Highway From the Danger Zone
Retired Air Force Captain Byeongsook Seo brings an engineer’s mind to the law
Published in 2022 Colorado Super Lawyers magazine on March 4, 2022
Byeongsook Seo normally doesn’t use military analogies when talking about his work as a commercial litigator. But he can’t resist when he reflects on how his six years in the U.S. Air Force inform his practice.
“In the Air Force, I was leading a crew of upwards of 50 members and it gave me perspective on how to manage a team and complete a mission. When you’re going to trial, it’s important to know which team member has what role and how to motivate them to get the best out of them,” Seo says. “You never truly know the capability of your teammates until you’re under the stress of fire. Once you go to trial with a colleague, you know, truly, if this is a person you can trust in the heat of battle. Will they be able to stand up to the stress and do their best?”
Seo, 51, who left the Air Force in 1998 as a captain, has practiced law for more than two decades, joining Denver’s Snell & Wilmer in 2017. His unusual path to the legal profession began when a high school friend’s father, an Air Force F-15 navigator, encouraged him to consider attending a military academy. Seo was unsure. Then he saw Top Gun.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool. Maybe I can have fun like that,’” Seo remembers.
He enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. After graduating with an engineering degree in 1992, Seo worked as a space operations officer at NORAD’s Air Force base at the Cheyenne Mountain Command Center.
But, he says, he didn’t quite feel fulfilled. With the help of his brother and sister, both lawyers, he figured out why.
“In the Air Force, if the world is doing well and we’re all doing our jobs, nothing’s happening. Peace is breaking out, which is wonderful and we want that, but I realized I only enjoy those times when there are crises,” Seo says. “So my siblings said, ‘Hey, instead of sacrificing national security to satisfy your professional desires, maybe you should become a litigator.’”
Despite not previously thinking of himself as an academic person, Seo fell in love with the law.
“With hard science and engineering, the concepts are difficult to learn, but once you master the concepts, I found applications easy,” he says. “With the law, on paper, the concepts seem pretty easy, like how do you form a contract … but the application I’ve found is extremely complex because humans don’t act like numbers.”
Many of his current cases involve the break-up of companies—“business divorce.” Every case, every client, every challenge, is different.
“Certain things you never anticipate pop up all the time,” he says. “The human element is unpredictable and just fascinating.”