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TCL > September 2013 Issue > Emma Garrison—New YLD Chair to Focus on Outreach

September 2013       Vol. 42, No. 9       Page  63
Young Lawyers Division

Emma Garrison—New YLD Chair to Focus on Outreach
by Matt Masich

The CBA Young Lawyers Division Department comprises practical articles and essays of interest especially to novice attorneys. Suggestions for article topics or final draft manuscripts may be sent to Coordinating Editor Christopher D. Bryan—(970) 947-1936,

About the Author

Matt Masich is a writer with Colorado Life Magazine. He previously was a reporter for Law Week Colorado, covering bar associations, the business of law, appellate courts, and the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel—


When you talk to Emma Garrison about her role as the new chair of the CBA’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD), you find she has the zeal of the converted and the regret of a cautionary example. Garrison, staff counsel at the Denver law firm of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, was five years out of law school before she joined the CBA, having previously avoided bar associations and the dreaded practice of "networking." Now that she sees how professionally and personally rewarding it has been to make connections through the bar association and the YLD, she wishes she had joined earlier.

Garrison talked recently to budding lawyers studying for the July bar exam, and she conveyed a simple message. "I wanted to prevent them from being like me and waiting years to join the bar association," she said. "I let them know we’re here for them, and that they should get involved."

She has two big goals for her term as YLD chair. She will be spearheading a project to keep the CBA relevant to younger lawyers by identifying what they want from a bar association. She also wants to work on concrete measures to include lawyers from beyond the Denver metro area.

Coming to Colorado

Garrison grew up in Austin, Texas, the daughter of a lawyer mother and English professor father. Her mom worked for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, writing opinions for the state of Texas when the legislature or local governments sought legal guidance. Garrison admired her mother, but she didn’t always know she wanted to follow in her footsteps into the law.

She began thinking about law school midway through her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, where she majored in Classics, reading the Iliad and Odyssey and Roman poetry in their original languages. Perhaps her study of Latin gave her a taste for Latin legal terms, as she eventually decided to take the LSAT and apply to law school. She began attending the University of California Boalt Hall School of Law after graduating from UT in 2001.

Garrison had no intention or particular desire to become a trial lawyer. "I loved watching Law & Order and My Cousin Vinny," she said, "but I never saw myself doing that." With her meticulous, analytical nature, her absolute favorite class during her first year in law school was legal research and writing.

She also immersed herself in environmental law, working on the editorial board of the law school’s Ecology Law Quarterly. It was something she had been interested in since fifth grade, when her class traveled to other elementary schools to give presentations about preserving the environment. Garrison remembers giving a lecture to other kids about saving water by putting larger loads in the washing machine.

When she received her law degree in 2004, Garrison clerked for Chief Judge Hayden W. Head of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi. The following year, she headed to Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC, for a two-year clinical teaching fellowship. Garrison went to DC thinking that’s where she’d end up for good, but as soon as she got there, she had a feeling it might not be the right fit. "It seemed that I never met anyone who wasn’t a lawyer or in international development," Garrison said.

Still, when it came time to apply for jobs after the two-year fellowship ended, Garrison joked that she was looking for work "in DC and anywhere west of the Mississippi." She interviewed with the Environmental Protection Agency at its headquarters, but did not hear anything back. Unbeknownst to her, EPA headquarters had sent her résumé to its regional offices around the country. One day, a member of EPA’s Denver office gave her a call about its new honors fellows program. It was a temporary position created as a way to get young attorneys some experience and to pump some fresh energy into the organization. Garrison moved to Denver to start working for EPA in early 2008. She didn’t know a soul in town.

"Even though I came here not knowing anyone, I found it so much easier to make friends than in DC—and I even knew people there," Garrison said. The beltway crowd sometimes focuses on work to the exclusion of any other hobbies, she said. In Colorado, lawyers work hard, but they actually have a life outside the office.

Joining the Bar

By the time Garrison’s EPA fellowship ended in October 2009, the job market for young lawyers was at a historic low. "I wouldn’t say I left feeling optimistic," she said. "It was tough, especially because by that point I wanted to stay in Colorado, whereas after all my previous jobs, I wanted to start somewhere new."

She sent out résumé after résumé, but realized she was going to have to start meeting people. Garrison had never been involved in bar associations in California, Texas, or Washington, DC, but after EPA colleague Michelle Marcu, who was chair of the CBA’s Environmental Law Section, invited her to a bar CLE program, Garrison soon became a dues-paying member and joined the CBA.

"This was a complete personal growth experience, because I hated the concept of networking," Garrison said. "I hated the word ‘networking.’" It seemed phony to her. But after a few bar association events, Garrison reached an epiphany: "networking" is just a word to describe the forming of new relationships. She found she was having fun meeting new people, and she regretted not joining earlier. "I wish I had started it when I wasn’t in a position of desperation," she said. She discovered that it’s a lot easier and more interesting to make connections for the sake of connecting with other people—with no job-search subtext.

Garrison started having coffee meetups with lawyers she met through the CBA, including Becky Bye, who was then incoming chair of the YLD. After attending a free CLE movie night in Boulder, where participants watched A Civil Action, Garrison joined the YLD and started attending brownbag lunches for fellow job hunters. "Because I was involved in the bar association, I felt so much less alone," she said.

She eventually landed a position at Denver firm Featherstone Petrie DeSisto LLP, where she practiced commercial litigation for two and a half years. In July 2013, Garrison began a new position as staff counsel at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell.

A Goal-Oriented Term

As Garrison’s legal career took off, so did her involvement in the YLD. When she joined the YLD Council, she launched a division Facebook page to keep members in the loop about YLD activities. This has helped her prepare for her new leadership role as YLD chair.

Garrison has in mind two major projects for her term as chair. First, she is helping to implement a study of what young lawyers want from their bar membership. She intends to give detailed recommendations to the CBA at the end of her term. In addition to querying current members, she plans to reach out to young lawyers who aren’t members. She feels the information she acquires through her research will be important in helping the bar stay relevant and appealing in the future.

Garrison also hopes to expand the YLD’s outreach beyond the Denver metro area. She wants to figure out how the YLD can assist and be relevant to young lawyers in communities throughout the state. This is called the Article 4.10 Initiative, named after the section of the YLD Bylaws that says: "Every effort will be made to rotate the geographical locations of the Division’s activities and events throughout Colorado to encourage participation by young lawyers in areas outside metro Denver." The Initiative will compile concrete guideposts, perhaps setting goals of holding a certain number of events outside Denver each year.

Garrison also wants to remain an active participant in YLD activities. She is especially fond of the YLD’s involvement with WeeCycle, a nonprofit organization that collects new and gently used baby items and distributes them to low-income families. Working with WeeCycle was a major project of her predecessor Carlos Migoya, and Garrison wants to maintain Migoya’s spirit of enthusiasm for this project and keep it on its path of success.

2013–14 CBA YLD Council at Retreat in Breckenridge on July 27, 2013
Back row, left to right: Jessica Bernfeld; Chris Achatz; Jaci Casey; Christopher Newman, DU Liaison; Nicoal Wolfe; Jake Eisenstein; Kristi Disney; Carlos Migoya; Josh Berry; and Tim Garvey. Front row, left to right: Adam Lewis; Nicole Black; Beth Padilla; Megan Rose, CU Liaison; Emma Garrison; Cassie Ta; Lance Timbreza; and Arax Corn.

Putting Her "All" Into Everything She Does

When she’s not orchestrating YLD initiatives, Garrison competes in triathlons—biking, running, and swimming. She’s also an active member of the Wheels of Justice cycling team, which rides in the annual Courage Classic to raise money for Children’s Hospital Colorado. In its first eight years, Wheels of Justice has donated more than $1.6 million to the hospital.

Alli Gerkman, director of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers at IAALS (Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System), is Garrison’s good friend; the two ride the Courage Classic together. Asked whether she had any favorite stories of riding with Garrison, Gerkman responded, "I’d probably have more stories if I were able to keep up with her—though I do have wonderful memories of starting the race with her and joining her for dinner later."

Gerkman has high hopes for Garrison’s term as YLD chair. "Not only is she incredibly smart, YLD is very lucky to have in her a leader who is going to make the most of her time as chair and really put her all into doing what’s best for the division," Gerkman said.

Gerkman said that Garrison is very concerned with the struggles of recent graduates and young lawyers. When people come to Gerkman asking for advice on their job searches, for example, she often directs them to Garrison, whose unique perspective is always well received. "Everyone is incredibly thankful when I send them her way," Gerkman said.

As shown by her early adoption of Facebook for spreading YLD’s message, Garrison is very aware of the impact of social media on lawyers. She doesn’t just focus on the usual scary stories of how a careless post online will stop people from getting jobs, but instead looks for ways that the Internet can help lawyers put themselves in front of a wider audience.

Emma looks forward to meeting and communicating with new attorneys in person and via the YLD website ( and Facebook page ( She also welcomes ideas, comments, and suggestions via e-mail at

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