Tyler Thompson left Colorado Law as a self-proclaimed “networking evangelist.” By taking advantage of the opportunities available to him as a law student, Thompson landed his job against the odds and built numerous meaningful connections.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I am in-house counsel at DaVita. DaVita is an international Fortune 500 health care company headquartered in Denver. Our main business is kidney dialysis, but we have many other health care businesses as well. The legal department is about 215 people, and about 80 of those are attorneys. If you think about how few Denver law firms are that size, you realize that DaVita is a huge player in the legal market here.
My typical work day is varied. I am on the commercial contracting team, so much of my day is redlining large enterprise-wide contracts and then meeting with opposing counsel to negotiate contentious provisions. These can be everything from license agreements and SaaS (Software as a Service) to purchasing light bulbs. I also collect settlements from doctor groups, which is basically just more negotiations, but the fact that there is a doctor on the other side, not an attorney, adds a lot of interesting wrinkles. My “pet project” is privacy law, so I also spend time giving counsel on different privacy provisions or helping other teams with privacy issues.
How did you find your job?
A LOT of networking, Colorado Law alumni, and of course a little luck. I knew I wanted to go straight into in-house after law school, but nearly everyone told me that doesn’t happen. I decided early on I would ignore these people and give it a shot. I probably had 100 coffees with various attorneys in the Denver legal market. At most of these I met a great attorney and learned something about the market, but didn’t progress my goal of getting an in-house job. Some days I would return from three back-to-back meetings with different attorneys and be no closer to even hearing of a job opening. Eventually I got lucky. I met a Colorado Law alumnus, Jason Obold (’12), who referred me to an attorney he knew at DaVita, Neda Curry. I met with Neda, and we just hit it off. I think we both were excited about the prospect of working with each other. Coincidently, I had reached out to Neda’s supervisor and another Colorado Law alum, Julie DeCecco (’98), months before via LinkedIn. Julie saw my LinkedIn message and was willing to meet for coffee. Once Julie knew I had met Neda, coffee turned into an interview for a position that didn’t even have a job description yet. Finally, another Colorado Law alumnus, Harold Whipp (’14), had started at DaVita right out of school. His success made the department open to hiring first-year attorneys, and his help allowed me to go into the interview very prepared.
Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity if I hadn’t spent months networking with as many people as possible. Also, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that three Colorado Law alumni (Jason, Julie, and Harold) were all instrumental to me getting me a shot at the position.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
I consider my job search very nontraditional. It wasn’t an OCI [On-Campus Interview] or a posting on a job board, so I didn’t use the CDO [Career Development Office] in the usual ways. However, the CDO did give me a lot of support, whether it was strategy discussions, résumé review, or just encouraging me to keep trying. Obviously, the fact that I went to Colorado Law allowed me to connect with three crucial people in my job hunt.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
Drafting and negotiating are skills that I use on a daily basis. I took a lot of classes at Colorado Law that specifically targeted these skills, including transactional drafting, real estate negotiation classes, advanced legal writing, etc. I have learned that drafting is probably as close to a universal skill as you can have in the legal profession, surpassed only by negotiating. If you learn [as much about drafting and negotiation] as possible at Colorado Law, it’s hard for me to imagine a job where you would feel like that was wasted time, even if you decided not to practice law.
I also highly encourage externships and using every credit you can. I had seven hours of externship credit with which I learned so much that is hard to learn in an academic setting, and [those externships] show up as additional work experience on the résumé. There are a lot of places that can’t take a paid intern, but if you’re free because you are getting course credit they take you instantly. Take advantage of it.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
Networking literally got me my job. I remember all the networking sessions at Colorado Law. The message was often: “Put yourself out there and keep trying and you will be amazed at what happens.” I’m not afraid to admit I didn’t believe that when I was in school. Now, I am a networking evangelist. I preach networking to everyone. Even if you have a job, there is simply no better way to learn about the field than just meeting people and picking their brain. Plus, the Colorado market is small enough that if you meet people you will keep running into them again and again.
Law students have a huge advantage because they have a built in reason to be reaching out to other attorneys: they are trying to learn about the field. The most successful thing for me was the LinkedIn or email message that basically said “I’m new. I want to learn what you do.” Everyone responds well to that. Nearly everyone wants to pay it forward and help someone else out who is just getting their start. It’s crucial to go into networking not with the mindset of “I want a job, what can you do for me?” but instead, “I want to learn, what can you teach me?” Although the networking sessions at school are useful, there is really no comparison to reaching out to someone and sitting down with them one on one.
Finally, I think a lot of law students don’t network because it sounds either difficult, terrible, or fake to sit across the table from someone and try to make a professional connection. I know I felt that acutely, and the first networking coffee I went to, I was incredibly nervous. However, just push yourself through it and network more and more. I gradually got more comfortable with it, and now I am at the point where I genuinely love meeting a random new person for the first time. It took me a long time to get there, but trust the process.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Network and start early. No matter what level you are in law school, I guarantee you aren’t meeting enough people. Pay the $20 a month for LinkedIn Premium, and send your three messages to three interesting attorneys every month. Talk to the CDO and get some contacts. Reach out to anyone you know. Reach out to me! The bottom line is, most jobs are filled through personal connections, and even with an amazing résumé, you probably aren’t sticking out that much from other law grads on paper. Use networking as your competitive advantage to become more attractive than the person with one more internship or a class rank that’s seven higher than yours. Meeting someone face-to-face plants the idea of “this person could be useful to us. They fit in with our culture.” The more people you meet, the better your odds are of finding what you want.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Once they see Boulder and Wolf Law, I wouldn’t have to say a thing. If someone was still on the fence, I’d just point to Colorado. Everyone wants to live here. It seems like we win every “best place to live” award there is. Businesses wants to be here too. As I type this, I count eight cranes putting up new buildings in LoDo. The bottom line is that the state is growing and more and more things are happening here. It’s a market you want be a part of no matter what type of law you practice. Once you realize that it’s a no-brainer to pick the highest-ranked law school in the area: Colorado Law. Living in Boulder and taking classes on the most beautiful campus in the country is just a bonus.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I’m a Colorado native, grew up a big CU fan, and went to CU for undergrad. I was initially dead-set on going out of state for law school. I got into a lot of great schools, but I found myself comparing every campus to CU and every city to Denver and Boulder. It really wasn’t close for me after that. So many times I’d be visiting a school and people giving tours would want to talk to me about Colorado, Denver, or Boulder instead of about their school. It was pretty clear where the future was.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts