Snell & Wilmer partner Jessica Yates was appointed as the new attorney regulation counsel for the state, the Colorado Supreme Court announced last week. Yates will take over the position later this summer with the retirement of current attorney regulation counsel Jim Coyle on June 30 concluding 28 years with the office.
“Selecting a new leader for this office truly was difficult, but we believe Jessica’s experience and character will be a great fit with a devoted staff whose work is highly respected by similar offices around the world,” Supreme Court Justice Monica Márquez said in a press release. Márquez is the liaison justice to the Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee.
Yates started her career in public policy and administration in the Washington, D.C., Office of Budget, Technology and Finance in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There she became interested in legal work. She received her law degree in 2006 from the University of Virginia School of Law. She has practiced business litigation and appellate work with Snell & Wilmer since 2007, and although she likes her practice for its breadth, she’s excited to step into the new role.
“I would say [the position has] been on my radar,” she said. “When Jim announced his retirement and the position came open, I recognized it was truly a unique opportunity and a time-sensitive opportunity. Even though I wasn’t looking to change right then and there, the timing was what I needed to do to take advantage of it.”
Yates acknowledged that Colorado’s attorney regulation system is nationally recognized and said that it will be a tremendous honor to serve the state. She’s grateful for the confidence the Colorado Supreme Court has put in her, and her first priority is to jump in and learn as much as she can.
“I am looking forward to broadening the conversation about professional engagement and hearing from voices who haven’t been part of the conversation, like new and diverse attorneys, geographically isolated attorneys as well as members of the public,” Yates said. “I want to hear from as many voices as I can to see what we can do to elevate the profession.”
To say that Yates keeps busy is an understatement. She is an active member of the Colorado Bar Association and the Colorado Women’s Bar Association. She serves on the amicus curiae committee and appellate subcommittees of the CBA, and she is the co-chair of the CBA’s annual Continuing Legal Education Conference. She’s also the co-chair of the Colorado Lawyers Committee Mental Health Task Force.
Additionally, Yates currently serves as the co-chair for Snell & Wilmer’s pro bono committee and has strived to foster an encouraging culture around that work, something she wants to continue in her new role. She said the pro bono provisions of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct are meaningful and ones that “all attorneys need to pay attention to [regarding] how they can incorporate pro bono work into their practice.”
The rule mandates that attorneys should provide at least 50 hours of pro bono service work every year without fees to either persons of limited means or some type of charitable or educational organization.
One of the challenges she anticipates in coming into the attorney regulation counsel position is the learning curve, but it’s one she plans to embrace.
“Jim Coyle had been in the office for a long time before he became attorney regulation counsel,” she said. “I don’t have the benefit of that internal experience, but it is something I’m looking forward to. I love the process of learning and engaging with new people and new voices.”
She wants to make sure diverse attorney voices are part of that conversation on professionalism.
“That can mean making sure there’s diversity on committees that support attorney regulation work, actively reaching out to members of diversity bars and even attorneys that may not belong to diverse groups but nonetheless have great ideas and feedback about diversity,” she said.
Yates said she doesn’t have priorities in changing the OARC’s approach to attorney discipline and diversion programs and how those decisions get made. She’s looking forward to learning more about the implementation of those processes.
And although she has a fondness for the litigation and appellate practice she’s been doing, she said she’s excited for new challenges and experiences.
“I do think I’ll miss it, but hopefully I’ll have lots of other opportunities,” she said.
— Kaley LaQuea