For the past year, Sam Cannon clerked at the Denver District Court for Judge Eric Elliff (’87). Through the clerkship, Cannon has had the opportunity to improve the core legal writing and research skills developed at Colorado Law. Now as his clerkship concludes, Cannon has gained the confidence to launch his own practice—Cannon Law—on September 1, 2014. He encourages current law students to find their passion and pursue it vigorously, network earnestly, and embrace creative problem solving.
Tell us a little about your work. What does a typical day look like?
During the day I work as a law clerk for Judge Elliff in Denver District Court. For that I conduct research, write orders, and organize logistics for the courtroom. It has been a great job because I watch lawyers in action and learn what works and what doesn't.
In my free time, I've been preparing to launch my own practice. I've been educating myself about my practice areas, networking, and organizing the business itself. Getting the business set up has really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone. I've written a business plan, formed an LLC, set up business and trust bank accounts, taught myself to use accounting software, bought malpractice insurance, found office space, and designed and built a website (www.cannonlaw.com). It has been a tremendous amount of work, but I'm now ready to launch.
After I launch, I will be spending my time finding clients and representing them in employment, personal injury, and criminal cases.
How did you decide to set up your own practice?
I've always been interested in entrepreneurship and thought I would set up my own practice someday, but clerking in a district court has really helped me make the decision to hang a shingle now. For a start, I've gained valuable experience in both civil and criminal litigation and learned a lot about what to do and what not to do while practicing law. More than anything, it has given me the confidence that I will be able to successfully represent my own clients.
Of course, I've been careful to give myself and my clients a safety net. I've found an office in a suite with other attorneys who I can go to if I have questions, and a lot of other attorneys have offered to consult or co-counsel on cases to help me gain experience practicing law.
How did Colorado Law help you to prepare for your career?
Colorado Law really encourages students to take part in extracurricular activities, which helped me build the skills necessary to practice law. During law school, I interned for a District Court Judge, a non-profit organization, and a district attorney’s office, which helped me gain confidence appearing in court and performing legal research and writing. I participated in mock trial competitions and edited a law journal. This helped me learn to solve problems and work independently.
What skills do you use on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Aside from legal research and writing, the skill I use most often is creative problem solving. Most days I run into a question that I don't immediately know how to answer. Sometimes it's a legal question I've never seen before; sometimes it is business-related like learning to design a website. I think Colorado Law taught me that I won't always know the answer to a problem, but more often than not, I can find the answer if I work hard enough.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
There's nothing more important than having a strong network. Since I decided to open my own practice, I've received advice about practicing law, offers to refer cases, and offers to consult or co-counsel on cases if I need help. With other lawyers helping me, I'm much more confident that I can give my clients the very best representation.
With respect to how to form that kind of network, I'd encourage students to treat networking as more than a job search. I've found lawyers to be extremely open to meeting with young lawyers and law students to answer questions and give advice. But, when people think you only want to meet them in order to find a job, they're more suspect. If you meet lawyers and make friends with them, you will win advice, mentors, and job opportunities.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Work out what you want to do and go after it. It's easy in law school to get sucked in to chasing what everyone else thinks is best. I'd encourage students to avoid that. Really think about what you enjoy and what you find interesting. Once you know what you're interested in, it will come across when you meet other attorneys. That will make your job search and networking efforts much more successful.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law gives students a supportive environment to do anything you want to do. I have friends working as lobbyists, political staffers, law clerks, district attorneys, public defenders, big firm lawyers, small firm lawyers, and everything in between. Colorado Law helped them all work out what they wanted to do and showed them how to achieve it.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
My family is from Colorado, so I knew I wanted to stay in the Mountain West. What finally tipped the scales for Colorado Law, though, was the admitted student day. First, I went to a class put on by Professor Norton and was impressed by her enthusiasm for helping proto-law students understand the law. Then we were shown around the school by current students who were all friendly and excited about the school. The whole experience made me realize Colorado Law isn't one of the cutthroat law schools you hear horror stories about and that it would be a supportive learning environment. I appreciated that, and paid my deposit right away.