It often takes lawyers decades to make their mark. At 31, Joel Pratt has already earned a reputation as a skilled attorney and valued member of the legal community.
An attorney with Dailey Law PC, he specializes in family law. He also volunteers extensively with legal organizations and puts in many pro bono hours serving people who otherwise couldn’t afford legal representation.
A Colorado native, Pratt grew up in southeast Denver. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he got a degree in English literature.
After college, he worked as a legal assistant with Lisa Dailey at Dailey Law in Colorado Springs, then went to the University of Michigan Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into the Order of the Coif, an honor society for top graduates.
Pratt worked at two large law firms, gaining experience in complex corporate cases, appeals, government contracts and intellectual property issues.
Since returning to Dailey Law and family law practice, he has worked in and out of court to resolve matters ranging from divorce and child custody to grandparents’ rights.
Pratt spoke with the Business Journal about his love for the law and the Colorado Springs community, and why he spends so much of his time as a volunteer.
You’ve worked for some of the biggest law firms in the country, right?
Correct. My first position at law school, I was with what was then called McKenna Long & Aldridge and became Denton’s US, which at that point became the largest law firm in the world. We had lawyers on five continents — more than 7,000 attorneys, and they’ve even grown. I was in their government contracts department in their Denver office. … After that, I was with Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, which is a litigation firm based out of Denver. For them, I was mainly doing complex corporate and insurance defense litigation.
What made you decide to come to Colorado Springs and rejoin Dailey Law?
Just over a year and a half ago, I was looking to make a change, and I saw that there was an opening here. I’d actually worked for Lisa before. I saw that she was hiring again, so I contacted her, and it was a good fit just like it was before law school. So my wife and I moved back down here.
What do you love about Colorado Springs?
I love the connection to the outdoors. I like that it has access to all the things that you would want in a big city, culturally or otherwise, but still has a small-town feel. Most of the time when I’m going to court, I’ll see people that I know walking into the building, and I think that’s pretty unique in a city of this size to be able to do that and to have that kind of community. We felt very comfortable coming back and settling down here, and we’re just thrilled to be back in Colorado Springs.
Tell us a little bit about what you do now.
My practice area is family law. I do some work in probate, some guardianship cases for children and adults. I also do child welfare cases in the juvenile courts, so dependency and neglect cases. And I also have a focus on doing appellate cases, both in civil and these family areas.
So you feel like family law is more the area where you want to be?
Yes. I really like the focus on individuals. I enjoy not only getting to know them, but getting to help them individually … to solve at least the legal sides of the problems that they’re facing in their lives. It’s much more of a personal practice, and it’s much more both personally satisfying and feels like it’s a real service to the folks that we’re helping. So it’s definitely been a great fit for me to make that jump, and I’m thrilled I did it and thrilled to be doing it in this particular office.
So you see them when they’re at their most vulnerable times.
Yes. My family law professor in law school said he knew a judge that said, ‘On my criminal docket I see the worst people in society on their best days, and in my domestic relations, my divorce docket, I see the best people in society on their worst days.’ And sometimes, we do see people sort of at their lowest. For many people, other than a death in the family, a divorce is perhaps the toughest time in their lives, and we help them through that, at least on the legal side. That’s what I really like about this work.
What else do you like about the work that you do now?
I really like the professional community here in Colorado Springs. Even though it’s a growing city, a top 50 city, the professional community here still feels like a small town. The professionals here treat it like we’re all going to be working together on future cases, so we can’t burn the house down. We have to treat each other, even when we disagree, with dignity and respect and collegiality. It’s been a very warm and open community. Coming into it, I’ve had the support of my company, which has been great, and I’ve also had the support of the legal community and in serving. So I serve on the bar association board as a trustee. I recently took over as the chair of the new lawyers division, and I’ve just been really grateful to find a legal community that’s so open and willing to accept a new member.
What is the function of the new lawyers division?
We’re sort of the entry point for new lawyers into the bar association. The purpose is to have some social connection with other people who are doing, maybe not the same kind of work, but are in the same profession here. We also want to serve as the connection to the other pieces of the bar association. There’s the general bar association that does the overall events, and there are individual practice sections. The family law section and the probate section have regular meetings and education opportunities. We also want to serve as a connection to the bench-bar group [that connects lawyers and judges]. We’re planning a second annual bench-bar event where young lawyers have an opportunity to speak to judges one on one about issues in the community, have some education and just have that face time with judges outside of the courtroom setting. We also like to be a connection point with the legacy society, which are the experienced lawyers here in Colorado Springs. That gives us an opportunity to learn from folks who have been doing this a long time.
And you’re also a member of the executive council of the family law section.
Yes. The family law section is the group of family lawyers down here. Every other month we do a lunch and educational program and then we also run an annual conference that’s a full-day, continuing legal education program. So there’s a group of us who do basically the planning for those things. Because we’re a relatively small group, we know each other and … we’re often on the other side of the table with each other. So I think it’s important for us to know each other and be able to work together outside of the confines of those cases, because it gives us the ability to do a better job for our clients once we’re across the table and trying to negotiate a solution.
You do a lot of pro bono work. Why?
I think, as lawyers, we have a responsibility to help people regardless of their ability to pay. So we’re running a business, [but] we also know that there are significant needs in our community for legal assistance. So I serve both on the panel for the Colorado [Court of Appeals] pro bono program, which appoints attorneys in appeals for clients who might not otherwise have access to an attorney for an appellate case, and I also serve on the local District Court panel of attorneys that are appointed pro bono to cases in their practice area.
Why do you think it’s important for young professionals to be involved in the community?
First of all, we’re a service profession. So I think those of us who go into this particular profession do have a call to service, and I think it’s important that that call to service goes beyond just client work. It goes not only to pro bono work, but to work in the community generally, whether that’s in legal education or in provision of other services. … I think it’s particularly important for young professionals because it’s how we make connections in the community to people outside of our small practice area. And I think just generally it’s good to have a sense that our communities are giving a lot to us by supporting us, and we have an obligation, to the extent that we can, to put that back into the community.
What advice would you give to young professionals in general, not necessarily just in the field of law?
I think it would be to get involved in service organizations, whether it’s in your field or just generally serving on boards. Finding ways to connect with folks outside of your particular office or field is, I think, really important and really healthy. It shows commitment to something beyond just career success, and I think that success in general looks like being a fully involved member in your community. That requires a higher level of service.
Where do you see your career going in the future?
One of the really interesting things I’ve learned is that learning to practice law is a lifelong endeavor. … You get incrementally better at it and measure your success in decades and not in months or years. So it’s kind of hard to answer that for that reason, because what I see doing is trying to continue to improve at what I’m doing, becoming somebody who is successful at it because I’ve spent so long learning it and getting better at it and learning from great mentors, people like Lisa. So my hope is to continue to be a member of the community, to be excellent at this work and continually learning and continually improving, and to take on larger leadership roles in the community and to give back as much as I can, when I can.