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Lawyer of the Year Colleen Byers focuses on mindfulness, collaboration for success

BY TERI SAYLOR

Colleen Byers, an attorney and mediator with Bell, Davis & Pitt in Winston-Salem, runs her law practice with mindfulness and a spirit of collaboration. Those concepts are woven into the fabric of her DNA, and she shares them with clients and colleagues alike. The idea of helping people is what led her to law in the first place, she says.

Byers was named the 2020 North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s Lawyer of the Year. Born and raised in San Mateo, California, Byers, 37, attended an all-girls high school, where she made straight A’s and played on the school’s basketball and water polo teams. She remembers growing up in a close-knit, loving family and recalls many fun Saturday evenings spent singing and dancing to music by New Kids on the Block with her sister.

While on her way to graduating summa cum laude with degrees in history and Spanish at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Byers had initially figured that she would need to pursue a Ph.D. to carve out a career in those subjects until an adviser suggested she take a look at law school. That advice struck a chord.

“Becoming a lawyer sounded like a good way to help others,” Byers said. “I’ve always cheered for the underdog, so I thought the law would be a good fit.”

So she enrolled in Creighton Law School, where she combined her law studies with business—which her parents had encouraged her to study—and earned an MBA along with her J.D. Her husband, Sean Ploof, also studied at Creighton. The couple moved to Winston-Salem when he started his career as a radiologist, and they now have two daughters.

As a lawyer and mediator, Byers has crafted her career as a collaborative attorney who helps parties experiencing conflict to avoid traditional litigation by assisting them in crafting mutually beneficial solutions. She regularly represents individuals, families, small businesses, corporations, and nonprofit organizations in a variety of disputes. She is also certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission in the Clerk Mediation Program.

“I didn’t realize it early in my career, but looking back, I can see how hard I’ve worked to get my practice into alignment with who I am, and that is a peacemaker and a bridge-builder,” she said. “Clients tell me they appreciate my calming effect on them, and I attribute that to practicing mindfulness.”

Byers enjoys giving back to her profession and community through service on boards and advisory committees. She has served on the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce’s Winston Under 40 Advisory Board and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. She has also served as president of the Forsyth Humane Society board of directors and president of the Forsyth County Women Attorneys Association.

She regularly speaks at Continuing Legal Education seminars, focusing on the connection between mindfulness and the effective practice of law. One of her program topics instructs lawyers on how to use mindfulness as a tool for improving awareness of and connection with their practice and their clients to create conditions conducive to conflict resolution.

Byers, who is a Registered Yoga Teacher, also combines her CLE presentations with a yoga session for lawyers.

“I believe practicing mindfulness and cultivating compassion can help attorneys be better at what they do, more fulfilled in their profession, and lead happier lives,” she said.

For Byers, who was one of 24 attorneys recognized as a 2020 Leader in the Law, it is important to invite diverse perspectives into both civic and professional organizations, and she champions other young attorneys, especially females, who aspire to leadership roles.

“I think for young women, the advice I would give is to use their voice,” she said. “You can make valuable contributions and bring value to the table. Trust, believe, and know your value. Embrace it, and then deliver on it.”

She also advises attorneys not to resist change, but to embrace new practice techniques, such as collaborative law, which can help parties avoid lengthy, expensive court proceedings.

“Some lawyers have been skeptical of and resistant to accepting this form of alternative dispute resolution, even though it could better serve their clients’ interests in certain cases,” she said.

Byers describes a successful attorney as someone who is authentic and true to who they are as a person.

“A successful lawyer is someone who uses their knowledge base to help others,” she said. “Someone who is kind and empathetic with their clients and colleagues, willing to separate the humans from their issues, and rather than attack each other, work together to solve problems.”

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