Feb. 1, 2023 – A year ago, attorney Rebeca Lopez made partner. It took her almost 10 years, and a lot of work, to become a shareholder at Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.
In the latest episode of Bottom Up, a WisLawNOW Podcast produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin, Lopez – an employment lawyer who is also the vice president of the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association – shares insights on the secret to her success.
As Bottom Up co-host Kristen Hardy notes, making partner is on the minds of many young law firm associates. What is the path? How do you get there? For Lopez, it was a journey that started before she made the decision to attend law school.
“I found my way to law through working previously in government and working with people,” said Lopez, a Milwaukee native and mother who started working at the age of 14 and worked 30-plus hours per week in college at Marquette University.
“Each experience built on the next,” said Lopez. “With each experience you are gaining skills and knowledge, and there’s something to be learned from it even if it’s short term.”
After college, she had the opportunity – a result of her community involvement – to work with Russ Feingold, a lawyer and U.S. Senator, supporting his immigration casework.
“I learned how to be an advocate for people dealing with immigration issues,” she said. “I traveled all around the state of Wisconsin and met with advocates of the Latino community and helped to bring their messages back to the Senator.”
One of the greatest skills she learned in that role, she says, was learning how to listen. “Lawyers can talk, we are good at it. But one of the most critical key things we have to learn, and something I had to learn, was how to be a really good active listener.”
Ultimately, she realized that a law school degree would provide more avenues to help more people, including members of the Latino community.
“It was through that experience of working with local immigration attorneys who are advocating for their clients and getting support from the Senator’s office that I thought, wow, that’s what lawyers do,” Lopez said.
“I only knew what most people know, what you see on TV. There are no lawyers in my family. One, I didn’t know what lawyers did and two, I didn’t think I could be that.”
But the more she learned about being a lawyer, the more she saw that it was achievable. “That is what led me to go to law school,” said Lopez, who went on to graduate from Marquette University Law School in 2012.
Lopez, the 2022 recipient of the Howard B. Eisenberg Service Public Service Award by Marquette University, spends the remainder of her time with Hardy and co-host Emil Ovbiagele to discuss her first years in practice, and the kinds of things that helped her find success on the road to making partner.
“You have to be good at learning the substance and learning the practice of law, and that process is tough,” Lopez said. “It’s a steep learning curve, and it doesn’t happen overnight. I felt like it was a four-year learning curve to do that.
“It was stressful, and sometimes I doubted myself throughout this entire process,” Lopez said. “First and foremost, it was figuring out that environment and how to navigate that environment. But I had to refill my cup, because that process takes a lot out of you.”
How did Lopez “refill her cup” and navigate her environment to make partner? Listen to find out, and hear from Hardy and Ovbiagele on how they refill their cups to stay focused and refreshed in their own careers.
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