Ski Town Lawyering: Mindset and Tips

In previous posts, I covered the challenges and opportunities of being a ski town lawyer and some of the business models I have seen ski town lawyers adopt.  Now it is time to talk about mindset and the tips and tricks to get you a ski town lawyering gig!

 Crested Butte

Crested Butte

 

THE MINDSET

If you’re serious about breaking into the ski town lawyering market, you need to adopt the right attitude.  Going into this process with some perspective will make a difference, I think.

Your Compensation is not Monetary

I’ve already discussed how attorney compensation in Colorado outside of the metro areas is pretty severely depressed.  Don’t get me wrong—lawyers in ski towns can and do make a good living, but average attorney compensation just doesn’t compare to Denver rates.  That can be a bitter pill to swallow. 

It really helps if you realize that part of your compensation is not monetary.  I try to remind myself daily that ‘privilege has nothing to do with wealth’ and that I am incredibly privileged to live and practice law here. 

My last law office was on the bus route to the ski area and I could be skiing within minutes of leaving the office.  I can access hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain biking trails within a few miles of my driveway.  If you live for outdoor recreation (and I assume you do, if you’re looking to be a ski town lawyer), there’s simply no substitute for living in the middle of millions of acres of public land. 

There are other ways living in a ski town makes up for your lower compensation.  In general, I’ve found ski towns to be pretty livable communities.  The pace of life is slower, people get to know each other, the schools are great, and everyone has made similar choices and tradeoffs to get to live here long-term.  

Have the ‘Figure it Out’ Gene

A lawyer who practiced in rural Colorado for many years told me that you just have to have the ‘figure it out’ gene.  As I discussed in the last post, lawyers here are mostly generalists.  As a ski town lawyer, you are tasked with developing a pretty wide range of legal skills and competencies.  You have to decide for yourself whether you can live with that. 

The Old-Timers

Unfortunately, you might not always be welcomed with open arms by the established legal community.  In every ski town, there’s a contingent of old-times who resist change and fresh blood (even as they profit off of the increased business from an influx of new residents and visitors).  In fact, I am sure there are ski town lawyers who are miffed that I am daring to write this blog post!

I’ve definitely found them to be in the minority, but they are out there.  My advice is to not take it personally and to seek out connections and mentors who will welcome you into the community. 

Realize What You’re Getting Into

I alluded to some of the challenges inherent in living in a ski town.  Like many things, a blessing can also be a curse.  Yeah, everyone wants snow in February, but will you still be stoked for it in late May?  Because it WILL snow in late May.  Yeah, the town is charming and cute, but will it still look that way when you’re tired of eating at the same five restaurants you can actually afford?  Yeah, it’s a nice community, but what about when your town is overrun with tourists?  What about when your town literally shuts down in late April and everyone else goes surfing in Mexico for a month?  

I don’t mean to discourage aspiring ski town lawyers, but these are really things you’ll deal with.  To the extent that you can recognize these realities and demonstrate that you can deal with them, you’ll be better off.  I live in one of the coldest places in Colorado (-25F is not at all uncommon) and it seems that every firm has a tale of an associate who baled after one year because they (or their spouse) couldn’t deal with the cold. 

TIPS

There are a few really concrete steps you can do to help you break into the ski town lawyer job market.  Here are some of the things I recommend:

  • Contact every single lawyer you know in ski towns and let them know you want in!  Every year, I get a few phone calls or emails from lawyers (some who I know and some who I don’t know) with questions about ski town law practice and I am always happy to speak with them.  I doubt I am the only one.  The purpose of this is not to ask for a job.  The purpose is to ask questions about practicing in a ski town, demonstrate interest, and establish that you’re serious about this transition.  After a pleasant meeting over a cup of coffee or a beer, you can give them your contact information and ask that they keep you in mind if they ever hear of law openings in their community.
  • Contact every single person you know who knows someone who practices in a ski town.  A friend of a friend of a friend is a friend indeed.  Again, this is about networking more than looking for a particular job.
  • Show that you recognize limitations of working here.  If you’re lucky enough to land a job interview in a ski town, I think it really helps if you can demonstrate that you understand the culture of ski towns.  This means understanding access to justice issues, rural clientele, small towns, the aforementioned challenges, etc.
  • Establish some connection with the community.  I think this is probably the best advice that I can give you—get involved in the community.  If you’ve previously lived in a ski town, have friends or family in a ski town, or have ties to a ski town, you’ll set yourself apart from lawyers who just want to come and ski. 
  • Regularly check the Colorado Bar Association’s Jobs Board and the Judicial Branch website.  First, by checking regularly, you’ll get a sense of the practice areas needed in ski towns.  Second, you can jump on good ski town lawyering jobs as soon as they come up.  I see law jobs in the Vail Valley and Roaring Fork Valley listed fairly often on the CBA jobs board.  You’ll also see listings in towns that aren’t “ski towns” strictly speaking, but are within an hour or so of ski resorts or incredible backcountry skiing.
  • Be involved in your community.  One of the best ways to generate business and referrals is to be visible and involved in your community.  If you’ve already made the leap and moved to your dream ski town, this advice is especially applicable to you.  Join a board, volunteer, serve on a county bar or commission, be active in your faith or recreation communities.  Volunteer to coordinate or give CLE presentations to the local bar association (join your local bar association!). 

I hope this series on ski town lawyering is helpful!  If you're looking to become a lawyer in a ski town, I am happy to offer whatever help I can (gotta pay it forward)!

-Sarah