1:30 p.m. ceremony and the
2:30 p.m. ceremony. Photos: Shannon Green and Jeff M. Brown.
Sept. 28, 2023 – They are the first in their families to earn a law degree and those continuing a generations-long tradition; those taking the first steps in practicing law – and those continuing their practice in a new location or even a new country. All earned their law degrees outside Wisconsin, and passed the bar exam in July.
The State Bar of Wisconsin welcomes 56 new Wisconsin lawyers. In two separate ceremonies before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Sept. 26, they took their final steps to becoming Wisconsin lawyers, taking the Attorney’s Oath and signing the Supreme Court Roll Book.
“This is a day when everybody is happy,” said Chief Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler, who hosted the ceremonies in the Supreme Court Hearing Room at the Capitol Building in Madison.
Jacquelynn B. Rothstein, director of the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, said of the 142 who took the exam in July, 58% passed it, and that 69% of those taking the exam for the first time passed. “The Board extends its congratulations to the men and women here today who passed the exam,” she said.
They received words of advice from Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who said lawyers have a responsibility to get involved in their communities. “Your license to practice law is not a mere piece of paper, but an instrument for doing justice,” she said. “Get involved in public service, join community organizations, make a contribution. Within your families and your communities and in the state, you can make such a difference.”
Chief Justice Ziegler also offered her words of advice: “Remember to be human, because the people who come before you are going to need someone they can understand and someone they feel understands them.”
Jacqueline Cuellar began her law career last month as an intern for Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District IV.
“She is my only law clerk, and she’s wonderful,” said Judge Kloppenburg, who served as Cuellar’s movant. “She’s already drafted a couple of opinions. She’s insightful, smart, and writes very well.”
Cueller graduated in May from the University of Minnesota Law School after earning her master’s degree in public health policy. “Seeing public health issues from a legal lens really sparked that interest for me,” she said.
Working in the Court of Appeals is a great start, she said. “I wanted to work in public interest and at the state level,” she said.
“It’s been fun to discuss cases and really dig into the law – to understand and analyze it with a great legal mind,” she said of Judge Kloppenburg.
Taking these last steps to becoming an attorney was a long time in coming, Cuellar said. “I’m grateful for all the support that has gotten me here.”
It was the third and youngest son who followed Columbia County attorney Mark Bennett into the legal profession.
James Bennett’s movant was his father, who recently retired from a practice in criminal law and general practice in Portage. James represents the fourth generation of Bennetts to practice law, following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Ross Bennett; grandfather David; uncle Todd; and father.
James attended law school at Northern Illinois University – graduating in May – after teaching for a few years in northern Wisconsin. He had dreamed of a legal career since he was in seventh grade. Taking these last steps to becoming an attorney is fulfilling “a lifelong dream,” he said.
James begins his legal career with the Public Defenders Office in Wisconsin Rapids. “It’s a great place,” he said. “It’s a wonderful day,” said his father. “We’re very proud of him. It’s a challenging career, but it’s very rewarding.”
For Richard Crane, Tuesday’s admissions ceremony marked a turn from divine law to human law.
For 20 years, Crane taught religious studies and theology at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He recently obtained his law degree from Seton Hall Law School, in New Jersey.
“Seton Hall had a weekend program,” Crane said. “It was a three-hour drive, so it was accessible.”
Crane, age 60, will practice employment law for Alan C. Olson and Associates in New Berlin. He thanked his wife Mary for her support.
“Today is exciting,” Crane said. “It’s rare that a person changes careers at my age. I actually retired from my teaching position.”
Practicing law will allow him to continue his vocation of doing good, Crane said, as an employment lawyer representing employees.
It will also mean an end to the back-and-forth life he lived during law school. “It means I get to live in one place instead of two,” Crane said.
‘A Long Journey’
For Luis Hernandez, admission to the State Bar of Wisconsin marked the end of a journey that saw him attend law school in not one, but three countries: the Dominican Republic, where he grew up; Spain; and the U.S.
Hernandez obtained his American law degree from Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. He said he took the Wisconsin Bar Exam because the admissions process for foreign lawyers is easier.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Hernandez, who was accompanied to the admission ceremony by his wife, Carrie Rodriguez.
It’s also been a difficult journey. Hernandez’s mother died when he was in law school. Then, while he was studying for the bar exam, his son was diagnosed with autism. “It was a lot,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who plans to practice immigration law in Philadelphia, described the bar admissions ceremony as “a blessing.”
“I want other Hispanic students to look at me and see that they can do this, and that this country offers us the opportunity to become a lawyer, to become whatever you want.”
Tuesday’s ceremony marked a homecoming for Firaas Akbar. Akbar, who grew up in the Milwaukee area, obtained his law degree from the University of Massachusetts Law School. He will practice personal injury law at Hupy and Abraham, S.C., in Milwaukee. “Today is major milestone for me,” Akbar said.
Practicing Law in a Second Country
Bhanu Singh Slathia is now a Wisconsin lawyer – but this is not his first time practicing law. He was a lawyer, practicing criminal and civil law for seven years in his native India before coming to the U.S. to join his wife, Twinkle Dutta, and her family in Milwaukee.
Slathia earned his master’s degree in international law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School and took the Wisconsin Bar Exam in July. “Our family is in Wisconsin, so we are planning to stay in Wisconsin,” he said.
Slathia’s father and sister are lawyers in India. Of the bar exams he has taken, the Wisconsin exam was more difficult. “I had to study so many different subjects,” he said. But he had the support of his wife – a law student at Marquette – while preparing for the exam. “She really helped me,” he said.
He plans to practice business law in the Milwaukee area.
Advocate for Domestic Violence Survivors
Katherine Hood is the first lawyer in her family, and the first person in her family to graduate from college. She celebrated the day with her mother and sister. “It is really special to have them here with me,” Hood said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
The journey to become a lawyer was long. This moment, she said, feels both “weird” and “good.” “It was a lot of work, and I’m glad to be finally here,” she said.
Hood earned her J.D. at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law in Philadelphia and will return to her home in Green Bay to begin her practice – continuing in her position as an advocate for domestic violence survivors with the Brown County District Attorney’s Office. Advocating for domestic violence victims “is something that is really important to me,” she said. “And is something I’ll be working on my entire career.
“Hopefully, I’ll make the jump to be a prosecutor someday,” she said.
The First Days of the Rest of Your Life
The day after his admission to Wisconsin,
Lance Tyler Jones was already working – practicing in insurance defense subrogation in Hartford.
A native Texan, he earned his law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He moved with his wife and newborn son to Wisconsin to be closer to family. After he realized as a teenager that he could argue convincingly and persuasively, Jones decided on a career in law “when my mom told me I could make money arguing.”
Taking these final steps and becoming a lawyer, he said “is the culmination of my entire youth,” and the start of a new life as father, husband, and lawyer.
Welcome to these New Wisconsin Lawyers
Firaas Z. Akbar, Mequon
Angela Rose Altieri, Milwaukee
Laura Kristina Beilke, Weston
James K. Bennett, Portage
Hannah Binau, Waunakee
Ryan Birschbach, Fitchburg
Haley Bjorn, Wausau
Monica Busse, Milwaukee
Sophia Cesira Calzavara, Milwaukee
Krista M. Cannon, Wausau
M. Abigail Carey, Madison
Richard D. Crane, Pewaukee
Joshua Criel, Wausau
Jacqueline Cuellar, Madison
Lauren Shaye Evans, Milwaukee
Blake Clay-Coltin Fischer, Altoona
Abigail Gorzlancyk, Madison
Lauren Greuel, Milwaukee
Bryan Robert Hart, Appleton
Luis Hernandez, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jonathan Allen Holger, Eau Claire
Katherine Hood, Wrightstown
Ryan Michael Johnson, Green Bay
Lance Tyler Jones, New Braunfels, Texas
Brea Jore, Madison
JohnPiero J. Joyce, Milwaukee
Arata Enrique Kaku-McGowan, Milwaukee
Lisa Renee Kaster, De Pere
Lanie Krause, Minneapolis
Gregory Lee, Vadnais Heights, Minnesota
Jack G. Lemkuil, Green Bay
Robert Lindsay, Milwaukee
Eric R Locker, Milwaukee
Leonardo Martinez, Pembroke Pines, Florida
Andrew McGill, Woodruff
Sarah L. Merkatoris, Chicago
Lillian S. Mobley, Milwaukee
Matti Mortimore, Milwaukee
Benjamin E. Noffke, Minneapolis
David Hamilton Smith Olson, Amery
LeeAnn Joy Przybylski, Junction City
Elizabeth Riley, Madison
Elizabeth Shirreff, Saint Francis
S. Todd Shumway, Black Creek
Bhanu Singh Slathia, Milwaukee
Scott J. Smith, Madison
Peter Joseph Soukenik, Milwaukee
Grace Stippich, Milwaukee
Sandra Sulzer, Willard
Megan Tappan, Milwaukee
Andrew Tiede, Roseville, Minnesota
Katherine Van Scoy, Milwaukee
Anders-James Olson Wermuth, Spring Green
Joshua Wilson, Eau Claire
Brenna Wolfe, Eau Claire
Khadija Zeeshan, Wauwatosa