Chelsea Augelli started her undergraduate career at the University of Denver as a pre-med student intending to become a surgeon. However, she quickly found that she didn’t care for calculus and chemistry and her underlying passions were elsewhere. She decided to take a Business Law and Ethics course with DU adjunct Professor Patricia Elias and a Contract Law class with DU adjunct Professor Elizabeth Stapp, and these classes interested her so much that she changed her major to Sociology, with a minor in Socio-Legal Studies with a plan to go to law school. To explore the legal field, she also worked for a husband-and-wife-attorney team who did probate and Guardian ad Litem work during the end of her senior year.
After college, Chelsea worked as a compliance analyst at Western Union in due diligence, dealing with money laundering. Though she worked with a number of unemployed attorneys who discouraged her from applying to law school, Chelsea persevered. While studying for the LSAT, Chelsea had an offer to work at Gutterman Griffiths (now known as Griffiths Law) as a paralegal. This position included working for a partner doing high-conflict, high-net-worth cases. The firm is known for breeding paralegals who go on to go to law school, many of whom are now practicing as family law attorneys in Colorado and beyond. Chelsea describes CWBA Member Suzanne Griffiths as “the matriarch of family law” and estimates that six to ten firms have been founded by attorneys who came from Suzanne’s firm. Chelsea notes that Suzanne is terrifying because she’s so smart that you never wanted to make a mistake, but she's also very patient in teaching young attorneys. Chelsea hadn’t previously thought about pursuing family law, but the opportunity presented itself and she felt a lot of gratification in family law. She discovered she was good at the interpersonal skills required for this practice area.
Chelsea credits her former boss, Carolyn Witkus, and current boss, Kristi Wells, as the mentors that have most influenced her career. Carolyn inspired Chelsea to think outside the box and find creative solutions. “Carolyn is known to be a bulldog litigator. She can take complex issues and put together the most beautiful trial.”
Kristi was also an attorney at Griffiths when Chelsea was a paralegal. Chelsea saw that Kristi worked hard and had class. “She handled things professionally and was always handling her cases with diligence and precision.” Kristi eventually left Griffiths and circumstances aligned for Chelsea to work with her at her current position as an associate at Wells Family Law after starting her career at GEM Family Law. Chelsea has recently been asked to become a partner at Wells Family Law and is thrilled to take the next large step in her career.
Chelsea notes that she has only worked for women-only firms. Though the dynamics of all-female workplaces can be challenging and often, women aren’t always the biggest cheerleaders for other women, Chelsea feels it has been a good experience for her to see how successful women-run firms can become. Chelsea has appreciated seeing that having a family, and being an attorney or partner running a law firm, is possible.
Having only been sworn in as an attorney right before the pandemic, Chelsea says she has been inspired by how “the resilience of attorneys and female attorneys bled through in COVID. Women didn’t get a break. We are the glue.” She enjoys helping people and seeing how important attorneys’ jobs are.
Chelsea has found setting boundaries and having work-life balance to be the biggest challenges in her practice. She is very eager to say “yes,” especially to clients, to whom she feels a heightened obligation. She has come to realize there are boundaries to be had. Another challenge she has found is accepting criticism and not taking it personally but using it to better yourself. One partner Chelsea worked for was a bit harsh about her legal writing, but she had to try to not take it as criticism. Chelsea notes that it is easy to mold yourself to the people you’re learning from. She saw how some attorneys didn’t have a practice style and wanted to be sure she had one of her own. She has stuck to that but admits that it is difficult to navigate finding your own path while trying to please the attorney you are working for. Chelsea describes her style as more down to earth and casual. She wants to make clients know she is a real person and not have the power dynamic of the attorney-client relationship that many clients feel when hiring an attorney. Because she is dealing with people’s families, their children, and their livelihoods, Chelsea tries to take a holistic approach and help the client think through how a particular decision will benefit them and their family in the long run.
Chelsea says that the most fulfilling piece of her work is feeling at the end of the day like you’re making a difference working with real people. Family law deals with real, highly emotional, sometimes scary issues, and Chelsea tries to help clients make a good decision. “The hardest part is not having control over the outcome.” Most recently, seeing numerous civil rights issues arise in family law cases has motivated her to get involved with legislation.
Working in a high-conflict area, Chelsea learned as a paralegal to accept the things she cannot control. For the client, what is going on in their case is everything to them. “You have to recognize that but not get involved emotionally.” Chelsea tries not to talk about work when she gets home. She says she recognizes there is only so much you can do, and you can’t be superman for your client. She also tries hard to take a realistic approach with opposing counsel, mitigate drama, and preserve energy.
For new attorneys interested in family law, Chelsea advises that it is very easy to find a mentor or get a position as a law clerk. She thinks people are discouraged from family law, but it involves all areas of law, and attorneys can make their own niche. She encourages new attorneys to seek out opportunities. “The community is enthusiastic about welcoming others.”
Chelsea first joined the CWBA in law school. In fact, she met CWBA Public Policy Co-Chair Meagan Moodie, a partner at GEM Family Law, and got her first job at the CWBA holiday party. Chelsea has also found the CWBA to be a good resource for CLEs and meeting others outside family law. As part of the Public Policy Committee, Chelsea testified for the Reproductive Equity Act on behalf of the CWBA. She feels at home in the CWBA. “It fosters opportunities and connections for female attorneys.” Chelsea is a board member and the present the co-chair of the Publications Committee.
Chelsea has been involved in the local community since law school, having worked in the civil litigation clinic and taken protection order cases through Project Safeguard. She also worked as a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem in protection order cases through Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center. Chelsea notes that these organizations need volunteers. She continues to volunteer with Project Safeguard’s Tuesday clinics and takes protection order cases when she can.
Chelsea has also been a board member of the WineLeague, including co-president for three years. The WineLeague is a nonprofit that organizes competitive wine tastings for the benefit of other nonprofits. The goal of these events is to connect young professionals with nonprofits. In the competitive wine tasting, one-to-three-person teams bring three of the same bottle of wine. Two bottles go out for tasting, and everyone votes on their most favorite and least favorite. The third bottle is held back as the prize for the winner. The WineLeague has partnered with large Denver metro organizations such as the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association, Colorado Autism Society, and Dumb Friends League.
Outside of the law, Chelsea is a Colorado native and enjoys all Colorado activities, including yoga. She is also a Colorado Avalanche season ticket holder and loves learning about wine. She hopes to get her Wine and Spirit Education Trust wine certification one day. Chelsea also enjoys cooking, especially any Half Baked Harvest recipe. Chelsea has not yet read all of the Harry Potter books but is currently in the process of working her way through them.
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 Associations.