From the President: Fireside Chat With Heather Purcell Leja

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Dear Fellow Bar Members,

 

During my presidency, I have tried to emphasize the importance of staying “fit to practice,” as well as the importance of being involved and active in the profession and community. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Heather Purcell Leja, an attorney and member of the DBA who has successfully combined all of those qualities.

 

Welcome, Heather. Can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

I started my career in Washington D.C. in ’97 as a litigator and then switched to the transactional side when I moved to Colorado in 2000 with Cooley LLP.Then in 2003, I co-founded a small firm, Levine and Purcell, with Jane Levine, another attorney from Cooley.

In 2008, I went in-house with a client who wanted to start a nonprofit foundation dedicated to making and promoting films on architecture and design. I’ve also been a captain of the Wheels of Justice cycling team that the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations have sponsored for the last nine years. That has been an especially rewarding part of my life.

I know that you are a very active person. Tell us more about your focus on health and fitness.

About 25 years ago, the light bulb went on about fitness when I became a runner. And then, when I moved to Colorado, a whole new vista opened up. I became a trail runner and I just love running in the wilderness, so that combines two passions: nature and running.

Around 2005, my knee starting giving out, so I switched to cycling. Soon after, I rode in this event called the Courage Classic. I looked around and saw doctors’ teams and realtor teams, but I didn’t see any lawyer teams. I thought, wow, what if we got lawyers involved in doing this event?

I understand that you recently added another adventure to your resume?

Yes, in January I traveled to Argentina and climbed Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas (elevation 22,840 feet). It was an amazing experience, and I used the climb to raise $15,500 for the Catherine H. Tuck Foundation, a breast cancer charity!

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Why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about the Courage Classic and what Wheels of Justice has been able to accomplish with that.

The Courage Classic is a really unique cycling event: three days through the mountains around Copper Mountain and Vail. The total ride is about 160 miles. There are a lot of different options for shorter rides and family rides. This will be the 25th year of the Courage Classic.

Last year’s event raised $2.6 million for Children’s Hospital Colorado. Our team, over the last eight years, has raised $1.98 million for Children’s. For the last seven years we’ve been directly associated with The Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Last year, we had 271 riders on our team and raised $375,000. And now a lot of the patients, families, and doctors that are associated with the Cancer Center, ride with us. We started out as the lawyers’ team and now we’re really the lawyers’ team and the Cancer Center team, which is nice.

Obviously, that is a passion of yours and reflects some of your involvement with the bar association. How else are you involved in giving back to the profession?

Well, a very rewarding part of my career when I started out involved being a part of my firm’s pro bono committee. I did a project with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in which our firm represented several Liberian political refugees who were seeking asylum in the U.S. and were facing death if they went back.

As a new attorney, I represented someone who was granted asylum and it was one of those great days when I just thought, I am so glad I became an attorney. Over the years, I’ve found that the times when I have most enjoyed being an attorney are those days when I’ve been involved in helping the community.

And last year, I accepted Stacy Carpenter’s invitation to join the Board of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center here in Denver. It is an amazing organization that represents the interests of abused and neglected children in the legal system. They’re working hard to improve the laws that we have in Colorado to protect kids.

I have found that sometimes there are rewards in being involved in something that you never contemplated when you started. Have you found that to be true with your community involvement?

Yes, for example, our Wheels of Justice cycling team is a success because so many other lawyers and people who are peripherally involved with the bar have decided to join our leadership council. We’ve become a community.

As a result, I have referred many different cases or legal opportunities to other attorneys on our team. I get calls frequently saying, you know, I need a family law attorney or I’m starting a business, do you have someone who might be able to help me? And that’s been a real benefit.

And because we’ve been together for almost nine years now, we’ve experienced Wheels of Justice marriages and even Wheels of Justice babies! In fact, I met my husband on the first training ride of the season in 2009 and we got married two years later. Unfortunately, we’ve also experienced loss as well. Sadly, some of our riders have passed away. And so we’re really a group that celebrates our wins, grieves our losses and shares benefits and knowledge.

For instance, I received an early stage cancer diagnosis last year and it was a real benefit that I was a part of a community with a lot of cancer doctors. They were very supportive. Earlier in the Wheels of Justice project, I had met with a lot of families who had dealt with their children going through cancer. They told me about something called “Scanxiety,” which is what it’s like to live from scan to scan hoping that the next result is going to be as good as the last one. And then last year I got to personally experience that and reached out to some of those families. I’m happy to say that things are going great for me and I received terrific care.

Well, Heather, I just want to say thank you for all that you do for the DBA, for the Children’s Hospital, and for putting the kind of energy out there for lawyers that we all hope to achieve.

Thanks Dan, our success has been because of the support of bar staff and bar presidents like you, so thank you for jumping in and really getting behind Wheels of Justice this year.

Wheels of Justice Kick-Off Party

Thursday, June 5, 5:30–7:30 p.m.
Denver Post Building atrium, 101 W. Colfax Ave.

Everyone is invited to attend for complimentary food and drinks, plus stories of hope and courage from patients, families and doctors at the Children’s Hospital Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Public parking is available in the attached garage at 15th and Cleveland. RSVP to Heather Clark at hclark@cobar.org.

Want to know more about the Bar sponsored team? Visit wheelsofjusticecycling.org or contact team leader Heather Leja at hpleja@gmail.com.

You can also keep up to date with the Wheels of Justice team on Facebook at facebook.com/WheelsofJusticeTeam, and join their Facebook Group to coordinate with other riders on training ride meet-ups at on.fb.me/1iahIwE.

 

By Daniel R. McCune, Denver Bar Association President. Email: dbapres@denbar.org. Twitter: @DBApresident.

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