by Danaé D. Woody
As the 2015–16 Chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD or Division), Nicole Marie Black has lofty plans for the Division. Black comes to the leadership position at what she characterizes to be a unique time for the bar association. She says:
We are being asked to make changes and to strive to do better outreach to young lawyers. I’m excited to say our Executive Council has the energy and momentum to make those changes. I’m eager for the opportunity to help lead our efforts and hopeful other young lawyers will be encouraged to get involved in the Young Lawyers Division early and often.
Black’s own career, in some ways, epitomizes the changes occurring within the legal profession and the bar association. The direction the YLD is likely to take in the coming year is, in part, a reflection of those changes.
Ready for Change
Black welcomes change and seizes opportunities that come her way. Now in her fourth year of practice, she is an associate attorney in the Denver office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP, a national firm based in Los Angeles and relatively new to the Denver area. She practices primarily antitrust and competition law, but on occasion does commercial and regulatory work, as well.
Like many of her colleagues, Black has moved practice areas and firms more than once. She previously worked in complex commercial litigation and insurance coverage/bad-faith litigation at Denver-area boutique and regional firms. She recognizes that every opportunity for change involves risk; but for her, the benefits have outweighed the risks and have propelled her career forward. She advises that having a well-established professional network is an essential security net for handling these risks in stride.
“The bar association has been instrumental in allowing me to both find opportunities and take risks that may otherwise scare me,” she says. She goes on to say:
I have met attorneys through the bar association who later sent me work or helped me make a connection that became a job opportunity. I have filled time gaps in my work through participation in committees and leadership at the CBA. Most important, the camaraderie I’ve found at the bar has allowed me to share ideas and to brainstorm what step is next in my career. The bar community has encouraged me to plow forward when I’ve been low, and has given me a pat on the back when I’ve succeeded. Now in a position of leadership, I’m eager to be able to give back to the bar association community by helping effect change the association is ready to make.
A Home for Transplant Lawyers—Everyone Comes to the Bar
Black is a Colorado transplant, like many of Colorado’s young lawyers. She transferred to the University of Denver (DU) as a college sophomore. After graduating with a BA in French and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in International Business, and later with a JD from the DU Sturm College of Law (DU Law), Black found herself in need of a network. So, she became involved with her alumni association. “DU will always be my home,” she says. “My advice is to treat your alma mater like you would your own home and family; visit often and keep the cupboards full however you can.”
Black explains that getting involved in the bar association was her effort to replicate what she had done in her alumni network. When she needed a community of legal professionals to lean on, the bar fulfilled that need. In her coming year as CBA YLD chair, Black seeks to make the YLD the best bridge into the bar and the profession for all attorneys, especially those without a thriving alumni organization in Colorado. Black believes that the bar association must do a better job of connecting young lawyers with opportunities for pro bono service, further legal education, mentoring, and career advancement.
Student Outreach: Why New Lawyers
are the Change We Need in the Bar
Black notes that CBA President Loren Brown feels strongly about involving law students in the bar association and expects to make this one focus of his presidency. Black echoes the sentiment. “Loren wants to make sure we as a bar association are relevant to law students,” she says, “and that we are involving them in our activities and offerings. The CBA YLD is eager to help in that effort.”
Extending a helping hand to students and new grads is central to Black’s values as a leader in the Denver legal community. Excitedly, she shares: “I love the optimism students and new grads bring to the table; they remind me that lawyers are energized by a sense of justice and change.” She beams and continues, “Sometimes, in practice, we lose sight of that driving sense, and a smiling new face is a great reminder!”
Giving Back as a Coach, Mentor, and Teacher
Students and new graduates are a regular presence in Black’s professional life. She met many of the young lawyers she now calls her colleagues and friends through coaching, as a writing adviser for the DU Law’s Bar Success Program, and as the chair of the alumni organization for the law school known as Law GOLD. She has been a leader behind developing the Transactional Competition with DU Law and the University of Colorado School of Law—a moot competition for students interested in transactional law. This competition is hosted, organized, and sponsored by the CBA Business Law Section. Black also is a reliable resource for young lawyers and law students needing a sounding board. As she is fond of saying, “I love to hear other people’s ideas about their career and to share my own experiences, whatever they may be. That sort of peer exchange and feedback is crucial as a young lawyer.”
Currently, Black is an adjunct professor in the Business Ethics and Legal Studies Department of DU’s Daniels College of Business. Through teaching, she hopes to change the perception and understanding of the law and encourage students to consider careers in law. She describes her intention this way:
In the coming year, I want the YLD and all of the bar leadership to think about why students would want to get involved in the bar association. We have to be an open-arms community for the up-and-coming lawyer. Students’ optimism and innovation should inspire us as a bar association to adapt in previously unexplored ways so that we remain a valuable resource for new generations of lawyers—not just today, but for years to come.
Programming Preview: No Bridge Too Far for the YLD This Year
What her impressive résumé makes explicitly clear is that Black is well prepared to serve as YLD chair as it enters a new era of vitality and unmatched service to its members. Many young lawyers enter the profession at a loss for how to become involved with the bar and with other young lawyers outside their firms. Black reminds them that not long ago, she was in those same shoes.
Her message to all young lawyers is clear: “Getting involved is the best thing you can do for your career. It insulates career risk, it helps you find and make changes to your own practice, and it gives you a sense of purpose.” She says further: “Bringing community to your practice through participation in the bar association is a simple way to remind you on a bad day that this profession is worth it. Your practice, what you do, is worth it.” Her closing advice to new attorneys is simple: “Get involved in the Young Lawyers Division this year!”
An Active and Proactive Agenda on the Table
Black’s agenda for the coming year focuses on maximizing the benefits of the bar association for young lawyers statewide by facilitating connections between young lawyers and opportunities at the bar. The CBA YLD Council is still formulating its programming for the coming year, but Black confirms that the Division will emphasize peer mentoring, volunteerism, and career fitness as part of the next year’s activities and opportunities.
Young lawyers can also expect more opportunities to volunteer for a cause—whether that will be through the popular Bullyproof program, pro bono legal nights, or planting trees in areas of the state scorched by wildfire. Black would also like to bring broader coffee-talk-style mentoring to the YLD by facilitating more opportunities for one-on-one discussion and peer feedback. There will also likely be increased opportunities for casual connections through career and personal fitness for young lawyers who believe that a healthy lifestyle is the foundation for a thriving career. “The YLD has listened to what young lawyers want,” Black says, “and the Executive Council has experienced what they need. Now let us lead the way.”
About the CBA YLD—Get Involved!
A young lawyer in Colorado is any lawyer 37 years of age and younger, or any lawyer within the first five years of practice. Participation as a member of YLD is a great way to connect with peers, engage in community service opportunities, and develop one’s professional skills. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, contact Nicole Black at Nicole.Black@lewisbrisbois.com, check out the YLD website at www.cbayounglawyers.com, or visit the YLD Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CBAYLD.
The YLD Executive Council welcomes all young lawyers at its monthly meetings, which are held at the CBA offices on the first Wednesday of every month at 6:00 p.m. Watch for the CBA YLD monthly e-newsletter for explanations of changes, events, and opportunities within the Division this year.
Watch Nicole’s video and hear here talk about her plans for the new year.
Previously published in the July 2015 edition of The Colorado Lawyer.