Meet Christina, finding success through courage and embracing a growth mindset

Name: Christina Gilbertson 

Location:  Castle Rock, CO. I’m an actual Colorado native, one of the few! I grew up in Fort Collins and graduated from Colorado State University. I then went to San Diego to go to law school and found myself in Vegas right out of law school for about six years, where I worked for a couple of different litigation firms. Then in 2011, I transferred to the Denver office and have been in Castle Rock for about five and a half years.

Why did you choose to attend law school in San Diego?

I was pretty sure I wanted to get out of Colorado just to spread my wings a little bit because I lived at home during college. I had applied to the University of Colorado Law School, just in case I changed my mind and I decided I want to stay home. Otherwise, I pretty much applied up and down the coast of California. I got into a bunch of different schools, but ultimately chose California Western, a small school in downtown San Diego that offered me a full-ride scholarship. I thought, “Yeah, San Diego and full-ride scholarship – that seems kind of like a no-brainer.” And then it was solidified when I went to visit the schools. I had narrowed it down to between CU and California Western. When I went to visit CU, it was in a snowstorm in April and I ended up in a ditch. So I was like, “This is the world’s way of telling me to get away from the snow. Let’s go to San Diego!”

What do you do?

I provide subscription and flat fee services to small businesses through my firm Gilbertson Law Office. I also work with a lot of startups, helping them with everything from formation through succession planning. As part of succession planning, I also help with basic estate planning. It’s a natural piece of the puzzle when I’m working with so many business owners to make sure that the business documents don’t conflict with their personal estate planning documents.

What led you to the job you have now?

My history is as a trial attorney for a large law firm where we were always fixing the problems after the fact. I was working for huge companies and people that I represented for 10 plus years and was never in the same room as them. It was just very impersonal, and the firm changed a lot during the 11 years that I was there. I felt like a number on a spreadsheet, and I wanted to get to know my clients a little bit better.

Eventually, I decided to go out on my own and work with the smaller businesses that I really enjoyed working with because they’re very much more appreciative and involved. They value the guidance that they’re getting, but a lot of times they just can’t afford the big names. I decided to go with subscription and flat fee packages so that they can get the quality legal services. Combining my past experience with my passion for working with small businesses on a more one-to-one basis and having a long-term relationship has been a natural fit for me.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Typically, if we were talking pre-COVID days, I get up, get the kids off to school. The bus comes right outside of our house. I’m here when they leave, and I’m here when they come back. Then I usually try to have my CEO Power Hour first thing in the morning. That’s where I’m either doing planning or some sort of a class. I also focus my own personal development. I feel like I have to work on me for my business to succeed. I set aside that hour every morning to get into the right mindset.

From there, I typically tackle whatever projects I’ve got on my plate. I usually have several consults during the week. I’ve always been a virtual office, so that wasn’t a huge change for me when we were forced to do that. I’m active in the Chamber of Commerce here in Castle Rock, and so I usually have some sort of a ribbon-cutting or something like that, that I would do several times a week.

I just try to focus and give myself a little bit of grace, because one thing I’ve noticed going out on my own and not having to count my life in six-minute increments is that it’s much more of a relaxed environment. I mean, it definitely has its own stressors, in terms of, “Hey, I got to go find those clients”, instead of them being handed to me by the powers that be above. But, I try to get a little bit of work done every day, for the business and on myself and just do the best that I can.

Then hopefully when my kids come home, I can set work aside. I’m a lawyer, I’ve got my phone next to me, everybody understands, it’s really hard to actually step away and not pay attention to it. But I do my best and try to get everything I can get done before the kids come home so that I’m available and we can actually have family time.

What are you working on right now during your CEO Power Hour?

I’m doing a couple of different things. One is called the Law Firm Autopilot. It’s an online virtual course with a gentleman based out of New Orleans. His whole thing is about helping small solo-preneurs like myself really streamline the process of their business and utilize technology to make their lives easier. I try to listen to one of his lessons two or three times a week. On the other days, I listen to some sort of a personal development podcast like those by Brendon Burchard. I’m trying to really work on my mindset right now. Even before COVID hit, mindset was super important. You have to invest that time in yourself.

What inspired you to join the legal profession? 

It’s funny, I remember very clearly. It was the first day of fourth grade, and I don’t know what I had watched on TV the night before, or whatever it was, but the teacher asked, “What do you guys want to be when you grow up?” Everybody’s going around: “I want to be a rockstar.” “I want to be an astronaut.” And I said, “I want to be a lawyer.” I had no idea what a lawyer was. There are no other lawyers in my family. I have no idea where it came from, but I got a good reaction from it. The way that my eight- or nine-year-old brain worked at that point was, “Oh, that sounded good. People like that it was impressive. Let’s go that route.” I really liked to read and write, and that’s mostly what we do. I like to pick apart arguments, and so it just made a lot of sense.

I did a lot of music growing up, I played cello and sang in a bunch of choirs. So at one point, I thought, “Maybe I’ll do music therapy or something like that” because that’s the exact opposite of lawyers. But then I found out that I would have to take anatomy for that, and I was like, “Nope, we’re not going to do that. So, lawyer it is.” And that’s what I stuck with.

What has been your proudest moment professionally?

Having the courage to leave the corporate world and go out on my own. I’m very risk-averse. I liked the steady paycheck and benefits. For all intents and purposes, my life was easy. I was the managing partner of our office and had a number of attorneys under me. I made a good living doing that, but it just wasn’t fulfilling.

I never thought that I would go out on my own. I’m not entrepreneurial by nature at all. Having the courage to finally do that and not fall flat on my face was definitely my proudest moment.

Would you say that leaving the corporate world has also been your greatest challenge? 

Absolutely. For me, networking and marketing in the corporate world was awful. I hated it. It felt forced; it felt fake. Everybody was pawning over the same potential clients. That’s not me. I’m not a “toot-your-own-horn” type of person. I’d rather let my work show my qualifications. So initially I was terrified of networking and marketing, but I realized it doesn’t have to be an icky sales feeling. It’s just having a conversation with people. It took me a little while to understand that. If people like me, they’ll work with me; if they don’t, then that’s fine. Not everybody’s going to be a great fit. I’m getting to that point where I’m comfortable with networking and marketing and finding my own business, but it definitely was a challenge at first.

How do you define success?

Initially, when I was at my corporate firm, my goal was to make partner. And that happened; I was the youngest partner they’d ever elected. That was success for me: moving up in the ranks and getting that recognition from outside people. But I was miserable. Sure, I had a relatively easy job and I was making good money, but I just wasn’t fulfilled. I wasn’t feeling good about it.

For me now, success is all around. It’s not just focused on my bank account and the prestige of being recognized by my peers. It’s more feeling fulfilled, feeling like I’m actually making a difference for my clients, and helping them. I want to help them move the ball forward. I want them to feel like they can reach out to me, and talk to me, and not be embarrassed or afraid to do so. I feel very successful in that I feel like my work now is much more me. It’s not some facade that I’m putting on. This is me, and that’s a success.

What would be something that most folks would be surprised to learn about you?

When I was in law school, the scholarship that I received was the Kennedy Scholarship, which was named after Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court. As part of our scholarship, we also got to take a trip to see the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, and have lunch with Justice Kennedy. Apparently, I’m a spaz because I dumped an entire saltshaker all over his lap. He was super gracious, and fortunately, it was just salt, but still, I was like, “Find me a rock that I can crawl under and just never come out,” because it was so embarrassing.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the legal profession, what would it be?

We need to shift the mindset of the legal profession as a whole. The way things have been done in the past isn’t necessarily the right way to do things anymore. The mindset of most lawyers is very much driven by monetary gains. It’s very competitive. Everybody’s after the same thing. What I would really like to see is the profession shift to embrace how we can really serve our clients regardless of their financial abilities. I’m not saying do everything pro bono, but I think that hourly billing needs to go away. I’m a strong proponent of that, and I never thought I would say that because it’s all I knew for 14 years. But now, stepping away from it and seeing how it’s impacted my life for the better and my clients’ lives for the better, I think we need to change the mindset that there are other ways to do it.

What is one new thing you are hoping to learn from others in this community?

I don’t know if it’s so much something I want to “learn,” but I find myself being inspired by other members.  I love seeing how other attorneys are finding new ways of serving their clients and not just going through the motions.  

And what is one thing you are looking to share with others in this community?

I hope to help others see that there are better ways of doing things rather than what has typically been done in the legal field.  I have the vantage point of seeing the legal profession both from a Big Law perspective and as a solo practitioner.  I feel that the legal profession is behind the 8-ball in so many ways, and I hope to inspire and show others that there’s a new way of pr