The Denver Bar Association was founded in 1891. We have had many wonderfully qualified Executive Directors over the years—none more capable or endearing (or enduring) than our immediate past ED Chuck Turner. But in terms of pure qualifications for the job, none has approached our newest Executive Director, Patrick Flaherty.
Patrick grew up in an Irish-Catholic family in Maryland where his father was a rising star—literally an aeronautical engineer—who trained John Glenn for astronaut duty and was responsible for placing the Flaherty name on a plaque resting on the surface of Mars. A new job for his father at Lockeed-Martin brought the family, including 11-year-old Patrick and three siblings, to Colorado. Patrick never left. At Mullen High School, Patrick continued his early love for speech and debate—a skill honed by arguing with his parents. Confident in his skills, Patrick captained the Mullen debate team that went to national competition during his senior year. He also found himself deep into politics, and no one canvassed more neighborhoods than Patrick.
Working at McDonald’s to help pay his way in high school and at DU for undergrad, Patrick continued his love for debate, ran for the Student Senate and pursued a pre-law curriculum. Graduation in 1984 led to law school at DU while also working forty hours per week. He lived at home to save on expenses. When he left his job as a waiter, Patrick began working periodically at the Rothgerber firm. Mentors such as Jim Lyons and Fred Baumann helped Patrick to develop great skills as a researcher and writer on significant litigation matters. Patrick worked nights and weekends in the practice, directed pro bono cases in his spare time, and became a partner at Rothgerber. At times, he was the firm’s highest biller.
As much as he loved the law, particularly research and writing, Patrick searched his soul for more. Patrick volunteered his precious spare time to a cause that helped promising high school sophomores find paths to college.
Patrick’s love for nonprofit causes was born and Patrick finally made the leap to pursue his passion for social causes and eventually to challenge the establishment on personal and professional causes he found unjust.
With undergraduate and law degrees in his pocket, he enrolled at Regis University through a fellowship from the Colorado Trust, which sponsored the training of nonprofit leaders like Flaherty. Accustomed to working arduous hours as a lawyer, Patrick was not satisfied simply to work on a graduate degree. Mid-year at Regis, he began work at Metro Volunteers, a placement organization for volunteers. That work led to a life-changing opportunity to serve as the Executive Director at Project Angel Heart, an organization that feeds people with AIDS/HIV, and now other life-threatening illnesses—but at time when the disease was all but a death sentence. His passion had now taken him from the 30th floor of a major downtown high-rise and a very comfortable living, to the basement of a church in Capitol Hill.
As ED at Angel Heart, Patrick brought his business approach and financial discipline to a nonprofit organization. As new drugs extended the lives of Project Angel Heart’s clients, their numbers grew. Now armed with a graduate degree in nonprofit management, Patrick kept pace by making sound fiscal decisions, drawing vendors to the board, securing a new facility, expanding to Colorado Springs and dramatically increasing corporate and private donations.
Success assured, Patrick was again presented with a unique opportunity. The Gill Foundation needed a star to direct its nonprofit efforts into the complicated world of strategic planning and to direct their walk along the fine line than runs between nonprofit agendas and national politics. Jumping into Gill’s policy-based agenda, Patrick used this opportunity to develop the capacity of state-based LGBT advocacy organizations across the country. Aware of Gill’s limitations as a nonprofit, Gill, under Patrick’s direction, spent aggressively to advance policies on gay rights, including anti-bullying statues, the freedom to marry, and discrimination protections throughout the country. The job spoke directly to Patrick’s love for back-office research and writing and for equal rights for the gay community.
With great pride, Patrick now sees the culmination of that work, as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to take up the significant issue of marriage equality during the 2015 term. Patrick expects that the general change in attitude at the state level will now result in sweeping changes in federal policies, as well. But a case in Iowa is perhaps his greatest source of pride. With Gill Foundation funding, a lawsuit wound its way to the Iowa Supreme Court where brave justices—in the face of significant political pressure—unanimously found for marriage equality in that state in 2009. Many of those justices were later recalled. Six weeks following that decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Iowa, Patrick and his partner, John Albertsen, flew to Iowa to be married.
Comfortable with his accomplishments at the Gill Foundation, Patrick began work with Gill and other foundations as a consultant. Then, just as Patrick had created a more relaxed professional agenda, another extraordinary opportunity came to him while vacationing in Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina. Aware of Patrick’s background and skills, the DBA/CBA’s gifted head-hunter, Carolyn McCormick, emailed Patrick urging him to call her immediately. From Argentina, Patrick learned that the job of a lifetime was available: Executive Director of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations.
Immediately, Patrick recognized that the opportunity could blend his two professional passions—his love of the law and his love for nonprofits.
Patrick believes that the law is a noble profession and that it is critical—in fact, the essence of—a civilized society. Not unlike Thomas More, Patrick is known for taking on the establishment and forging a more just world. The CBA and DBA can only benefit from his immense qualifications and experience. He is, after all, the Man for All Reasons. Welcome aboard, Patrick.