It’s simply a fact of life that even the least litigious among us will need a lawyer at some point. When you find yourself in that position, navigating the complicated legal world can be overwhelming, especially when you consider that the law has been split into dozens of categories: Everything from criminal law to insurance necessitates specific expertise. That’s why we compiled Denver’s Top Lawyers 2020, our sixth annual list of the best attorneys in the region. We first invited attorneys in the seven-county metro area to vote for the peers they respect most in 50 specialties. Survey responses in hand, we did weeks of reporting to get an on-the-ground perspective: Who are the best litigators? The finest contract writers? Who’s quietly building a name for herself? Who’s coasting on an outdated reputation? Based on those interviews and survey results, we assembled the following list of the most skilled attorneys around.
To see our complete Top Lawyers list, click here for our searchable directory.
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Your questions about the list, answered.
Which attorneys did you survey?
All licensed attorneys in the seven-county metro area were welcome to participate in our survey, which went live on 5280.com in May. We mailed postcards to nearly 16,000 licensed attorneys actively registered with the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and reached out to local bar associations to make sure we received a strong response to the peer-reviewed ballot.
How did you ensure that big law firms didn’t stuff the ballot box?
Good question! In order to vote, each attorney had to register with his or her work email address and his or her Colorado attorney registration number. We monitored IP addresses to make sure one person wasn’t voting for everyone in a firm. We checked out any suspicious votes—and tossed them if necessary.
Were the results from the ballot the only data you used to create the list?
No. To supplement the online ballot results, we did what we do best: research. We made many, many phone calls, spent hours mining the internet for standout cases, and did our due diligence on each name on the list.
How did you pick the specialties represented on the ballot?
We compiled this year’s list of 50 specialties based on input from the Colorado Bar Association, attorneys, and area law firms.
I’ve heard the list is rigged—that only lawyers who advertise with you make it. Is that the case?
Nope. The Top Lawyers list is unaffected by who advertises with 5280. Local attorneys sometimes choose to advertise after they have been selected for the list, but how much, if, or when lawyers choose to advertise is not taken into consideration.
Does 5280 check out every attorney on the list?
Our fact-checking department independently verifies every lawyer’s pertinent information (name, phone number, office address, website, etc.). We take the additional step of sending the list to the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel to check for disciplinary and licensing issues—meaning all attorneys on the list are currently in good standing with the state.
Colorado Law: Need-To-Know Updates
1. Renting Right
New law: Residential Tenants Health and Safety Act
Effective date: August 2019
What it does: Colorado laws have tended to favor landlords over tenants, but this measure increases protections for renters. As well as adding mold and broken appliances to the list of things that might make a home uninhabitable, the law stipulates that if owners ignore a problem on their property that affects residents’ health after being notified of it, occupants can withhold payments until the complaint is addressed. The act also makes it easier to tell landlords there’s an issue: Emails and texts are acceptable forms of notification.
What it means for you: Coloradans will have more power to push back against ill-intentioned—or just really lazy—landlords and won’t have to endure adverse living conditions. The law might not be a win for everyone, though: Some experts think it will be too difficult for small-scale landlords to comply with, strengthening the reach of large developers.
What lawyers have to say about it: “This makes it harder to be a small-time landlord. They must now learn a complex set of rules and take on regulatory burdens. They may not want to take a chance on a borderline applicant or continue being involved in the housing industry. The risks are too high, the requirements too complex. This exacerbates Denver’s supply problem.” —Deborah Wilson, housing lawyer, Springman, Braden, Wilson & Pontius
2. Elections Made Easier
New law: Automatic Voter Registration
Effective date: July 2020
What it does: According to data from Election Law Journal, Colorado already makes voting painless (it ranked second for ease of voting behind Oregon), because ballots are sent straight to registered voters’ mailboxes and drop-off locations abound. This measure makes it even easier: Everyone who gets a driver’s license, receives Medicaid, or signs up for any public assistance program will be automatically registered to do their civic duty.
What it means for you: Besides the obvious result of this law—more registered voters—there might be effects on election outcomes. New drivers tend to be young, and those on public assistance will, by nature, live in low-income households, often in economically depressed areas. These demographics have historically voted for left-leaning candidates, meaning the act could give Democrats a boost. That, of course, remains to be seen.
What lawyers have to say about it: “[The law] doesn’t automatically affiliate an individual—and most newly registered voters remain unaffiliated. Taking into account that unaffiliated voters can now vote in primary elections, the effect on election results is difficult to predict and will be fascinating to observe.”—Sarah Mercer, government relations lawyer, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
3. A New Drill
New law: Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations
Effective date: April 2019
What it does: This two-years-in-the-making overhaul of oil and gas regulations gives local governments more power to decide where companies can dig in the dirt. It also calls for the state’s air quality commission to closely monitor pollution associated with drilling sites.
What it means for you: Proponents of the law say it will protect humans and wildlife from the alleged negative health effects associated with nearby fracking, like respiratory problems, birth defects, and cancer. However, because obtaining a permit to drill will now be more time-consuming and expensive, detractors of the law have predicted layoffs for oil and gas companies, potentially leaving some of the 30,000 Coloradans who currently work for the oil and gas industry out of jobs. The effects will be more apparent by 2020, when regulations will begin to be rolled out.
What lawyers have to say about it: “These regulations may make it more difficult for oil and gas operations to occur in areas that are hostile to oil and gas development. Prior to this law, governments were already strictly regulating aspects of oil and gas development. I think we’re now seeing certain local governments enact even stricter regulations.”
—Mark J. Mathews, energy lawyer, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
4. Smoke Show
New law: Marijuana Hospitality Establishments
Effective date: January 2020
What it does: Thanks to this measure, Colorado cannabis aficionados will soon be able to blaze up in licensed businesses—including cafes, yoga studios, and even hospices. They won’t be able to buy pot at these establishments, but there will inevitably be inventive workarounds, such as next-door dispensaries.
What it means for you: The law won’t drastically affect nonsmokers, but it’s a groundbreaking milestone for cannabis advocates, who’ve long fought for public spaces in which to partake.
What lawyers have to say about it: “I’m surprised how long it’s taken! Yoga studios, wellness retreats, restaurants with THC-infused foods…. It’s the wave of the future. Millennials are shying away from alcohol use and turning toward marijuana—so this law creates new opportunities for business owners. But people should keep in mind that smoking on the street is still illegal. Just because you’re in Colorado, you’re not going to see people smoking on every corner.” —Robert Hoban, marijuana lawyer, Hoban Law Group
5. Doing Less Time
New law: Offense Level For Controlled Substance Possession
Effective date: March 2020
What it does: This progressive law downgrades possession of four grams or less of most Schedule I and II drugs—including LSD, cocaine, and heroin—from a felony to a misdemeanor. It also shortens maximum sentences for drug possession and allocates $1.8 million to a grant program to fund substance abuse and mental health services.
What it means for you: If, let’s say, your friend is caught with a small quantity of one of these substances, he’ll likely avoid jail or prison time. He’ll also keep a felony off his record, meaning he can more easily apply for and obtain a job, a loan, or housing. Even if you’re never personally found with drugs, the law’s proponents say it’ll create a healthier society with less unemployment due to convictions, fewer families broken up by incarceration, and a lighter load for our backlogged criminal justice system.
What lawyers have to say about it: “Felonies come with consequences, which can distract from treatment. Reclassifying possession to a misdemeanor allows the focus to be on treatment and education. It’s nice to see Colorado at the forefront of common-sense reform.” —Tyrone Glover, criminal defense lawyer, Haddon Morgan and Foreman
6. Mind The (Wage) Gap
New law: Equal Pay for Equal Work Act
Effective date: January 2021
What it does: Before this law, employers would often ask for and use prospects’ past salaries as a benchmark for determining a new hire’s pay grade. The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act scraps that practice. Employers will be expressly prohibited from using potential employees’ past salaries as a deciding factor in their own offers.
What it means for you: Historically discriminated-against groups, like women and minorities, have long been stuck in a cycle of low wages. With prospective employers using their past salaries as starting points for new offers, they’d rarely reach the same wage levels as their male and nonminority counterparts. Lawmakers hope that with that tradition banned, Colorado workers will have more equitable paychecks.
What lawyers have to say about it: “You’ll see the effects of this on people who have been in the workforce for a long period. Over time, these discrepancies have accumulated. I’ve been practicing employment law for over 25 years, and I’ve seen this pattern repeatedly, even in larger corporations where women have devoted career service. It hurts them when they want to move to a new company and they’re asked about salary history.”—Paula Greisen, employment and civil rights lawyer, King & Greisen
7. Pulling Back The Curtain
New law: Expand Disclosure Electioneering Communications
Effective date: August 2019
What it does: Before this law, campaign ads that ran more than 30 days before an election didn’t have to disclose who funded them—allowing for potentially underhanded and convoluted political tricks. In an effort to make election ads more transparent ahead of the 2020 election, this measure mandates that every flyer, television commercial, radio ad, or billboard that advocates for a candidate 30 days before the state primary through the general election must include the name of the group that is funding it.
What it means for you: As election cycles get longer and longer, lawmakers are having to adjust regulations to match the insanity. The hope is that this legislation will allow voters to make better-informed decisions by quashing secretly funded ads.
What lawyers have to say about it: “If I had to bet on an unintended consequence, it’d be that folks who don’t want to adhere to disclosure laws will push ads earlier to avoid the window. Winter and spring before an election are usually quiet on the ad front, but I could see February, March, and April having more ads.” —Christopher Murray, government relations lawyer, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
8. Pay Raise
New law: Local Government Minimum Wage
Effective date: January 2020
What it does: Though the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) hasn’t changed since 2009, states have liberty with regard to payment inside their borders. Starting this month, local governments in Colorado can increase their minimum wages to levels higher than the state minimum, which is currently $12 an hour.
What it means for you: Denizens of pricey locales—we’re looking at you, Denver and Boulder—may be getting a pay raise. The law seems like a crowd-pleaser, but groups like the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce have already voiced distaste for it, citing potential layoffs and increases in costs that could be passed to consumers.
What lawyers have to say about it: “Raising minimum wages is critical to attract and retain workers in pricey communities. The law primarily helps hourly earners, but it’ll also help local economies. Increasing minimum wages is a national trend that’ll continue over the next decade.” —Charlotte N. Sweeney, employment lawyer, Sweeney & Bechtold