New Lawyers Leadership and Career Journeys: Reflections and Wisdom from Past Section Chairs

The Hennepin Lawyer interviewed five former New Lawyers Section chairs about their experience leading the section and how it's helped them in their careers. 

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At what point in your career did you get involved with the HCBA New Lawyers Section (NLS)?

Tanner: The spring of 2013, a few months after becoming licensed and just before the end of the bar year.
Nicole: I joined the HCBA and NLS in 2010 after passing the bar exam.
Laurie: As a first year associate in 2007.
Jennifer: I joined the NLS in 2010, when I was a first year associate.
Stephanie: I joined the NLS in early 2013 – it was my first year as a new lawyer and my first year in Minnesota, so I was trying out various bar groups to see which one was the best fit.

Why did you decide to join the NLS and then pursue the position of Chair?
Tanner: I joined so that I could connect with other young lawyers and grow my network. I figured that other new, like-minded lawyers were my best bet to form real, solid relationships. I was fortunate to serve as secretary the very next bar year and start my track to chair, with the mindset that being a leader in one or two groups is better than being a passive member in six or seven.

: I was a first year associate so NLS seemed like an obvious section choice. It took going to a few meetings before I began to appreciate NLS but I quickly discovered it was a great support system and was making a difference in the legal community. Other lawyers drew me in and pulled me up, and I wanted to pay it forward.

: I joined the NLS to meet other new attorneys; I was the youngest attorney by at least 25 years in the firm and I have always had the drive to “lead” and “join.” I joined the organization and I saw they needed assistance, so I helped out as secretary and moved my way up. I was with a group of other attorneys I enjoyed spending time with and I saw the value in the HCBA to make connections and to learn from others who were not intellectual property attorneys.

Jennifer: I went to an out-of-state law school, and I joined the NLS to meet people in the Minneapolis legal community. The people I met through the NLS made me want to stay involved and eventually become chair.

Stephanie: The HCBA NLS stood out to me because it was a group of people that regularly showed up to events and genuinely seemed to like each other. It was a group I could see myself being a part of and where I eventually made friends and connections to the Minnesota legal community. The HCBA and NLS supported me early in my legal career, so I wanted to stay in leadership to provide that same atmosphere for other new lawyers.

Did your involvement in the HCBA NLS help you in your journey?
Tanner: I was a third year associate when I took the helm at the NLS. I can’t say that the NLS helped me get to that point, but I can say that it aided in me eventually becoming partner because I was able to grow my network and gain referrals which made me valuable at my firm.

Nicole: I was an associate attorney at my law firm, Brandt Criminal Defense, and my involvement with the HCBA directly connected me to this job through a CLE. The NLS gave me a resume boost on its face, but it also provided other speaking and writing opportunities and helped me make meaningful connections in the legal community; with judges, mentors, colleagues I could lean on, and close friendships that I cherish to this day.

Laurie: I was an associate at a small intellectual property firm in Minneapolis and then midway through my term I went in-house to my current company. My involvement as a leader with the HCBA NLS, and then on the board of the HCBA, gave me the confidence to speak up with more experienced professionals and advocate for my position or express my thoughts on a topic. It also gave me the confidence to take on new challenges which have advanced me in my career.

Jennifer: I was a mid-level associate when I became chair. My involvement in the NLS helped me develop and gain confidence in my leadership and public speaking skills.

Stephanie: I was an associate when I became chair. Many firms, mine at the time included, appreciated lawyers who take leadership roles in bar associations because it shows that they have the initiative to take out outside networking and the ability to balance it with legal work, which are useful skills for attorneys who are looking to make partner in a firm or take on leadership roles at a company.

Are there any memorable special projects or events from your time in the NLS?
Tanner: There was a lot of work done to addressstudent loan issues, such as creating a task force. The NLS happy hours were my favorite times with the group. I was able to form some great friendships that I still have today.

Nicole: I did a project on student loan debt that involved creating a member-wide survey, interviewing members, creating a video about student loan debt, and presenting it at the HCBA annual meeting; I believe the video is still available on YouTube. I also worked with Tom Nelson (former HCBA President) to put on many events between the vintage lawyers and new lawyers which created rich, meaningful connections. I am very proud of the work we all did on student loan debt, and I was proud to present it to the HCBA membership. Some of my best memories are from an ABA trip to New Orleans as the HCBA NLS where I made some of my best friends to this day.

Laurie: I remember Jayne Sykora did a lot of work to put together social events for the NLS and really make large events for everyone to attend. We would go to St. Paul Saints games every summer and they were always a lot of fun; tailgating before, then enjoying the game, or just socializing during the game.

Jennifer: Tom Nelson and I worked together to introduce a series of pop-up speaking events co-hosted by the new lawyers and vintage lawyers. The events were a great way for new lawyers to develop relationships with more experienced lawyers they might not have had a chance to meet otherwise. I really enjoyed hearing all of the vintage lawyers’ war stories at the events.

Stephanie: My focus was on bringing in speakers to make the monthly meetings interesting and informative. My time as social chair was the most fun because I had the freedom to plan new and different events, like pop-up socials and combined events with the Solo/Small Section of the HCBA.

Looking back, do you have any advice for yourself as a new lawyer?
Tanner: Define your goal (e.g., make partner, try “x” number of cases, work at this fancy firm or another) and work backwards from there to chart your path to success. For me, my goal was to make partner at my firm, which meant I needed to generate clients and provide good work product on partner-issued cases. In order to generate clients, I needed to grow my network, which meant I needed to meet tons of people, which meant I needed to join groups and get my name out there, which led me to joining the NLS.

Nicole: Say yes. Get involved and stay involved. Looking back, I am blown away by all of the connections I made through the NLS. Minnesota has a wonderful legal community and lawyers will bend over backwards to help new lawyers. Don’t miss the opportunities that the NLS provides. For me, it led me to so many wonderful things, but probably most important is a fulfilling career with a law firm I truly love being a part of.

Laurie: Do not make your work your life. Find a hobby, or lots of little things, that has nothing to do with the law. This will only help you find enjoyment in your work.

Jennifer: Stay curious about the world around you and ask lots of questions. You never know where the answers may take you.

Stephanie: Take the time to create connections within the legal community, but do it in a way that is true for you. Try different groups, clubs, associations, and find one where you can make genuine connections with people. Those are the connections that will be valuable in the long run.
Stephanie Willing was the chair of the NLS during the 2018-19 bar year. Stephanie is currently an Employment Attorney at Ecolab.

Tanner Moe was the chair of the NLS during the 2015-16 bar year. He is currently a partner at McEllistrem, Fargione, Rorvig, Eken & Moe, where his practice focuses on representing clients and their families affected by personal injuries.

Nicole Kettwick was the chair of the NLS during the 2014-15 bar year. Nicole is currently a partner at Brandt Criminal Defense, where her practice is comprised of representing clients facing a variety of criminal charges. She is also the current HCBA secretary.

Jennifer Olson was the chair of the NLS during the 2013-14 bar year. Jennifer is currently a Partner at Best and Flanagan, where her practice involves representing clients in complex commercial litigation.

Laurie Young was the chair of the NLS during the 2009-11 bar years. Laurie is currently a Senior IP Counsel & Data Privacy Officer at Katun Corporation.

Jonathon Nelson,the author of this article, is the vice-chair of the NLS in this 2020-21 bar year. Jonathon is currently an associate attorney in the Commercial Transactions and Litigation Department of Gurstel Law Firm, where his practice mainly involves creating practical solutions for commercial creditors.
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