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A Conversation with TaRonda Randall and Jason Montgomery

Meaningful Mentoring at Husch Blackwell

When Higher Education Partner Jason Montgomery’s previous firm sought to hire an associate, he recalled the positive impression TaRonda Randall had made on him years earlier as an NCAA intern. The two have since become a “dynamic duo” at Husch Blackwell, helping clients navigate NCAA rules and resolve complex legal and regulatory issues in athletics. Montgomery’s authentic approach to mentoring the former student-athlete, and Randall’s enthusiasm and willingness to be coached, have resulted in a thriving higher education practice focused on collegiate athletics, where mutual trust is the name of the game.

Husch Blackwell (HB): You’ve now worked together at two law firms. How did you meet?

Jason J. Montgomery (JJM): I was assisting with a university’s athletics compliance issues on site while at my prior firm. TaRonda was a bright-eyed NCAA intern who happened to visit that campus as part of a professional development opportunity. When our paths crossed, I made a mental note that she would be a rock star in whatever she pursued. Later, while TaRonda was serving as assistant director of compliance at Florida State University, I suggested that we consider hiring her for a vacant associate position.

She’ll tell you that our interview was uncomfortable. I’m difficult by nature and wanted to understand each candidate’s motivation, to separate those who are drawn to athletics just because sports are exciting from those who actually have an underlying affinity for the process of collegiate athletics. TaRonda had been a student-athlete and gave all the right answers—but I still was harsh.

TaRonda Randall (TR): He was! I didn't write him off, but I would not have anticipated that our relationship would have morphed into what it is now, and that I would be collaborating with him at a second firm.

HB: What made you want to recruit TaRonda to Husch Blackwell?

TR: Can I have a separate recording of this part just so I can play it back?

JJM: I left my previous firm for Husch Blackwell for a variety of reasons. No. 1, Hayley Hanson is very persuasive, so make sure that's quoted somewhere! But the firm also offered a platform for professional growth. Much thought has gone into how the firm wants its attorneys, especially those who are diverse, to be trained and supported. When an opportunity arose, it was easy for me to identify whom to recruit to help grow the athletics practice. TaRonda is poised, can handle stressful situations, and takes the work to another level.

HB: When did the mentoring relationship begin?

TR: Jason was one of several partners I worked with at our first firm. I’m competitive and results-oriented and wanted to do better, and he would give me honest feedback and tips for improvement. The mentoring just happened naturally, and the things he encouraged me to do always led to a good result. I was drawn to his authenticity and his direct nature. As a former athlete, I like to think that I'm coachable, and he was willing to coach me.

HB: Were you ever a coach, Jason?

JJM: For Little League football and eight-year-old baseball! No, I was never a “real” coach anywhere. But I, too, was a former student-athlete who was coached. She was Division I, so that’s a different level altogether, but it became clear to me that she would accept criticism. We could relate on personal and professional levels, which creates the trust that allows the relationship to develop.

HB: Why is it important to have a mentor in the legal profession?

TR: The profession is demanding. It is rewarding yet humbling, especially when you’re new to it. Having someone who understands what’s coming, who can help you adjust when you make a mistake, and who can normalize some of the experiences that you’re having, is invaluable to sustaining a long-term career. If I didn’t have a mentor, I don’t know if I would still be practicing law. Trying to navigate this alone without someone warning you of potential pitfalls or suggesting what you should be thinking about seems almost impossible.

HB: Tell us about your mentoring sessions.

TR: Our weekly 8:30 a.m. meetings have become increasingly more structured. I send Jason an agenda the prior evening. We talk about billable matters, the status of current or ongoing projects, potential new work or work that may be in the pipeline, and non-billables. Time is also allotted for anything Jason wants to cover that doesn’t fit into the other categories.

Jason challenges me and consistently asks me what I want to do and how I’m going to get there. He also imposes some accountability measures. During our next meeting, we’re going to discuss my career progression and my plan for 2024.

His authenticity has solidified our relationship. I know if he says something, he means it. If he praises me, he means it. If he criticizes me, it’s warranted. I don’t have to question his motives. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Once you set that foundation, the benefits of a mentoring relationship are unlimited because you know that that person truly has your best interests at heart.

JJM: I am as protective of TaRonda as I am of my sisters. I want her to be successful.

HB: What kinds of opportunities and advice do you give TaRonda?

JJM: I want the athletics community to view TaRonda as a go-to attorney in this specific area of NCAA compliance, rules, and infractions, so I:

  • Give her opportunities to handle matters and ask me questions. It’s called the practice of law for a reason.
  • Help her understand how the firm operates and creates opportunities for attorneys to become partners.
  • Direct her attention to those opportunities that are consistent with how she wants to market herself and practice law, and that will be most valuable for her long term. Recently, for example, she had an opportunity to speak at an athletics forum at National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA), a prestigious organization that attorneys desire to associate their names with. We talked through whether she should do it, and how she could create the most value for our niche practice.

TR: Expertise is important, but visibility also helps credibility. One idea that Jason has coached me about is that I am a small business and, as such, I need an entrepreneurial mindset. I've been fortunate that people have given me work; it’s how I've been able to sustain a legal career. But what am I going to do as TaRonda Randall, Attorney at Law, to generate work and build my own business? I wasn’t necessarily tracking these things in the same way that I am now. A recurring theme has been self-exploration—really understanding myself and what I want to do. We’ve talked about how some attorneys can’t sustain a career in law because they don’t show up as their authentic selves each day. As a result, they don't find the work fulfilling.

HB: How does Husch Blackwell support mentoring?

TR: The fact that there is a non-billable number where you can track and account for the time spent on mentoring speaks volumes about how the firm values mentoring. I have a mentor through the Diversity Liaison Program as well, which has been instrumental to my growth.

JJM: It’s great that she also has a mentor through this program because I offer one perspective, and having different perspectives is important.

HB: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in TaRonda over the past five years?

JJM: Professional confidence. Young attorneys don't have as much confidence in what they say and do as they would like. It can be especially challenging for someone like TaRonda, who first served in an administrative role and received advice from counsel, but who now is the one dispensing it. Confidence comes from reinforcement—that this is the right answer, this is the path to pursue. It comes from demonstrating to others that you know what you’re doing, you think about things differently, and you add value. TaRonda has grown into an attorney I can entrust with clients. I trust her to have sensitive conversations with them. She will ask the necessary questions and will come to me with any issues.

TR: When he mentioned professional confidence, it took me back to some of our earlier conversations when I first started practicing. One time I completed some research, and before I shared it with a senior partner, Jason asked me rapid-fire questions about it. Ultimately, he just wanted me to be prepared for the conversation and able to address the senior partner’s concerns. With his help, I was.

HB: Have there been any unexpected benefits from this mentoring relationship?

TR: When I first transitioned to private practice, I hadn’t thought of it as a long-term career. I tried it because it allowed me to marry my interests in law and athletics. With Jason’s guidance, I now see it as an actual career path.

JJM: TaRonda has served the role of sounding board, too. It’s not just simply about my providing her with guidance, but her reflecting on a particular situation and giving me advice as well. She’s a member of the team, and we present a united front at conferences and introduce each other to our contacts. It’s a reciprocal relationship that has been professionally and personally fulfilling.

TR: I'm generally the nicer part of our little dynamic duo….

JJM: It's true. I've accepted it.

HB: Your relationship has come a long way from that tough first interview.

TR: Who knew?