Class of 2020: New Lawyers amid Pandemic, Social Unrest
Meet seven new Wisconsin lawyers, just completing their final semester and beginning their careers as lawyers, while in a world of pandemic, social unrest, and economic challenges.
U.W. Law School grad Bella Sobah of Madison wears her colorful graduation attire, which includes a stole that is a gift from the Black Law Students Association. Before she passed away on June 18, 2020, she was hired an assistant district attorney in Dane County, and hoped to make a difference by advocating for the disadvantaged.
Author's note: It is with great sadness that we learned Bella Sobah passed away just one day after the publication of this article. We greatly enjoyed getting to know her as we welcomed her into our legal community. She was already a community leader, and we looked forward to getting to know her better. We are leaving the article as written as a memorial to her achievements and her hopes and dreams.
June 17, 2020 – They are new lawyers beginning the first steps in their careers in a world of pandemic, social unrest, and economic troubles.
One is already a leader in local governance. Another chose education and law over professional baseball. One grew up on a carrot farm in Eastern Washington. Another is a partner in a brewery. One is the second lawyer in his family – with a grandfather whose law career ended when he fled Poland during World War II. Another is an engineer who decided to head to law school. Still another already has experience on both sides of a criminal case.
These are just a few of the law school graduates in Wisconsin who recently became lawyers – but who, due to COVID-19, have yet to participate in the 100-plus year tradition of reciting the Attorney’s Oath before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and signing the Attorney’s Roll.
Here are stories of seven new lawyers of the Class of 2020 as they start their legal careers.
Bella Sobah: Activist Lawyer, U.W. Grad
Beginning in her 1L year, east-side Madison native Bella Sobah has been involved in local governance, serving on the Madison’s Disability Rights Commission since 2017 – a committee she now chairs.
Sobah entered law by way of science, earning her undergrad degree in genetics. “Luckily, I was able to remember that there was a world outside of science,” Sobah said with good humor.
She acknowledges that her interest in law was “perhaps cliché” – that is, out of desire to help others, like so many others. “Specifically, I want to support those who are marginalized in society – people of color, those who are LGBT, and immigrants.” Growing up, she witnessed “a lot of injustices toward these communities,” she said. “I wanted to be part of the solution and not just watch it happen. I wanted to actually get my hands dirty and try to fix things.”
Her experience comes from using a wheelchair all her life. “That means coming to terms with what that means to me and having discussions on how people with disabilities are treated – in relationships, in society,” she said.
I wanted to be part of the solution and not just watch it happen. I wanted to actually get my hands dirty and try to fix things.
– Bella Sobah, U.W. Law School Class of 2020
Hence, her work on the commission. “That is important,” she said. Looking at ordinances with a lawyer’s skill, she recently pointed out to commission members that even the smallest of words can make a big difference. Those were details others weren’t noticing. “Using my skills in that way was great.”
As a result of the pandemic, Sobah suggests that others will see that we can more easily accommodate those with disabilities or chronic illness. “Maybe, being physically in an office isn’t a necessity. Maybe now curbside food delivery is going to be more available. That’s a discussion we should have as things move back to normal.”
She is now an assistant district attorney in Dane County’s Juvenile Unit. Long range, she hopes to make a difference with such problems as mass incarceration, and perhaps will set her eyes on working for the NAACP or the American Civil Liberties Union. “There’s a lot I can do. Now I’m just seeing where my degree takes me.”
Jose Lazaro: Public Finance Lawyer, Marquette Grad
Jose Lazaro poses for a photo in his academic regalia for Marquette University Law School on the university campus. He is headed to practice in public finance with Quarles & Brady in Milwaukee.
Jose Lazaro is happy with his second career choice – becoming a lawyer. His path to Milwaukee from his native Puerto Rico involved a lot of baseball.
At 14, he moved to Philadelphia to play high school baseball in the U.S., ending up ultimately in Florida. Although he was recruited in 2011 by the New York Yankees, he chose to get his college degree first, playing college baseball before graduating from St. Thomas University in Miami. Looking to law school, he earned his degree in international business and finance.
With a shoulder injury permanently sidelining him from professional baseball, Lazaro set his eyes on Marquette and transactional law. “I care deeply about public policy, and in the long run I hope that my work in the legal community has a positive effect on the way our public institutions function,” he said.
These are very unprecedented times. It feels like we’re living through the 1918 flu, the Great Depression, and the civil unrest of the 1960s – all at the same time.
– Jose Lazaro, Marquette University Law School Class of 2020
Lazaro is now settled back in Milwaukee to work in public finance with Quarles & Brady. In the interim, he is seeking pro bono and other part-time and volunteer work. As a native Spanish speaker, he hopes to help out at legal clinics and with the civil rights issues of the peaceful protestors.
“These are very unprecedented times. It feels like we’re living through the 1918 flu, the Great Depression, and the civil unrest of the 1960s – all at the same time,” Lazaro said.
“The underlying issues of race in our society need to be addressed properly – these issues are complex and require massive collaboration between the public and our institutions,” Lazaro said. “Often, the solutions are not straightforward and simple – but to me, standing on the sidelines is not an option.”
Nina Neff: Philosopher Lawyer, U.W. Grad
Nina Neff poses for a photo in her academic regalia for U.W. Law School. With a background in philosophy and logic, she soon begins a clerkship with District IV Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg.
As a young child, Nina Neff received books each year in her Christmas stocking, while growing up Mennonite on a carrot farm in eastern Washington. When she was 14, her mom gave her The Brethern, about the Warren Court, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. “I think that’s when I first knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” Neff recalls.
Neff grew up in poverty, and did not know any lawyers, “much less any women lawyers.” In college, working with the homeless, she met an attorney who helped clients with domestic violence issues. “She definitely caught my attention,” Neff said. After Neff became a foster parent, she learned about guardians ad litem – and chose law.
“When I told my mom that I was studying for the LSAT, she sent me Linda Hirshman’s Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. That cemented it for me,” Neff said.
It wasn’t easy as a single mother also working 60 hours a week as a waitress. “Law school turned out to be absolutely the right fit for me. I’ve grown so much as a thinker and a person,” Neff said.
A highlight of her law school was working as a 2L intern for Justice Shirley Abrahamson. “The ‘pure law’ approach of appellate law appeals to me as a philosophy major in college. I can reduce legal arguments to symbolic logic, so I’m not making any subconscious logical leaps,” Neff said. “Appellate law has great potential to clarify the law, so that it can be applied more consistently and fairly.”
Neff begins a clerkship in August with District IV Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. “I am really hoping that when my clerkship starts we will be able to work together in person,” she said.
Cassie Miller: Advocate Lawyer, Marquette Grad
Cassie Miller, on the Marquette campus in Milwaukee, holds the paperwork that is the last step for her to become a Wisconsin lawyer.
Growing up in the Madison area, Cottage Grove native Cassie Miller was always interested in social issues and fighting for equal justice. Law school was the right fit. “I’ve always felt that if you have the heart and passion for it, you should fight for equal justice for those who are disproportionately and negatively impacted by the system.”
Working at a halfway house in Madison – helping women serving probation who were also fighting histories of physical abuse, substance abuse, and mental health issues – she thought she’d be able to make a bigger difference with a law degree. While taking care of family members, she attended Marquette mostly part time, finishing in four years.
While completing her degree at home, Miller took the time to explore the areas around her apartment in Milwaukee. “I never had time to go outside and be in nature. So I’m spending a lot more time walking on the river with my dog.”
Her experience as an intern with a district attorney convinced her to pursue criminal law. She just began her position as a public defender in Waukesha County. “I’ve done both sides (prosecution and defense), and I love advocating for people,” she said. “I feel so lucky, especially right now – in the midst of everything 2020 – to be able to do this.”
Joseph Beckmann: Entrepreneur Lawyer, U.W. Grad
Class of 2020 law students at Camp Randall getting ready to run on the field for the 3L Annual Cane Toss tradition at the Homecoming game in October 2019, left to right: Emily Capodarco, Nancy Cruz, and Joseph Beckmann.
Chicago native Joseph Beckmann is the first lawyer in his immediate family – his father is from Colombia and his mother from Mexico. His paternal grandfather was an attorney in Poland but fled the country at the onset of World War II, eventually immigrating to Colombia following the war. After graduating in 2011 from the University of Chicago in political science, Beckmann worked in financial services and in talent management and recruiting before he decided to take on the new challenge of law school. His goal: to ultimately assist start-ups and entrepreneurs with their legal needs.
Beckmann chose law school as the “biggest challenge with the best reward.” Before applying, he spoke with more than 100 practicing attorneys to better understand the profession. “I realized that the new way of thinking that one learns through law school would best satisfy my aspirations.”
Beckmann, at home in Downers Grove, Illinois, with his parents as he completed his 3L year, helped his father establish a family garden and assisted his brother Tom with opening a new endeavor, Goldfinger Brewing Company.
“Business and entrepreneurship was my focus in law school,” Beckmann said, and he is already putting those skills to use, helping the legal needs of entrepreneurs and small-business owners while managing his own mixology business, The Bar Czar.
Andrew Salomone: Engineer Lawyer, Marquette Grad
Andrew Salomone poses with his wife Ashley and son Graham shortly after he took his last exam in early May. In addition to enjoying more time with his wife and son during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, he is currently studying for the patent bar exam.
Interested in becoming an engineer from a young age, Andrew Salomone remembers a high school science teacher encouraged him to consider law school. “For some reason, this stuck with me,” Salomone said.
A few years into his engineering career, he began exploring law school, reaching out to local attorneys for advice. “Each encouraged me to think deeply about what I wanted my career to look like, and I even received some frank warnings about how rigorous law school can be,” Salomone said.
He chose Marquette Law School, the closest to his Hartland home. “During law school, I grew in many ways beyond merely acquiring the skills necessary to practice law,” Salomone said.
He is currently studying for the patent bar exam. “Patent law offers a chance to work closely with inventors to protect cutting-edge technologies,” said Salomone, who hopes soon to be “crafting intellectual property strategy as a trusted adviser to inventors.”
Alicia Rodriguez: Elder Law Lawyer, Marquette Grad
Alicia Rodriguez celebrates with husband Enrique at their August 2018 wedding. She is helping families with estate planning while working at home with McCarty Law LLP in Appleton.
Wautoma native Alicia Rodriguez discovered her love for law while in college minoring in political science. Choosing Marquette as a law school, she continued working while attending law school part time.
First working at Prospera Credit Union in Appleton and later with McCarty Law LLP in Appleton, she saw the struggles of families trying to access a deceased family member’s accounts. “Because that loved one didn’t have estate plans or anything in place, the family struggled. It made me realize I could use my law degree to help make people’s lives easier,” she said.
Her focus is estate planning and elder law. “I enjoy both areas,” Rodriguez said. “I can help people plan, so when they are no longer able to manage their own affairs or they pass away, they have the right tools available to allow their families to take care of things.”
Rodriguez continues with her work at McCarty Law. “I truly enjoy working at this firm, given the culture of respect and caring for the employees and the clients, and I am learning so much every day.”
In the middle of their final semester, everything changed for the Class of 2020.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
For Salomone at Marquette Law School, the move to home and virtual classes complicated his duties as editor-in-chief of the Marquette Law Review. “My car was filled to the brim with three-inch binders,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to get our work completed according to schedule.”
For Neff, home schooling “a very energetic second grader” during the lockdown added to the challenge of completing her final law school courses. “I also really missed the in-person interaction with professors and classmates. I even missed getting cold-called,” she said. But extra time at home meant bike rides with her daughter and “reading all the books that I didn’t have time for during law school.”
At the end of March, Rodriguez, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, was called to active duty, to work in the JAG Corps legal office in Madison. She commuted regularly between Madison and her home in Greenville, near Appleton, while doing the last of her coursework and working her job at McCarty Law firm.
Once his courses went online, Lazaro flew to Puerto Rico to be with his family as he completed his J.D. “It was a bit weird, attending classes online, then hearing mom say, ‘Lunch is ready,’” Lazaro said.
Online learning was a very different situation where many classes are discussion-based. “I actually was able to learn a lot better than in person in some classes,” Sobah admitted.
“The lockdown was a blessing in disguise,” said Salomone, who spent more time with his wife and new son Graham, born in January. “I was able to share so many moments with them that I would not have experienced under ordinary circumstances.”
Pomp and Circumstance – Virtually
Their achievements were celebrated in early June with a virtual welcome ceremony hosted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the State Bar of Wisconsin.
“Great lawyers take on tough challenges and keep going until they are successful,” Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack told them in the ceremony. “Be optimistic. If you think you can be successful, you will be.”
Many found their own way to celebrate their entry into the legal profession.
“I did try to bring a little solemnity to the occasion by reading the oath aloud to my family before I signed it,” Neff said.
Lazaro celebrated becoming a lawyer with a barbecue and family in Puerto Rico. “It was a great way to celebrate,” he said.
In Madison, law students held a drive-by parade for their graduating colleagues. “They showed up at my house, honking,” Sobah said. It was an emotional moment. “We felt like – well, of course all this happens to us. But we’re taking it all in stride.”
Miller, completing her internship in the Waukesha District Attorney’s Office, “did a sort of swearing in with a friend. We hung out and signed the oath.” What’s important is that she graduated and has a job. “That’s what I came to law school for.”
While it felt sad not being able to celebrate with classmates in person, the virtual ceremonies were still “emotional and impactful,” Beckmann said.
“Most importantly, I hope someday I get a chance to hug and celebrate with my law school friends,” said Beckmann.
Welcome, New Wisconsin Lawyers
Welcome to these new Wisconsin lawyers, graduates of Marquette University and U.W. law schools.
Marquette University Law School
- Michaela J. Bear, Milwaukee
- Nicole M. Beitzinger, Milwaukee
- Joshua Ian Bernstein, Milwaukee
- John J. Black, Milwaukee
- Griffin Edwin Bliler, Milwaukee
- Charles Bowen, Milwaukee
- Abigail Broze, Milwaukee
- Anthony James Calamia Jr., Milwaukee
- Nicholas B. Calawerts, Green Bay
- Nathan Thomas Caputa, Milwaukee
- Kaitlyn Carter, Milwaukee
- Jillian Elise Clausen, Kenosha
- Maggie Crawford, Ashwaubenon
- Chase D. Cripe, Milwaukee
- Kevin Dague, Eau Claire
- Jordan M. Daigle, Milwaukee
- Mercedes Moira de la Rosa, Milwaukee
- Van Donkersgoed, Brookfield
- Mitchell Eisenman, Milwaukee
- Brooke Erickson, Milwaukee
- Jason Arthur Findling, Milwaukee
- Luke James Fischer, Park Falls
- Maxx L. Forti, Milwaukee
- Maggie J. Frawley, Milwaukee
- Danielle M. Gorsuch, Cambria
- Ashley Elizabeth Graves, Milwaukee
- Joshua Greenberg, Milwaukee
- Griffin Gross, Milwaukee
- Micaela E. Haggenjos, Milwaukee
- S. Elizabeth Hahn, Washington, D.C.
- Mario Brad Harmon, Houston, Texas
- Hannah Hathaway, Milwaukee
- Rhen Helling, Appleton
- Kathryn Heineck, Milwaukee
- Karen M. Heineman, Reeseville
- Conner Helvig, Milwaukee
- Kirk D. Henley, Milwaukee
- Morgan Henson, Greenfield
- Abigail T. Hodgdon, Bayside
- Natalie D. Hood, Wauwatosa
- Brooke Houston, Milwaukee
- Jordyn Janikowski, Milwaukee
- Tyler Jochman, Waukesha
- Audrey Clare Johnson, Milwaukee
- Bjorn Johnson, Milwaukee
- Kylie R. Kaltenberg, Waunakee
- Amanda Kerr, Milwaukee
- Mitchell Donovan Kiffmeyer, Milwaukee
- Daniel J. Kinderman, New Berlin
- Megan Kiplinger, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
- Peter Paul Klepacz, Milwaukee
- Hayden F. Knight, Milwaukee
- Kelly Krause, Waterford
- Maxwell R. Krenke, Green Bay
- Thomas James Kulinski, Waukesha
- Jose A. Lazaro, Milwaukee
- Jenna Leeson, Greenfield
- Colleen Lennon, Milwaukee
- Kelly M. Lyden, Milwaukee
- Austin J. Malinowski, Milwaukee
- Andrew Martzahl, Milwaukee
- Marnae Mawdsley, Milwaukee
- Kelsey J. McCarthy, Janesville
- Meaghan Jane McTigue, Milwaukee
- Madison Mears, Milwaukee
- Tracy J. Melvin, Neenah
- Andrew Mentzer, Milwaukee
- Sierra Lee Menzer, Milwaukee
- Michelle Elizabeth Mersberger, Mequon
- Rebecca Meyer, Milwaukee
- Allison R. Mignon, Milwaukee
- Cassie Miller, Milwaukee
- Christian B. Miranda, Milwaukee
- Sarah K. Mueller, Milwaukee
- Bridget Murphy, Milwaukee
- Kieran M. O’Day, Milwaukee
- Emmanuel Nwachukwu Onochie, Little Rock, Arkansas
- Brooke M. Oswald, Sparta
- Bridget O’Toole, Milwaukee
- Kylie M. Owens, Milwaukee
- Kenrick C. Parker, Grafton
- Krysta Parson, Waukesha
- Salonee S. Patel, Milwaukee
- Chelsea Michelle Payant, Antigo
- Laura Ellen Pedersen, Milwaukee
- Jacob Edward Peters, Milwaukee
- Preston Porter, New Berlin
- Stephanie R. Prasser, Lakewood
- Xavier Prather, Milwaukee
- Darrin S. Pribbernow, Milwaukee
- Ahsil Hassan Rahim, Milwaukee
- Jack Wallace Rettler, West Bend
- Olivia R. Robinson, Milwaukee
- Carla Alejandra Robles, Milwaukee
- Alicia Rodriguez, Greenville
- Brian Rolf, Milwaukee
- Jacob M. Rozema, Kenosha
- Christin Marie Saint Pierre, Milwaukee
- Andrew Joseph Salomone, Hartland
- Peter Sandvick, Milwaukee
- Brandon T. Schwebler, Milwaukee
- Christa Seymour, Milwaukee
- Terreea M. Shropshire, Milwaukee
- Alex K. Silvola. Milwaukee
- Amanda Sippel, Milwaukee
- Dalton Sjong, Paddock Lake
- Alexandrea Smith, Pleasant Prairie
- Margaret R. Spring, Milwaukee
- Haley Jane Stepanek, Racine
- Alex Sterling, Milwaukee
- Gregory Paul Stratz, Milwaukee
- McKenzie Lee Subart, Milwaukee
- Lucas Tabor, Jefferson
- Sonam Dorji Tarak, Milwaukee
- Alissa J. Thompson, Minocqua
- Caleb Tomaszewski, Milwaukee
- Katherine M. Tompson, Madison
- Brighton M. Troha, Milwaukee
- Emily Rae Turzinski, Milwaukee
- Matthew E. D. Van Eperen, Milwaukee
- Adam David Vanderheyden, Racine
- Claudia E. Verba, Milwaukee
- Michael Vincent Viverito, Milwaukee
- John M. Wagner, Whitefish Bay
- Nicholas Wanic, Milwaukee
- Nicholas M. Weege, Germantown
- Maura Kathleen Woods, Milwaukee
- Emily Katherine Young, Glendale
- Michelle Debra Ziegler, Waunakee
- Alexander Julius Zimmerman, Milwaukee
- Sadie Ramona Zurfluh, Milwaukee
U.W. Law School
- Hannah Albrecht, Madison
- Sarah Arbaje, Middleton
- Leakhena Au, Madison
- Austin D. Auleta, Madison
- Nikolas A. Austin, Madison
- Mason R. Baranczyk, Madison
- Steven R. Beckham, O’Fallon
- Joseph Samuel Beckmann, Downers Grove, Illinois
- Paul Beery, Madison
- Cricket R. Beeson, Madison
- Thorin Blitz, Madison
- Joshua Alec Blumenfeld, Madison
- Brian Francis Bradley, Madison
- Nicholas Brastos, Madison
- Amy Buchmeyer, Mukwonago
- Conor M. Cannon, Mequon
- Jack Carroll, Milwaukee
- Brian P. Cawley, Madison
- Colton J. Chase, Madison
- Hannah Chelimsky, Milwaukee
- Tyler A. Chriscoe, Ramseur, North Carolina
- M. Parker Conover, Madison
- Patrick J. Courteau, Stillwater, Minnesota
- William Cowell, Madison
- J.J. Crawford, Waukesha
- Michael T. Crosby, Rochester, New York
- Lindsey Douglass, Verona
- Samuel James Erickson, Neenah
- Taijae Evans, Canton, Ohio
- Spencer Ezell, Colgate
- Farah Famouri, Madison
- Samuel Frasher, Muskego
- Jared Gjertson, Wausau
- Katie Gresham, Milwaukee
- Megan Gomez, Madison
- Nadia L. Gonzalez, Madison
- Zachary A. Guerin, Baraboo
- Sydney Lin Handrich, Madison
- Amy T. Harriman, Madison
- Emily Jane Hicks, Madison
- Sarah Jeanette Horner, Madison
- Emily Hyde, Madison
- Oren Jakobson, Stevens Point
- Karin Jonch-Clausen, Madison
- Benjamin Jordan, Madison
- E’bria M. Karega, Miami, Florida
- Dania Nadeem Khan, Madison
- Peter J. Konz, Oregon
- Kirsten Koschnick, Oconomowoc
- Nathan M. Kuenzi, Madison
- Lauren Elaine LaCastro, Huntington Beach, Calif.
- Alex Levy, Madison
- Jacob Lund, Hudson
- Julia Jagow, Madison
- Robert Ling III, Madison
- Megan Elizabeth Lyneis, Madison
- Thomas John Lyneis, Milwaukee
- Keegan John Madden, Glen Ellyn, Illinois
- Katherine A. Mahoney, Madison
- Donnie Malchow, Appleton
- Tyler T. Manley, Madison
- John D. Mathie, Madison
- Larenda J. Maulson, Lac du Flambeau
- Olivia G. McCarthy, Footville
- Kelly Ann McGraw, Madison
- Douglas McIntosh, Madison
- Devan Montgomery, Phoenix, Arizona
- Sam Morris, Madison
- Nina Marie Neff, Madison
- Westen Newman, Madison
- Peter T. Nowak, New Berlin
- Angela O’Brien, Madison
- Cody W. Pansing, Brookfield
- Vanja Pemac, Madison
- Gabriel Andres Pollak, Spooner
- Olivia Radics, Madison
- Steven W. Ripley, Madison
- Catherine Roen, Madison
- Cortney Joy Runnels, Coloma
- Alyssa Schaefer, Madison
- Perla J. Rubio Terrones, Madison
- Noah T. Rusch, Madison
- Daniel Schwartz, Madison
- Leah Selmek, Madison
- Bella Sobah, Madison
- Meg Sternitzky, Madison
- Hannah M. Stewart, De Pere
- Will Straube, Milwaukee
- Erika Strebel, Fox Point
- Laina Stuebner, Madison
- Kimberly Dawn Sweatt, Madison
- Erika Tecua, Fitchburg
- Erik L. Tierney, Madison
- Cara M. Tolliver, Lake Mills
- Amanda Trecartin, Beaver Dam
- Kristopher Turner, Sun Prairie
- John VanDeHey, Pewaukee
- Lisa Vang, Madison
- Greg Venturini, Madison
- Aaron T. Vruwink, Wisconsin Rapids
- Scott R. Wellhausen, Madison
- Gideon William O. Wertheimer, New York, New York
- Sarah Maguire Wertz, Madison
- Kelly T. Wilfert, Two Rivers
- Ryan McKinley Williams, Madison
- Thomas Evan Witzel, Waukesha
- Xiaofan Zhang, Madison