Yvette Lewis-Molock is an Assistant General Counsel at Xcel Energy. I have gotten to known Yvette over nearly 15 years. She has an interesting background growing up in Denver. Yvette also had an interesting path to law school and over the course of her career. I think you will enjoy Yvette’s story and perspective.
HARDY: Please tell us about your personal background.
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I am a Colorado native. I grew up in Park Hill in Denver most of my life. I did not leave Colorado; in fact I stayed here for undergraduate and law school.
HARDY: Please tell us about your professional experience.
LEWIS-MOLOCK: My undergraduate degree was in microbiology, and I worked in the science field for about 10 years. I primarily worked for the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in the Microbiology/Virology department, and then for National Jewish Hospital doing Pulmonary Pediatric research.
HARDY: Why did you decide to then pursue law school?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: The big driver at the time was patent law in biotechnology and the need for attorneys with a science background; therefore, I was an ideal candidate. I was looking at medical school or an advanced degree and I thought this would be a good fit. I actually applied to both medical school and law school when I was looking to change my career path.
HARDY: Why did you choose law school over medical school?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: At the time, I had one small child and I was pregnant with my second.
HARDY: And you thought law school would be easier than medical school?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: Well what I thought about was the difference in the time commitment for law school versus medical school and it was huge. I have always had an interest in law, but probably not as predominant as going into the medical field. However for patent law with biotechnology being the emphasis, I thought it would still fit my interests, so I decided to go to law school.
HARDY: How was it to go attend law school with two small children?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: It was a challenge. I actually was pregnant with my second child when I started law school and then decided that probably was not the best idea, because I would have given birth about three weeks into law school, so I deferred for a year. There were always some challenges, but I had a lot of support from my husband and my parents at the time so it worked out. You can always do it as long as you put your mind to it. It is a little bit more challenging, but it is something that you can do.
HARDY: So I take it you’re now in the bioscience and patent areas of law?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: No. It’s funny because I am actually in litigation, but when I went to law school I said the last thing I would ever want to do is litigation. And that is exactly what I am doing now.
HARDY: What did you do after law school?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I did an externship with a patent law firm and decided I did not want to pursue a career in patent law and because I was staying away from litigation as much as possible, I did transactional work for the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Like patent law, I discovered that transactional work was not a fit, so I stepped out of my comfort zone and took a job doing contract work as a public defender for the City and County of Denver. Then, I was an assistant district attorney for Weld County. Now I am in-house counsel at Xcel Energy.
HARDY: How did you become interested in working for a utility company?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: Quite honestly, I almost blew it off. I was not going to apply for the position. My husband had found it and I did not think I had the transferrable skills. It was for litigation, but it was civil as opposed to criminal. I thought, “Why in the world would they take me?” However, on the off chance it might work, I just said okay. I was looking for a change because at the time I was doing crimes against children at the D.A.’s office. As anyone who has done that kind of work knows, there is a short lifespan in which you can do that type of work because of the emotional toll that it can take on you, especially if you have children of your own.
I went ahead and applied and it was a phone interview. I had never had a phone interview. I thought, okay, this is going to be a challenge because the person who was going to be my supervisor was in a different state. I did ask them why they hired me after the fact. And they said, well we figured because of all that litigation experience and actual trial work we believed that you can use those skills and transfer over to the civil end with no problem.
HARDY: How long have you been with Xcel Energy?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: It will be 14 years in July.
HARDY: What perspective do you have as an in-house attorney that we outside attorneys may not appreciate?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I think there is a misperception that when you are in-house you do not do a lot of the work or it is easier and you have a regular 9-5. That is not the case. I think when you’re in-house, you work even more. You are for the most part on 24/7. Even if you have outside counsel, which is not always the case, you manage them, but you also have to work with your internal business clients on a number of different issues. Also, in this day and age where companies are looking at cost-cutting measures and efficiencies, you end up doing a lot of prep work before you even send it to outside counsel.
HARDY: You won the 2017 Docket Arts & Literature contest for one of your paintings. Do you see painting as an outlet for some of the pressures that can come with the practice of law?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I definitely think it is a way to deal with the pressures and actually just to use a different side of your brain to be a bit more creative. I think it is good to have variety in your life so you have somewhat of a balanced life and it is not just all about work. So whatever that is, whether it is hiking or exercise at the gym, I think you need to find that outlet because of the pressures that you have day in and day out.
HARDY: And you’re also an amateur photographer?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: That goes hand-in-hand with painting. You take pictures and usually whatever you are going to paint is going to come from a photograph. I am not very good at remembering certain details I see that I want to paint, so photography is another outlet.
HARDY: You’re also an experienced traveler. What perspective has travelling given you?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I think when you travel you get to see a different side of the world. You get to see how other people live, their interactions, especially if you go to a third world type of country. You recognize and you appreciate the things that you have a lot more. You also think, how I can I assist someone who does not have all the advantages that I have because it is an awakening that we are pretty privileged here in the United States regardless of our status, and there are other people that really need our assistance.
HARDY: Speaking of that perspective, in getting to know you, I learned that you grew up in a time of school desegregation here in Denver. How was that experience?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I think that experience has caused me to persevere no matter what, as well as to adapt quickly in whatever environment I am in. We lived in a neighborhood that was African American and I went to an all African American school. Then busing came along. The city did not quite have the infrastructure to actually deal with busing at the time, so we would have big old city buses meet all the kids at one location and we would actually drive to the different schools to drop off the students at the different schools they were going to.
This event introduced me to an environment that I had never really been placed in before. I had to go through the nuances of dealing with people I never really dealt with before and address the odd questions that you got. Often I would think, why are they asking me these questions? Also, we had to address and overcome the overall assumptions that were made, even by teachers, about how to categorize us or how to teach children of color, assuming that it was something different when it was not. I had both good experiences and maybe not good experiences through that process.
What it has taught me is that sometimes you have to put those preconceived notions to the side about what you can and cannot do in order to make sure that you overcome. Because if you let someone tell you what you are not capable of and you buy into the hype, it could affect which direction you go in life. A lot of people who grew up in that same environment did not or were not able to prevail.
HARDY: What advice would you give to new attorneys starting out in their legal career?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I would say a couple of things. Number one, do not be afraid to try new things. Do not go in thinking that I am only going to focus on one thing. Be open because you do not want to miss opportunities. As I said, I did not want to do litigation, but now that is the world I am in. It is my absolute favorite practice area despite my many tries to stay away from it. I would recommend being open to whatever opportunities come your way. Number two, if you are feeling like you are not necessarily getting the support that you need, talk to other folks and make sure to get some guidance that will help you to keep going in the direction that you want to go. Never give up on your dream.
HARDY: What are your views on diversity in the legal profession?
LEWIS-MOLOCK: I think the legal profession has grown as far as diversity and inclusion, but there is a lot more work that needs to be done in order to support not just the attorneys that are new to the profession, but to grow the profession. We need to start at a lot younger age as opposed to focusing on colleges or even high school. I think if we really want to get diversity in the profession we need to start introducing the profession in elementary school. D