Getting to Know Jonathon Nelson: 2021-2022 New Lawyers Section Chair


Can you introduce yourself and say a little bit about your practice?

I was raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, and I still cheer for the Wisconsin sports teams. Once I started school, I quickly realized that sports were going to be my passion and I began to specialize in football. That paid off when I was recruited to join the “football family” at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Even though I am a Packers fan, I was welcomed to Minnesota with open arms and flourished in “foreign territory” with the guidance of my coaches and professors. 

I soon found myself interested in the intersection of business and law, and after being challenged to create a personal strategic plan, I found my purpose and began working towards my career goals. While pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I decided that the next step in my plan should be law school, and where better than the University of St. Thomas School of Law? In law school, I was blessed with opportunities to gain experience in many different practice areas related to business law, and I added detail to my personal strategic plan based on my experiences. After graduating and passing the bar examination in Minnesota, I worked for a regional law firm that allowed me to practice in commercial creditor’s rights litigation in state courts. That practice eventually expanded to include transactional work for creditors, in addition to litigation in federal courts and bankruptcy courts. After practicing at that firm for nearly four years, I was approached with an amazing opportunity to accelerate my personal strategic plan, which I seized. I now work for a general benefit corporation as general counsel and corporate secretary, where I wear many different hats within the various business units. 

Transitioning to an in-house role from a litigation focused practice was not easy for many reasons, but I welcomed the change and chance to grow into the role. Looking back, I have no regrets; looking forward, saying I am excited is an understatement. I truly believe that business has the greatest opportunity to change the world and I am taking the steps to prove it.

Johnathan-Nelson-2-350What’s your pitch for new lawyer to join the section, and what’s the best way for a new lawyer/law students to get plugged in?

The Hennepin County Bar Association’s New Lawyers Section considers the term “new lawyer” to encompass law students, even though they may not be licensed to practice law, and law school grads that are pursuing nontraditional legal careers because they are our colleagues. Regardless of whether a law student is clerking, providing pro bono legal services through a clinic, or merely studying law at one of Minnesota’s top-tier law schools, they are advancing the legal profession and the same can be said for our J.D. colleagues that have chosen not to become a licensed attorney. All new lawyers should join a bar association so they can network with other professionals, continue to grow professionally, and collectively advocate for positive change. From my admittedly biased perspective, the HCBA is the best bar association in Minnesota. The HCBA specifically prioritizes and supports the interests of new lawyers, with the NLS acting both as an information funnel and outlet for the HCBA leadership. Support starts with a standalone NLS budget for social events, conference funding for members, and other events that continues through to frequent opportunities to present to your colleagues at Continuing Legal Education classes. Prioritization is shown through NLS partnerships with the HCBA’s substantive law sections to deliver excellent CLEs geared towards new lawyers, and through the time that senior lawyers take to connect with new lawyers to share their experienced perspectives on practice areas and professional development. Advocacy is most recently reflected in the HCBA’s dedication to ensuring that Minnesota is utilizing the best method to license attorneys, even if the decidedly best method does not include a bar examination. If a law student or first-year lawyer is interested in joining the HCBA NLS, they can do so for free because membership in the NLS is included with membership in the HCBA. I encourage new lawyers to join the HCBA and get involved with the NLS in particular so they can openly discuss issues facing new lawyers and then work together towards resolutions. Getting involved is as easy as attending one of the HCBA NLS’s regular monthly meetings and brainstorming ideas for events. If a new lawyer feels led to do more, they can volunteer to help with the planning of events or even seek to be elected to one of the many director positions within the NLS. I hope to see many new faces at the NLS meetings in the coming months. 

I strongly encourage new lawyers to join the Hennepin County Bar Association and get involved with the New Lawyers Section. Come to network with other professionals, to grow professionally, and to advocate for positive change. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” ~ Aristotle

What are some of the programs NLS members can look forward to in the new year?

NLS members can expect CLEs covering a wide range of topics such as practice area basics, marketing strategies, and ethics considerations in a post-pandemic climate. I remain optimistic and I hope to return to frequent in-person events in the spring so our members can reconnect with old friends and meet new colleagues without being forced to rely on technology. However, if my optimism is misplaced, the NLS will step up for our members to deliver programs that are accessible remotely. 

Johnathan-Nelson-3-300How did you first get involved with the HCBA, and subsequently, leadership?

I was introduced to the HCBA by a colleague that formerly worked at my past firm. This lawyer did not hesitate to meet with me to provide her much-needed wisdom and guidance when I was revisiting my personal strategic plan. At the time, she was serving as chair of the NLS, so she invited me to attend a meeting with her. When I showed up to the meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm atmosphere. At a subsequent meeting, I was encouraged to get involved by serving in a NLS director role. After agreeing to take the role, the merger of the offices and staff of the HCBA, Ramsey County, and Minnesota State bar associations was announced, so I took the initiative to reach out to the leaders of the respective new lawyers sections to plan joint events. I really enjoyed planning and attending joint events because I gained leadership experience and continued to develop professionally, while providing valuable learning and networking opportunities to my colleagues. My enjoyment led me to throw my hat in the ring for the NLS leadership track, and three quick years later I have the privilege of serving the NLS members as the chair.

What’s some good advice you’ve received from more senior lawyers? 

“Don’t forget to live your life.” With a nod to one of Ferris Bueller’s famous lines, all lawyers should regularly remind themselves that there is life outside of work and it will pass them by if they lose perspective. A good work-life balance benefits both the individual lawyer and the legal community because lawyers that are healthy (both mentally and physically) are more effective advocates for clients. Equally important advice that was graciously imparted upon me early in my legal career was that: “We can work 24/7 for months and still have work to do, so you need to decide when you are satisfied with a day’s work.” 

And what do you think more experienced practitioners can learn from the newest generation of lawyers?

Simply put, new lawyers can offer a fresh perspective. Oftentimes in litigation, a fresh perspective will lead to a resolution, whether it be amicable or judicial. The perspective of new lawyers can also greatly benefit marketing and business development strategies, leading to new clients. Additionally, lawyers with substantial experience can learn the software and technology shortcuts that new lawyers developed in law school to accelerate their professional development. Since a new lawyer can teach a seasoned lawyer by offering a new perspective, and the latter can lend the former the wisdom that comes with experience, I look forward to partnering with the substantive law sections of the HCBA to give all lawyers opportunities to connect, learn, and grow.

What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?

Spend time with my family. No question. For me, family comes first; that includes both my immediate family and my extended family. We enjoy going on adventures together such as golfing, hiking, skiing, boating, hunting, and snowmobiling. There’s never a dull moment when I’m with my family. I really appreciate their unconditional love and support – especially during the tough times – as I work towards my professional goals, and I show my appreciation by devoting time to them.

Jonathon’s Favorites:

Television Shows: Friends
Books: un Spun
Movies: Inception
Local Restaurant: Travail Kitchen and Amusements
Place to go in the Twin Cities area: Walker Art Center

Managing Editor
Elsa Cournoyer

Executive Editor

Joseph Satter