Now a Wisconsin as well as an Illinois lawyer, Hamza Jaka poses for a photo in front of the name wall with his parents.
Visit the State Bar’s Facebook page for more photos of this event, or click here.
Sept. 20, 2019 – New Wisconsin lawyer Hamza Jaka aims to be “a fierce litigator” for his clients, and hopes one day to help companies and nonprofit organizations to better serve their communities. His need for a wheelchair doesn’t slow him down.
Jaka was one of 53 lawyers welcomed into the State Bar of Wisconsin on Sept. 17, 2019, in two ceremonies in the Supreme Court Hearing Room at the Capitol in Madison.
One year after graduating from the University of California-Berkeley with his law degree, he practices litigation with a Chicago-based law firm with an office in Lake Geneva.
He’s happy to be back in the Midwest after eight years out west. “I went from Wisconsin to California and back to Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s good to get my cold weather shoes back again.”
He admits that, as a disabled attorney of color, it took time for him to find full-time work. “I want to make the legal practice more accessible to disabled people and people of color, especially for those like myself.”
Before law school, he worked as an activist and writer for disability rights and racial justice. It’s important, he says, to have a good representation in the legal profession of everyone – including the disabled. “When you support marginalized people, you are protecting everyone,” he said.
Soon-to-be Wisconsin lawyers take the Attorney’s Oath in a ceremony before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Sept. 17, 2019.
Taking the Oath, Signing the Roll Book
The 53 new Wisconsin lawyers took the Attorney’s Oath before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, listened to words of wisdom from their new colleagues, and signed the Attorney’s Roll book. There were 46 who passed the bar exam, along with four lawyers from other states joining via reciprocity, and three graduates of the U.W. and Marquette law schools.
“This is a very happy occasion for the court as well as for lawyers,” said Chief Justice Patience Roggensack.
Of those taking the bar exam, 64 percent passed; 80 percent of those taking it for a first time passed the exam, said Jaqueline Rothstein, director of the Board of Bar Examiners.
The ceremonies took place in the Supreme Court Hearing Room in Madison.
Many Paths to Wisconsin
Among the new Wisconsin lawyers is Jason Pastch, who practiced for nine years in Colorado and Minnesota. Married and with a 5-year-old son, he moved to Wisconsin when his wife joined the Department of Communications at UW-Madison as a professor. He’s starting his own firm to practice transactional law and real estate.
Stephanie Pierce has been practicing in Missouri since 2016, but decided to explore the upper Midwest. She’s excited to be part of Foley and Lardner, in their insurance group, and will experience Wisconsin’s winter for the first time in just a few short months. “I’m a little scared of it,” she said.
Michael John Tonn, a U.S. Navy veteran, moved to Wisconsin from Portland, Oregon. He’ll be working at Kaminsky Law in Fond du Lac, doing criminal defense, civil litigation, and trusts and wills.
David Jones, who is visually impaired, signs the Attorney’s Roll book with the assistance of his mother and two cell phones.
New Wisconsin attorney David Jones obtained his law degree from Regent University in Virginia Beach. Visually impaired, he relied on specialized technology to help him read in braille and listen to a software read his computer screen to him. It was a challenge, he said, especially when writing, to follow to Bluebook rules, and to make sure he had the latest textbook editions. “It took a lot of time to get textbooks converted into a format I could read,” he said.
His advice for law students with a disability can apply to all law students: “Don't make assumptions, but ask questions so you get to know what help is available to you,” he said.
Travis LaChance, a May graduate of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, has a job in Oshkosh doing criminal defense and family law with Petit and Dommershausen. He is paving the way for his sister, Nicole LaChance, who is currently a 3L at the same school. They are both interested in family law, and Nicole is especially interested in child protection work.
That two of their three children are entering the legal field isn’t much of a surprise to their parents, who also adopted five foster children. “They saw all sides of fostering children – both with good and bad outcomes, and including working with guardians ad litem,” said their mom, Deb LaChance.
Joining new Wisconsin lawyer Samantha Davidson (center) are her aunt, Kristin Mueller (left), cousin Adelyn, age 7 (front), and grandmother Debbie Mueller (right).
Margaret Brown is from Baltimore, Maryland, and is clerking for a federal bankruptcy judge, as is Samantha Kay Davidson, who earned her law degree at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Davidson is in Wisconsin for “my dream job” – clerking for federal bankruptcy Judge Beth Hanan – and for her family. She grew up in Arkansas, and is excited to live closer to her Wisconsin family members. When her clerkship is up, she hopes to work in bankruptcy with a firm. “I found my passion,” Davidson said, of entering the legal profession.
Venezuela native Nadeska Nino-Gomez poses at the name wall after becoming a Wisconsin lawyer.
Nadeska E. Nino-Gomez served as a lawyer in her native Venezuela, practicing corporate litigation. She was excited to learn of the U.W. Law School’s LLM program for foreign attorneys. She joined the program after earning her M.B.A at Concordia University. She now works on labor issues in a small firm in Milwaukee.
“I never thought it would be possible,” she said, about earning her U.S. law degree.
Evelyn Sosa also was a lawyer in her native Venezuela, doing employment and corporate law. “It’s a great opportunity to be an attorney here,” she said.
Sosa came to Wisconsin three years ago. “I always wanted to live in the U.S.,” she said. She embraced the opportunity to practice here as a lawyer via the U.W. Madison’s LLM program. She works in tax law with a firm in Milwaukee.
The admissions ceremony, she said, was beautiful, especially taking place in the Capitol. “I love this building,” she said. “It has so much history. It’s an honor to be a part of that history.”
New Wisconsin lawyer Justin Griffis plans to continue his passion: criminal defense.
Justin Griffis is a new Wisconsin lawyer after earning his law degree at the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 2015. He was a partner in his own firm, working criminal defense – and decided to come to Wisconsin, following his girlfriend who coaches basketball at Marquette University. He now has a position in a Milwaukee-area firm, and will continue in criminal defense – an area of law he enjoys. “I love being in the courtroom, before trial judges,” he said. “I’m not one to be strapped to a desk doing paperwork all the time.”
Welcome to These New Wisconsin Lawyers:
- John M. Becker, Greenville
- Lindsey Nicole Birch, Milwaukee
- Ezekiel Bottorff, Middleton
- Jakob Brecheisen, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Margaret Brown, Milwaukee
- Stephanie Marie Cash, Elk Grove Village, Illinois
- Mary Kathleen Conterio, Milwaukee
- Samantha K. Davidson, Milwaukee
- Michael J. DeCheck, Burlington
- Joseph Decker, Madison
- Brandon Engblom, Duluth, Minnesota
- Shane R. Frazier, Shorewood
- Joshua Ryan Gray, Madison
- Justin G. Griffis, Sidney, Ohio
- Nick L. Grunenwald, Madison
- Breanna A. Halyburton, Three Lakes
- Stephen C. Harkess, Roscoe, Illinois
- Dante Cade Haroian Harootunian, Madison
- Ronald Haynes, Salem
- Cecilia Heberling, Milwaukee
- Abigail C. Hencheck, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Cynthia A. Hiebert, Elkhorn
- Hamza Jaka, Fontana
- Brendan Johnson, Madison
- Jones, Fort Atkinson
- Julie Knyszek, Salt Lake City, Utah
- Travis LaChance, Appleton
- Justin David Lauria-Banta, Milwaukee
- Amanda Lynn Lewandowski, Milwaukee
- Evan McCarthy, Milwaukee
- Kristin C. Rebholz, Milwaukee
- Nelson M. Rodriguez, Menasha
- Rachael Marie Scoggins, Milwaukee
- Patrick James Maxwell, Cedarburg
- Daniel McGrath, Madison
- Nadeska E. Nino-Gomez, Brookfield
- Nicholas O’Connor, Wausau
- Stephanie Pierce, Milwaukee
- Jason Prasch, Madison
- Tara Ramljak, Naperville, Illinois
- Megan E. Robson, Mosinee
- Connor Romenesko, Milwaukee
- Zachariah Sibley, Hartland
- Maggie E. Simmons, Green Bay
- Jason K. Smathers, Cedar Grove
- Evelyn Sosa, Milwaukee
- Donald A. St. George Jr., Madison
- James Levi Tilton, Milwaukee
- Michael John Tonn, Fond du Lac
- Caroline Verbeten, Milwaukee
- Melissa B. Wesley, Green Bay
- Trevor A. Wiles, Champaign, Illinois
- Lauren Katherine Yde, Weston