Caryn Adams hasn’t stopped working to expand Gasper Law Group since her first day in 2008.
“When we were first growing during the early days, we liked to compare ourselves to a bunch of kids trying to put on a pageant,” she said. “We’d say, ‘I can make some costumes; I can sing, and I can dance. Let’s put on a show.’”
Adams, who was the firm’s initial associate lawyer, became a partner about seven years ago.
She now assists in managing Gasper Law Group’s 13 attorneys and roughly 30 other employees.
“I would like to think one of my best qualities as a leader is I can admit when I’m wrong or when I don’t know or need more information,” she said.
The West Coast native attended the University of California San Diego, where she met her future husband — they’ve been married more than 20 years — before going to law school at the University of California Berkeley.
Adams sings as an alto in the First United Methodist Church choir and is the incoming 2019-20 president of the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs.
“I love Rotary,” she said. “I think that the motto of ‘Service Above Self’ is very much in line with our business philosophy of helping people first.”
Adams recently spoke with the Business Journal about becoming a partner, and how being a criminal defense attorney has changed during her career.
Why did you become a lawyer?
My father was a lawyer, so I was convinced it was the last thing I wanted to be, but I actually did a news internship with a subsidiary of CNN at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego.
I was taking a political science class, and getting to be a news intern at the convention was the culmination of that experience. Something about political science just clicked for me and from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a political science major and become a lawyer.
Why criminal defense?
The thing that I love about criminal defense is that when someone is accused of a crime, whether they’ve done it or not, there is very little else in life that can make them feel as helpless and as vulnerable. The criminal defense attorney gets to stand with that person and say, ‘Look, there is life on the other side of this. We are going to figure it out. We’ll hold the government accountable, and I’ll be there with you.’
How is being a criminal defense lawyer difficult?
The challenge with criminal defense and family law is that our clients are in crisis from the moment they walk in the door. No one comes to see a criminal defense or family lawyer if things are going well in their lives. So there’s a burden on us from the get-go to be compassionate but objective and to understand that we are part of an unplanned emergency in our clients’ lives.
What does it mean to become partner of a law firm?
A partner is an owner of a law firm. Colorado’s rules are set up in such a way so that only lawyers, who have passed the bar [exam] and are in good standing with the bar, can become owners or part owners of law firms. The difference between a partner and an experienced attorney is really just one of workload, compensation and risk. As I keep telling my 9-year-old son, being a partner may make me the boss but it just means I answer to everybody else.
Tell me about the path to becoming partner.
Allen Gasper, our founder, passed his bar exam and became a solo practitioner right around the same time I was graduating college. He and I met when he was a defense attorney and I was deputy district attorney here in the 4th Judicial [District]. He made me an offer to come and be, at the time, his first associate. He was looking for someone he eventually could turn over the practice to. Something about the two of us just clicked, and we’ve had a great time. That was in 2008 and, within a few years, we incorporated as Gasper Law Group LLC. We’ve experienced steady growth since then. I tease him because Allen is a rancher and a good ol’ country boy. I say, ‘How can a country boy like you found what has now become possibly the largest majority-female-owned law firm in southern Colorado?’ There is just something about the way that we practice — that our legal philosophies are aligned and our beliefs on life and political differences don’t matter much. However, we do get into some lively debates.
I feel that, in many ways, my path has been very easy. I think that has been a tremendous blessing for me because of the people I’ve met who’ve paved the way for me and mentored me and encouraged me. I think that gives me a greater sense of responsibility to make sure I help other people as well.
How has being a criminal defense lawyer changed over the years?
The attitude towards police officers has been a big shift both for the better and it presents additional challenges. I’m very appreciative of the effort the Colorado Springs Police Department has put towards getting all of its officers body-worn cameras. I think it’s made a tremendous difference in how we investigate our criminal cases, how we determine what pretrial motions are appropriate and how we communicate with our clients, who sometimes, at no fault of their own, don’t remember exactly what happened that night. People will always perceive things through their own perspective and there is nothing wrong with that, but it does make translating what people think happened or said to what they actually said or someone else heard a challenge. With body-worn cameras, we can check to see if police officers are doing their jobs correctly, if they are giving correct advisements, if they are recording the statements they say they are recording, and many times in the last year there have been moments that the police officer who is wearing the camera doesn’t realize something is important and doesn’t record in their report that does end up being very important in court later. It’s not because the police officer is doing a bad job but they don’t have the context for understanding why that particular statement is important at the time. I think that body-worn cameras is the biggest change I’ve seen and ultimately it’s a change for the better.
Does it ever get hard to leave the work at the office?
I think the attorneys who do best in the criminal defense field are the ones who compartmentalize and take as few cases home as possible. Otherwise I think attorneys who try to practice in those fields and can’t [compartmentalize] suffer from compassion fatigue and wind up finding themselves in other areas of practice.
What successes have you had since becoming partner?
I think that the accomplishments of which I am most proud, besides the good results I’ve been able to get for my clients, all stem from the care I’ve been able to give employees. I think I have put a lot of effort into understanding or trying to understand what makes for a good working environment and what makes for a negative environment. I’ve worked to improve the environment here so that everybody can be as effective as possible because they are as happy with their situation as possible.
Can you talk about memorable cases?
I wish I could but I’m afraid the attorney/client privilege would prevent me from it. I would love to share stories, but I don’t even tell my husband who I represent and who I don’t. I think those stories will have to wait until I’m no longer answerable to the bar and the clients or until they change the rules on that one.
What does the future hold?
We’re in a really interesting place right now. I think, for the first time in our history, our attorneys have on average about 12 or 13 years of experience, so it’s a much more seasoned crew. It changes the role that I play in management a little bit to have so many seasoned attorneys where they don’t need me to be a mentor so much as they just need me to put in practice good policies and get out of their way.