“I’ve done a little bit of everything in my life,” said Joi Kush, attorney and partner at David M. Johnson P.C. “I went to Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps while I was an undergrad because — why not? I taught English to Tibetan refugees in 2005 because — why not?”
Kush will readily admit that, aside from her decision to pursue a career in law — which she says she made when she was in the fourth grade — she’s gone through most of her life by the seat of her pants.
“I can honestly say that, except for deciding I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 9, I’ve never had a specific goal in life,” she said.
Born in Colorado Springs as a military dependent, Kush would move as an infant to Massachusetts and then on to Stuttgart, Germany, before her family returned to Colorado Springs while she was in elementary school.
Kush, who was recently given the Brian S. Gardner Award by the El Paso County Bar Association, which recognizes outstanding new lawyers, will turn 32 in less than two weeks.
The young professional shared with the Business Journal details about her life around the globe, changing plans she didn’t know she had and helping struggling families in the Pikes Peak region.
So you graduated from high school in Widefield. What happened next?
After high school I went to the University of Denver where I double-majored in philosophy and international studies, and kind of a minor in Chinese, but [the program] was a new thing at the time. Then I went to law school at Albany Law School in New York.
Why New York?
The short answer is I thought New York would be a great place to start my career and would be a great state in which to practice law. I actually thought I’d be a lobbyist. … I figured I’d break into politics there, Albany being the state capital.
But then I realized what it’s like to work in politics. A lot of my friends worked at the Capitol and I met a lot of lobbyists and politicians and it wasn’t the right fit for me.
How did you decide the type of law you wanted to practice?
After passing the bar in New York I did some soul searching. … I moved back to Colorado Springs and took the bar in Colorado. I randomly got a job with [attorney and local hotelier] Perry Sanders. He’d just entered his appearance on behalf of Katherine Jackson in the estate of [her son] Michael Jackson in California. I worked on that case a little bit, as well as other mass torts he had going on at the time. He was eventually on [Jackson’s] wrongful death claim’s legal team. He asked me to take the bar in California … and I started working with that legal team on the wrongful death claim against [Anschutz Entertainment Group].
That started my legal career.
I wanted something different. I wanted to be in the courtroom more and have more of a community presence. From there I joined Gasper Law Group doing civil litigation. I then transferred to Clawson & Clawson and stayed there for a year and a half. Dave Johnson, my current partner, was looking to retire in the near future and asked me to join him so he could phase out and I would take over the business. As of April 1, we became partners.
When did you realize you wanted to practice law?
I won student of the month in fourth grade. I was actually a really slow learner.
I had a lot of learning disabilities. So when I won student of the month you had to choose what you wanted to be when you grew up to put on your poster.
I wanted to find the most difficult career I could imagine. I wasn’t good at science, so I said I wanted to be a lawyer. If you knew me back then you’d never think I’d be a lawyer. I was very introverted. So since I was 9, I always wanted to be a lawyer.
Talk about the law you practice now?
I only practice family law. I do dissolutions, legal separations, allocation of parental responsibility cases, contested custody cases and high-asset dissolutions. … I don’t, however, do appeals, which I’d love to do in the future. Right now I’m just trying to get my feet stable in the courtroom.
What led you to family law?
My whole life has been chance … but part of it was I was actually doing less courtroom work [with previous employers].
I do more courtroom work since I transferred to family law than I did in civil litigation. Also, civil litigation is very slow and can take one or two years to take a case from start to finish, if it goes to court. Family law is very fast. You could be working toward a settlement and a day later everything unravels and you’re in a courtroom two weeks later. … It’s fast-paced and that’s my personality.
Why do you like being in the courtroom?
The adrenaline rush! You get to create a theme for each case and you get to know them inside and out. And then you get to throw it in front of a judge, who decides your client’s fate. That’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, it’s a rush.
Is being in court your favorite aspect of the job?
No, my favorite aspect is actually staying out of court. It sounds contradictory, but family law is very unique. Even though you’re in the courtroom frequently, you try and stay out of the courtroom. My favorite part of family law is finding solutions for families — really making sure kids are protected and families can move forward in a productive way so they don’t need to come back and readdress any issues.
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job as an attorney?
That I can’t walk away from it. I think it’s my Type-A personality, but also the nature of the area in which I practice.
Clients have lots of questions and you get emails at 2 a.m. sometimes. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and check my email, and then I won’t be able to shut my brain off because there’s an email I feel I have to respond to. Same when I’m on vacation. I just can’t not review my emails. It eats into family and personal time, but I do it to myself. I only have myself to blame.
Did you plan to move back to Colorado Springs as a professional?
Not really. I’ve worked and studied in a lot of different countries — in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan, India … I’ve traveled everywhere and I always come back to Colorado Springs because this is where I’m comfortable.
After taking the bar in New York, I thought I needed to go where I was most comfortable to figure out my next step. I just happened to get a job with Mr. Sanders quickly thereafter. Was it intentional? Kind of. But [if I hadn’t been offered the job], I don’t think I would have stayed in Colorado Springs. I’d probably be in China at this point.
Will you be staying in the Springs?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Colorado Springs is getting a lot better. There are more restaurants and cultural opportunities available.
It’s definitely changed since I was younger, so those are things that entice me to stay, but it’s also a great place to raise a family.
What are the opportunities for young attorneys here?
I think they’re phenomenal. I think the local bar is doing a really good job marketing the mentoring program.
For instance, there’s a group called the Legacy Society, seasoned attorneys who have been practicing more than 40 years and are becoming mentors to young and new lawyers.
We have a lot of attorneys who are new to the practice of law, but they may be in their 50s. We want to make sure they’re also mentored and catered to.
Do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish in the future?
I’ve accomplished all my goals. I’m a little lost again. I feel very accomplished and honored and humbled by what I have in my life — a great husband, a phenomenal career, great colleagues, great family.