Episode 253 – Ali Metzl

Ali is a Lawyer & Marathon Runner

Ali Metzl, a shareholder of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, talks about her passion for running marathons and how it benefits her work at the office with developing relationships with clients and colleagues, and helping her maintain focus!

Episode Highlights

Getting into distance running
Ali’s favorite marathon
How running helps with focus in the office
Relating to clients and colleagues with running
Hosting 5K’s at company retreats
How the culture of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck fosters people with passions outside of work
Why it on both the organization and individual to promote a culture of sharing

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    Welcome to Episode 253 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiates you at work.

    I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in just a few months. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. Please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. And this week is no different with my guest, Ali Metzl. She’s a shareholder with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Denver. Now, she’s with me here today. Ali, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Ali: My pleasure. I’m happy to be here.

    John: Yeah. This is going to be so fun, so much fun. But right out of the gate, you know how the drill, 17 rapid-fire questions. Yeah. Exactly. This is fun having an attorney on the other side of this. Normally, I’m the one getting drilled. But no, no. It’s all good.

    Ali: Probably cost less that way.

    John: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So here we go. This is actually a pretty good one. Suits or law and order?

    Ali: Definitely law and order.

    John: All right. How about with your computer? More of a PC or a Mac?

    Ali: PC. I don’t own a Mac. And I’m not technically savvy.

    John: No, no. I’m not even cool enough to go into a Mac store. I don’t even know. I don’t own enough white clothing to fit in with it.

    Ali: Or enough vests.

    John: Yeah. Or enough vests. Exactly. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Ali: It’s a tie between cookies and cream and mint chocolate chips.

    John: Solid answer. More heels or flats?

    Ali: As the time goes by, living in Colorado, more flats.

    John: More flats?

    Ali: My New York City days, more heels.

    John: Right. How about favorite toppings on a pizza? You can load it up.

    Ali: I’m a plain, classic girl. Just a slice, a good slice. Having lived in New York City for so many years, the classic is where it’s at.

    John: Absolutely. Exactly. No, for sure. How about when it comes to law, more criminal or civil?

    Ali: I don’t ever want to be in a courtroom. The only time I’ve been in a courtroom was when I was sworn in.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Ali: And I want to keep it that way.

    John: Right. Exactly. All right. How about do you prefer more hot or cold?

    Ali: I’m a cold weather girl. I like winter.

    John: How about a favorite number?

    Ali: My favorite number is four.

    John: Is there a reason?

    Ali: I like even numbers. And I think at some point when I was young, my mom also has a favorite number. It’s four. And I think I picked that up from her.

    John: That’s a good number.

    Ali: So I always had it as my jersey number. And that was always the number I gravitated towards.

    John: That’s awesome. No, that totally works. It totally works. More chocolate or vanilla?

    Ali: Definitely chocolate, dark chocolate.

    John: You didn’t even think about that one for a second. That was awesome. How about pens or pencils?

    Ali: Definitely pens and very specific fine point pens. I’m very particular about my pens. The extra fine point.

    John: Extra fine point?

    Ali: Yes. Rolling ball pen that I need to have special ordered.

    John: That’s fantastic. That’s awesome How about puzzles? Sudoku or crossword?

    Ali: Great question. Definitely not Sudoku. I’ve recently started doing those short crossword puzzles from the New York Times, the ones that have the letter in the middle and all the letters are on the outside. Then you can shuffle them and you have to get a certain number to be considered a genius. I like those a lot.

    John: That’s a good one. How about a favorite color?

    Ali: Blue.

    John: Blue? Okay. How about a least favorite color?

    Ali: Red.

    John: Red? Interesting. Okay. Yeah. It’s the opposite. That works. We got four more. How about a TV show that you would binge watch?

    Ali: I have to say we’re not huge TV watchers. I watch a lot of political TV and sports.

    John: That works for binge watching both of those things because they’re on all the time.

    Ali: Yes. I definitely binge watch MSNBC and Broncos.

    John: Right. There you go. Okay. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Ali: My favorite actor would probably be Pierce Brosnan. I don’t know that I have a favorite actress.

    John: That works. How about more early bird or night owl?

    Ali: I get up early to exercise, which I’m sure we’ll talk about later in this.

    John: Absolutely. Yeah.

    Ali: Although I mean in my earlier lawyer days, I was up much later than I am now. But I think now that I’m getting older and with the kiddos, I’ve got to get up early to get my time.

    John: Exactly. The last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?

    Ali: I mean my family would be number one.

    John: That’s an excellent answer especially if they listen.

    Ali: Yeah. Well, they’re going to listen to this.

    John: Right. Exactly.

    Ali: So my family. And I think I would just say probably the time we have on the mountains because now, my kids are old enough where we can all ski together.

    John: Oh, that’s cool.

    Ali: That’s just really special time.

    John: Yeah. That’s super fun, super fun. Awesome. Yeah. So talking about running and exercising in general, but the running, is that something that you did since you were younger or did you get into it later?

    Ali: As a kid, I was a very serious ballerina. I also played soccer from the time I was really little. So for me, exercise was always a part of my life. And growing up, both of those things are regimented. I didn’t start distance running for fun until I met my husband when I was in college. He has several older brothers who got him into the habit of marathon running. When I saw what he was doing and it was a great way as I was finishing college to translate — ballet ends at a certain point in time unless you go become a professional. So I was looking for the natural transition to continue what I was doing. So I got into distance running from watching him and sharing that. I mean it’s something that we’ve shared for a long, long time since, but it’s become a real critical part of my sanity.

    John: A critical part of your sanity?

    Ali: Yes. And my family’s sanity.

    John: Right. That’s hilarious. Yeah. I think that’s really cool. So it’s something that you guys do together?

    Ali: Yes. And I will say my husband is a fantastic runner. He has evolved past running and is much more focused on long distance biking at this point. I’ve stayed committed to my running. But it was something that we for sure shared. And the focus on having races and having goals, that piece, we still share.

    John: That’s awesome. So do you have any favorite races or runs that you’ve done?

    Ali: My favorite race is the New York City Marathon. I moved to Colorado, seven, almost eight years ago from New York City. I was born in New York City. We used to live basically at the finish line of that race. So for me, it’s this tour of my city, a city that means a lot to me. When we run that race, we don’t run actually together. But it’s a race that my husband and I do together with a few of his brothers. So there’s always this really special family component to it. And just the scope of it, it’s iconic.

    John: Oh, it’s huge. When I lived in New York City too, I mean you go through all the boroughs and just end up in Central Park there. Yeah. It’s a lot. I mean I never ran it. But gosh, it’s shut down the city. That’s for sure. You would see people everywhere.

    Ali: It’s a special day for the city. And it’s one of those that gives you perspective on so many things. But I would say that is my special race.

    John: Really cool. Would you say that running at all gives you a skill that you bring to work?

    Ali: It has been essential to my focus. I think having an escape or a place to release has been critical to me. I mean because I started doing this kind of distance running when I was in law school and have been doing it all through training and my career. And not only does it give you a release and an out, but it gives me the ability to retain a human piece of myself. So no matter how hard law school was or those early years of being an associate or a really contentious, complicated issue that I’m dealing with, having that part of myself and part of my life that’s untouchable with its own set of goals and I’m working towards something that is outside of how hard my life will be, retaining that human element has always been so essential for me.

    John: That’s so powerful and the way that you put it. I mean because it’s something that you can control and it’s something that is independent of the work. So even if you have a bad day at work or a long day at work, you still have this to look forward to or this to work on.

    Ali: Exactly. And you’re still moving forward with progress towards an independent goal that exists. So it’s a real check to retain your humanity when work is hard and feels all-consuming and stressful. To continue that piece of yourself outside of that is really important.

    John: That’s awesome. Is that something that you learn from somewhere else or you just did it on your own in happy accident sort of a thing?

    Ali: I felt that. And it’s something that I think my husband I probably spoke about early on. He’s an orthopedic surgeon. So he, during his training, did five Iron Men when he was in medical school and residency. That was always something that we talked about. It was people who don’t come to these challenging parts of their professional life with something that is outside of that. It’s really hard to develop that later on. Or it’s easy to give that up when things get really, really hard, right? You’re just like, “Oh, I have to wait until I’m past this part of my career to get back to that thing I care a lot about.” And we always prioritize that because we felt that that made us better professionals and made us more efficient in our job, more focused in our job. That’s something that we’ve talked about and been aware of for a long time.

    John: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. Because I mean it’s so true. I mean there’s so many people that I’ve met in the consulting work that I do and speaking at conferences and stuff. It goes dormant. Then if you let it dormant long enough, it’s extinct.

    Ali: That’s right.

    John: Then you’re getting ready to retire and you don’t know what you’re going to go do. And that’s really scary to me.

    Ali: It is.

    John: When I hear people tell me these stories, I’m like, “Oh my goodness.” So kudos to you and your husband for keeping that there and seeing how important that was to you and then holding onto it, which isn’t easy.

    Ali: It gets easier to prioritize it if — maybe just like exercising, right? — if you practice that. If you practice it from the beginning and you stay committed to it, then it’s not as hard to build that into your life.

    John: That’s true. Yeah, because it’s always been there and you just never let it go. That’s awesome, really cool. Is running something you talk about at work? Do people know how into it you are?

    Ali: Oh, yeah. In my office, I’ve got my marathon medals.

    John: Oh, nice.

    Ali: I’ve got a plaque from the New York Marathon. I will say also, we have started at work, at some of our retreats, to have 5Ks. And people know that I and one of my running colleagues, we take it pretty seriously. There’s bragging rights. And I will say also, one of the other things that’s been really fun for me is doing business development, client development bonding over this running, my marathon time.

    And I just had — actually this happened last week. A client of ours, who we do some races together, he lives in California. He’s been really focused on qualifying for Boston and has been at it for years and years and has worked through injuries. He sent us an email. He finally qualified for Boston. He sent an email to me and one of my colleagues here because he knew that we would be thrilled for him. There is that piece that you’re able to share with people and it builds real camaraderie both inside of your workspace and with your clients.

    John: Yeah. Because he’s not sending you an email about some cool law thing that he just read. That’s like no-no.

    Ali: Right. We talk about that stuff all the time.

    John: Right. Exactly. But that genuine interest that you each have in each other really takes that relationship to another level.

    Ali: You bet. And another — one of our colleagues, she just competed in the national championships for Aquathlon. So there is this group of sharing these personal achievements, athletic achievements that really builds honest, true relationships. Those are the kinds of people you want to work with and for.

    John: Yeah, for sure. No, that is really awesome. Is it something that the firm does intentionally or is it just the way you are or you just gravitate towards the people that are like that?

    Ali: There’s probably an element to both in that. But I would say the culture of this place and the set of core values that we have foster folks who have these interesting passions and experiences outside of work. And we want you to talk about them, right? We want you to share with them, right? We ski together. We bike together. People do ultramarathons and distance spiking. And that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s not a taboo topic to talk about your hobbies. And that is huge for me, right?

    John: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean that’s huge really for everyone. Has it always been that way or is it more of a newer thing?

    Ali: I think it’s perhaps become more intentional. I think we are trying very hard. And a lot of the things that I spend my time working on, I run our women’s initiative and I run all of our diversity initiatives for the firm. I’ve led our Summer Associate Program for the past several years. So there has been a real focus on identifying talent and folks who have these outside interests and fostering the kind of environment that recognizes that that is additive to our work environment.

    John: Awesome.

    Ali: And that folks who do have those outside commitments that they pursue year over year with seriousness is a marker of someone who is a committed professional. It’s a marker of somebody who’s going to be successful and engaged.

    John: Yeah. No. So it’s not, “You have the best GPA or you’ve memorized all the law or whatever.” It’s, “Do you have other dimensions to you that you’re also pursuing that you’re passionate about?” Because you found that that actually in turn makes you a better professional when you’re in the office.

    Ali: Yes. And you’re more balanced. You’re more present in your mental space, which allows you to deal with the pressures of this job in a different way over the long term. We do see that. We want to talk about that through our interviewing process. Then we want to be mindful of all of that when we craft policies and benefits to ensure the folks stay.

    John: Right. Yeah. Because I mean in so many places, they say that they hire people because of their extracurricular activities and then never give them time to go do those extracurricular activities. It’s like, “Well, what the heck? What’d you expect?”

    Ali: Why do you put that on your resume if you don’t want to talk about it or think that there’s value to that?

    John: Yeah. Or if you’re interviewing people, why ask them about it if you’re not going to care once they start?

    Ali: Absolutely.

    John: So it’s so encouraging to hear that you guys are doing that. That’s really cool.

    Ali: It’s a focus of ours to recognize that people are whole people. And you spend so much of your waking time at work. It would be an awful thing to have to sever something that’s so critical to you and to your identity from yourself in order to be present here.

    John: Exactly.

    Ali: And to think that you have to do that, it’s unfair and unrealistic.

    John: No, that’s awesome. That’s so cool. You should be running this podcast. What am I doing? This is crazy. That’s so awesome, so awesome. I feel like the firm here is doing a lot of really great things. How much do you feel like it’s on the organization to create that culture? Or how much is it on the individual to either, one, jump in or, two, create the little small circle if it’s not already there?

    Ali: The firm in and of itself is entrepreneurial, right? It is something that you see the founder’s pictures on the walls, right? That drive, that desire, that hunger to lean forward and figure out what’s next and what’s coming, that sense of entrepreneurialism and engagement that breeds this recognition of the fact that people are people with passions and interests. So I think that is in the water, so to speak. But this is also the kind of place where if you have an idea about how to better this place, right, and how to allow people to be their full selves and their most engaged selves and so that we get the best they have to offer, then you should raise your hand and offer your idea. I think it’s both. We expect people to be thoughtful and be creative about how we can do this better always. But there is something inherent in the philosophy of the founders that permeates what we do and how we do it.

    John: Yeah. I mean from the top down, it certainly helps. And I think that — it sounds like because you share your hobbies and passions so frequently and so open about it that it humanizes people that are at the top. So if somebody has an idea, they can come to you as a shareholder and not be intimidated because you’re not the shareholder in the corner. It’s Ali.

    Ali: That’s right.

    John: “Let’s go talk to her.”

    Ali: I think that’s exactly right. Our founders are still here for the most part. The firm is 52 years old, which means that the folks who are running the firm are not so much older than me. And I think that means we share a lot, right? You share what interests you. We spend time together. They know what’s going on in my life, what race I’m training for, what race my husband’s training for, what races my kids are training for.

    John: Right. Nice.

    Ali: They know all that stuff. And the same thing with the folks that I work with. I want to know what’s going on in their lives because that’s going to make me a better leader. It’s going to make me a better team member. And it’s going to make the folks we work with more invested in what we’re all driving towards.

    John: No, that’s so fantastic to hear. Because I mean a lot of times, especially in places that have charge codes and billable hours and things along that nature, if you have something outside of that, sometimes it’s frowned upon or it’s distraction or in our own heads, we think, “Somebody’s going to think I’m not very dedicated to my job.” What do you have to say to someone that thinks that way?

    Ali: It’s all about how you organize it. For me, I organize my day so that I know that I check that box from my time. I get up early. I know that, yes, I probably respond to some work emails when I get up at 5:15. But that’s my time. My kids are asleep. Work hasn’t gone completely haywire yet. And I have that time in the morning where I do what I need to do to make myself feel mentally fit and physically fit. It’s more about fitting it in and taking ownership and saying, “These are all my obligations to myself and to my clients, to my family.” How do you make it work, right? Like an adult, we recognize that we all have a thousand demands on our time. And it’s really just about how you organize your life, right? You respect that people have stuff they’ve got to organize and let them be the judge of how they do that.

    John: Right. Yeah. Because it’s so easy to let work just become all consuming.

    Ali: That’s right.

    John: Like you said, you wake up at 5:15. There’s an email. Then before you know it, it’s 8:00 p.m. and you haven’t done any running. You haven’t exercised. you haven’t had any me time. Then you do that one day. Then you do it two days. Then before you know it, you’re 20 years later. You’re like, “I don’t even remember the last time I ran.” And it’s because you don’t prioritize it or be intentional about making time for that. It doesn’t have to be every day for everyone. It could be once a quarter. Whatever your thing is —

    Ali: Whatever it is.

    John: — just do it.

    Ali: Right. And do it habitually because otherwise, it’s not inherent to you. It doesn’t animate you.

    John: That’s a great word right there, animate, because it lights you up. I mean you’re a completely different person when you’re talking about running than when you’re talking about work.

    Ali: Yes. That time crystallizes what I have to do that day, how I’m going to approach an argument. It allows me time to test out my strategies of how I’m going to negotiate something. Or if something really, really angered me and I had an emotional response to something that’s going on at work, it allows me to push that piece out and get clarity around how I’m going to attack a big problem or a stumbling block on a transaction or how are we going to bring all these people together, right? I can get my head focused in that time. So my energy when I show up to work is much different. It’s much more focused. I’m much calmer in my chair when I sit down for work.

    John: Well, like you said in the beginning, it’s for the sanity of your family and everyone else. That’s hilarious.

    Ali: That is true. I will say last year, when I was training for the New York Marathon, my treadmill broke mid-training. My treadmill and I have this really special symbiotic relationship. My husband says it’s two or three days, there’s no treadmill. We do have a gym in the office. There was obviously an outlet, but it wasn’t the same mine that I adore. He just said, “Fix this. This has to be fixed for everyone’s —

    John: Just do a kickstarter for everyone that was impacted, pitch in and —

    Ali: Just everyone. That’s right.

    John: That’s hilarious.

    Ali: Yes. “Solve this.”

    John: That’s super funny. Yeah. This has been really awesome. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that thinks that they have a passion that no one cares about or it has nothing to do with their job?

    Ali: I think my words of advice would be everyone has a passion. Everyone that you run into cares about something deeply. And it is so rewarding to ask them about it and take the time to talk to them about it because you are going to be refreshed. You’re going to be encouraged to engage in your own. There’s time in the day for it. There’s time in the day. And it’ll make your day better to know something about somebody else. And it’ll push yourself a little bit.

    John: Yeah. I mean it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding for you. It’s rewarding for the other person. It’s rewarding for the firm. I mean everybody wins.

    Ali: Yes. Everyone wins.

    John: And it’s so simple.

    Ali: It’s really okay to spend that time and talk to people and ask them what it is that they do outside of the office and not in a lip service way because that’s the only way that we’re going to connect with other people.

    John: Yeah. No, that’s exactly it. And it’s okay if work isn’t your passion. You’re really good at it and you do it well. But if you have something else that you’re also passionate about, it shouldn’t be frowned upon. Like you said, it makes you a better professional when you guys are interviewing and when you’re looking for people. I mean you found that that actually elevates people. It makes them more productive and better at what they’re doing in the office.

    Ali: Absolutely. When you remove those barriers that are keeping people from being their full selves, that’s when you see people really shine.

    John: Yeah, in all facets of their life.

    Ali: That’s right.

    John: That’s awesome, so awesome. So it’s only fair that I offer you the opportunity to rapid-fire question me since I so rudely out of the gate fired away at you.

    Ali: How about a favorite sports team?

    John: A favorite sports team? That’s an easy one, Notre Dame Football. Yeah, Notre Dame Football. Yeah. I’m a big college football guy.

    Ali: Okay. Ski or snowboard?

    John: Snowboard only because I hadn’t done any mountain sports since I was in third grade until about two years ago. I had skateboarded in the middle there. Also, when I was much younger but I figured there are more variables on skiing, like the ankles and knees. Where snowboarding, it’s mostly just wrists, I guess. So I just, yeah, snowboard.

    Ali: Last one, Kindle or hard copy?

    John: I love the real book. I mean that being said, when I travel, I just definitely have it on my phone so I can read the Kindle. But yeah, real books are really fantastic.

    Ali: It’s fun to be on this side of the rapid-fire.

    John: Right? Isn’t it? Isn’t it? That’s why I only give you two or three because that’s enough. I don’t want to get carried away. No, but thanks so much, Ali, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This is really fun.

    Ali: Thank you for having me.

    John: Yeah. Absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Ali running or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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