The Only Paul Chan for Us
by Mindy Marks
Think you know Paul Chan? Paul Chan the modern artist, actor or rocket scientist? Paul Chan who has bill collectors after him? Paul Chan the tax attorney from Jersey or attorney Paul Chan from Los Angeles who made the 2003 "Best Lawyers under 40" list compiled by the National Asian Pacific Bar Association?
New Denver Bar Association President Paul Chan is none of the above and laughs at these aliases. He’s been confused for many of them — even given a hotel room meant for the New Jersey Chan — and advises others on the importance of using their middle
Paul H. Chan likes to tell people he studied at "Hogwarts" (the University of Durham, where scenes from Harry Potter were filmed) in England for a year during his undergraduate tenure at the University of Denver. As an English and education major, Paul had hoped to teach high school English for a year before going to law school. Influenced by movies, Paul decided he wanted to teach after seeing To Sir With Love, and wanted to become a lawyer after watching Henry Fonda’s version of Clarence Darrow when he was 12.
When Paul graduated from DU, jobs teaching high school English were hard to come by. When he was unable to defer his enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, Paul chose law school. Paul was an "uninspired" law student until he did an internship after his first year.
"I came very close to quitting between my first and second year," said Paul. "I was hired by Mary Mullarkey, currently Colorado Supreme Court chief justice, to intern with the human resources department for the Attorney General’s Office, and realized then that there was a great profession waiting for me when I got out of school."
After graduating from law school Paul quickly realized that working for a law firm wasn’t a good fit. He practiced as a staff attorney for the Colorado General Assembly in the Legislative Legal Services Office, where he assisted in drafting, writing and reviewing proposed legislation. Later, while working for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, he met his wife in the Supreme Court Chambers while arguing a case. At the time, Alesia McCloud was a recent DU law graduate who was clerking for Justice Howard Kirshbaum.
"When he was checking in, it was interesting because he talked about being nervous and most lawyers wouldn’t admit that," said Alesia. "He got up, gave the most amazing argument and really caught my eye."
"We were concerned that court clerks shouldn’t date lawyers," said Paul but with Justice Kishbaum’s blessing, the two did get together. Now, Alesia is associate director of the Colorado Lawyers Committee.
"This last year, Paul had to assume a ton of extra household responsibility because I injured my ACL and couldn’t drive for 10 weeks," said Alesia. "He reorganized his schedule so everyone got where they needed to go and he still did all of his work and volunteer work."
Paul and Alesia are proud parents of two boys. The family spends weekends hiking, cross-country skiing, doing yard work, grocery shopping and going to little league games, which are "an awful lot of fun to watch." His boys, David, 10, and Andrew, 6, fill the summers with "baseball, baseball and more baseball."
Paul has been a season ticket holder with the Rockies since their first opening day in Denver when Erick Young, the leadoff Rockies batter, hit a homerun, in the very first home game. He now takes his kids to watch the games.
"The boys really enjoy going to watch the Rockies," said Paul. "They had a ritual where they’d watch for awhile, then go get treats, watch and then get something else to eat, but now David, who used to watch me keep score at his little league games, has started to keep score. He won’t even get up to get a hot dog when he’s keeping score."
"I’m at a point in my life where most of my free time is spent with family," said Paul. "We do a lot of traveling. At least once a year, we visit the grandparents in Tennessee, and the boys like to visit the national parks. We’ve been to Yellowstone, Mesa Verde and Great Smokey Mountain National Park; and this summer we will visit Yosemite."
When Paul was elected DBA President, people knew he was a hard worker, but Alesia describes Paul as someone who goes above and beyond in all aspects of his life to do special things for others. For his son David’s fourth birthday, David wanted a business-themed party. Paul took the children to his office where they made business cards, wrote little books and made fake briefcases. When his children’s special stuffed animals start falling apart, Paul gets out a needle and thread to fix them and also leaves messages from the "doctor" at the "animal hospital." Paul not only packs lunches for the kids, but decorates the bags at night with pictures incorporating their names — Andrew has saved every sack.
While Paul’s family is obviously close to his heart, so is the position of DBA President, as two DBA past-presidents have been his role models. Ralph Carr was governor of Colorado during the Japanese internment in 1945. Paul admires Carr for showing compassion and inviting the Japanese to take refuge in Colorado during that tumultuous time — a move that cost Carr the next election and his political career. Paul describes him as a "hero for human decency at a time when the test was severe."
The second was Dick Davis, one of the founders of Davis, Graham & Stubbs. Paul received the Davis Award in 1999. This annual award, given by the Denver Bar Foundation and Davis, Graham & Stubbs, is presented to a Denver lawyer who "although under age 40, has already so combined excellence as a lawyer with creative civic, cultural, educational and charitable leadership as to best exemplify the character and promise of Richard Marden Davis at that stage in his career."
"We can all aspire toward their accomplishments," said Paul. "Very few things make me more proud than following in the footsteps of someone who was such an asset to the community and profession. Colorado would be a different place without people like these. They are luminaries in the practice."
Paul has been a member of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations throughout his entire career. He considers his membership "well worth it" and says he has his position as General Counsel to the University of Denver because of it.
"Through the Bar, I met Dennis Lynch, former dean of the DU Law School (Sturm College of Law)," said Paul. "That’s how I started teaching at the law school and that contact and experience was one of the main reasons I was hired as in-house counsel here."
One of Paul’s goals as president is to reach out to diverse lawyers; not just those of ethnic diversity, but also government lawyers and in-house counsel whom the Bar wouldn’t normally see. He’d also like to work on better-communicating to the public how generous and talented lawyers are beyond the courtroom.
"I’ll bring a different perspective, not just because of the way I look, but where I grew up, the kind of practice I’ve done, the organizations I’ve worked with and the experiences I can bring," said Paul. "All are very different from many of the presidents before me. This is an election year and one of our greatest challenges will be to protect the independence of the judiciary. An initiative to term-limit Colorado appellate judges is on its way to the ballot. A lot of my time will be spent working to educate our members and the community about the importance of protecting our courts."
Paul served as president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association from 1996 to 1997 and was a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Colorado.
"From these experiences, I learned a lot about the organizational aspects of associations. I did some lobbying on Capitol Hill and now understand and know how open and accommodating members of Congress can be to talk to and listen to you — especially if you represent a good-sized organization."
Kenzo Kawanabe, a lawyer at Davis, Graham & Stubbs, describes Paul as a mentor, friend and colleague. Paul gave Kenzo his first legal internship at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, while studying at the University of Colorado.
"Paul is thoughtful and calm under the pressure of numerous work and community commitments, and though he’s heavily involved with various organizations, Paul’s favorite time is spent with his family," said Kenzo. "I’ve worked with Paul in more of a community setting. Paul is a trailblazer; he continues to open doors for many of us, and looks for opportunities for others. He expects only what he demands of himself, and leads by example. Paul is committed to excellence, diversity, public and community service."