Denver Bar Association
September 2012
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From the President: How Fortunate We Are to Practice in Paradise.

by Jim Benjamin

Jim Benjamin

W


hen I started practicing law in Southern California, I was 27 and John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High”—with its opening verse of “He was born in the summer of his 27th year, coming home to a place he’d never been before”—was at the top of the charts. After tiring of the long multi-freeway commute, I decided to relocate to the place where I always found myself vacationing: Colorado.

There are many small pleasures of residing in Colorado that are taken for granted by natives but were eye-opening to a new transplant from Los Angeles. As I strolled down the street in Telluride, where I established Colorado residency, I found that Coloradans enjoyed greeting every passing stroller with a smile and a “good morning.” In L.A. you avoid eye contact at all cost.

 To describe the practice of law in L.A. as adversarial was an understatement. Normal practice would better be referred to as “scorched earth” tactics. I attributed this in large part to the enormous number of lawyers practicing law. Many lawyers assumed they would never be engaged with the opposing lawyer again, and they believed in the notion that winning is everything.

I was sworn in to practice at the Ahmanson Theatre along with more than 3,000 other new lawyers by a California appellate judge. Months later, I was admitted in Colorado with a private swearing-in conducted by Justice James Groves, a family friend.

One of my first assignments in Colorado was to try a weeklong trial in Breckenridge. Spring was in bloom in the mountains—wildflowers, fresh new green foliage everywhere, and deer casually eating next to the highway. A mere month before I had been commuting daily on an L.A. freeway, bumper to bumper, with concrete as far to the right as you could see, only ending where skyscrapers met the pavement, and six lanes to the left (or more if you were not in the fast lane!).

While I “first chaired” for my client, I was fortunate that a co-defendant was represented by trial lawyer extraordinaire, Albert Wolf. During one break, I lamented how I just did not have Al’s presentation skills. Al might have been pulling my leg, but he said he actually went to acting school for a year after law school to hone his trial advocacy skills.

Every day in court was live entertainment— the likes of an off-Broadway play. Each night I would prepare for the next day’s proceedings in a condo along the Blue River, finding a few minutes to wet a fly for relaxation. I literally pinched myself and asked, “Are they really paying me to do this?”

Unlike the “I’ll never see you again and I’ll bury you” attitude of the practice in Los Angeles, I found that on every other case assigned to me I would encounter the same opposing lawyer. Collegiality among members of the Colorado bar was immediately apparent and in sharp contrast to practice in Southern California.

Lawyers in Colorado obviously were concerned with honor and integrity. Maintenance of that integrity fostered trust. And trust facilitated quick resolution of disputes, as well as lifelong friendships.

Of course, this story harkens back to a time when attorney registration numbers in California were in the sixty thousands and Colorado numbers were only four digits. With registration numbers approaching those of earlier California days, let us not lose sight of the collegiality, civility, integrity, and trust that makes practice in our beautiful state such a pleasure. Let us strive to continue to make this “home” to professionalism D


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