Even after 25 years, one of Ann Roan’s clients remembers the way she changed his life.
University of Colorado School of Law alumna Ann Roan began her career as a public defender in 1990 in Pueblo, Colorado. While teaching a group of young lawyers in Pueblo in August 2017, she unexpectedly ran into a client from all those years ago.
The former client thanked her for the way she fought for him and persuaded a jury to find him not guilty for a crime he did not commit.
“The idea that a quarter of a century later I could circle back around with him and understand that I had a made a difference for him in his life and allowed him to get on and do the things that he wanted to do was incredibly special to me,” Roan said.
Roan retired this fall after 27 years with the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office. Even with the long hours and difficult times spent away from her loved ones, Roan has had an incredibly fulfilling career.
“I think that being involved in things that I feel are important, not just for me but for people who so desperately need opportunity and so desperately need some kindness, has made my career not feel like a chore,” Roan said. “It’s felt like an honor.”
Roan’s desire to help the underserved began even before she commenced her legal career. When Roan was in high school, she volunteered at the Catholic Worker Soup Kitchen in Denver, where her passion for service sparked.
“It was really that experience that led me to believe that I wanted to have the ability to advocate for people who didn’t have a voice,” Roan said.
As a third-generation lawyer, Roan followed in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, who both practiced criminal law. And as a born-and-raised Coloradan, Roan knew that Colorado Law was the natural choice for law school.
“I knew I wanted to do something that involved social justice, but I didn’t figure out public defense until after graduation,” Roan said.
Interestingly enough, Roan’s first job out of law school was not in public service.
“My first job out of law school was with a big firm, and I realized after a couple of months there that I just wasn’t invested in the kind of work we were doing, which means that I wasn’t being a good lawyer for my clients,” Roan said. “So it was then that I applied to the public defender’s office.”
Roan found that not having to worry about billable hours or what a client could afford gave her flexibility in how much time she spent on each case and was fulfilling.
For ten years, Roan worked in a number of trial offices. She then moved to a position in the Public Defender Appellate Division, and in 2004, became the state training director for the Colorado State Public Defender.
“I felt that I was helping law school graduates figure out how to actually practice law, how to advocate in court, how to be client centered, and that was incredibly rewarding,” Roan said.
As evidenced by her service in the community, Roan has a drive to help others. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center and is the president of the criminal law division of the Colorado Bar Association.
“It’s so important to figure out a way to use your law degree in a way that also reflects your passion about law,” Roan said.
Though she has retired as a public defender, Roan will continue to use her legal skills to advocate for underserved children in Colorado.
“I think now more than ever Colorado children need excellent lawyers, and so I’m hoping to work on projects that bring high quality defense to kids who have too often been discarded and discounted by the criminal justice system,” Roan said.
Roan also plans to take some well-deserved time to reconnect with things that she has not had the chance to do in a long time. She plans to spend more time with her husband and two children. They enjoy skiing and traveling together.
What is your fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law?
My fondest memory of being a student at Colorado Law was the camaraderie my classmates and I shared. The supportive, collaborative ethic that Colorado Law has created and nurtured is a very special thing.
What do you know now that you wish you had known in law school?
I wish that I had had more exposure in law school to successful female practitioners. It would have been very helpful to be able to form relationships early on with women who had faced and solved many of the challenges that I encountered after graduation.
What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Students on the brink of graduation should do everything they can to find a way to use their law degrees in service to their passions. We spend an enormous amount of time at work, and if that work is inspiring, challenging and meaningful, that investment feels more like a gift and less like a burden.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
The people who most influenced my career are the brilliant women who served as my role models. From Terri Brake, who was the first woman to serve as chief deputy in the public defender’s office and a renowned capital lawyer, to Kathleen Lord, who is the smartest appellate lawyer I know, to Judge Beverly Martin on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, whose razor-sharp legal analysis and tireless work ethic are inspirational to me. I have been lucky to find women who are mentors and friends in many places.
Of what accomplishment are you most proud?
My proudest accomplishment, without question, is being a mother. My daughter, Molly, and my son, Patrick, are consistently the biggest sources of joy in my life. No verdict, no victory, no legal battle will ever make me feel as lucky and happy as they do.