Legal Legends - A Mentor to All: Al Harrell Offers His Time, Expertise to Young Lawyers
by Natalie Lucas
"Although I had been practicing a number of years, I did not have a lot of trial experience," Laff said.
After the trial concluded, Harrell went over his notes line-by-line with Laff and the other lawyer involved in the case. "He made several suggestions about our opening statements, and he had us give the opening statements again after the trial was over," Laff said.
Harrell’s feedback was invaluable for Laff, who is now a Denver District Court judge. "I credit Judge Harell for my development as a trial lawyer," he said. "It is remarkable the time he devotes to the profession. Judge Harrell is a role model for all of us."
October marks Colorado’s first observance of Legal Professionalism Month. With events aimed at upholding and improving professionalism among lawyers, some members may reflect on their own contributions to the legal profession and how to measure a professional legacy. For those who have been mentored by Harrell, it would appear that his legacy will be measured by those he has inspired, encouraged, and motivated.
Since 1985, Harrell has served as a Denver County Court judge. He worked diligently to establish the Inns of Court program in Denver. He is a faculty member in the National Institute of Trial Lawyers and is on the board of directors of the Dumb Friends League. His awards and honors include the Colorado Judicial Excellence Award and the University of Colorado Alumni Excellence Award. His commitment to minority organizations has been recognized by the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and Sam Cary Bar Association. And, his lawyers’ league football team has won several championships.
Although Harrell has accomplished much as a lawyer and a judge, his friends and colleagues note his most significant mark on the legal community has been his support of others.
Early in his career, Harrell had two important mentors: his father, Irving P. Andrews, and U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane. After graduating from law school at the University of Denver in 1971, Harrell joined the firm formed by his father and Kane. While practicing, Harrell’s mentors also imparted an important value: "Judge Kane and my father encouraged me to make an investment in others, and not sit idly by," Harrell said.
This also was something he experienced with other colleagues. While working on a patent case early in his career, the opposing lawyer, Duane Burton, asked Harrell to lunch. "He knew I was a young lawyer, and I did not know what I was doing," Harrell said.
Instead of taking Harrell to task in the legal proceedings, Burton discussed the issues with him over lunch. "He loved the profession and he wanted it to be done well and done right," Harrell said. "I have never forgotten his direction and his care."
Harrell’s own path as a mentor began simply, starting with his involvement in the Denver Bar Association Lawyers’ Touch Football League. Through playing and coaching in the league, Harrell met many new lawyers and began hosting monthly lunches in his chambers with the goal to help younger lawyers gain knowledge from experienced professionals.
"A lot of the people I have mentored are smarter than me," Harrell said. "I just provide them with a little encouragement. I have enjoyed watching their lives change. The return comes in watching people grow."
The lunches have since evolved into weekly breakfast meetings at Dozens Restaurant.
Rickey Fitzsimmons, a private practitioner, met Harrell while "bumping into people at the courthouse." Fitzsimmons said he once commented to Harrell about other lawyers being difficult and dishonest: "Judge Harrell responded to me, ‘Don’t complain; lead by example.’"
Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Terry Fox met Harrell in 1996. Fox was a young associate at Holland & Hart, and she took a leave of absence for three months to serve at the Denver City Attorney’s Office. She regularly appeared in front of Harrell.
"Judge Harrell taught me how to be a lawyer," Fox said. "He taught me how to try cases."
He also planted the seed for Fox to look outside working for a private firm, eventually leading her to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Wayne Vaden, owner of the Vaden Law Firm, met Harrell through the lawyers’ football league. He said Harrell has not only helped him become a better lawyer but also helped him become a better person. "He has helped me find my purpose and make positive change," Vaden said. "He has made a great commitment, not just to the legal profession, but to his family, friends, and the community."
Ken Haye, a third-year law student at the University of Denver, met Harrell through the lawyers’ football league. They immediately hit it off talking about football; soon after, Harrell invited Haye to the weekly breakfast and helped him become a member of the Rhone Brackett Inn of Court.
"Although many judges can appear intimidating, Judge Harrell is really approachable," Haye said.
Becky Bye, legal counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy, met Harrell when seeking an Inn of Court fellowship and then began attending his Thursday breakfasts.
"His attitude is contagious," Bye said. "Now, when I am faced with a difficult situation, I try to think, ‘What would Judge Harrell do?’"
Regina Rodriguez, a partner at Faegre Baker Daniels, has known Harrell for 25 years, and he encouraged her to participate in bar activities, particularly with the specialty bars. Rodriguez credits many of her professional achievements to Harrell’s encouragement to get involved. "Judge Harrell is a champion for everybody," she said.
Christine Fiedorowicz completed her first trial in front of Harrell in 1999. She was working in the municipal public defender’s office, which did not have a formal training program at the time, and Harrell helped her enroll in a NITA program.
"He was a tremendous help," said Fiedorowicz, who credits her later advancement to the state public defender’s office to Harrell. "He is always willing to help, whether it is writing a recommendation or making a phone call. It is those little things than can make all the difference in the world."
Harrell’s love of the law and the profession, on its own, inspires others to serve the profession with a similar spirit. Fitzsimmons said Harrell taught him about the joy in mentoring, and he now takes an active role in mentoring other attorneys. Although Fitzsimmons is now a seasoned practitioner, he says "Al Harrell is still mentoring me."
"None of us can get through life by ourselves," Harrell said. "We all need the help of others." D
Natalie Lucas is an attorney at Pearl Schneider LLC practicing civil litigation. She has been a member of The Docket Committee since 2006. She can be reached at (303) 515-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.