Attorney Ashley A. Smith – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Women on the Leading Edge of Law

Attorney Ashley Smith
Godfrey & Kahn, SC

After growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, Ashley Smith attended the University of Pittsburgh where she majored in psychology. When it was time to apply to law schools, she knew she didn’t want to be that far away from her family, so she applied to law schools close to home—ending up at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee.

“While an undergraduate, each year I served as a tour guide. The school was welcoming and the environment was comfortable and resources were in place to help ensure my success. When my parents and I toured Marquette’s Law School, we got that same feeling. I felt that it was a place where I could be successful,” she said.

Thanks to her dad who spent his entire life in sales, Ashley knew that she wanted to be in a relationship environment—no matter what career path she chose. Although when she initially started her undergrad studies she was not pursuing a career in law, in each year it became more clear that’s exactly what she was supposed to do.

“My dad used to take me and my siblings with him to lunch when he met with his clients. So, early on, I knew how to build relationships and the significance of them. However, 2011 wasn’t a good time to be an attorney, with the stock market crash. Regardless, it became increasingly clear to me that that’s what I was supposed to do. I love working with people. I love writing, and I knew these skills would be best served in the field of law,” she said.

Ashley can’t say enough good things about her employer, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., where she is employed as an associate on the corporate team. Prior to joining the firm full time, she worked two summers as an associate. While in law school, Ashley worked at the Milwaukee Volunteer Legal Clinic and was inducted into the Pro Bono Honor Society after completing more than 50 hours of volunteer work. She served as president of Marquette’s Black Law Student Association and was the Midwest Black Law Student Association Regional Secretary. She was also a leader and national competitor of Marquette’s Moot Court program. She interned at the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

“Godfrey & Kahn has an internship and a fellowship program. Each year, they select a student from Marquette University or the University of WI-Madison to receive a fellowship. They interviewed me even before I started law school. Along with a paid internship, I received the fellowship, and it has had a significant impact on my career path,” she said.

While she tried to keep an open mind, Ashley didn’t think she wanted to practice business law, but after working at Godfrey & Kahn, she began to consider it as a viable career path.

“I began to see myself at Godfrey & Kahn because they are extremely hard workers, they are involved in the community and with their families. It’s such a collaborative environment. Their underlying values meshed with mine, so I felt that it was a place where I not only felt comfortable, but they were invested in me. I was invited to return after my first summer there and after my last year of law school, was offered a position with the firm,” she said.

Throughout her life and during every tough decision she’s had to make, Ashley never had to look far for counsel, advice or role models—she found them in her parents.

“I’m the only lawyer in my family, but I feel that I am a reflection of them. If they weren’t who they are, I wouldn’t be who I am. My mom just graduated with her bachelor’s degree two years ago, after raising a family. My parents made me and my siblings their priority. They have enough life experiences, that they are the first people I call if I have issues or need advice. There are professionals that I look up to, but my mom and dad are definitely the shoulders I stand on,” she said.

After realizing that she would be in Milwaukee for the long-term, one of the first things Ashley did was seek out ways to give back to the community; and she does so in many ways.

“I’m very interested in and committed to the entrepreneurial space. I’m always talking to entrepreneurs and willing to listen or connect them to people. I am also mentor for an accelerated program for entrepreneurs, so I get to work with early-stage companies, helping them navigate issues and obstacles that they encounter,” she said.

Ashley recently became a volunteer with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative (WWBIC) and she is a board member of the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers.

“Unofficially I’m also involved with the law school students. I make it a point to meet with the black law students each year; many of them are transplants to Milwaukee. Sometimes just having someone they know they can call, with no strings attached, is important. It’s really important for me to give that back ten-fold, because I was a recipient of that kind of attention,” she said.

Ashley’s future looks bright. She likes the law firm environment where she works and she sees herself staying in that environment and, one day, even becoming a partner.

“I think that (partnership) could happen at Godfrey & Kahn but more important to me is how you affect your community. It’s important for me to be here in Milwaukee. In this city, you are able to see the impact you make on the community in real time. In larger markets like New York, even though you may be making a difference, you don’t feel the impact like you do in Milwaukee because it’s small. If I can be a ‘go-to person’ using my skills, I want to be known as someone who will find the answer, if I don’t know it. I just want to be present. Sometimes people just don’t know who to call and being that person for my community is extremely important to me,” she said.