DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

DU’s Chan to lead Colorado Bar Association

As he takes the helm of the Colorado Bar Association, University of Denver general counsel Paul Chan makes it sound as if leading 17,777 lawyers isn’t such a difficult task.

That’s 17,777 people who argue for a living.

But Chan (BA English ’81) sees an opportunity to serve, not a daunting challenge to avoid. While vigorous debate and advocacy may be part of the job for many attorneys, Chan says he is proud to work in a profession rooted in ethics and populated by inquisitive, caring professionals.

Chan takes over as president of the association this summer as it heads into a challenging election year with critical issues at stake; all at a time when technological advances are changing the way lawyers do business and changing what clients expect from them.

Looming ahead, there is a move to “clear the bench,” or oust sitting judges en masse. That’s something Chan says would be bad for the legal community and Colorado residents. He says it’s up to the bar to help voters educate themselves to make decisions about judges rather than blindly emptying the courtrooms of years of legal expertise. Voters already defeated an attempt to term-limit judges, but new challenges are anticipated.

“The bar must continue to stand vigilant and lead the fight to protect the integrity of the judicial system,” Chan says.

And because joining the bar is voluntary, he says it’s up to its leadership to ensure membership provides value. As technologies develop (“When was the last time you sent a fax?” he asks), it’s up to the bar to help members understand social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Clients, he says, have access to more resources than ever, from Google searches to online “virtual” law firms. Lawyers can access offshore researchers for legal preparation. Computers accelerate everything. It’s up to the bar and a vital, engaged community of attorneys to help keep the profession current.

“It’s a huge honor to represent the lawyers of the state of Colorado, particularly the members of the Colorado Bar Association,” Chan says. “These are people who are, with virtually no exceptions, all focused on the same things: bettering the profession, helping the public and getting to know their fellow professionals in a collegial setting.”

Chan, who is the only sitting in-house attorney to rise to the association’s presidency, isn’t new to the demands of office. In 2006, he was president of the 8,000-member Denver Bar Association, and he has served as president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Colorado Asian Pacific American Bar Association. He has also served on commissions and advisory boards for the state Supreme Court, the Governor’s office and Denver Public Schools. Before taking over the legal duties at DU, he served in the Colorado attorney general’s office, eventually serving as the office’s managing attorney.

He plans to travel Colorado to meet with bar members, hear their concerns and learn how the organization could better serve its members. Throughout, he says, he wants to stress the value of ethics, assist members during today’s down economy and help foster diversity in the legal community.

As the first Asian-Pacific American to lead the bar in its 113-year history, Chan says he can lead by example. As Colorado grows more diverse, it’s important that the public sees that diversity represented in the legal community and in the profession’s leadership.

“It’s very important for attorneys of diverse backgrounds to take on these leadership opportunities whenever possible,” he says. “Whether its women, minorities, people of different abilities or orientation, they are all part of our state and our profession, and it’s important that we reflect that.”

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