Jake Eisenstein Sets Roots in Colorado and the DBA YLD
by Matt Masich
Eisenstein grew up in Amherst, Mass., and he went to college there at the University of Massachusetts, studying economics and computer programming/multimedia design. After getting his undergraduate degree in 2002, he got a job in Southern California working for a mortgage company. He didn’t like it.
"I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I could be here in 10 years and nothing will have changed,’" Eisenstein said.
He realized he wanted to go back to school, but there were two divergent paths that seemed equally appealing. He had always been interested in the law, but he also is an enthusiastic guitarist and artist.
"It actually came down to a decision between art school and law school," Eisenstein said. "I don’t remember what tipped the scale, but I think I figured I can always do painting and photography while in law school, but I can’t really study the law while in art school."
He started law school in 2004 at Tulane University in New Orleans. He was entering his 2L year in August 2005 when news came that Hurricane Katrina was gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico, headed for Louisiana. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first. Eisenstein’s roommates, all 3Ls, told him it would be fine and that they’d go out and get supplies. They came back with a trunk full of booze, ready for a hurricane party.
But as they watched the satellite images on TV, it became clear that Katrina was something to take seriously. Eisenstein and his girlfriend, now wife, Tina Kouch, got in their car and headed out of New Orleans a few hours before the storm made landfall, enduring about 15 hours in traffic getting to Memphis. The idea was to tour Graceland and the Gibson guitar factory while the storm blew over.
"Then the levees broke," Eisenstein said. "We were in Memphis with basically nothing and had to figure out what to do."
They headed to Kouch’s parents’ house in Philadelphia, where they scrambled to find another school for the semester. Kouch was in the business year of a joint MBA–JD program, so they needed a place that had a good law school and business school. That place wound up being the University of Colorado at Boulder, where they were taken in as refugee students.
Though they were here for only a semester, the couple fell in love with Colorado, which offered a welcomed change of lifestyle from their East Coast upbringings. They went back to Tulane to complete their degrees, but packed their bags for Denver when they graduated in 2007. Eisenstein and his wife now live in the City Park West neighborhood with their dog, Bowie (named after rock star David Bowie, not Alamo legend Jim Bowie).
While in law school, Eisenstein had worked in-house doing regulatory work for an energy firm in New Orleans, and he probably could have started his career there. Moving to Colorado meant a fresh start, but it also meant hanging his own shingle.
Eisenstein’s law practice took off thanks to another twist of fate. He answered a Craigslist post for a criminal defense lawyer seeking help. Eisenstein showed up at the lawyer’s office only to find the position had been filled. However, the lawyer knew of another lawyer down the street who might need Eisenstein’s services, so they took a drive to meet Dave Stevens.
"I told [Stevens] I’d work a couple hours a day and you don’t have to pay me," Eisenstein said. "Just let me use office space and come to you if I have problems." At first, Eisenstein was essentially a file clerk, Stevens said. But they hit it off and were soon handling plaintiffs’ personal injury cases together, though they each remained solo practitioners. Stevens was an invaluable mentor and this year they decided to become law partners in Stevens & Eisenstein.
Most of Eisenstein’s practice involves personal injury, premises liability, and some medical malpractice cases. Though he never thought in law school that he’d be doing plaintiffs’ work, he’s found he enjoys it. Still, he never lost his passion for regulatory work. In his highest-profile case to date, Eisenstein represented Liberty Taxi in a regulatory case before an administrative law judge. Though several new cab companies sought approval to operate, Eisenstein’s client was the only one to get the thumbs up. However, the Public Utilities Commission reversed that decision and the case is now on appeal in district court.
Eisenstein recalled an early bit of advice Stevens gave him. "In this business, especially as a solo practitioner, you are your reputation, so protect it," Eisenstein said. "Be professional, treat other people with respect, and be cognizant that your reputation will precede you."
Eisenstein took that call to professionalism to heart—so much so that Stevens and the other lawyers in their building occasionally rib him about it.
"We call him ‘Ethical Eddie’ around here," Stevens said. "I say that as a compliment. He’s always conscious of the ethical implications of anything."
Stevens, a past president of the Arapahoe County Bar Association, also encouraged Eisenstein to get involved in bar association activities. Eisenstein has followed that advice as well: Besides heading the DBA YLD, he is vice chair of Metro Volunteer Lawyers Governing Board and last year won the Arapahoe County Bar Association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year award.
Taking MVL family law cases helped him get courtroom experience as a young lawyer, Eisenstein said. "It was a good way to get in front of judges, beef up my litigation chops, and a good way to get involved," he said. "And the act of helping others is incredibly rewarding." He remembers his grateful pro bono clients more than the courtroom wins he was paid for, he said.
"We’ve got these skills—we should use them for good," he said. "Access to justice is a huge issue for our generation of lawyers. I think it’s important that we all pitch in."
As an MVL board member, Eisenstein has helped plan the Barristers Benefit Ball and is currently working on streamlining the MVL database to eliminate redundant data entry and free up more time to help clients.
The DBA YLD provides a perfect opportunity for lawyers entering practice to forge connections with other lawyers and the community at large, Eisenstein said. The division offers affordable CLEs tailored to the needs of those just starting out in the law. The monthly Barrister’s After Hours lets young lawyers meet in a relaxed social setting at Katie Mullen’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, and the legal movie night gatherings also are a hit. One of the division’s signature charitable events is the Law Suit Days drive, which collects gently used professional attire for people who can’t afford it (see page 23 for further details).
Eisenstein is working with chair-elect Matt Larson to increase media coverage of young lawyers’ contributions to the community.
"I think lawyers get a bad rap sometimes, and I think we can do a lot to help that," he said. "We’re really doing a lot of great things for the community, and I think that should be reflected. I want to get the word out that we’re doing things like the law suit drive, charity events, and volunteering for indigent clients." For instance, each YLD board member volunteers at Mi Casa and El Centro legal clinics, and they take MVL pro bono cases if they can.
Eisenstein is resisting the temptation to start his own signature program. "I think there’s pressure on incoming leaders: ‘What am I going to do to make my stamp?’" After attending an American Bar Association leadership conference in Chicago, he realized he doesn’t need to start new programs to make his mark. Instead, he hopes to start with what the DBA YLD is already doing and take it to the next level.
"I think my goal this year is not to reinvent the wheel," Eisenstein said. "My main objective is to really streamline things. If we need to, we can cancel ineffective programs that are wasteful. We don’t necessarily need to replace them, but just do what we do better and more efficiently and work out all the kinks.
"I want to pass the chairship to Matt Larson next year and say, ‘Look, we’ve got seven or eight solid programs that are working at 99-percent efficiency and nothing’s wrong. You’re taking a working ship." D
Matt Masich is a staff writer with Colorado Life Magazine. Prior to that, he was a reporter for Law Week Colorado, covering bar associations, the business of law, appellate courts, and the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.