Law office innovations
Fifteen years ago, Brad Peterson was hanging out in a
blueberry patch at his brother-in-law Sven Olaf’s house
in Mellbystrand, Sweden—the address was actually 2
Blueberry Way—when he received a phone call from
Chris Ford, an attorney at his firm, Hutchinson Black
and Cook in Boulder, who needed advice on a case.
“I’m in a blueberry patch,” Peterson responded.
“Why are you bothering me?”
Peterson, now 60, was on the first of three sab-
baticals he has taken as part of HBC’s unique, long-
standing, university-style policy intended to keep
its lawyers refreshed and motivated. All 22 lawyers
at the 125-year-old firm take roughly 5 to 7 percent
annual pay cuts so one rotating partner can take a
year of paid leave. Attorneys must work at the firm
10 years to be eligible; non-legal staff are granted
shorter sabbaticals of three to six months.
“The policy is to never call a lawyer when they’re
The Blueberry Patch Exception
gone,” says Peterson, outside a coffee shop down the
street from HBC in Boulder, “except when they’re in a
“It’s called the Blueberry Patch Exception,”
adds Ford, 49.
Boulder’s Hutchinson Black and Cook allows its partners a year off BY STEVE KNOPPER
with a family in St. Petersburg, Russia. Peterson has
traveled to Switzerland, Portugal and Costa Rica,
taught his two kids math on the North Rim of the
Grand Canyon and gone fishing in Canada and boar
hunting in Oklahoma.
In the early ’90s, on his second of four sabbaticals,
Bill Meyer spent his time working with the Bulgarian
government on law-reform issues as a representative
of the ABA. “Without a sabbatical program, there’s
no way I could’ve economically afforded it. I would’ve
had to quit the firm if I wanted to take a year off,”
says Meyer, who is of counsel after 41 years at HBC.
HBC instituted the program in the early 1970s,
when lawyers arrived at the office one day and
found partner Dudley Hutchinson Jr. dead of an
apparent suicide. “It became readily apparent that
life is too short and we had to get people out of the
office,” Meyer says.
The program attracts lawyers to the small firm,
whose offices are off Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall
in view of the Flatirons. After graduating from the
University of Colorado Law School in 1982, Peterson
worked at a large Denver firm for three years when he
and his wife decided to take a year off and travel the
world. A fellow attorney learned of the request and
demanded his own six months. The firm quickly returned with a decision: “Absolutely not.” The partners
feared a mass exodus of attorney-travelers.
Peterson took the time off anyhow, and when he
returned, he contacted HBC.
Lawyers on sabbatical shift their clients and
caseloads to other attorneys. Some worry about
losing business, but according to Ford that’s never
happened. Peterson knows of only one client who
complained when his personal attorney was on sab-
batical: “He felt the lawyer who was covering for me
wasn’t as quick to get back to him as I would have
been. But he’s still with us.”
Baine Kerr, who has been with the firm since 1979
and is now of counsel, has taken his time off to serve
as an election supervisor after the Bosnian War in the
former Yugoslavia, traveled to Tasmania and Costa
Rica, and stayed home to work on his published novels
and short stories. Some in the firm, he acknowledges,
have had trouble with the strain of not working.
“You have to adopt a more modest self-appraisal:
‘I can leave for a year and my practice isn’t going to
completely fall apart and die,’” he says. “You find life
“It became readily
apparent that life
is too short and we
had to get people
out of the office,”
Christopher W. Ford
GENERAL: PLAINTIFF Over the years, HBC attorneys have gone on elabo-
rate explorations to Ireland, Zimbabwe, Thailand,
New Zealand, Australia, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Rus-
sia and Serbia.
Retired partner Forrest Cook sailed in a boat he
built himself to the South Pacific, eventually reemerging off the California coast; Stan Black became
a bush pilot in Africa; and Ford once enrolled his
children at a bilingual school in Jerez de la Frontera,
Spain, before traveling through Europe and staying