July 21, 2021 – There is a legendary tale among those who work at Schloemer Law Firm S.C. of West Bend: After one winter storm when roads were impassible, Jim Spella strapped on his snow boots and hiked miles to the office – to open the firm in case a client needed help.
That shows his complete dedication to his firm, say those who know him. Spella started with the firm as a young lawyer in 1972, became a partner in 1975, and a managing partner shortly after. With a degree in accounting as well as law, he’s assisted hundreds of clients over the years in estate and succession planning, business matters including organization and contracts, real estate, and the tax implications that can arise in all of these areas.
Throughout his career at Schloemer Law Firm, he was dedicated to one more important aspect of practice: mentoring 29 attorneys over his nearly 50 years of practice.
Advice to Mentees
Spella’s words of advice to his mentees:
- Be responsive to clients.
- Be sure your work meets the highest professional and ethical standards.
- Hire those who are smarter than you are.
- Encourage questions and explain why to those you mentor.
- Become involved in your community.
Spella is recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Mentor Award from the State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division. The award recognizes a Wisconsin attorney who has made an exceptional contribution to the life and career of a young attorney.
“I’m honored and surprised by this award,” Spella said.
“Jim brags about all of the young attorneys at our firm, so it’s our turn to brag about him,” said Amanda Follett, a young attorney at the Schloemer firm. “Jim doesn’t like seeking recognition. His family and our firm are very proud of him!”
Mentoring is Important to the Profession
The legal profession serves the public better if the level of professional expertise and ethics is as high as possible. “I believe that this professional goal is enhanced by mentoring,” Spella said.
Law school is an arduous, intellectual journey where students learn many things – including how to think critically, to determine the facts, identify the issues, what the current state of the law is, and come to a conclusion. “Perhaps other than criminal law, law school does not allow students to actually learn how to ‘practice’ law,” he said.
That is where mentoring comes in. Learning how to practice comes from actual client contact and on-the-job training. “For the legal profession to attain its professional and ethical objectives for the public, attorneys needs to be as proficient, understanding, ethical – and yes, compassionate – when dealing with clients. This is especially important when the client is an individual, a couple, or a closely held business,” Spella said.
Mentoring allows a young attorney to listen, watch, and learn from the mentor in how to address client issues and concerns. “It is my experience that younger attorneys will then begin to develop practice expertise as a result of this ‘shadowing.’”
Jim Spella, right, with Amanda Follett, a young lawyer at Schloemer Law Firm and one of his 29 mentees. In June, both were recently honored by the Paul Harris Society of the Rotarians International. Follett said she joined the Rotary on Spella’s recommendation.
Mentoring is a two-way street. “The young attorneys make me better because they raise their own observations, questions, and recommendations. Through their questioning, they make me a better attorney. And this teamwork better serves our clients,” Spella said.
“The biggest lesson Jim has taught me is to bring empathy to my work, and treat clients like you would your neighbor or family. Jim always emphasizes the importance of giving all matters – even ones we might see as small – the attention they deserve in a timely fashion. Receiving training from Jim and having his public endorsement has set us up for success,” Follett said.
The role of mentor is one that is inherited from those who mentor you. Spella’s mentor was Clyde Schloemer. “He taught me how to listen to clients, respect clients, and find what their solutions are,” Spella said, and that is what he now passes along to young attorneys.
See a video of James Spella accepting his award.
Need a Mentor? Want to Be One?
Let the State Bar Ready.Set.Practice. mentoring program help you grow your legal career.
Ready.Set.Practice. is the State Bar’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program. It matches both new lawyers and more experienced lawyers looking for guidance in a new practice area with experienced lawyers willing to be a mentor. The yearlong program runs from January to December 2022. Mentees and mentors are asked to connect once a month.
Visit wisbar.org/readysetpractice for more information and to apply. Applications are being accepted Sept. 15 to Nov. 1, 2021.
Celebrate 18 Legal Super Stars
The State Bar of Wisconsin celebrates 18 members of the legal community who make a difference – by mentoring others, offering their services in pro bono work, and leading the way in bettering the practice of law in Wisconsin – in 2020 and over the length of their careers.
See the video celebration for all 18 award recipients, including: Judge L. Edward Stengel, Judge Rod Smeltzer, Judge Ralph Ramirez, Rebecca Rapp, Aaron Dumas, Christa Westerberg, Jon Stanek, Rebecca Salawdeh, Victor Forberger, Michelle Velasquez, Michelle Behnke, Tatiana Shirasaki, David Werwie, paralegal Lucerchia Daye, and law students Rachel Roberge and Crystal Stonewall.
Read more about these award recipients: