Travis Bell dedicated himself to a field he is passionate about: sustainability. He was even willing to undergo eight practice interviews and sift through 300 potential roles to pursue work that inspires him and makes an impact. As an investment associate and transaction attorney for GSSG Solar, Bell engages in sustainability issues and found a satisfying return on his investment of time and effort.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
About a year ago I joined a U.S.-based private equity fund, GSSG Solar, which finances the development and construction of large-scale solar projects in the U.S. and abroad. We’re currently focused on Japan (due to clean energy incentives put into place after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster), but we look at other markets as well, such as Korea and Ghana. We have about 15 folks between Denver and Tokyo.
My day is pretty nontraditional for a JD. I studied corporate finance in undergrad, so I’ve pursued roles involving not just “corporate” legal but also a healthy dose of financial modeling. My typical day is spent 50 percent in Excel modeling investment returns of potential solar project investments, and the other 50 percent in Word drafting contracts to make these investments. In both cases, the emphasis is on risk analysis and creative transaction structuring, both of which I can really nerd out on.
Prior to joining GSSG Solar, I worked for about six years on the legal and financial sides of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) at SRS Acquiom (SRSA), a Denver-based firm that’s sort of a hybrid between a law firm and financial services firm. At SRSA I ran an investment fund, was an M&A deal attorney, and worked in corporate development.
How did you find your job?
When I decided to leave SRSA, it was daunting to think about what to do next because I didn’t have a concrete idea. After a lot of thought I decided to pursue clean energy finance because it would allow me to spend 10-12 hours a day making a tangible impact on the issue I care most about (sustainability), and I could leverage my financial and legal skills. For anyone not quite sure what they want to do long-term, I highly recommend googling Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and spending some time thinking about the “pyramid.” It’s a seminal framework for long-term happiness that was a kick in the pants for me to go pursue my passion.
After narrowing the field to clean energy, I had to choose a few roles to seek out. I wrote out every organizational function in the clean energy industry (policy, finance, construction, consulting, nonprofit, etc.), and a bunch of individual roles within each of those. This left me with a list of approximately 300 roles I could pursue, and from that I picked three to really go after.
To find open, matching positions, I joined a few energy-focused meetup groups and set up keyword searches for job postings on LinkedIn. The latter was a huge time-saver—LinkedIn will send an email every day with newly posted jobs that match your filters for keywords, industry, location, company, etc. It really took the work out of searching.
From there, I focused on how to tell my story authentically and in a way that would resonate with employers. This process involved lots of trial and error, and feedback from mentors and industry professionals. I really had to get into the employers’ minds to understand what they were looking for. As a result of this whole process, when relevant roles opened up, I felt confident in communicating my skills, my goals, and why the role would be a natural fit.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
When I started the search, I was in San Francisco and not really looking to move; it was by chance that the GSSG gig was in Denver. Although I hadn’t engaged with Colorado Law for this search, the lessons I learned from the Career Development Office as a student carried forward—be methodical and “practice, practice, practice.” I’m sure I was a nuisance at the Career Development Office in 2010. Back then, Eric Bono generously interviewed me at least eight times for practice before an opportunity even hit my radar. I took a similar approach this time to avoid leaving much to chance when I got in front of a potential employer. I’m not great at winging interview questions, so I prepared a lot beforehand.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
The skills I rely on daily primarily include risk analysis, transaction structuring, and communicating accurately and precisely, e.g. when drafting contracts or communicating with management. Colorado Law’s courses on M&A transaction structuring, contract drafting, and legal writing were especially relevant
Please talk a little about “people skills” and relationship building. How have your professional acquaintances (and friends) made a difference in your career?
Professional relationships have made a difference primarily in the following ways:
(1) By accelerating my exposure to career-relevant information, both tactical and strategic—such as new technical knowledge, new ways to look at problems, a better view of “the big picture,” what “success” takes, and even just learning about interesting events to attend. In other words, the more folks I meet, the more information I’m exposed to that I can leverage to get better. For me, having a high velocity of meaningful interactions with relevant professionals has been critical for getting up the learning curve quickly. Networking doesn’t come naturally to me, but I really enjoy just listening to what people have to say.
(2) Secondly, it’s inspiring to know and have friendships with “rock star” peers. In addition to being motivating, they’re usually great people to hang with, too. It also goes without saying that relationships open doors. And when you get along well with the people you work with, those friendships make the workday a lot more enjoyable.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Most importantly, find your passion—that is, what would make you “long-term happy.” One way is to ask yourself: if on your last day on Earth you could look back over a 50-year career, what would you want to have accomplished? The return on investment scales exponentially the sooner you can distill and articulate this because once you start down a career path, it can require a ton of effort to change industries or roles (especially both), and by then you’ve lost time. In any event, I highly recommend reading up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to have at least one empirical take on the fundamental building blocks of a fulfilling life. This framework will help you methodically think through decisions as you pursue long-term happiness, i.e. whether you’re over- or under-weighting any particular “block.”
More tactically, make sure you really understand what a potential employer is looking for, so that you can tell your story in a way that immediately resonates. As we’ve all experienced, a first impression is typically formed in the first five seconds—whether it’s a resume or in-person—and there are rarely any second chances. Further, hiring decision-makers are human and are thus incentivized to gravitate toward the “least risky” candidate. How can you de-risk yourself as a candidate so that they don’t think twice about taking a chance on you?
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law should be first on your list if you plan to stay in or near Colorado or pursue a career in an area where the school is strong, such as environmental law, tribal law, or family law. It’s an amazing, fulfilling experience to be a Colorado Law student because all of the boxes are checked–stellar academics, family-like students and faculty, a gorgeous setting, and a quality of life that’s second to none. It’s a very rare combination.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law because it offered a top-ranked education in environmental and energy law, a close-knit student and professional community, and an unparalleled quality of life in Boulder.