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  • InsideTrack
  • April 06, 2022

    Young Lawyers Division Honors 3 Leaders Making a Difference

    Meet the three leaders honored in March by the State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division. All three are making a difference among their colleagues and in their communities.

    Shannon Green

    April 6, 2022 – A longtime guide and mentor for Wisconsin’s young lawyers. A mentor dedicated to boosting the careers of the young lawyers she encounters. A young public defender who goes above and beyond for his clients.

    Meet the three lawyers who are honored this year by the State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division (YLD).

    Katja Kunzke: A True Partner to New Lawyers in Wisconsin

    Katja Kunzke

    Katja Kunzke of WILMIC (right), recipient of an outstanding service award from the division, with Emil Ovbiagele, YLD president.

    For the first time ever, the YLD is giving a special award to someone devoted to assisting young lawyers in Wisconsin.

    It is important that Wisconsin’s young lawyers thank Katja Kunzke, retiring president of the Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (WILMIC), for her years of guidance and dedication, said Jose Castro, YLD president-elect and chair of the YLD awards committee.

    Kunzke is the recipient of a service award “for outstanding service to the division, the public, and the lawyers of Wisconsin.”

    “Her many years of service and partnership with the YLD exemplified the commitment that we look for when we think about a person that gives back to new lawyers in Wisconsin and fosters their growth within the legal community,” Castro said.

    Since June 2004, Kunzke served as WILMIC’s CEO and recently retired as the company’s president. “Broadly speaking, WILMIC began as a way to provide a reliable source of malpractice liability insurance to Wisconsin lawyers, plus exceptional service and practical risk management tools for Wisconsin lawyers, policyholders or not,” Castro said.

    “This mission has evolved beyond insurance to becoming a source of risk management and claims prevention to help Wisconsin lawyers protect their reputations and their livelihood.”

    As part of this work, WILMIC provides information and seminars that help Wisconsin lawyers practice wisely and well, including new lawyers.

    “Over the years, Katja has been a constant partner for the work that the YLD does,” Castro said. “She takes time from her schedule to attend our meeting and events, and willingly shares her experience with us. She is a source of knowledge and expertise to help us create the best events for our division. Katja personally provides insight when we are facing difficult decisions, and provides suggestions for presenters when we are planning CLE events.

    “She is a true partner to new lawyers in this state and shows a constant mission to foster the growth and knowledge of lawyers getting their practices started in Wisconsin,” Castro said.

    “We will miss Katja as she retires, but know that she will continue being a guiding light for so many new lawyers and people generally as she moves on to the next phase of her life,” said Castro.

    Alyssa Johnson: A Mentor Making a Difference for Young Lawyers

    Alyssa Johnson

    Alyssa Johnson, recipient of the division’s Outstanding Mentor Award with Jose Castro, YLD president-elect.

    Alyssa Johnson is the recipient of the YLD’s Outstanding Mentor Award. The award pays tribute to a Wisconsin attorney with six or more years of practice who has made an exceptional contribution to the life and career of a young attorney.

    An attorney in Milwaukee with Barron & Newburger, P.C., Johnson first become involved in 2016 as a mentee with the State Bar of Wisconsin Ready.Set.Practice. Mentoring Program. After three years as a mentee, she has since volunteered to mentor lawyers – and give back to the profession – for the past three years.

    Shannon GreenShannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.

    “Alyssa shows dedication and passion in supporting new lawyers via this program,” Castro said.

    “We are impressed by what her mentees said about her mentorship,” he said, including:

    • “Attorney Johnson went above and beyond to provide me with tips on business development and marketing strategies by connecting me with resources that helped her succeed,” said Sarah Horner, of Boardman Clark.

    • “In talking with Alyssa, I was reassured in knowing that I wasn't alone in facing challenges as a new lawyer,” said Leah M. Cameron, Sperling Law Offices LLC.

    “Overall, we honor Alyssa for her commitment to helping new lawyers learn and grow, and for her work in shaping the future of the legal profession in Wisconsin,” said Castro.

    “It is clear that she was passionate about this work,” Castro said. “She has already made a difference in the lives of the attorneys she mentored.”

    In accepting her award, Johnson said that “I didn’t think I had anything to offer anyone, but in doing this, I found out that I do.”

    “Ready.Set.Practice is a really great program,” Johnson said. “If you want the opportunity to mentor someone, this program is a great and easy way to do it.”

    Find out more about Johnson’s mentoring commitment via Ready.Set.Practice in “From Mentee to Mentor: Gain Confidence and Knowledge through State Bar’s Mentoring Program,” InsideTrack, Oct. 16, 2021.

    Kevin M. Smith: A Passion for Helping the Underserved

    Kevin M. Smith

    Kevin Smith, recipient of the YLD Outstanding Young Lawyer Award, with Emil Ovbiagele, YLD president (right).

    Kevin M. Smith is the 2021 YLD’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year. This award is given to a young lawyer who has made an impact in their practice area and in service to the State Bar and to the community.

    Smith, U.W. 2019, is an attorney with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office in the Janesville and Beloit area. He is being honored for his advocacy work with his clients.

    “Kevin shows a passion for helping those underserved and often left behind by our legal system,” Castro said. “He has gone above and beyond, by taking on mentorship roles, training young lawyers in his office and mentoring several interns from the U.W. Law School.”

    He volunteers in other areas, including with the State Bar Mock Trial Competitions and the U.W. Law School Moot Court competition. “All this is so rare in an attorney so early in his career.”

    “These are just a sampling of the activities that Kevin is involved in. We are excited for him to serve as a leader for all the new lawyers that follow in his footsteps,” Castro said.

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