Although Melissa Zabkowicz grew up wanting to be an attorney, she did not settle on her corporate law specialty until the summer before her final year of law school.
“I always thought I would be a prosecutor, but I interned here at Reinhart and really enjoyed it,” said Zabkowicz, an associate in Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren’s Milwaukee office. “I took on a variety of assignments, which was great. I realized I enjoyed the corporate work the most and that was the practice area I wanted to be in.”
Zabkowicz now specializes in mergers and acquisitions, helping entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground and financing deals.
“Being able to positively impact people’s lives in a positive way, whether it is helping people start a business or someone selling a business and moving into a comfortable retirement, is so rewarding,” she said.
While in law school, Zabkowicz worked with the Wisconsin Innocence Project as a student attorney. Although she enjoyed the work immensely, she found it draining. “It was very rewarding and something I will always remember,” Zabkowicz said.
Participating in the Wisconsin Innocence Project as well as Wisconsin Moot Court Board and the Wisconsin Mock Trial Team provided her with a lot of courtroom experience. That experience is valuable even though corporate law attorneys seldom find themselves spending time in courtrooms, Zabkowicz said.
“You learn how to answer questions from judges and that you really need to know your material,” she said. “That experience translates to being prepared in answering questions in the board room or questions from clients. You really need to understand what you are working on and be prepared.”
Wisconsin Law Journal: What makes your work important to you?
Melissa Zabkowicz: I enjoy that I can have a positive impact on clients’ lives. I work a lot now behind the scenes, but I can see in the documents I am preparing how people are being helped.
WLJ: What do you do outside of work to deal with stress from the office?
Zabkowicz: I go to the gym every morning before I go to work. I need that. I also read a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the law.
WLJ: What’s one thing many people get wrong about what you do?
Zabkowicz: My sister watches “Suits,” which is about a super glamourous corporate-law attorney in Manhattan. She asked me if I was doing anything like that. Not really. Corporate lawyers spend a lot of time reading and drafting documents – it is not that glamorous.
WLJ: What’s your favorite memory from law school?
Zabkowicz: When I was working with the Wisconsin Innocent Project, I was there when one of their clients was granted a new trial after 25 years in jail when additional evidence was uncovered. He won a new trial thanks to the hard work of the students and attorneys who came before us, but I got to be there when he walked out of prison. We waited five or six hours outside of the prison to be there when he came out – the first time being a free man after 25 years. It was a moment like that, which makes you realize the impact and effect your work as an attorney can have on others.
WLJ: Is there a certain case that stands out to you?
Zabkowicz: In the summer after my first year of law school, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage. Regardless of your political position, the decision demonstrated how important and influential the judicial branch is in our government. It really meant a lot for me to see the influence my future career could have.