Alyssa Johnson (right) meets with her mentee Sarah Horner (left), via Zoom on Sept. 2.
Oct. 6, 2021 – Alyssa Johnson is now an experienced litigator, enjoying the competition and satisfaction of winning a case. But that isn’t all she is – Johnson dedicates herself each year to mentoring new lawyers through the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Ready.Set.Practice. mentoring program.
Johnson is an enthusiastic participant in the program: She signed up as a mentee in 2016, 2017, and 2018, and as a mentor in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
In her ninth year of practice, Alyssa Johnson is a partner with Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Milwaukee, where she practices in legal malpractice defense and risk management, consumer financial defense, and professional malpractice defense.
A Perfect Fit for a Mentee
She found out about the mentoring program “at the perfect time in my career,” where she wanted to meet peer attorneys from the wider legal community. “I also wanted to get the perspectives from other practitioners outside of my current firm. I thought this program would be a great opportunity for my personal development as well as meeting new people.”
“The program seemed like the perfect fit, so I signed up right away, in the program's inaugural year,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s first mentor “was so helpful in talking me through career and life issues at a time when I had just started at a new firm,” Johnson said. “Even though I was lucky enough to find an amazing mentor when I graduated, I wish this program had been available when I first graduated in 2012.”
The insight and perspective Johnson gained was so valuable that she continued to sign up for the program. “I just kept signing up so that I could keep on learning and meeting others in the community and talk through things with others who had a lot more experience than I did.”
When Johnson reached her fifth practice year, she realized it was her turn to give back and be a mentor. “Even though I was only five years out, I felt like I had just recently experienced the challenges of being a young lawyer fresh out of law school, and the anxiety and questions that one has at that time. I thought I could help others navigate through this experience,” she said.
What You Can Learn
“I learned that fundamentally, I think people really just want to help other people. That's certainly my mindset,” Johnson said. “With every person I have been paired up, whether as a mentor or as a mentee, it has always been a mutual relationship where both parties try to lift each other up so we can both learn from experience and be better attorneys/people, and have greater career and life satisfaction.
“I also learned that it likely doesn’t matter how much experience you have, you can always provide mentorship advice based on your different life experiences.”
"The conversations are not just always about how to be a better attorney,” Johnson says. “It’s also about life and work life balance topics. There are a lot of outside career/work issues that relate to work and come up in mentorship conversations.”
And you gain a friend as well. “When you get to know someone on a more personal level, the friendship comes naturally and easily. I have related so well to all of my mentors and mentees through this program, which I appreciate so much,” Johnson said.
On Being a Mentor: ‘You Gain So Much’
Through the Ready.Set.Practice. program, “you gain so much from someone else’s perspective. Law school does not teach you how to navigate every situation,” Johnson said.
And, while internal firm mentorship programs offer great opportunities, “it can also have its limits. By engaging with peers in the State Bar, you can gain lasting friendships and network in a way that can be invaluable to your career.”
Participating in the program, Johnson says, “definitely” had a major impact on her career and practice. “Helping and mentoring people offers a different kind of satisfaction than working on cases and litigating.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love litigating and being a lawyer, but I feel like being a mentor gives you a more tangible satisfaction that you can quantify internally more than how many motions you have won or how many trials you have had. It’s knowing that you helped someone navigate a new, confusing, scary, or exciting situation and hopefully made a lasting impact on their career and their life, leaving a more enduring legacy than any case you have won,” she said.
The program gave her the confidence to be a mentor, not only to program participants, but also to many of the new associates at her firm. “Mentorship makes me feel more fulfilled as a lawyer. I have had the benefit of some very talented mentors and sponsors over the last nine years, through this program and at my firms, and I truly would not be the attorney or person I am today without their support and guidance. I want to pay their kindness forward.”
Get a Mentor / Be a Mentor
The State Bar’s
Ready.Set.Practice. mentoring program is open for applications.
Ready.Set.Practice. is a volunteer mentoring program matching new lawyers with experienced mentors who can assist them with law practice management, effective client representation, and career development.
If you are a lawyer looking for guidance in learning a new practice area, or an experienced lawyer interested in sharing your knowledge with a colleague, this program is for you.
Remember, mentoring isn’t just for new lawyers. It can be especially helpful at any point in your career when you are:
undergoing a significant transition;
assuming new responsibilities;
entering a new role, including becoming a partner or a senior manager.
With the increasing number of retiring attorneys, the dwindling number of attorneys practicing in nonurban areas of the state could mean growing opportunities for those willing to relocate.
For anyone considering a move to a nonurban setting, the Ready.Set.Practice. program is a great way to connect with a local attorney and begin the process of assimilating into the community. Talk to any attorney who practices in a nonurban setting, and the first thing they recommend is to find a mentor.
More About the Program
The program runs the calendar year, from January to December 2022.
Mentors and mentees who sign up for the program have access to many materials and resources designed to save time and assist in creating a plan and goals. For more information, visit the Ready.Set.Practice. resource page on WisBar.org.
Mentees and Mentors: Sign Up by Oct. 15
Sign up by filling out the application at
wisbar.org/readysetpractice. Don’t hesitate – we’ll be filling the openings on a first come, first served basis.
Karen Beall, State Bar member services program assistant.