Meet Djenita Svinjar a construction and corporate attorney in the US. Djenita came to the US as a child refugee during the Bosnian War. Growing up in the US allowed Djenita to turn her wildest dreams into fruition and has encouraged her to keep an open perspective and lend a helping hand whenever possible.
In college Djenita found a passion for women’s rights and wrote a thesis inspired by two influential women in her life: her mother and her cousin Elvira, a doctor in three countries. But Djenita still craved more of a connection to her roots, to do more for women’s rights. Besides being a construction and corporate attorney, Djenita has participated in numerous women’s rights programmes, assisted with fundraising efforts, and met many incredible women who share her passions for assisting women in need.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career?
I am currently an Attorney at a construction law firm in Denver, Colorado. My work is mostly transactional in nature. I assist with the review and negotiation of construction agreements and related contracts (e.g. Non-Disclosure Agreements, Purchase Orders, Master Service Agreements, etc.) as well as with external general counsel issues for various commercial clients. I love my job, the people I work with, and the incredible clients I get to help!
I previously worked as Corporate Counsel for one of the largest general contractors within the United States where I advised projects on various matters, from contract negotiations to personnel issues to federal government audits. In that position, I worked with teams nationwide, as well as in overseas territories such as Guam, to assist them with any legal issues or questions that arose while they were constructing commercial projects for both public and private clients. This was the position that really introduced me to the construction industry, and I am eternally grateful for it.
Prior to my time in the construction industry, I worked for a title insurance company where I was In-House Counsel and Assistant Vice President, working within the legal and claims department to assist insured homeowners and sophisticated lenders alike in resolving issues relating to their legal title to real estate that generally surfaced when the insured was trying to obtain a secured loan or attempting to sell the property in issue. In this position, I worked with various entities, including some of the largest banking institutions in the world and I really appreciate the commercial and contractual foundations I obtained while in this role.
How did you first become interested in working in law?
I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was five years old. My family escaped the Bosnian War in 1994 and came to the United States as refugees, leaving behind our old home with just two suitcases. My dad was killed in the war as a soldier and my mom and I came to the United States with my grandfather to join my uncle who had also escaped and resettled here in 1993. I was only four when we arrived in New York, but I remember the various organizations, non-profits, and individuals who helped us, including a female immigration attorney. I was so inspired by her at such a young age that I realized then and there that I wanted to be an attorney and help people. I never doubted what I wanted to do and remained persistent in making my dreams a reality in the country that I love and have called home since 1994.
I went to law school fully intending on becoming an international human rights attorney, but, once there, realized how much I enjoyed learning about transactional work, corporations, and commercial matters instead. I was twenty-five when I graduated law school, and now, I get to help people and businesses daily.
What are you working on currently and why?
I handle a variety of things that come in on different days. Right now, I have research that I’m conducting for a client for a contract question, various agreements to review and provide an initial analysis on, a responsive pleading that I am helping a colleague draft, and a pre-litigation dispute I’m helping another client with. No two days are ever the same and I love that aspect of my job. It’s a great opportunity to continue to learn and grow.
What has contributed to your success?
I’d say my past is the single greatest source of my inspiration to continue to work hard and achieve more. Arriving in the United States, not knowing a word of English, being cast as an outsider growing up, never feeling like I wholly fit into either the Bosnian or American cultures, and seeing my family struggle to put food on the table always inspired me to want more out of life. I want to continue to grow and succeed, within the legal sphere and outside of it, so that I can give back and help others who may be in similar situations, or simply serve as a source of inspiration and remind them that better days are ahead with the right mentality and work ethic.
Do you believe in destiny or do you think you can control your fate?
I tend to think people control their own fate. I have always remained an optimist who believes that someone who is unhappy with their current situation has the power to change it, they just have to find the means to do so.
If you had an extra 6 hours in your day, what would you do?
I wish I had an extra 6 hours in my day! I’ve learned that time is our most valuable resource and try to be especially cognizant not to waste any of it. I’d spend more time with loved ones, workout and enjoy the outdoors, write more, and read a whole lot more for leisure and learning than I do now.
How do you stay relevant and current and where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from those around me. I have an incredible family, worldwide, who are all such strong-willed and determined individuals, and, most importantly, good human beings. My friends circle is full of passionate and incredible people who want to make a difference and leave this world a better place than they found it. I am grateful and honored to have amazing mentors, both male and female, legal and non-legal alike, who share their wisdom and experiences with me, who teach me, and who provide a shoulder to lean on when I need it.
I stay relevant by remaining involved. I love staying active in the community and am always willing to help with local and national non-profits. Getting to know the people who make up the community you live in makes a big difference in how you perceive things on various levels, and it’s a great way to remain informed on things that will either impact you or those around you.
If you could sum up your career in three words, what would they be?
Never give up. From when I was a young immigrant girl who had to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes after school, to not knowing whether I’d be able to afford college or law school, to working as a young female attorney and advising teams in a male dominated industry, I’ve learned that nothing worthwhile will ever come easy and that life is anything but fair. To be successful, one must be willing to endure hardships, overcome obstacles, and remain persistent. We all have bad days and experiences. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is what we take from those experiences moving forward.
What is your next big goal? How do you think you can achieve this?
Honestly, I have a few lifelong goals that I am determined to accomplish, whether in the near future or further down the road. Given my upbringing, I would love to publish a memoir with my mom and have her memorialize the experiences we went through and the obstacles we overcame when I was younger. My family experienced so much tragedy and heartbreak when I was so young, and, unfortunately, I only have limited memories of so much of this. Of course, I can speak to the hardships we went through as I was growing up in a single parent, immigrant household, but I really want to discuss everything my mom witnessed and endured and to tell her story. She’s my hero and I want to honor her and the exceptional life she created for us, but also highlight the risks she had to take and the sacrifices she made in doing so. I think this would be an invaluable lesson for so many others going through hard times. Storytelling and leaning on one another for support and inspiration is so crucial, and I want to encourage women around the world, from every background, to tell their story, as their voices are critical to better our society.
With that being said, I also want to open a Balkan restaurant with my mom. Ever since I can remember, anyone that ever came to our home was greeted with authentic and traditional Bosnian or Eastern European dishes, and there hasn’t been a single person who hasn’t loved my mom’s food. I also love to cook and find it to be extremely therapeutic, especially during a stressful time. I’d love to do a collaboration on something we both love to do and to do so in an area like Colorado that doesn’t have any such restaurants. It’d be a great way to connect with one another, but also connect with, and teach, our community.
Finally, I want to open a winery in my dad’s honor. He was such an incredible person who was beloved by so many. He was a hard worker and truly enjoyed helping others. One of his favorite pastimes was spending time on my family’s land in Bosnia where he tended to the fields and took the fresh produce from our family’s land to friends and neighbors or sold it at the local markets. Given this, it only makes sense for my family to follow in his footsteps and bring our love of good food and wine together with his legacy to create incredible products that can be enjoyed by those near and far.
How do you think modern women can be more fulfilled in their lives?
I think people, especially women, must think outside of the box, and this is advice I have to give myself as well. Too many people, especially those in the United States, become complacent with the same old routine every day. I know of so many people who are unhappy with where they are at, who continue to vent about their routine yet do nothing about it. If something inspires you, pursue it. Join clubs and non-profits. Volunteer. Put yourself out there. Attend social events to meet more people, to establish new relationships, and to develop networks that may help you today or down the road. If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that life is too short to be satisfied with ordinary and striving for a little extra can make all the difference.