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Maha Kamal: Life in the Moment, for a Purpose

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Sturm College of Law

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Maha Kamal

At this moment, Maha Kamal, JD’14, is fascinated by AI. Obsessed, she says.

“I will spend time with ChatGPT, and ask it how its programming works,” she said. She’s also mastering the art of macarons and working on a collection of short stories. She proudly sports a United Nations tattoo.

Kamal lives a life without boundaries. On any given day, she might be practicing law at her firm, the Colorado Family Law Project (more about that later); getting to know ChatGPT; immersing herself in studio art; emailing a former professor; or taking a call from whichever country she happens to be visiting.

To a casual observer, Kamal might seem like a butterfly quickly flitting from flower to flower. But what that observer may not realize is that, at each flower, the butterfly is drinking all of the nectar. Kamal is drinking all of the nectar from life.

From DU to the UN…and Back Again

While at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Kamal, at the encouragement of her professor, David Akerson, applied to the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

“Akerson was adamant that I needed to go to the UN,” Kamal laughed. “He was a former prosecutor at the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals, and he really helped. He suggested that I put in an application to the Lebanon tribunal. I did, and I thought I would never see it again.”

STL is "the first of its kind to deal with terrorism as a discrete crime,” and, according to the STL, was “established upon Lebanon’s request in reaction to the 14 February 2005 terrorist attack in downtown Beirut that killed 22 people, including former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and injured many others.”

A few months after submitting her application, Kamal learned that she had been accepted to the tribunal. It was her last year of law school. She cleared her calendar, sublet her apartment in Denver, and went abroad for a “yearlong expedition.”

When she returned, Kamal finished law school, worked and volunteered for human service organizations, casually learned a few new languages, and failed the bar exam. She is very open about that last part.

“I don’t do well with standardized exams,” she explained. “Never have. From the SATs, to the LSAT. I judged myself with how well I did on these tests, and… people don’t learn that way.”

Failing the bar, however, was just another opportunity.

“It [failing the bar] helped me accept who I am,” she said, “and who I am going to be as a future lawyer.”

And, yes, she wrote a book about it.

Kamal passed, with flying colors, the second time. She began practicing family law, and, with the encouragement of a new mentor, decided to start her own firm. Like Kamal, her firm was not what you might expect.

“What I learned in that time, working at other family law firms, is that a lot of people just can’t afford it,” she said, of the cost of legal help.

She decided to make the Colorado Family Law Project a sliding-scale firm. The idea paid off. She was recognized by SuperLawyers as a Rising Star and Top Lawyer (2019 to 2023). She is also a three-time recipient of Denver’s 5280 Magazine’s Top Lawyer award (2021, 2022, 2023).

In addition to these accolades, Kamal co-chaired the Paraprofessionals and Legal Services (PALS) Supreme Court subcommittee with the (ret.) Hon. Angela Arkin. Together, they worked to develop the first limited licensure program in Colorado, allowing legal paraprofessionals to provide limited services in family law cases.

‘My experience at the tribunal, and then also here in family law impacted how I practice,” she said.

How does she practice? With a purpose.

Maha Kamal
Never Forgetting Denver Law

Through all of her experience, travels, tattoos, and advocacy, Kamal’s fondness for Denver Law has never waned.

In fact, on a recent trip to Japan, Kamal recalled Akerson’s lecture on Justice Radhabinod Pal (1886-1967) and his mention of the Pal monument in Tokyo.

“I took a picture,” she said, “and I sent it to Professor Akerson and I said, ‘you thought I never listened to you in class!’”

Akerson responded, “I always knew you were listening.”

 “It made me appreciate the time I spent at DU,” Kamal remarked, in reflecting on that exchange. “These relationships are made to last.”