By Jessica Volz
For Klaralee Charlton, perhaps nothing could be more thrilling than becoming chair of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) during the Denver Bar Association’s 125th anniversary — a year made all the more significant by the fact that never before have the CBA, DBA and ABA all had female presidents at the reigns. We are at Fluid, the hip Novo coffee shop down the road from the bar associations’ offices. Although the neighboring construction site is no longer crowned by towering cranes, glinting like baguette diamonds in the sunlight, the spirit of progress continues to infuse the August air like a teabag in hot water.
With a steaming chai in hand, Klaralee appears cool and collected, beaming the unassuming determination that undoubtedly translated her passion for numbers into a rewarding career in problem-solving. “So, how did it all begin?” I ask, knowing that routine questions often yield unexpected answers. “Well, the last redoing of the tax code happened the year I was born,” she explains with a smile. The background noise hits a dramatic note, as if to punctuate her point.
While her choice of career may have been a star-crossed inevitability, the eastbound–westbound trajectory of Klaralee’s life confirms that she is an accomplished go-getter with a global perspective. Though she hails from Montana, she now feels firmly rooted in Denver. She is excited to be serving the residents of Colorado in matters pertaining to estate and trust administration, estate planning, and estate and income tax planning. Her undergraduate pursuits in political science took her to Bryn Mawr College, an all-women’s liberal arts institution on the outskirts of Philadelphia. “It was one of the best decisions of my life,” she remarks. Her rigorous course load motivated her involvement in the college’s volunteer income tax assistance site, a nationwide program providing free tax preparation services to seniors and low-income families. “That sparked my initial interest in taxes and tax law,” she explains. Through her efforts and dedication, the program grew from five volunteers to more than 30. Even if watching Judge Judy was what first inspired her to become a lawyer, this real-life exposure was what cemented her desire to complete a law degree at the University of Utah and then a Masters of Tax Law at the University of Denver.
Klaralee’s involvement in the bar association came about naturally, thanks to the laws of randomness and her exuberance for healthy cooking. She recalls catching sight of some social media posts about Barristers After Hours and other networking events. She worked up such an appetite for bar association activities that she decided to enter her recipe for Zucchini Quinoa Boats in The Docket’s recipe contest — and won. The rest is history: “I wanted to find a position where I felt active. The Tax Section was also very welcoming and open to putting young members in leadership roles. Now I’m secretary of the Tax Section Board.”
Klaralee is intimately acquainted with the unprecedented challenges that new and young lawyers are confronting today. After all, as a tax attorney, issue spotting is one of her greatest strengths. “It used to be that lawyers started out as apprentices. Now there isn’t the same sort of mentoring going on at most firms. That’s why the bar and the YLD are important, especially in a tight job market.” As Klaralee works with DBA President Nancy Cohen to implement the bar association’s five-year strategic plan, she wants to help other young lawyers champion whatever hurdles they may be facing. “So much is about putting yourself out there and realizing the power of asking. Young lawyers need to step out and do these things,” she emphasizes. “They need to establish their legitimacy, and that’s what the bar, by providing customized programming and networking opportunities, can help them do.”
Despite the many demands in her life, Klaralee is as much of a pro as Simone Biles when it comes to balancing acts. She and her husband Ron have three silky terriers (Lucy, Scout and Bryn) that keep them on their toes. As well as making pilgrimages to the many great breweries that the state has to offer, she and her husband also make time for globetrotting expeditions (think skydiving in Dubai).
The background buzz of baristas in action starts to reach its mid-morning lull. The late-summer sun is beckoning, and DBA YLD Chair Klaralee Charlton heads out, ready to seize the moment, even on a Friday. The future of the DBA YLD is so bright that I find myself squinting through shades.