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A Conversation with Tricia "TJ" Jackson and Cacki Jewart

Meaningful Mentoring at Husch Blackwell

Two years into her career, Tricia “TJ” Jackson joined Husch Blackwell’s Austin office, where she began a mentoring relationship with Partner Cacki Jewart. Four years later, driven by her own ambition and goals, and guided by Cacki’s steady counsel, this senior associate has not only built her confidence but also the practice she always envisioned.

Husch Blackwell (HB): What is the value of mentoring in the legal profession?

Tricia “TJ” Jackson (TJ):  When you start out as a new lawyer, you are drinking from a fire hose. There’s just so much newness to the practice of law and being a lawyer that you don’t learn when you’re in law school, but rather by watching and doing. Having a mentor is really important, especially at the beginning, so you can watch how that person works, delegates and communicates with clients. As your career progresses, mentoring becomes important in a different way because you must determine what your next steps are and how you see your career in the long-term. Witnessing the trajectory of someone you trust and have built a relationship with can provide a model for you.

Cacki Jewart (CJ): One of the most challenging things about law firms is that, unlike corporate America, we have a very horizontal structure. When you are first hired, you may be working for 10 different people, which is difficult because none of those individuals may feel like they are actually responsible for you.

I started my legal career at a mid-sized firm in a small group and had the opportunity to learn from the two real estate attorneys with whom I worked directly. I feel I have a responsibility to mentor and train those I hire, whether or not I’m assigned as their mentor. As TJ said, it’s just so difficult to succeed without some kind of extra help. Transactional law is not the focus of law school, so you will graduate without knowing how to negotiate or how to draft documents because you don’t learn these things in the classroom. It’s all hands-on learning, which requires following people, listening to them, having them mark up what you did and explaining why. People have to invest time in you before you become really valuable to a firm or its clients.

HB: How did your mentoring relationship begin?

TJ: Four years ago, I joined Husch Blackwell as a second-year associate from a smaller firm because of the robust renewable energy practice that Cacki helped build. So I came for the practice, but I’ve really stayed for Cacki. I don't know if I’ve ever said that to her before, but it is true.

CJ: That’s very sweet!

TJ: Cacki was one of the equity partners in the group in Austin. I saw what she and others in the group were doing, which changed my idea of the type of lawyer I wanted to be. I knew it was important for my professional development that I get time with her because unless you’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with someone and receiving hands-on experience, it’s almost impossible to get up to speed within a reasonable amount of time to where you can actually be of value to the team.

I have known from the beginning that Cacki was on my side. She has made that very evident. She wanted me to do well, so she was going to facilitate my success. We talk about roadblocks that I run into and how to overcome them. That has been a critical piece of our relationship. Without her mentorship over the years, I would not have gotten to where I am this quickly. I have my own clients. I’m running my own deals. I’m delegating, training, and doing high-level work.

CJ: TJ is very ambitious. She wants to make partner and is great with clients. I was shy as a young lawyer. I was just trying to keep my head above water because I had two kids and for several years was a single mom. I worked part-time at the very beginning. So we had different starts. But there are not many people who have been able to do what TJ has done. She has always wanted to build her own business and have clients; so it’s not just about what she’s doing right now, but thinking ahead and keeping the big picture in mind, which has enabled her to focus on her own career.

HB: TJ, how have your goals changed over time?

TJ: My first goal was to establish myself in the renewable energy industry as an expert in something. When I joined Husch Blackwell, I really didn’t know or understand all the vast areas that were part of the industry, but I knew I wanted to become a go-to attorney.

I also aimed for the firm’s metrics for success: bringing in new work, opening new matters and billing consistently. I received a lot of support because I didn’t really understand the magnitude of some of the things I was doing, such as meeting with clients and providing informal pitches where I discussed the work my team does and how we could add value to an organization. Those were conversations I was starting to have while I was trying to root myself in the industry.

My goals are still important to me and on the table, but I got married last year and am expecting a baby, so I am trying to take a breath and reap some of the benefits of the work that I’ve put in on the front end because I feel great in the space I’m in. There are other things I want to learn and areas in which I want to grow, so it makes sense for me to pause for a second instead of racing to my end goal.

HB: What topics do you discuss during your mentoring meetings?

TJ: I share with Cacki a document I use to track my work. It includes every client I’m working on, every new matter, and every potential new matter that might be opening in the next several weeks. There’s also a section that includes prospective items such as if I want feedback on an article I’m writing, or whether I want Cacki’s input on a conference or speaking engagement I am considering.

CJ: It’s a good system. I’ve even asked TJ if I can share her document with others as an example because it’s challenging for transactional lawyers to track projects effectively. During our meetings, I provide feedback on TJ’s ideas. I know what firm leadership is looking for and what it takes to be promoted, and I guide with this in mind so that when it comes to compensation time, TJ’s efforts are recognized and she is ready to move to the next level.

TJ: Even if the firm didn’t have a formal mentoring program, I would have sought out Cacki. I was very intentional about scheduling one-on-one time with her and still am.

CJ: TJ’s intentional focus on mentoring is rare. She sets the agenda and schedules the meeting. She really makes it easy, which is also good training for attorneys because we are in a service industry. Our goal is to make the clients’ lives easier, so if you’re a new associate and you want mentoring, make it easy for the mentor. I’m happy to help, but ultimately, it’s your career. You need to think ahead and plan what you want to do. That’s something else TJ does really well.

HB: Beyond Husch Blackwell’s formal mentoring program, how does the firm show its support for mentoring?

TJ: The firm established a matter number for our mentoring time, as well as a budget to draw from to facilitate the mentoring relationship. Both speak to the level of importance that the firm places on mentoring.

CJ:  Having leaders in the firm who value mentoring – and at Husch Blackwell there are quite a few who do – is important because they can lead by example.

HB: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in TJ since your relationship started?

CJ: TJ is more comfortably confident in her abilities. She’s learned so much and is open to tackling new things, which has put her in a great position. That confidence is something she has gained over time.

TJ: I agree 100 percent.