It was a simple entrepreneurial endeavor—starting a promotion company that would feature national acts performing concerts on National Forest Service land—that would change David L. Masters’s life in two profound ways. First, it would lead him to meet Mary Jane Hadeed, whom he later would marry. Second, investigating the company’s startup would provide an introduction to the legal profession, which would ultimately inspire him to become a lawyer.
Mary Jane was planning, building, and patrolling cross-country ski trails for the U.S. Forest Service when she heard about Masters and Will Lewis applying for a special use permit to host concerts. She was intrigued by the idea and had to meet them. Just two years later, she and Masters would wed in Leadville.
Forming the promotion company also led Masters to visit the office of a Western Slope attorney. As he looked around the office, the Army veteran turned Leadville auto parts shop manager took in the Spartan items that made up what he thought was all that was needed to run a law office—a typewriter and a set of books.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s all you need,’” Masters said. “That was a big motivation.”
That attorney was Kenneth M. Plotz, who would go on to serve as a judge in Colorado’s Eleventh Judicial District Court.
“Kenny was an inspiration for me to go to law school,” Masters said. “Part of my idea was that I could go to any small town and just be a general practitioner. I just wanted to help people do real estate deals or do their wills—whatever lawyers in small towns do.”
The promotion company was something that Masters and Lewis started for fun. They ultimately hosted several concerts on private land until the company was dissolved in 1978. Meanwhile, Masters continued to manage an auto parts store.
A few years later, Masters discussed with Mary Jane the idea about moving to Montana to go to law school. She was on board, and so was Plotz, who served as one of Masters’s references for his admission to law school and again for the Colorado Bar when the Masters family of three—David, Mary Jane, and daughter Allison—returned to Colorado in 1986.
A Love for Teaching
Masters has always had the uncanny ability to take a lot of complex information, digest it quickly, and explain it to others. It is curiosity mixed with the great ability to distill the overwhelming into the tangible, whether it be interpreting a statute, presenting a continuing legal education program, or explaining the basics of rock climbing.
“Whatever he is passionate about—whether it’s music, photography, climbing, or computers—he always wants to share it with others,” said Kathryn Sellars, an associate (and soon to be partner) with The Masters Law Firm in Montrose. “He wants others to be excited, too.”
That affinity of sharing knowledge with ease has made teaching and mentoring seamless additions to Masters’s law practice over the years. This is evident at his law office. Going from office space to conference room, a visitor immediately will be dazzled by the photographs he took while he was in Africa in 2010, for example, and others from his visits to Utah. They are clearly indicative of his talent for photography and his love of the outdoors. What may not be immediately noticed are the white boards in the office, which Masters uses to visually plot out tough issues in a case.
“He really trains the attorneys in his office to strategize and think big picture, and he really mentors throughout the process,” Sellars said.
Masters’s enjoyment of and inclination for teaching extends beyond the office setting. Daughter Allison, now 27, said she learned a great deal about writing and editing from her father while she was in high school. Today, she teaches English composition at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins. Second daughter Laura also is interested in teaching and hopes to teach English as a second language. Masters has formally taught classes with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy since 2001 and over the years has taught as an adjunct professor at Mesa State College in Montrose.
An Epiphany About Information Sharing
Hanging on a corkboard in his office is a photograph of petroglyphs that Masters took in the Sego Canyon in Utah. What resonates with him is the idea that when those were created approximately 8,000 years ago, painting on a rock wall was the manner of sharing information.
When talking about what he’s read recently, he mentions the book My Reading Life by Patrick Conroy. It discusses how reading has impacted the author’s life, but what Masters took away from it was the idea that for humans, one of the most important requests we make is, “Tell me a story.” He said: “There’s this whole continuum of how we as human beings have recorded and shared information, and it’s that ability to deal with information that is really part of the huge advances of the human race.” With these thoughts about how we share and archive information swirling in his head, Masters went down a path that would change the way he practices law.
A Hobby With a Professional Edge
When Masters was a partner at the Montrose law firm of Mathis & Masters from 1986 to 1999, the secretaries were the only ones in the office who knew how to turn on and work on the computers. “You look back fifteen years and it just seems so primitive,” he said, laughing.
Still, he saw how computers could be a tool in the legal practice, and he resolved to learn more about them. “Instead of having model trains or building ships in bottles as a hobby, computers became my hobby,” Masters said. “It was the perfect fit with my profession then and it still is today.” As he explains it, “In the late ’90s, there was this dawning realization that computers—instead of just being number crunchers—were going to be used to manage information, and we [lawyers] were the information workers. So, why wouldn’t we use these information managing tools to manage and use the info that we deal with every day?” It was this idea that computers were incredibly powerful tools for lawyers that spring-boarded him into speaking about technology and law practice locally and at American Bar Association (ABA) events.
In 2000, Masters decided he wanted to dissolve his professional partnership and go solo. Part of the reason for making this move was that he wanted to further pursue the use of technology in his law practice. He and his former partner Steve Mathis have remained friends through the transition. In fact, Mathis, who is a pilot, will be flying Masters to some of his CBA President’s visits on the Eastern Plains.
By 2001, Masters had achieved one technology-related goal: his office was paperless. Today, there is only one two-drawer file in the Masters Law Office. It largely houses empty manila folders. There are some books, too, but the law firm’s research is largely done through online legal research tools. Masters likewise keeps an up-to-date CD-ROM archive, for those times he’s in a spot without Internet access. Occasionally, Masters will be at a conference and overhear someone talking about how they’ve made their office paperless. He’ll smile, knowing that the model is the same as his—and one he has regularly spoken about.
As time went on, going paperless became a reality with e-filing, too. He recalls working on a federal case with Christina Habas in 2002, before she was appointed to the Denver District Court bench. They kept all of their documents electronically.
“Throughout that case, he had scanned in essentially every document and made them searchable,” said Judge Habas. “It was just a complete change in how I practiced law.”
Adobe PDF and E-Filing
It became clear to Masters that Adobe PDF would be the standard for e-filing and keeping legal documents. It was an exciting realization, but also one that prompted him to think about the less-tech-savvy or even the tech-averse lawyers and how they would deal with this format. He decided that someone needed to write a book on how to work with PDF, and it might as well be him. “I got up and penciled out the table of contents and took it from there,” he said. In 2004, the ABA published The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat, which is now in its third edition.
Plans as CBA President
Masters has two passions within the law—technology and mentoring—that he hopes to make cornerstones of his year as CBA President. Encouraging the use of technology in the law practice will come as little surprise to those who know him. “That’s just me,” he said.
Mentoring is equally close to his heart. “I feel a great need to teach or mentor young lawyers,” Masters said. He hopes to further the CBA’s efforts to start a mentoring program. He would like to see the program gain sufficient momentum to continue beyond his term as CBA President.
Bringing Balance and a Unique Perspective to the Table
Longtime friend and Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton said he is proud to see Masters take on this role as CBA President. “David is a pretty balanced person; I think he has very good perspective on things,” Clifton said. “He’s a great attorney. He’s a good listener. He’s a really good problem solver.”
Judge Habas also believes that Masters will bring a unique perspective to the presidency. His experience as a solo practitioner and as a Western Slope resident who has traveled far and wide throughout the state, the country, and the world—coupled with his laid-back personality and his ability to balance his professional responsibilities and his personal life—will bring something positive to his role as CBA President. “I think he’s going to bring a real eclectic background and real eclectic interests,” Judge Habas said.
An Outdoorsman for All Seasons
Late in the afternoon on a blustery spring day, Masters and Mary Jane are in their element taking visitors on a tour of “the park”—better known outside Montrose as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Masters peers out into the canyon from one of the viewing points, which looks across the narrow, deep recess at a sheer wall of taupe, mixed with streams of pink. Mary Jane, today a park ranger at the Black Canyon, explains that the pink streams in the rock are pegmatite, some of the oldest rock in the world. It’s really lava that crystallized when it squeezed itself between the cracks of rock sometime during the Precambrian Era, 250 to 540 million years ago.
Throughout the tour of the park, Masters points out the routes (they’re routes, not trails, because the entire area is considered “backcountry”) he and Mary Jane take when they want to go to the base of the canyon. This is no easy feat, considering the canyon claims the state’s tallest vertical wall at 2,250 feet. Mary Jane spots two climbers two-thirds of the way up the face. Their bright T-shirts and helmets mark pinpoints in the vastness of the rock. Masters explains that expert climbers flock to this area to make the climb, and that it usually takes two days to reach the top. Masters is a climber, as well, though he admits this vertical wall is not one he has any plans to scale.
Masters and Mary Jane have always enjoyed the outdoors. “We’ve always been hikers, bikers, runners, climbers, outdoors people—enjoying people-powered sports—and we always will be,” Masters said. Currently, he’s been enjoying trail-running and climbing.
The adventurous parents have instilled their love of the outdoors in their daughters. Allison said she enjoys hiking and camping, but admits her parents can be hard to keep up with. “As a teenager, I remember being bribed to the top of my first (and only) fourteener with the promise of a new CD,” she said recently.
Laura said her parents began taking her on hikes even before she could walk. The 22-year-old still likes to go hiking with her parents, but she especially loves climbing with her dad. Masters first took Laura rock climbing when she was about 8 years old. “We had a really fun day,” Laura said. “I was so excited to learn something so new and fun, and he was really enjoying being able to pass on his love of climbing to me.”
Dennis Devor, a Montrose-based sole practitioner and past president of the Seventh Judicial District Bar Association, offered his description of Masters: “David is kind of a 23rd century guy and an 18th century guy all in one. He really enjoys the out-of-doors just as he clearly is looking to challenge himself with tomorrow’s technology.”
In February 2010, Masters and Mary Jane did some high-altitude climbing, reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro after an eight-day hike. Their photo at the summit shows them bundled in jackets and gloves. “It was extremely cool,” Masters said of the view from the top.
To prepare for the climb, they did a lot of snowshoeing and hiking, and spent a few nights in their camper at the top of Red Mountain Pass to acclimate themselves to the cold and the altitude. Most winter nights, theirs was the only camper up there. Although Masters doesn’t think he’ll pursue the Seven Summits—climbing the seven highest peaks on all seven continents—he’s not ruling it out. He and Mary Jane are seriously considering climbing Aconcagua, the 22,841-foot mountain that lies on the Chile−Argentina border, following his term as CBA President.
Looking Toward the Future
There are several literal mountains left for Masters to climb. In the meantime, though, he would like to propose a few metaphorical ones for the legal community. When asked what he would change about the legal profession, he paused for several moments.
“It’s a very hard question,” he replied. After giving it some thought, he said it would be to increase the level of professionalism. “I would like to see lawyers treat each other with more respect and not engage in the maneuvering and game playing that tends to go on.”
Others find the keys to professionalism exemplified in Masters. “I’ve never seen him drop that air of complete professionalism,” Judge Habas said. “I hope he can change the conversation a bit—[professionalism] is about more than just being polite.”
To Kathryn Sellars, Masters exemplifies that integrity in his daily actions. “He strives to have integrity with every decision and every action. To me, that is one of the true measures of integrity—the small things without the expectation of credit and when no one is watching.”
Sellars also hopes David’s enthusiasm—for the law and for life—is contagious with members. “David is passionate about service and participation within the bar association, and perhaps it is this characteristic that will become most prominent to others throughout his term as President,” she said. “I believe the story will be that his passion has encouraged others to give more, participate more, and expect more from themselves.”
The Colorado Lawyer, the official publication of the Colorado Bar Association, serves as an informational and educational resource to improve the practice of law. When you see the logo, you’re reading an article from The Colorado Lawyer. CBA members can also still read the full issue online at cobar.org/tcl.