Denver Bar Association
July 2007
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Wonder Woman: She does it all!

by Mindy Marks

When talking to Elsa Martinez-Tenreiro, an accomplished attorney, active volunteer, and new DBA president, she immediately lights up when the topic of her family comes into the conversation. It quickly becomes apparent that her family brings her much happiness and fulfillment. Elsa is married to Steve Theis, a Senior Engineer at Lockheed Martin, and is the proud mother of two girls: Alex, age 13, and Samantha, age 11. Her mother Sandra lives with the family in Elizabeth, Colo.

From left to right, husband Steve Theis, daughters Alex and Samantha, Elsa, and her mother Sandra.

Her daughters are very involved in dance competitions; thus, Elsa spends time volunteering with projects at the dance studio such as making costumes, setting schedules, planning fundraisers, and printing brochures and advertisements. The girls spend anywhere from three to five hours a day dancing and practicing for dance competitions. They were involved in 17 different competition routines last year.

Elsa is an active scrapbooker and enjoys crafting pages and layouts with her daughters. Originally, she started by just putting pictures in books and the intricate designs developed from there.

Besides spending time with her family, Elsa spends countless hours giving back to the community — so much so that she received the Metro Volunteer Lawyer of the Year award in 2004, the DBA Volunteer Lawyer of the Year award in 2005, and was the recipient of Channel 9’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in 2004.

"Providing some kind of help to kids and education always have been strong interests," said Elsa. "I’ve worked with some kind of public legal education since I graduated from law school."

Her volunteer work is ongoing. She has volunteered with: publications in the Public Legal Education department; Metro Volunteer Lawyers Family Law Court Program; Law Line 9; People’s Fair; Colorado Uplift, Community Resources, Inc.; CLE of Colorado; career fairs; school mediation programs (teaching kids to mediate programs themselves); Mock Trial Subcommittees; 5678 Dance Academy of Performing Arts; and as a reading coach and avid volunteer at her children’s schools.

"She’s very passionate about Public Legal Education," said Carolyn Gravit, director of the Public Legal Education. "She keeps her kids very involved and pushes them to make volunteering part of their lives and to see their parents volunteering. She has brought them to events like Mock Trials and the People’s Fair."

Elsa was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, into a family very involved in the wine trade. At a young age, she helped harvest grapes. Her mother is American and her father was an Argentinean. Elsa moved to the United States after finishing high school. Spanish is her first language.

"I learned to speak English at boarding school in Argentina. I knew some English, but we never spoke it at home. My parents would speak English and we would not understand," said Elsa. "After high school, we were went to visit my mother’s parents for Christmas and ended up staying."

She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado at Denver. She worked for various work-study programs throughout her undergraduate studies, including as an intern for Sen. William Armstrong. Around 1984, she started working part-time for Pepe J. Mendez, P.C., as a file clerk, case manager, researcher, and interpreter — which she discovered she was "terrible" at. She has worked for Pepe J. Mendez, P.C. as a practicing attorney since 1990.

"When I was pretty young, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer," said Elsa. "My first two years of college were geared toward computer analysis and then I decided that just wasn’t for me, so I made a change."

From left to right, back row, husband Steve Theis, and mother Sandra. From left to right, front row, daughter Samantha, Elsa, (front) niece Ariana Pia, daughter Alex, sister Valeria, nephew Lorenzo Pia.

She wanted to help people who didn’t know what the law was or how to navigate it. Now, Elsa primarily practices workers’ compensation law and works with claimants who were injured on the job.

"I’ve been with this practice since before I went to law school," said Elsa. "The law was the easiest place I could go to get immediate satisfaction and help people. Someone comes into my office and a lot of the time just with a few phone calls I can help them in some way. I get to help them and it’s very satisfying."

During her year as DBA President, Elsa hopes to improve the diversity and education programs at the DBA.

"I’ve been committed to diversity for a very long time," said Elsa. "Getting more minority attorneys involved in the bar association has to be one of my goals."

Elsa has been very involved in planning the 2007 Rocky Mountain Legal Diversity Summit. The summit aims to get people to talk about issues like retention and pass rates on the Bar exam for minorities. The conference will include discussions of pipeline issues, which involves making sure minorities go into the practice of law.

Elsa also hopes to partner with Denver Public Schools through the Democracy Education Committee to bring more civics to the classrooms.

"We’re providing them with some of the materials we published at the Bar so they can revise curricula to include law education," said Elsa. "We’re working to get more attorneys involved in DPS. Anything we as lawyers can do to help further education is going to be better for our future."

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