Top Women 2020: Amy Kiefer Hansen

Polsinelli shareholder Amy Kiefer Hansen knew she wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. 

“In the sixth grade, I declared I would be a lawyer. But I always thought I would be a litigator,” said Hansen, chair of the firm’s real estate practice. “And I think my parents, given my propensity to argue with them, always thought I would be a lawyer.”

But Hansen, who represents real estate developers as well as buyers and sellers in real estate transactions, said she could also see herself as a city planner. “I’ve always had an interest in what makes someplace a really good place to live and be,” Hansen said. An urban sociology class in college got her thinking about the “subtle cues” that make people want to linger in certain spots and not others. 

Her practice weaves together her passion for vibrant city spots with legal expertise in financing and developing major real estate projects, from mixed-use condominiums downtown to master-planned communities covering thousands of acres. One of the perks of leading a national real estate practice has been visiting and learning about the projects the firm and clients have been working on in other cities, from Nashville to L.A. “I’m looking forward to when COVID passes and I can get back on a plane and go visit them,” she added.

However, the pandemic hasn’t stopped her from her volunteer work closer to home at what she calls the “intersection of housing and real estate development and community building.” 

“I’m really passionate about my community,” Hansen said. “I love this city and I don’t think — when I moved here 20 years ago — I really understood how much I was going to love it.”

Hansen said she’s “super engaged” with the Downtown Denver Partnership, where she serves as board member. She and her son were part of the organization’s clean-up efforts following last week’s protests. She’s also on the board of the Fax Partnership, an organization devoted to preserving affordability and diversity along East Colfax as the neighborhood undergoes redevelopment. 

Her volunteer activities also include working on construction defect litigation reform and advocating for affordable housing in the state legislature and amicus briefs.

“There’s a lot of important work happening to continue to make our city a really wonderful place to be for everyone,” Hansen said. “Those are issues that are really important to me and it’s a true joy to be involved in all of this.”

Hansen is also devoted to making real estate law, and Polsinelli’s practice group in particular, a place where women can thrive. The commercial real estate and construction industries have traditionally been male-dominated, she said, and the legal profession comes with its own barriers for women. 

“Law firms have an issue where, when you get graduates out of law school, you may have near parity between the number of men versus women filling those positions,” she said. “But the farther you move up the ranks, the fewer women there are.”

Part of paving the way for women in the practice is recognizing that not everybody wants the traditional associate-to-shareholder path, according to Hansen. She has been a leader in offering flexibility for attorneys who want to work a reduced schedule or work on a contract basis. 

One Denver-based Polsinelli associate said of Hansen: “Amy is the reason I came to Polsinelli. I left my last job because it wasn’t supportive of female attorneys; there was no maternity leave for associates, there were no female partners I could see as mentors. Amy has such a command of what her vision is for our practice group. That is so atypical for BigLaw. She is amazing.”

“If you’re willing to work hard and you’re smart and you own your deals, I’d take that on a reduced-hours basis — all day, every day — more than I would somebody who doesn’t really take ownership of their work,” Hansen said.

She also mentors female associates and junior shareholders, both informally and through a program at Polsinelli where she leads a small group that meets to discuss issues like career advancement, business planning, mental health and other career challenges. According to Hansen, one of the biggest barriers for women in the field is figuring out business development outside of the traditional boys clubs.

“I always joke that I can’t sign up for the swankiest country club and go hang out in the men’s grill and smoke cigars and walk out with a bunch of business,” Hansen said. 

“That opportunity is just not available to me,” she added. “Number one, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it. Number two, it’s the men’s locker room [or] the men’s grill — I can’t get in there. And number three, I’m a terrible golfer.”

That means women need to go about business development in a different way, said Hansen. She organized a seminar on the topic in February that brought together up-and-coming female shareholders in Denver and offered advice on how to play to one’s strengths in career planning and building client relationships. 

“A lot of times people just focus on their weaknesses, like if I just could fix this weakness, everything would be better,” Hansen said, adding the advice to focus on where you thrive is helpful for men as well as women.

“If your strength is writing, then you should write. And you shouldn’t try to show up at the cocktail party if you hate to talk to people.”

— Jessica Folker

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