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On the job learning helped spark her desire for creating pathways

Muliha Khan is the managing partner at Zupkus & Angell, P.C. in Denver, Colorado.

By Brian Cox

Muliha Khan is candid about her journey to becoming the managing partner and sole owner of the Denver law firm Zupkus & Angell, P.C. – it started out on an errant path.

As a new lawyer fresh out of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Khan felt fortunate to join a large, prestigious law firm in downtown Denver.

“The transition from being in law school to suddenly practicing law was so jarring,” says Khan. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, law school didn’t prepare me for this in any way.’ I’m an analytical thinker and I always have been, but in terms of the daily grind of being a defense attorney, I felt very unprepared.”

It was a challenging time, but the experience helped forge her character and taught her a lesson she hasn’t forgotten: Lawyers learn on the job.

In 2009, after four years with the firm, Khan realized she needed to make a difficult career decision and decided to leave the position with no plan in mind.

“I didn’t know what my next step would be,” she recalls. “It was really scary, but in my heart I knew I was destined to do other things.”

At the time, Khan struggled with unease about what would come next. What she understands now that wasn’t clear to her then is that she has the passion of an entrepreneur and the spirit of a disruptor, neither of which trait is particularly compatible with the current culture of the legal industry.

Khan joined Zupkus & Angell, P.C. the following year as a contract lawyer. Bob Zupkus and Rick Angell had founded the firm some 30 years before. They were progressive attorneys who had a vision of one day transitioning their law firm over to women owners. Khan’s arrival was perfect timing.

“Bob and Rick saw something in me that I had not yet identified in myself, and they invested in me in a way no one ever had in my legal career,” says Khan.

When Zupkus and Angell retired in 2015, Khan and her colleagues were prepared to assume control of the firm. The founding partners were clear that they were offering an opportunity, not just a book of business, and Khan seized it, ready to put her blood, sweat, and tears into growing the firm. She made the unconventional decision early on to not attach her name to the firm.

“It’s not about me,” she says. “It’s about something I am trying to build that is bigger than me.”

Over the past five years as the firm’s managing partner, Khan has expanded business and secured new clients — despite the challenges present in a pandemic. In addition to investing in business and client development, Khan attributes the success of her firm to a simple philosophy: “Happy people do great work.”

She is committed to creating an inclusive work environment and accommodating a diverse team by offering non-traditional and flexible work schedules, and by adopting a variety of novel inclusiveness initiatives. She has fostered a firm culture that values collaboration and creativity with the aim of providing clients with a superior work product.

“A firm of our size can do things differently,” says Khan. “Part of what I’ve done as the owner is build a model that is different from many law firms out there.”

Khan describes herself as a “disruptor,” eager to discover better ways of doing business and practicing law, breaking down orthodox approaches to problems and rebuilding them.

“I have been a disruptor my entire life,” she says. “I am here to change things. I have brought that element of myself to the practice of law.”

Khan was an early adopter of facilitating remote working opportunities for her attorneys, despite finding resistance to the idea from within the industry. But when the pandemic hit, Zupkus & Angell, P.C. was positioned to transition seamlessly into a remote working environment because the firm already had years of experience with it.

“We had the tools and the technology to be able to work in a pandemic remotely and I think it gave our clients peace of mind,” says Khan.

Zupkus & Angell, P.C. actually grew at a time many other firms around them were struggling not to constrict.

Soon after taking over the firm, Khan committed to becoming more involved with Primerus as part of her marketing efforts. She is an active speaker and writer in the society and serves on a range of committees. She feels a strong purpose in offering a perspective on the necessity for diversity.

“To me it’s important to bring diversity to Primerus,” says Khan. “I want to help increase the membership to more firms that value diversity and inclusion.”

A native of the United Kingdom who has lived in Libya and Bangladesh, Khan says diversity is her comfort zone. She is passionate about creating pathways to a more diverse legal profession.

Muliha Khan with her husband Parker and her two sons, Ayat, 11, and Imad, 7.

Khan’s father is a civil engineer who owns his own business and her mother is a nurse. As immigrants to the U.K., the pair put a heavy emphasis on education and instilled a strong work ethic in their children from a young age. Her older brother is a surgeon and her younger sister works as a management consultant.

“Education was greatly valued in our family,” Khan says.

She and her husband Parker just celebrated their one-year anniversary. She says her two sons, Ayat, 11, and Imad, 7, “are the most important thing in my life.” Both boys have shown artistic and musical talents, according to their mother — Ayat plays the saxophone and Imad is learning piano. Khan’s free time is spent nurturing the boys’ hobbies and interests, although she does find occasional time to engage her love of reading.

Not that she has much free time.

“I’m working more now than I ever did as a younger lawyer,” says Khan, “but there is a lot of intention and meaning behind this work so I’m willing to do it.”