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Carolyn J. Fairless

Firm President

P. 303.244.1852 | F. 303.244.1879
"She misses no details and seems almost always to be available to address concerns. She is the ultimate client pleaser."
—Client comment to Chambers USA


The President of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell, Carolyn Fairless represents sophisticated clients in complex commercial litigation and professional liability defense. She has taken more than 25 trials or arbitration hearings to verdict or judgment. Carolyn is ranked in Band 1 in Chambers USA for General Commercial Litigation in Colorado and is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Carolyn represents clients in matters including breach of contract, business torts, intellectual property, personal injury, insurance coverage and bad faith, and professional liability. She has been called "a lawyer's lawyer" and has successfully defended some of the nation's leading law firms and lawyers in high-stakes legal malpractice matters throughout the country. Carolyn also defends insurance, finance, and real estate firms and professionals.

There is a common misperception that jurors dislike the types of clients Carolyn represents. Her record of trial success proves otherwise. Carolyn humanizes her clients and presents their cases in fresh and creative ways for judges and juries. Especially when the underlying claims may be complex and potentially confusing, Carolyn develops clear case themes and trial strategies that engage jurors and help make critical information meaningful and memorable.

Chambers USA, the leading rankings directory in the legal industry, ranks Carolyn in Band 1 for General Commercial Litigation in Colorado, a distinction that places her among the top six commercial litigators in the state. In 2018, the directory wrote "She is noted by a source as 'talented and experienced beyond her years,' adding: 'She misses no details and seems almost always to be available to address concerns. She is the ultimate client pleaser.'"

Best Lawyers recognized Carolyn as the Denver Lawyer of the Year for Professional Malpractice Law - Defendants in 2017 and 2020-2021, and Legal Malpractice Law - Defense in 2023. Colorado Super Lawyers ranks Carolyn in the Top 10 Lawyers, as voted by her colleagues and peers. Carolyn is also Martindale-Hubbell AV peer-review rated.


Publications & Speaking Engagements


  • Panelist, "Houston, We May Have an Issue…: Navigating the (Possible) Mistake," PilotLegis Member Conference, (November 6, 2023).
  • Panelist, " Lessons in Legal Ethics and Risk Management for Law Firms and Insurance Professionals," Professional Liability Defense Federation Annual Meeting, (September 28, 2023).
  • Moderator, "Nuclear Verdicts for Lawyers: We are not Immune," American Bar Association National Legal Malpractice Conference, (April 20, 2023).
  • Presenter, "Winning at Trial; Closing Argument," Colorado Bar Association CLE Seminar, (March 9, 2023).
  • Panelist, "Hazards in Co-Counsel, Local Counsel and Referral Relationships," American Bar Association National Legal Malpractice Conference, (September 22, 2022).
  • Mock trial presenter, Attorneys' Liability Assurance Society Annual General Meeting, (June 17, 2022).
  • Moderator, "The Changing Litigation Landscape: Trials and Hearings in 2022 and Beyond," American Bar Association National Legal Malpractice Conference, (April 8, 2022).
  • Moderator, "Pointing the Finger at the Plaintiff," American Bar Association National Legal Malpractice Conference, (September 23, 2021).
  • Presenter, "Ethical or Unethical? Potential Pitfalls in Trial Practice," Colorado Defense Lawyers Association Summer Conference, (July 31, 2021).
  • Presenter, "Foundations: How to Prepare for a Deposition," Colorado Bar Association CLE Estate Planning Retreat, (June 11, 2021).
  • Presenter, "Unexpected Peril: The Evolution of Third-Party Claims Against Lawyers," Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers Mid-Year Meeting, (March 5, 2021).
  • Presenter, "Ethical Pitfalls in Trial Practice," Colorado Bar Association CLE Seminar, (November 12, 2020).
  • Presenter, "Best Practices and Ethics in the Profession," Colorado Bar Association CLE Seminar, (June 20, 2019).
  • Presenter, "Conducting Voir Dire," Practicing Law Institute, (May 21, 2019).
  • Presenter, "Ripped From the Headlines: Real World Cautionary Tales in Attorney Ethics," Colorado Law Homecoming & Reunion Weekend, (October 27, 2018).
  • Presenter, "We Told You So – Loss Prevention Success Stories," Attorneys' Liability Assurance Society Annual General Meeting, (June 22, 2017).
  • Presenter, "A Primer on Lawyers' Professional Liability Insurance," Colorado Bar Association CLE, (January 27, 2017).
  • Presenter, "Pretrial Discovery and Depositions," Colorado Bar Association CLE, (November 2, 2016).
  • Presenter, "Insurance Coverage Issues in Estate, Trust and Fiduciary Litigation," 36th Annual Estate Planning Retreat, (June 9-11, 2016).
  • Presenter, "Baker v. Wood Ris & Hames: Privity Prevails," Trust & Estate section CLE luncheon series, (March 1, 2016).
  • Presenter, "Location, Location, Location: The Decisions Involved in Venue Selection," ABA Fall 2015 National Legal Malpractice Conference, (September 17, 2015).
  • Presenter, "A Primer on Lawyers' Professional Liability Insurance," Colorado Bar Association CLE's Hanging Your Shingle: Hardware. Software. Anywhere You Want to Go, (August 20-22, 2015).
  • Presenter, "Policy Exclusions, Conditions, Endorsements, and Coverage Gaps," Colorado Bar Association's Understanding Your Professional Malpractice Insurance Policy, (December 11, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Legal Malpractice: Preventing Claims and Grievances," CLE International's The Ethics CLE annual conference, (December 8, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Lessons Learned: Protecting In-House Counsel From Malpractice Claims," Association of Corporate Counsel's Eighth Annual Ethics Day For In-House Counsel, (December 3, 2014).
  • Presenter, "The Defense Perspective: How Loss Prevention and Firm Management Practices Can Impact Malpractice Claims," Ethics CLE at Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell, (November 19, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Attorney Liability to the ‘Near Client' and Non-Client: It's not just your clients you have to worry about!," Pilot Legis Annual Member Conference, (November 7, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Hazards in Co-Counsel, Local Counsel and Referral Relationships," AON Law Firm Symposium, (October 15, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Malpractice Insurance - Hanging Your Shingle: Your Future Begins Now," Colorado Bar Association CLE, (August 15, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Protecting Yourself and Your Firm: What are the Questions to Ask About Insurance Coverage?" Colorado Bar Association, (January 30, 2014).
  • Presenter, "Avoiding Missteps in Handling Litigation and Other Disputes," Association of Corporate Counsel Colorado Chapter, (December 5, 2012).
  • Presenter, "Ethics: Be Careful What You Ask For: Pitfalls in Settlement Negotiations," Network Trial Law Firms' Litigation Management in a New York Minute seminar, (August 10, 2012).
  • Presenter, "Policy Exclusions, Conditions, Endorsement, and Coverage Gaps: Malpractice Insurance Coverage - What's Your Policy?," CLE accredited seminar, Denver, Colorado, (April 15, 2011).
  • Presenter, "Human Resource Management and Oversight," legal malpractice prevention CLE, (January 27, 2011).
  • Presenter, "Deposition Strategy 101," Colorado Defense Lawyers Association CLE Seminar, (December 4, 2009).
  • Presenter, "Preventing Legal Malpractice, Potential Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them," Colorado Bar Association Continuing Legal Education Seminar, (2009-2013).
  • Presenter, "Alternative Dispute Resolutions/Mediation Settlement Strategies," CNA continuing education program, (March 13, 2008).
  • Panelist, "Preventing Legal Malpractice," Colorado Bar Association CLE, (January 17, 2003 and January 31, 2008).
  • Presenter, "Interviews With Former Employees: Strategies and Pitfalls," The Prac. Litigator, at 47, (March 2005).
  • Presenter, "Non-Liability to Non-Participants: A Manufacturer's Duty Should End at the Playing Field, and Not Extend to Criminal Acts," Mealey's Prod. Liab. & Risk, (August 29, 2002).


Book Chapters

  • Co-Author, "Legal Malpractice," Chapter 24, Colorado Civil Claims: Elements, Defenses, and Sample Pleadings, First Edition, Continuing Legal Education in Colorado, Inc. (2019).


Other Experience

IBM Corporation
    Computer Analyst

Legal Memberships, Activities, and Honors

American College of Trial Lawyers, Fellow
    Legal Ethics and Professionalism Committee, Chair, 2022-2024
    Vice-Chair, 2020-2021                                                       
    Vice-Chair, Colorado State Committee, 2022-2024
    Member, Boot Camp Trial Training Programs Committee, 2020-2021
Chambers USA
    Commercial Litigation - Colorado, 2013-2023
American Bar Association
    Standing Committee on Lawyers' Professional Liability, 2020-2023
The Best Lawyers in America
    Professional Malpractice Defense Lawyer of the Year - Denver, 2017, 2020-2021
    Legal Malpractice Law - Defense Lawyer of the Year - Denver, 2023
    Commercial Litigation, 2013-2024
    Legal Malpractice Defense Law, 2012-2024
    Professional Malpractice Defense Law, 2012-2024
    Intellectual Property Litigation, 2017-2024
Benchmark Litigation
    Local Litigation Star, 2020-2024
    Top 250 Women in Litigation 2014-2018
    Commercial Litigation - Colorado, 2014-2018
    Future Star - Colorado, 2013
Colorado Super Lawyers
    Super LawyersProfessional Liability: Defense, 2009-2024
    Rising Stars, Professional Liability: Defense 2009
    Top 10, 2022-2024
    Top 100, 2012-2021
    Top 50 Women, 2012-2024
    Top 50, 2011
    Top 25 Women, 2011 
Colorado Women's Bar Association Foundation
    2015 Raising the Bar Dinner Honoree,
    "Women to Watch: Five Female Attorneys Who Will Make an Impact
    Over the Next 10 Years"
Minority Corporate Counsel Association
    Rainmakers Who Always Shine, 2017
Colorado Law Distinguished Alumni in Private Practice Award, 2021
Law Week Colorado
    "Barrister's Best" Civil Litigator: 2018, 2015
    "Barrister's Best" Insurance Law for Defendants, 2021
    Top Litigator, 2018
    "People's Choice" Best Civil Litigator, 2017
    Lawyer of the Year, 2014
    Top Women Lawyers, 2010
Denver Business Journal
    Power Book Award Winner - 2016
5280 Magazine 
    Top Lawyer 
          Civil Litigation, 2016-2018, 2021, 2023, 2024
          Commercial Litigation, 2021, 2023, 2024
Colorado Corporate Counsel Black Book
    Business Litigation, 2007
The Legal 500 United States
    Litigation, 2007
Martindale-Hubbell AV® Peer Review Rated
Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America, The Trial Lawyer Honorary Society
Colorado Bar Association
    Ethics Committee
Defense Research Institute
    Professional Liability Committee
Colorado Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, 2017-2022

Community Memberships, Activities, and Honors

Animal Assistance Foundation, Board of Directors, 2016-2018
President, Foothills Animal Foundation, 2009-2012

Teaching Positions

National Institute for Trial Advocacy

Personal Interests

Her dogs

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