Updated: Jun 9, 2021
Veronique Van Gheem has always been driven by helping others. She has had many formative experiences that have influenced her work and personal life. She began her career as a field biologist in Wisconsin “with a desire to protect the environment for present and future generations.” During this time, she volunteered for the League of Conservation Voters. On the banks of Lake Michigan, she talked to locals about how their state legislators voted on conservation bills, asked them to sign a petition addressing drinking water contamination, gave them the most recent scorecard on conservation bills, and invited them to the State Capitol to talk with senators. She was inspired by the impact that everyday people could have when they came together.
In undergrad, Veronique had the opportunity to do environmental work through a grant from the Global Environmental Management Education Center of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Veronique lived in a town of 3,000 people in the Sierra Madre mountain range and worked with local foresters to create a natural resource management plan that would help keep the community’s watershed healthy. She discovered that local people left the countryside to seek work in the United States with the purpose of providing for their families. Veronique learned how friends from Oaxaca experienced obstacles traveling to or living in the United States due to the highly complex immigration system. She stated, “I carried these experiences with me when I applied to law school, and they are part of what make me the person I am today. They added fuel to the dedication to public service that I already felt before I became a lawyer, and that core value drives my legal career.”
Veronique went on to attend law school at CU because of its strong environmental program. After graduating in 2010, she clerked for Judge Norman Haglund of the Denver District Court where she developed a solid base of legal experience and exposure to civil litigation. She later accepted a position with the State Court Administrator’s Office as a Conservation Easement Staff Attorney. Veronique was promoted to Assistant Legal Counsel of the Colorado Judicial Department in 2013, where she served on a team of six lawyers who act as advisory counsel for the state courts, probation, and the State Court Administrator. The legal team acts much like in-house counsel, advising on employment matters, government contracts, fiscal rules, impact of new legislation, information requests, judicial ethics, court procedures, and statewide policies. She also provided trainings on the legal duties and liabilities facing judges, probation officers, and court staff. She served on a number of committees that set state court policies and rules in different areas of law, including the Colorado Probate Rules Committee, the Water Court Committee, and the Supreme Court Committee on Civil Jury Instructions.
In April 2021, Veronique began a new position with the Boulder City Attorney’s Office. She was excited about the opportunity because of the City’s dedication to environmental integrity and the fact that the City is always at the forefront of progressive municipal initiatives. She wanted to get back to environmental issues and thought municipal work would be the best foray into the legal practice area. Boulder is the first city to put a levy in place to meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations and has a whole department dedicated to environmental issues. Veronique’s thrilled to be working on environmental, IT, procurement, public works, and construction issues, and is already learning a ton. She says the main goal in her career is to always be learning something new, always striving to improve.
Veronique credits a community of support and mentorship to help her get to where she is today. Along with Judge Haglund, Veronique credits Judge Roberto Ramírez in the 17th Judicial District as being a huge influence. It was he who first got her involved with the CBA Spanish-Speaking Lawyers Committee and supported her through her career changes. He was previously a city attorney in Arvada, so she saw the opportunity in municipal law when her current position with the City of Boulder became available. Carol Haller, who originally hired Veronique at the Judicial Department, also had a huge impact on her career. Haller was a former public defender and the first woman judge on the Weld County bench before becoming Deputy State Court Administrator and Legal Counsel. Carol retired from the Judicial Department in 2014 and decided to volunteer for Colorado Legal Services for a year. In the end, CLS hired Carol onboard, and she worked for them for another seven years serving some of the most vulnerable populations of Colorado. Veronique sees Carol as an amazing example of public service and as a role model for sticking to her core values while in leadership. Finally, Veronique notes that her dad graduated from engineering school as a non-traditional student when she was seven years old. She vividly remembers going to his graduation, and it was in that moment, she became inspired to pursue higher education in order to help others.
Aside from her work, community service has always been something that has driven Veronique. The CBA Spanish-Speaking Lawyers Committee got her started in volunteering after law school. She saw that there was a large population in need of legal assistance because of Colorado’s statute requiring court filings to be in English. The group interprets, translates, creates pro se resource brochures, and attends free legal clinics all over the state. This led her to found and operate the Spanish Family Law Clinic as it currently exists for Project Safeguard, a domestic violence nonprofit. She volunteered to recruit, coordinate, and train volunteer attorneys; prepared clinic materials; and educated participants on self-representation in domestic cases for eight years. Veronique also served as chair and vice chair of the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association’s (CHBA) Pro Bono Committee, which is dedicated to developing policy initiatives, forging partnerships, and providing volunteer opportunities that expands access to justice for the Colorado Hispanic community.
Veronique first joined the CWBA Publications Committee because she loves writing and wanted to empower women. In 2017, when the Committee decided to start a blog, she led a team “through an energetic pitch to the CWBA board and a maze of organizational hurdles.” The goal was to “create an online community for women lawyers across the state of Colorado and to give them a platform to share their voices.” They also sought “to give women a place where they could promote themselves, and especially to highlight women lawyers of diverse backgrounds.”
The 1891, named after the year the first women were admitted to practice law in Colorado, launched in April 2019, during Veronique’s first year as co-chair of the committee. She drew on her leadership experiences with the CHBA Pro Bono Committee and the Project Safeguard Clinic to “create a strategic plan, develop standard operating procedures, draft an editorial policy, recruit attorney editors, and seek out contributing authors.” She worked with the CWBA Executive Director and History Committee to find historical photos of Colorado’s first women in the law and featured them on the blog’s banner. For Veronique, “[w]atching an idea come to life and leading it into fruition has been a privilege. It has been amazing to work with the talented team of volunteers who have made it happen and who will continue to foster its growth.” In particular, she credits the hard work of her co-chairs: Giugi Carminati and Carime Lee.
Veronique is now excited to be moving on to the CWBA Professional Advancement Committee and to being part of the amazing work they have done. She will help to put on events that promote women lawyers and work with the DEI Committee to further the CWBA’s DEI goals. Previously, the CWBA didn’t have a compilation of people nominated for past awards and amazing candidates got lost. The committee is in the process of creating a database for those who may have been nominated but not received an award. The “Rock Star” database will allow the committee to put forth these candidates to organizations offering awards. So far, the committee exceeded its goals for last year due to the fantastic leadership of Kathryn Starnella and Andrea Bronson. The Professional Advancement Committee hopes to continue to serve women legal professionals in Colorado by having a structure in place to get them recognized.
Veronique’s work has certainly not gone unrecognized within the legal community. She is the recipient of the 2018 DBA Pro Bono Award, the 2018 CWBA Raising the Bar Award, and the 2017 Colorado Hispanic Bar Association Community Service Award. Though such awards are not what draws Veronique to her volunteer work, she says she is grateful for the recognition because it brings to light the causes she serves and could help draw more people to those causes.
Veronique recommends finding a way to do what you’re passionate about because that will give you satisfaction at the end of every day and keep you coming back. People have often asked her: “How do you do all of that volunteer work?” For Veronique, it’s not work. She says it’s almost selfish. She comes from a humble background, so she knows what it’s like to be in the position of those in need. She feels she is paying forward the help she has received throughout her life.
Outside of her work and volunteering, Veronique is an avid runner and rock climber. She ran at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and says it had a huge impact on her life. She feels it set the stage for being successful because of the work she had to put in as a college athlete. It taught her a lot about resilience in life and got her through a tough childhood by giving her a community to lean on. When her team went to nationals in 2004 and 2005 in cross-country, she enjoyed being part of such a successful team. For Veronique, team mentality is how she approaches leadership. Everyone has a part to play, and a team is only as strong as the weakest link. “When you lead, you have to build a team that brings together a variety of strengths as well as diverse backgrounds and experiences so that all of the individuals on the team fill gaps and work together to meet your goal.” This is how she runs all of her committees.
Veronique’s passion for service came full circle when she met her husband, Arash Jahanian, at a Spanish-Speaking Lawyers Committee happy hour in 2015. Arash is a fellow runner and civil rights lawyer. Veronique says they challenge and encourage each other to do the right thing. She describes him as her “partner in crime,” and says it feels good to have met someone with the same compass. The two were married in a small ceremony last August and are planning a larger reception in September.
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.