Updated: Jan 9
Kate Russell comes from a long line of public defenders, and when she began law school at the University of North Carolina, she thought she would have an affinity for criminal law and saw herself following in this tradition. However, an internship during law school convinced her that a different path was in her future.
Following graduation in 2014, Kate moved to Colorado, where someone suggested volunteering with Colorado Legal Services. She connected with CLS’s Executive Director, Jon Asher, and found they were in need of help in their Consumer Law Unit. Kate was soon volunteering on cases involving debt collection defense, credit card debt, medical debt, and past-due debt on rent or damages on apartments.
Kate’s volunteer work with CLS was followed by time with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and in private practice. At the AG’s Office, she worked in mortgage service investigation. While she enjoyed the work, she missed the consumer-facing interaction and the ability to advocate. Later, in private practice, she felt uncomfortable asking clients for money for help in solving their problems, though she admires those who can balance those issues. Through this varied experience, Kate feels that she was lucky to find the area of law that fits her best, and she is now happy to have returned to CLS to pursue consumer law.
For Kate, the most fulfilling part of the work at CLS is providing high-quality legal services for people who need it. Most importantly, this means listening to the stories of people who might not have been heard before. She is particularly grateful when she can help a client by getting money from counter claims. She is also inspired by the fact that her work may impact consumers she has never met.
Of course, the work also comes with its share of challenges. She notes that it is particularly difficult to give voice to some of these issues. For instance, why does someone run up credit card debt? A lot of clients in this situation come in and are ashamed. She has to craft the narrative in a different way, to show that a lot of the clients are regular people who have experienced a tragedy in their lives.
Kate credits her parents for her passion for legal services work. She says that her life has always been oriented around public service, and there was never a time she wanted to go to a big firm. She especially enjoys doing consumer work because she likes people and likes to get along with opposing counsel. Because she is often up against an entity, she can still be aggressive without being concerned about offending the opposing party.
For new attorneys and students interested in getting into legal services work, Kate advises networking and joining their local women’s bar association. She also advocates doing externships and getting hands-on experience. When asked about opportunities at CLS, Kate enthusiastically replies, “We loves interns!” They typically have two externs during the summer, and students get hands-on experience with projects like negotiating and writing closing letters for clients.
In addition to her work with CLS, Kate is also co-chair of the CWBA Legal Services Committee. She first became involved about two years ago when she started going to committee meetings. She knew Sarah Parady (now CWBA president), who was very helpful in making connections. When an opening for a chair opened, Parady went to then-president Cat Shea and let her know that she thought Kate would be a perfect fit. Kate says that this has been an extremely rewarding experience.
Kate is especially proud of the Committee’s first annual pro bono fair, which was held in August at Faegre Baker Daniels. The fair hosted 20 pro bono providers who set up tables and answered questions from about 35 attendees. The goal was to provide easy, one-off opportunities for people to become involved. It is a tradition that Kate hopes will continue with the new chair when she moves on to new opportunities within the CWBA.
In 2020, the Committee is planning a Permanent Protection Order CLE. They will also host an annual fundraiser, this year in support of the Colorado Poverty Law Project, an entity that specializes in eviction law and works closely with CLS and their housing attorneys.
Outside of the law, Kate and her husband, David, like to ski and travel, including a December 2019 trip to Austria. During law school, Kate had the opportunity to travel extensively. She studied international human rights law in Rwanda for five weeks, followed by one week in the Hague, Netherlands studying immigration in the European Union. Then, while studying for the semester in Nijmegen, Netherlands, she visited 13 countries. At the end of a long day, she likes to walk her dog, Jed, a lab
Kate Noble is a CWBA Publications Committee member and a legal editor with Colorado Bar Association CLE, the nonprofit educational arm of the Colorado and Denver Bar Association.