Kelly works past hurdles to achieve success

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Cristyn Kelly aims to keep busy.

The local has found a way to balance her legal internship at The O’Neil Group Company, a Springs development firm, while raising her daughter with her husband and preparing to graduate this year with a law degree from the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver.

Before pursuing a legal career, Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in business in three years from the University of Central Missouri while working as a student hire at Whiteman Air Force Base, where she managed enlisted and officer performance reports from 2009 to 2011.

After Kelly earned her degree, she was laid off from Whiteman and helped manage a small business in Missouri before opening her own dance studio. After getting married, she and her husband, who previously lived in Colorado, moved to Colorado Springs in 2013. She later sold her studio in Missouri to one of the dance instructors. 

After the move, Kelly no longer wanted to pursue a career in business and switched gears to law. She first worked as a judicial intern for the 4th Judicial District Court in El Paso County and as an intern with the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Buckley Air Force Base in 2016. This led her to apply for the Air Force Judge Advocate General One-Year College Program, where she was one of 22 students in the U.S. to be selected. She was unable to work for the Air Force JAG, however, after she lost her appointment due to high-frequency hearing loss.

Kelly spoke with the Business Journal about rerouting her ambitions from small-business owner to lawyer.

Why are your pursuing a law degree? 

I felt that being a woman with a bachelor’s degree, potentially even a master’s degree — I wouldn’t be seen [as an equal to] my male counterparts. I thought, ‘Well, as an attorney, it might be harder to be looked at differently [just] because I’m a female.’ If nothing else, I could open my own firm and [sexism] would definitely not be an issue.

What is your role at The O’Neil Group Company?  

I am working with the in-house counsel. I do real estate contracts, warranty deeds, purchase and sale agreements, and construction contracts. We’re hosting an accelerator here in January, and I got to spearhead the participation agreement, which was really fun but also daunting and terrifying to be in charge of such an important contract. Right now I’m working on 501(c)3 documents [for the O’Neil Group]. 

What do you like about working in the Springs?

Although it’s a city, it has more of a town feel for me. I live in the northern part up in Gleneagle, so I especially feel it there. We have a yard, which is something we would not have had in Denver, and cost of living is better. I really like to do the [Manitou] Incline in the summers. I have a beautiful view of Pikes Peak from my kitchen window. It’s a better sense of community, and there’s a lot less traffic. I didn’t realize how important that was to me until I spent wasted hours of my life just sitting in a parking lot that is a five-lane highway.

How do you maintain a work-life balance? 

My husband and I try to get our schedules to work so one of us is with our daughter when she’s not in school … but doing it that way means we don’t get to see each other nearly as much as we would like to. When we made the decision I would go to law school, that was something we agreed would need to be done. [To use my time efficiently] I listen to lectures on audio while I drive to Denver for the classes I’m taking, because I waste two-plus hours of studying a day if I don’t.

What should Colorado Springs do to retain young professionals?

There’s a very big misconception about the environment [in Colorado Springs]. People think Denver is where everything is happening, where all the exciting things are. They even think they have a better view of the mountains ­— It’s like they’ve never been down here. Changing people’s perception [of Colorado Springs] is difficult. … The perception is there’s nothing going on in Colorado Springs, and there aren’t jobs available.

What advice would you give to young professionals? 

You have to study, you have to work really hard. … If you want to be a professional, you should stick with it and work hard, but you have to give it all you have.