Jessamyn Jones is breaking down barriers in a heavily male-dominated field.
One of four women attorneys at Mulliken Wiener Berg & Jolivet P.C. hired in the past two years, her practice focuses on construction litigation.
A native of Boulder, Jones graduated summa cum laude from Metropolitan State College of Denver with a B.A. in political science and government and earned her Juris Doctor in 2014 from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
While still in law school, she started working for the Denver-area law firm of Hoffman Crews Nies Waggener & Foster, where she gained experience in employment law, business succession planning and business transactions.
Jones and her Realtor husband moved to Monument in 2013, and she commuted to her job in Denver every day. But after the birth of her son, now almost 2, she started looking for a job closer to home.
Jones spoke with the Business Journal about her construction law practice, how she handles gender issues in the courtroom and why it’s important for professionals to be involved in the community.
What drew you to your current job?
I started my search for law firms a couple of months before I ended up transitioning down to the Springs, and this law firm just had an impeccable reputation. I wanted to make sure that I got in with a firm that had a very clear path that I could grow with, that would support me and my practice and teach me as an attorney. …
The niche that I worked within in Denver was the employment law side, and when I came here they did not actually have an employment law practice section. And so I saw it as this great opportunity to be able to offer my area of expertise. You know, a lot of our clients are large corporations or external contractors. They have employment law questions. And so it was a really nice fit for me to come in, because now we can keep that work in house.
There are not very many female construction lawyers. And it’s interesting … both the law and construction are primarily male-dominated fields. So it is progressive of this firm to really bolster female attorneys and get us involved in construction law. We’re kind of on the forefront of getting women involved in both of those industries.
What are your specific practice areas?
This firm has a fairly large emphasis on construction law. Karl Berg is one of the top construction law attorneys in the state. So I do practice construction law, I also do commercial litigation, and then I have an employment law practice, which is employer defense-sided. Our primary clients in the construction law side of things are our general contractors. We help them all the way through the process. We can help them as early as pre-bid, all the way to post-job issues that might arise, so negotiating contracts and if there are insurance disputes, if a client has claims for delay damages and general breach-of-contract issues. We do lien work, design construction defect cases; we really do cover a broad spectrum.
What made you decide to be an attorney — and specifically to go into this field, in which there aren’t very many women?
I’m not one of those people that knew that I always wanted to be a lawyer. I do remember my mother telling me when I was very little that I should be a lawyer because I like to argue so much. But actually, in college, I wanted to be a meteorologist. I really love science. I was really into weather. And you have to take the core requirement classes, and I fell into a political science class and absolutely loved it. So that started my journey towards the law. Construction law is definitely something that has sort of found me rather than me seeking it out.
What are the pros and cons of being a woman in the construction law field?
As a woman, I think that there’s always a moment with clients. Often you’re the only woman in the room. You are the only woman on a job site. Sometimes you’re the only woman in a courtroom or in an arbitration proceeding. And I think there’s always just a little flutter of a moment. I’ve never experienced anything that was terribly hard to overcome, but a moment of, ‘Is this woman going to be able to defend me or to represent me? Is she going to know what she’s talking about?’ That’s usually overcome pretty quickly.
The other place where it presents a little bit of an issue is when you’re talking to a contractor or a witness who maybe was working on the job. They tend to, I think, do a little bit of self-censorship. So they don’t want to offend me because I’m a woman. They try not to cuss in front of me but ultimately, they’ll usually let a cuss word slip and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.’ I defuse that pretty quickly by saying, ‘You’re not going to offend me.’ Where it could become an issue is if the witness or whomever you’re speaking with is trying to censor themselves so that they don’t offend me because I’m a woman. They could perhaps be leaving stuff out and really, all I care about is what happened. So that’s another place where you see a little bit of the gender issue arise. Again, it’s one that’s pretty quickly exhausted.
I also think it’s beneficial for clients, especially if you’ve got a jury trial. You know, you’re typically not going to have a jury of six men; you’re going to have a jury of your peers, which includes men and women, so I think it’s often nice to at least see another female face. It certainly makes your client a bit more relatable.
What are the most common issues that cause clients to seek your advice?
I don’t know that there’s a common problem. Certainly on bigger projects, you run into issues with delays. You run into potential issues with liquidated damages. Because of the way that construction works, typically you’re following a pretty strict schedule, and so if one thing gets thrown off, it can really affect the whole entire sequence of work. So several of the cases that I’ve been involved with recently have to do with that exact issue, both from our clients’ perspective of, ‘Hey, these delays that happened were not caused by us, but the effect was it delayed our work and so, Owner, whoever you are, we need to be compensated for that; it caused all of these other issues.’ Or it’s a situation where the owner maybe comes after the contractor for the delay damages and the contractor saying, ‘They weren’t caused by us. They were actually caused by whatever other subcontractor was on the job.’
How have you learned about the ins and outs of construction itself?
Karl Berg is an incredible teacher. He is an expert in construction law. Within a month of starting here, I was thrown into a case that was kind of halfway through, and I was taking depositions, I was reviewing all the plans, I was reviewing the contracts. And I truly sat at my desk while I was reviewing all of this and made lists of terms I didn’t understand, concepts I didn’t understand. And then I just went and asked. I mean, this firm has a complete open-door policy. I have never, ever felt like I can’t just wander into somebody’s office and say, ‘Hey, I’m not really understanding this. What does this mean?’ which is really important when you’re talking about construction law, because it is truly its own niche, and a lot of the terminology is very specific to construction law. … As soon as you’ve got the terminology down, then it boils down to, the breach-of-contract case, it’s still a breach-of-contract case. Obviously I’m still learning every day, and each case is new and presents different challenges, but I’ve got such a great mentor in terms of learning.
Do you volunteer in the community?
I actually have been trying to start working with REACH Pikes Peak [an organization that serves the region’s lower-income population]. I’ve been working with their executive director to see how I can use the skills that I have as an attorney to benefit the people they serve, … if there’s a way that I can maybe hold hour-long seminars quarterly, targeting different things, so that people understand their rights — so maybe like a little landlord-tenant tutorial on access to the courts and how you find that, things like that. I do think that as lawyers, we have a very special and distinct skill set, and I feel an obligation to use that to help in my community. I was also, last year, part of this incredible leadership training program, called COBALT [the Colorado Bar Association Leadership Training program]. I’m sitting on the selections committee this year for the 2020 class.
Do you think it’s important for women attorneys and young professionals in general to get involved in the community?
Absolutely. Not only does it benefit the people in the community that you’re helping, but really that sense of fulfillment that I get from being involved is so immense. … I recommend everybody find either an organization or a cause that resonates with them. Because what you receive from it is just as much as what you are giving to that organization and to the community that you belong to.