Each month BizWest invites a business leader to reflect on the issues affecting his or her industry. This month, BizWest asked Jennifer Peters, partner in the Fort Collins law firm Otis, Bedingfield & Peters LLC, to discuss issues facing her firm and the professional role she plays in the community.
BizWest: The firm in which you’re a partner had one of the fastest rates of growth over the past two years of all companies in Northern Colorado. To what do you attribute that growth?
Jennifer Peters: Since all of the partners at our firm joined forces four years ago, we have been working hard to build the go-to, full-service firm for businesses and business-owners in Northern Colorado. We have always known that good lawyers will attract good clients, and we have been deliberate in looking for professionals who are smart, talented, solution-oriented and committed to giving back to their community. As word spread about the level of services our firm could provide, we were deliberate in choosing people to meet that need. As our team has grown, so has our ability to provide sophisticated legal services that people typically went to the Denver metro area or other states to obtain. Now, they can get that from us right in their own backyard. It’s created an excitement within our firm, that in turn has attracted others to want to join us; that in turn has attracted clients who appreciate the level of service we can provide and our commitment to supporting the community. This has proven to be a good strategy for us so far.
BW: You’re the lead litigator for your firm, extremely active in bar activities and professional services, provide workshops on legal subjects for other attorneys, serve as a volunteer mediator and have been rated as a rising star (twice) among Colorado lawyers — not to mention being rated among the top 10 percent of lawyers in the country. How do you organize your time in order to accomplish all you do? What tips might you offer other executives?
Peters: The last several years have been the busiest and most challenging of my career, for sure. I had to learn how to prioritize what was most important, both at work and at home. I am a relentless task-lister, and calendar religiously. Meetings, deadlines, personal appointments, things I want to get done, reminders, work-outs, dinner dates, etc. — they all go on my calendar. It’s the only way I can know if I am coming or going some days! I also learned to work anywhere, and any time, but I do not work 24/7 like some may think. About five years ago, I made myself a priority. It took a lot to learn that it was OK to put myself first, to take time for me and those important to me and not focus on the work all the time. Interestingly, as I did that, I found my ability to do the work got better, the type of work I was doing was more rewarding, and the level of sophisticated matters clients trust me with has grown. That taught me that at the end of the day, the world will not end if you do not respond to that email the minute it is sent. I now prioritize and delegate time throughout the day. In the morning I read emails, and either do what’s asked (if it can be done quickly), delegate it to someone else, or add it to a task list and get it out of my inbox so I can focus on the bigger tasks to be done throughout the day and see an empty inbox. That, in and of itself, can be very rewarding. At the end of the day, I check my calendar and make a list of what should be done the next day. My biggest advice to someone struggling with how to get it all done, however, would be to forget about trying to do it all. You can’t. The task list must be fluid to meet the demands of each given day, and priorities inevitably change. Being flexible has proven to be very valuable the busier I have gotten. I also found I agree with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, that it is not about achieving work-life balance; it’s about finding a way to do what needs to get done when you can do your best. For me, that often means I work from home in the mornings or take a day off in the middle of the week to do something fun when the weather is good, but put in work time on a Saturday afternoon instead. Bezos calls it a “circle” of integrated parts rather than a balancing act where work and life compete with each other.
BW: You serve as a role model for other attorneys, particularly young women. What would be the most important advice you might offer to a young executive or young attorney?
Peters: Find a sponsor. Not just a mentor, but someone who champions you and your goals and helps you get to where you want to go even if it isn’t what you started out doing. Sometimes you can find that person within your organization; but if not, look to industry organizations, like the Commercial Real Estate Womens’ Network. I have been fortunate to have two sponsors, one within my organization who has supported and guided me for over a decade, and one in CREW, who has opened my eyes to the national reach I as a trial lawyer can have. Nothing has been more rewarding or beneficial to my career than the advice and support I have gotten from my sponsors. I hope to be able to pay that forward.
I would also add READ. A few books, like the Six Minute Lawyer, The Secrets Leaders Keep, and the Power of Positive Leadership, which discusses the value of women in leadership and the different perspectives they bring to the office, really changed how I interact with people in the business world. They were also very motivating.
BW: What does your firm find to be the greatest legal need among your business client base? Is this also where most of the firm’s time is spent?
Peters: Assessing, understanding and negotiating risk up front in their transactions or business plans. As a trial lawyer who litigates contracts that aren’t honored, or helps people through nasty business divorces, I find that often, though not always, there was less advice from a lawyer on the front end about their options and how to allocate potential risks, which left lots to fight about on the back end. We find our business clients appreciate working with attorneys on legal and practical solutions, whether they are doing a transaction and hope to avoid any issues in the deal, or have a deal blowing up or already in a dispute and need to find a way to get it resolved. For this reason, we do spend the majority of our time talking with our clients, and educating (through seminars or one-on-one conversations) other members of the business community in Northern Colorado about their options, both legal and practical. At the end of the day, we pride ourselves on being problem-solvers, even when our clients or professional colleagues didn’t recognize they had a problem that needed to be solved!
BW: As a business leader, what is most exciting to you about the region in which we live?
Peters: Growth! Opportunity! And the commitment to making Northern Colorado a regional community that cares about all. The joint efforts of our local chambers of commerce and economic development groups to focus on the region as a whole, and the cooperation between our non-profit organizations like the food banks, is encouraging and gives me great hope for the future of this entire region. The dynamic economy Northern Colorado has to offer is also encouraging. The projects that recently completed (like the new hotels in Greeley and Fort Collins, and the co-working space in Loveland), and those that are underway in the four major cities in this region are going to change the footprint of our region in a much shorter time than we realize, making it easier to stay here for services that businesses used to outsource to Denver. It also has added to the diversity and uniqueness of the types of transactions and problems we get asked to address, both for new business owners and for the farm and ranch owners who helped build this region over the past hundred years. That personally has made my job more challenging and fun, and is why we are committed to Northern Colorado, where we all live.