Xakema Henderson took advantage of the opportunities presented to her at Colorado Law, including the Paul D. White Scholarship Program and the Juvenile Law Clinic, which helped prepare her for a legal career. Now a complex commercial litigator at BakerHostetler, she loves the manifold nature of her work.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I practice complex commercial litigation at BakerHostetler in Denver, Colorado. I primarily work on my firm’s national privacy class action team, which defends class actions around the country and handles all aspects of privacy and data security-related litigation. This includes class actions that may follow a data security incident, as well as litigation based on state and federal laws, including HIPAA, FCRA, and California’s Confidential Medical Information Act. I spend about 30 percent of my time on other categories of litigation, including product liability, financial services, energy, and high-end family law. That said, I don’t have a “typical” day—every day is different, which is what I love most about what I do. On quieter days, I am sitting in my office, researching or writing memoranda, motions, briefs, or discovery-related documents. On busier days, I may be doing these and be across town (or out of town) in court or mediation, on the phone negotiating with opposing counsel, speaking with a client, and working with one of my teams to develop our litigation strategy.
How did you find your job?
I was hired at BakerHostetler as a 1L through the firm’s Paul D. White Scholarship Program for diverse students. After clerking as a summer associate for 12 weeks, I was asked to return the next year, and after my second summer, I was offered a full-time position post-graduation. After I graduated in 2014, I took a slight detour and clerked for Justice William W. Hood at the Colorado Supreme Court. I began working as an associate at BakerHostetler in October 2015.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
The school did a great job of letting students know when job opportunities arose, particularly with letting 1Ls know what opportunities were available to them. I remember learning of the Paul D. White Scholarship through a CDO [Career Development Office] email blast, which prompted me to research BakerHostetler and subsequently apply for the scholarship program.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
As expected, I rely immensely on the research and writing skills that law school emphasizes in general. I appreciate CU for investing in its students by offering advanced research and writing courses. My experiences on the school’s moot court team and in practice-based classes such as Motions Practice and Trial Advocacy have been invaluable. These experiences gave me a solid foundation in the basics of being a great advocate, which I define as someone who is attentive, deliberate, and relentless.
But my experience as a student attorney in the Juvenile Law Clinic with Professor Colene Robinson was perhaps the most useful. While I use some of the substantive knowledge I gained in that work as a volunteer with our firm's legal clinic at Florence Crittenton High School for pregnant teens and mothers, the skills I gained and developed in clinic have transferred to my day-to-day practice. I learned everything from the basic skill of how to keep a case organized, to the more judgment-based skill of how to think through how present decisions may affect long-term outcomes. I also learned what it means to take ownership of a case and client, how to manage expectations for the client and other stakeholders, how to advocate within the parameters of ethical conflicts, and perhaps most importantly, how to trust myself as an advocate and counselor. I don't think there was any experience better than being a student attorney.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
Networking and “people skills” mean something different depending on whom you ask. For people like me who are both introverts and not fans of small talk, “networking” sounds like a chore. So, I’ve had to change the way I think about “networking.” I focus now on seeing networking as what it is at its core: relationship building and using my “people skills” in the context of my strengths and what works for me. I make an effort to build and maintain good relationships with others—whether they are professional peers or social peers. In my experience, just being genuine, taking interest in the interests of others, and offering the best version of yourself go a long way in establishing and maintaining relationships. I don’t try to be someone I’m not, which this field can pressure people to do, or network in a way that doesn’t compliment my personality. My professional network is comprised of people who, in my view, hold greater respect for me because of the intention and genuineness I maintain.
I also see my professional network as extending beyond other lawyers and potential clients. For instance, I sit on two school boards, I am the leader of the young adult ministry at my church, and I have been a “Big” in Big Brothers, Big Sisters for two years. This community involvement probably won’t bear any direct fruit in my legal career, but every space I occupy is an opportunity to foster new relationships and nurture old ones, to be a servant and a leader, to meaningfully contribute to that space, and to just be kind. These are the people skills that I believe ultimately make a difference in your career in the form of reputation and likability, two factors that can lead to opportunity.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
- Go after what you want, but be patient.
- Be confident in spite of your grades and rank (people can overlook these if they believe you’re capable)/be humble in spite of your grades and rank (people can overlook these if they think you will be hard to work with or train). And, generally, confidence and humility go well together. Figure out how to do both.
- Use asset-based thinking for every job opportunity—what knowledge, skills, and relationships can you take away from the experience even if it’s not where you want to be?
- Over prepare for interviews, including those informal coffees. Learn about the organization (and what they do at that particular office), the person you’re meeting with, and show that you’ve taken the time to do your due diligence.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
Colorado Law is a collegial environment where people work hard and are competitive, yet they don’t take themselves too seriously. The professors and faculty are extremely supportive and willing to invest in students who seek out their advice and support.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I came to visit soon after I’d been accepted, and every single person I met during the visit was ridiculously kind. The collegial environment was apparent when I sat in on Professor Melissa Hart’s civil procedure class, and both Professor Hart and the students next to me gave me their contact information so that I could reach out to them in my decision-making process. After my visit and talking to a number of current law students, I knew Colorado Law was where I wanted to be.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts