This month, Colorado Law honors the recipient of our 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award for Private Practice, Regina Rodriguez. A native of Gunnison, Colorado, Rodriguez grew up in a family that travelled frequently in conjunction with her father’s coaching job. She began college while her father was coaching in Illinois and Iowa, and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1985 with a degree in psychology and a minor in Spanish. She subsequently returned to Denver and spent several months working, during which time she applied and was accepted to Colorado Law. While in law school, Rodriguez took a winter-session course on trial advocacy taught by John Purvis, and it was there that she first realized she wanted to become a trial attorney. Rodriguez also served as an intern in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver, where she worked alongside and learned from a number of distinguished attorneys. She earned her JD from Colorado Law in 1988.
Though Rodriguez realized during law school that she wanted to be a trial lawyer, she also knew from her experiences in the criminal law practicum at Colorado Law that she wasn’t interested in making a career out of criminal work. Several of her mentors in the U.S. Attorney’s office pointed her in the direction of Cooper & Kelley, a firm that was home to several former U.S. attorneys who specialized in civil litigation, and it was there that Rodriguez began her career as a young lawyer. During her seven years at the firm, Rodriguez sharpened her litigation skills while working with a group of seasoned, highly experienced trial lawyers. Then in 1995, Rodriguez left Cooper & Kelley and joined the U.S. Attorney’s office, where she had interned during law school.
Shortly after joining the office, Rodriguez had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C. to serve as Deputy Senior Counsel for Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Attorney General’s office. At the time, ADR was still a relatively new concept, and Attorney General Janet Reno’s vision was for the Department of Justice to use ADR as an integral part of the litigation process. In the AG’s office, Rodriguez helped establish a program to train all U.S. attorneys nationwide to use ADR more extensively. After six months in Washington, Rodriguez returned to Denver and was promoted to deputy chief of the civil division in the U.S. attorney’s office. When Tom Strickland became the new U.S. attorney in 1999, Rodriguez was promoted to chief of the civil division, the first Latina to hold that position. In 2002, Rodriguez joined the firm of Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels), where her practice focuses on defense of complex product liability cases, with an emphasis on medical drugs and devices. Rodriguez also defends clients in government investigations.
In addition to her successful product liability practice, Rodriguez is very active in pro bono and charitable causes, with an emphasis on expanding educational opportunities. She is a founding member of Colorado Youth at Risk, she served as a board member at Open Door and Family Star Montessori, and she offers volunteer legal counsel for the Denver Ballet Guild. Former Governor Bill Ritter appointed her to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in 2009, and she continues to serve the state as a Commissioner. She was named to the 2011 list of “Top Women Lawyers” by Law Week Colorado and is well regarded for her communication, leadership and critical thinking skills.
Five Questions for Alums
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
Probably my winter-session trial advocacy course with John Purvis – that’s when I discovered that I wanted to be a trial lawyer.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
We are a service industry, and clients come to us because they need help. You have to know the law and be smart, but it all depends on the types of relationships you are able to build with people.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Take advantage of opportunities to build practical skills in law school, and remember that you are the master of your own career. Also, not everyone needs to go to a big law firm; things are changing all the time, and there are so many other awesome possibilities, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
The attorneys at Cooper & Kelley back in the day: Paul Cooper, Dan Christopher, Tom Kelley, Frank Kennedy and all the others.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
My kids, and my husband, and my family. My mother’s family was Japanese-American, and was sent to live in a Wyoming internment camp during World War 2; my father’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and literally lived on the railroad. Both my parents went on to college, and I’m very proud of coming from that background and then being able to serve the public for many years.