to think about a problem to identify solutions. You realize after you graduate that there are so many things you’ll learn over the years that could not be taught in law school. As I continue to grow and learn as an attorney, I find that I have sharpened my skills so that I am more efficient and a better researcher, writer, oral advocate, and counselor.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and relationship-building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
I find that it is very important for me to continue to put myself out there by talking with individuals I don’t know. I think we are taught in law school that networking means you go to cocktail parties with other lawyers. I find it helpful to socialize with other attorneys, and those connections are very beneficial. But I find that most new clients are referred to me by non-attorneys I meet, law school friends who know me as an employment attorney, or past clients. Networking means being social and sharing the work I am doing in all settings, not just with other lawyers.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
The most important thing I can say is don’t be afraid to apply! It never hurts to put yourself out there for a job you want. I got multiple jobs during law school because I reached out to people who were not advertising for a position, and I got my current job by applying for an associate position when I didn’t have a law degree. Look high, look low, keep on looking, and your determination will pay off!
Another really important aspect of applying for jobs is to prepare for and then nail your interviews. It is extremely important to be a good presenter and advocate of yourself while in an interview. A significant part of that is to learn to be comfortable with yourself as an attorney and more specifically, to see yourself in the job you are applying for. If you are not confident in an interview or are stumbling over an answer, your interviewer will assume that you are not a confident person and will not be a good advocate on behalf of your clients. So practice with anyone who will listen to you, or practice alone—just make sure to be prepared.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law isn’t like other law schools. I loved law school, as did most of my law school friends. I had professors who challenged me to think hard and deep and to be open-minded about solutions to legal issues or practical issues. My professors always had an open door for me to discuss unresolved issues. But as great as my professors were, maybe the best thing about Colorado Law is the student body. I didn’t feel like I was in competition with my classmates, even though each of us wanted the best grade from each class. We worked together in a congenial way in hopes that we’d all learn the material and would all succeed in our aspirations. In our law school class, it seemed like everyone was friends, and even though there were groups of friends, it wasn’t cliquey. This is all not to mention the beautiful law building, a great city, and the wonderful outdoors living in Colorado.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
When choosing a law school, it was paramount that the school had high academic standards for its professors and students. But equally important for me was that it seemed as though Colorado Law attracts an older student body of people who have already been professionals and people who were passionate to use their degrees for good. I certainly found that the student body is filled with people who wanted to make the world a better place by protecting the environment, working on civil justice, or providing representation to those in need.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts