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Sturm College of Law and Brownstein Continue to Build Community and Shape Denver

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Sturm College of Law

Feature  •

In 1968, three young law school graduates sat around a kitchen table in Denver’s west side and hatched the idea of founding their own firm. Norm Brownstein, Jack Hyatt, and Steve Farber did just that, and in the 55 years since its inception, the firm has grown, adapted, merged with Schreck Brignone in Las Vegas, and become a pillar of the Colorado legal community as Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Also a pillar? The University of Denver Sturm College of Law, which opened its doors in 1892 – the same year as the Brown Palace Hotel and The Denver Post.  

To the casual onlooker, the relationship between one of the nation’s preeminent law and lobbying firms and one of the nation’s most ascendant law schools makes sense. Not surprisingly, over 40 talented graduates of the Sturm College of Law – including Jim Nicholson, JD’72, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs – currently work at Brownstein across the firm’s dozen offices. But the relationship is far deeper – and far more special.

A Special Relationship

“When I interviewed for the deanship of the Sturm College of Law in spring 2016, I had the privilege of meeting Steve Farber – a nationally respected lawyer, trusted advisor to CEOs and elected officials, and public-spirited community leader,” recalled Dean Bruce Smith. “I was struck that a graduate of the University of Colorado Law School cared so deeply about the future of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law that he devoted his precious time to the search. From Steve’s office at Brownstein, graced with an incredible array of photos and memorabilia, I came to understand the firm’s truly profound impact in shaping national policy issues and in shaping the city of Denver as we know it.”  

The firm has also contributed to shaping the quality of legal education in the state of Colorado. In 2015, the firm announced a $500,000 gift, divided equally between the Sturm College of Law and the University of Colorado Law School, to create an endowed fellowship program for law students working in the private and public sectors. At the time, Brownstein’s commitment represented the single largest gift from a law firm in the history of both universities.

Adam Agron, JD’98, current Brownstein Shareholder, Managing Partner from 2013-2019, and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at the Sturm College of Law, remembers laying the groundwork for the fellowship.

“We were approaching our 50th anniversary in business, and we wanted to mark this milestone,” Agron explained. “We wanted to do something significant. Our firm would not be what it is today without DU’s support. We felt that if we made an investment, it would come back to us, because of the quality of the lawyers from DU and CU.”

With local corporate powerhouses like Arrow Electronics and Leprino Foods opening their doors to students at the Sturm College of Law, the impact of Brownstein’s commitment has been monumental. 

“The impact of Brownstein’s gift stands out in a number of important and distinctive ways in the annals of American philanthropy:  for its generosity; for its investment in the future of legal education across an entire state; and for the thoughtful way that the structure of the gift complements the curricular offerings of both law schools,” noted Smith. “As a legal educator and law dean, I say – with gratitude and without reservation – that Brownstein has set the bar for how law firms can beneficially engage with law schools.” 

A Shared Commitment to Experiential Learning

According to Agron, Brownstein hoped that its fellowship would “simulate a real-world legal environment for students, allowing them to gain beneficial hands-on experience and ultimately make them better attorneys.” This aligns with the notion that students at the Sturm College of Law do not just study the law – they experience it. 

“[The Sturm College of Law] is so good at experiential learning. What we have found with our hires is that people who come from DU hit the ground running,” Agron said. “We want to succeed, we want to work really hard, and we want to solve our clients’ problems, and DU shares those values and prepares students to be that kind of lawyer.”

Outside observers agree with Agron’s assessment. In its most recent rankings of the nation’s roughly 200 law schools, U.S. News & World Report ranked the law school’s trial advocacy program No. 6, clinical training program No. 9, and legal writing program No. 13. The law school has received an A+ in Practical Training from preLaw Magazine for five consecutive years. And, this past April, the law school received the Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project from the Clinical Legal Education Association for the work of its Civil Rights Clinic in advancing the rights of incarcerated individuals.

Relational Core Values

“[The fellowship] connects students with businesses, potential clients and potential networks,” Agron said. “It enhances other aspects of being a lawyer that law schools cannot provide alone. There is the practical and education point, but this is about relationships.”

Brownstein values strong and authentic relationships. The values set by its founders are present, and thriving, in today’s firm.

“We have a Community Impact Director, and her job is to help our lawyers get involved with the community,” Agron explained. “It’s a part of the ethos of the firm, and that’s who we are.”

“They are an outstanding firm in the community. They reach out not only to hire our graduates, but they volunteer, they help, they engage,” said Gayle Keahey, Director of External Relations in the Career Development Office at the Sturm College of Law. “They answer the call. They answer the email. Their willingness to be connected and to engage with students is truly distinctive.”

DU Roots Run Deep

For Agron, maintaining his relationship with the University of Denver is easy. As an alumnus, he appreciates his experience with the law school and the foundation it provided for his career. 

“I was working for a law firm in New York, and I knew I wanted to be back in Colorado,” he remembers. “I really liked the fact that DU was, and is, really well connected. That was one of the best decisions – going to DU, being in Colorado, building a career here, building my family here.”

During his time as a law student, Agron was editor of the Denver Law Review, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. 

“A lot of people talk about law school being so cutthroat, and I don’t remember it being like that at all,” he said. “We were collaborative, we enjoyed learning. We played football and basketball together. DU was a great time. I had so many terrific professors, and they enriched my experience.”

During his 2L summer, Agron worked at Brownstein and ultimately received a post-grad offer. 

“[The firm] was family-oriented, even back then,” he said. “Opportunities to get involved was one of the things that attracted me to it. The firm’s involvement in the community is so important and so present in everything we do.”

Agron acts on the firm’s commitment to community engagement by participating in the law school’s programming. 

“I went back [to the Sturm College of Law] a number of times and sat on panels, advising students, mentoring, being a resource to students,” said Agron, who also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Committee and on the law school’s Alumni Council and has been adjunct professor at the law school. “I felt like my time at DU was so positive, it positioned me well to end up where I ended up, and DU deserves a lot of credit for that. The career services office positioned me well for that. From the day I graduated, I felt like I needed to give back because I am so grateful for those opportunities.”