Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office
Judge Advocate, United States Army Reserves
FIU Law, Class of 2016
As the first person to graduate college in my family and the first to become a lawyer in my family, I did not see many lawyers while growing up. I knew it would be vital for me to understand how to interact with lawyers. In 2014, I met John Kozyak at a Florida Association for Women Lawyers’ speed networking event. We immediately clicked, and he became my mentor. As my mentor, John often sent me thoughtful emails, and he invited me to several networking events. I met numerous lawyers and judges at these events, such as Judge Robert Luck, Judge Darrin Gayles, and Judge Tanya Brinkley. I would later intern with Judge Darrin Gayles, who has also positively influenced my legal career. Additionally, while serving as the National Director of Education and Career Development for the National Black Law Student’s Association (NBLSA), John sponsored a breakfast event for NBLSA. Moreover, John has written several letters of recommendation on my behalf, one of which ultimately helped me to become a Class V Fellow of the Florida Bar Leadership Academy.
Having John as my mentor has opened several doors for me, which ultimately led me to become an Attorney-Adviser with the U.S. Department of Justice through the Attorney General’s Honors Program and later as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
John’s mentorship has taught me the importance of having a mentor. As such, I have made it a prerogative to mentor law students just as John has mentored me.
University of Miami School of Law
JD Candidate 2022
As a first year law student, networking can be daunting to many. A student may question how to approach a judge, how to carry a conversation with a lawyer, or how to formally ask an individual to serve as a mentor. During my first year of law school at the University of Miami, members of the Black Law Students Association expressed the importance of finding mentors and highlighted a networking opportunity that I could not miss, The Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation’s Annual Welcome Reception.
My fellow colleagues were absolutely correct, and I am glad that I listened to their advice. Last year, I left the Welcome Reception with three mentors in various stages of their careers, which allowed for a distinct perspective with each conversation. Over the past year, my mentors have invited me to judicial receptions to meet other members of the legal community, lunch to discuss best practices for an interview, and their home to welcome me and other students to Miami over a meal. I have gained invaluable advice, created long-lasting bonds, and increased exposure to different practice areas while growing professionally and personally.
Mentoring works when you approach each networking opportunity with an open mind and a willingness to learn from individuals who have navigated different routes of the legal realm. Now that I am a second year law student, I will continue to encourage incoming students to seek mentors that will support and uplift them throughout their law school journey and beyond because mentoring works.
Director, Deputy General Counsel, Corporate Services, JM Family Enterprises, Inc.
University of Miami Law J.D. 2007
I am a strong believer in mentoring at all levels, and I don’t think it ever ends. I remember when I was considering going to law school, I tried to touch base with every lawyer that would give me the time of day, just so I could get more insight and knowledge on everything law related – from the admissions process, to those dreaded three years of law school, to the actual practice of law.
As a 1L at the University of Miami School of Law, I went to that very first KTT Black Law Student Minority Mentoring Reception in the Fall, and quickly grabbed a mentor, Carla Jones. Carla regularly checked in with me and helped me through law school, and it certainly didn’t stop there. We continued our relationship long after I was a graduated law student and practicing attorney. I also picked up some other unofficial mentors along the way who helped me to navigate through what offers to take, whether or not I should get my MBA, and other decisions that I simply was not equipped to make on my own.
To this day, thirteen years into practice, I still not only rely on mentors, but I make sure that I give back and mentor where I can. I certainly do not have all the answers, but what I do have is experience and perspective. I can share my stories of “if I knew then what I know now.” I can help make introductions. I can help make suggestions on how to navigate through the many questions and challenges that we face in this profession. Many times law students feel like they either know nothing or they know everything. The truth is somewhere in the middle (probably somewhere closer to the “nothing” end of that spectrum) and mentorship helps to bridge that gap in so many different areas. The best part is that it costs nothing but time, and is so rewarding on both sides of the relationship, because I also learn a lot from my mentees and often admire their hard work and drive. I certainly would not be where I am today if not for John Kozyak, the KTT Minority Mentoring Foundation, Carla Jones, Marsha Madorsky, Maria Chang Mayer, Marcia Narine Weldon, Caren Snead Williams and the many other mentors (both official and unofficial) that I have been fortunate enough to partner with over my career.
Shepard Broad College of Law
JD Candidate 2021
Preparing to graduate from law school during unprecedented times is quite stressful and a bit unsettling. KMMF has helped me navigate away from anxiety by partnering me with Mitchell Custer — JVU attorney for Broward County. Attorney Custer is very relatable, down to earth, and approachable. From our first meeting, he ensured me that he’d assist me with transitioning into the legal field. KMMF truly cares about finding a great mentor for their mentees. I immensely appreciate their assistance.
Jikky E. Thankachan, J.D.
St. Thomas University School of Law
Florida Bar Candidate
When I began law school in 2017, I was surrounded by classmates who came from families with doctors and lawyers. As the first person to attend law school in my family and as someone who didn’t meet my first attorney until I was 21, I was intimidated. I didn’t have any connections or back-up plans. This was an insecurity that I turned into motivation, through mentorship.
My second semester of law school, I attended the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Foundation picnic. A week prior to the picnic, I applied for and accepted a summer internship at the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO). This would be my first time in a legal environment, and I was terrified. I saw the USAO table at the Kozyak picnic and hesitantly approached. I met Stephanie Filder, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Miami. We spoke briefly and exchanged contact information. Little did I know what was to come. Over the next three years, she guided me through the summer internship at USAO, listened to what I was passionate about, strategized and edited every line in my resume and conducted mock interviews with me before every interview. With her guidance after the USAO I interned at the Florida Supreme Court, the United States Government Accountability Office, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the NAACP. When it was time for me to apply for postgraduate positions another Kozyak mentor and Assistant U.S. Attorney came into my life, Jeremy Thompson. He guided me through the application and interview process for the Attorney General’s Honors program. Because of Stephanie and Jeremy’s guidance, I became the first student from St. Thomas University School of Law to become a trial attorney for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. immediately upon graduation. Stephanie and Jeremy’s mentorship helped me get the most competitive and prestigious job in the country at 26 years old, coming from a small unranked law school. Typing that still feels surreal. Mentorship made the sacrifices of all of those who came before me worth it. I stand on the shoulders of giants, because mentors lifted me up. Now that I trade in my mentee title for mentor, my intention is to lift up as many as I can; as the giants before me lifted me up. I can’t wait to be assigned my first mentee and give back. The mentoring program works.
University of Miami School of Law
JD Candidate May 2017
Through the Kozyak Mentoring Program, I was paired with Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola my 1L year. Having Judge Scola as a mentor throughout my law school career has been an extraordinary privilege. Immediately, she took a genuine interest in my development and growth as a law student. Having a prominent member of the Miami legal community available to talk through my career plans, thoughts about classes, and adjustment to law school with, has given me confidence that I will transition smoothly into the professional ranks of the legal community.
Thanks to the program, I have had supporters throughout my entire law school career—professionals in the community championing my success.
When my partner and I won the John T. Gaubatz Moot Court Competition in 2016, Judge Scola and other Kozyak mentors of mine were among the first I told. They were rooting for me the whole time. When I decided to study abroad for a semester in Madrid, Spain they all supported me and gave me insight and feedback on how I could make the experience as advantageous as possible.
Arriving to Miami from my hometown of Los Angeles, I didn’t know what to expect of law school or the legal community. Through my campus’ Black Law Student Association I was fortunate to learn of the Kozyak Mentoring Program even before my first day of classes. The Mentoring Program has been a major part of my feeling welcomed into the Miami legal community.
Megan Elizabeth Roth
FIU Law, Class of 2017
I met my mentor, Ray Abadin, at his firm, Sedwick LLP, the summer before my 1L year. We formed a friendship after, along with my classmates, I watched him deliver an inspiring and candid speech about becoming a law student. “Study more than you’ve ever studied,” he told me when I approached him after the talk. “Just dive in and keep your head in the game. Get rid of distractions. Learn as much as you can. Most of what you really need to practice law, you will learn during 1L year.”
I began my first weeks of FIU law with his coaching in the back of my mind. Between the reading load and the anxiety of exams, sometimes it was a feat just to make it through the doors of the law school each morning, case books and strong coffee in hand, low on sleep and full of hopeful confusion. But, I trusted that if I continued to press forward, I would gain traction.
Over and over, Ray’s advice was right. Law school doesn’t get easier. Law students get better. I kept in touch with my mentor via email, and when I met him again in October at the Kozyak Tropin Minority Mentoring Picnic, we touched base about the semester. There, he introduced me to judges, introduced me to his wife Kim who is also a trial lawyer, and gave me encouragement about studying and grades. Ray said, “If you want to be a litigator, head over to the Public Defender’s tent.” Thanks to that advice, I met Carlos Martinez and several young assistant public defenders that afternoon. I followed up with those contacts and landed a summer internship.
Having a mentor didn’t make 1L year easy; instead, it helped me understand that law school is not supposed to be easy. Ray told me candidly that the feeling of being unsettled, exhausted, and confused is part of the training of a lawyer. It makes an attorney stronger and more ready to face the adversity and the unknowns of legal practice. But it’s also what makes law so rewarding and satisfying – and meeting Ray and his wife and learning catching onto their charged sense of excitement, I knew that staying buried in books, now, would lead to an “aha” moment down the road.
This all rang true in my first weeks as an intern at the Public Defender’s Office. As I worked with attorneys on Westlaw research, court soundings, trial preparation, and depositions, I realized that the rigor and exhaustiveness of 1L is meant to shape us into go-getters, quick thinkers, and exhaustive workers. And it should: Those who come into the legal system in need of help deserve that kind of support. There is nothing like watching the fruits of teamwork and long hours of research culminate into a persuasive argument in the courtroom – one that sets the law into action and creates a life-changing outcome for a human being. Ray was right again — what I learned in 1L year allowed me to help create that outcome.
Mentoring is not a one-time meeting. It’s a relationship that is built over time. It begins with a connection. For me, it began with an attorney inspiring me with the way he described law school and the legal field. When I heard Ray speak, I felt as though I was entering a purposeful journey. We continue to follow up, and I can approach him with my questions, my accomplishments, and my failures and uncertainties as well. He has encouraged me through grades that were less than I had hoped, cheered me through accomplishments that were more than I expected, and consistently delivered candid and meaningful advice about where to turn, how to stay focused, and what to expect.
Mentoring isn’t just a resource: It is an inseparable part of the profession and the legal community. When I hear my professors and deans speak of their own mentors, I realize that no one becomes a lawyer without the trustful guidance of others. No one has ever done this alone. I look forward to the moment when I can pay forward my own experience, along with the wisdom of Ray and others who have helped me on this path.
Killyah Samuel, Esq.
University of Miami School of Law 2014
I was leaving the Kozyak pre-picnic mentoring event when I ran into Mr. Rob Collins. Rob has been my mentor since 2012. He has been a crucial aspect in my law school experience and a major factor in my successful journey through law school. Rob is an alumnus of the University of Miami School of Law. As an alumnus of the same institution, I was very thankful to have Rob’s wisdom and support while attending the law school. He was able to provide helpful information about courses, professors, and the law school experience. Furthermore, as a native of the north eastern region of the U.S., it was a bit of a cultural shock to relocate to South Florida. However, Rob’s experiences as fellow northerner helped me to find ways to assimilate.
Overall, Rob has been an incredibly amazing mentor. He is very diligent about keeping in contact and has supported me at major legal career milestones, which include my graduation from law school this past December as well as preparing for the Florida Bar Exam. No matter how busy things get, Rob always sends helpful, supportive messages that encourage me to keep pushing forward or answering my questions and providing helpful tips. I am very thankful for the mentoring program for bringing Rob and I together for this mentorship and as the foundation of our friendship.
Rob Collins, Esq.
University of Miami School of Law 2011
Meeting Judge Maria Korvick through John Kozyak’s mentoring program has expanded my horizons in ways that I could not have anticipated. As my mentor, Judge Korvick gave me extremely valuable insight for my well-being, professional and otherwise. I didn’t know at first what to expect from the guidance of a judge whose area of law was somewhat apart from my own interests, but Judge Korvick and I both approached our relationship with open minds. The result has been a long-term friendship where Judge Korvick has been there to support me both as a lawyer (she swore me into the Florida Bar) and in my personal life (Judge Korvick has known my now-lawyer now-wife since she was my girlfriend who hadn’t yet taken the LSAT).
I have tried to take that same open mind into my relationship with Killyah Samuel, as her mentor. She and I are also not necessarily working in the same area of law, but we’ve corresponded continuously for years, presented together at the University of Miami School of Law, and I celebrated with her family at her graduation. We, too, counsel each other about life in the law and life beyond, and I’m sure I’ve gotten as much perspective from my relationship with Killyah as she has, if not more. Whether she’d met me or not, she has a bright future ahead of her.
I’m grateful to John Kozyak and the mentoring program for my great experiences as both a mentee and mentor!
Black Law Students Association (BLSA) – JD Candidates
FIU – College of Law
Mr. Kozyak, On behalf of the Black Law Student Association, we would like to thank you for the events that you have put together this year. Every single Kozyak mentoring event was unbelievably gratifying – to say the least. All of our members found great value at those events and were thrilled to meet with judges/lawyers that also had a zeal for mentorship. As law students we have nothing of value that we could offer you in appreciation for your gestures. Nonetheless, we offer something that is priceless – our humble gratitude for all that you do for the black community.
Class of 2014
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “mentor” as “a trusted counselor or guide.” The Kozyak Minority Mentoring Picnic is the quintessential example of an event that provides exactly what the definition states. As a New York native who moved down to Florida for law school, I literally showed up to my empty apartment in August 2011 with nothing but money in my pocket and 2 suitcases full of clothes. I did not have any family members in Florida, and prior to law school my “network” only consisted of a single “friend of a friend.” As a first generation Nigerian-American, my family had little to no ties to the law, let South Florida. To be honest, it was a difficult period for me. Attending the Kozyak Picnic and the pre-picnic receptions helped me transition and really showed me what the South Florida legal community looked like. I was humbled by the opportunity to meet so many attorneys, judges, consultants, accountants, and other professionals who came out to willingly support and find diverse students to mentor. I was literally blown away. Since the Picnic, I have had the opportunity to speak to lawyers and judges who have not only answered my questions about practice areas of interest, but have assisted me with exam preparation, helped me explore Miami, and have been excellent counselors to me. Because of the kindness that I experienced at the Picnic, I am motivated to pay it forward and help students that come after me. To some, this picnic may be a chance to just meet others, but for students like myself, it means more than words can describe. Thank you to everyone involved in making sure that diverse students have dictionary-worthy examples of what a mentor should be like.
Student at Florida Coastal School of Law, 2L
I am writing to ask you to support Mr. Kozyak’s foundation and annual picnic. Not only does Mr. Kozyak talk the talk, but he walks the walk. I am a minority student who completed a brief form at the picnic. As a result, Mr. Kozyak contacted me himself: he actually wanted to help. He gave me honest feedback about my resume and answered my questions via email. As minority students, we need mentors to be honest with us and point us in the right direction. We understand mentors are extremely busy, but a quick review of a resume and point in the right direction will go far. Mr. Kozyak’s feedback helped me to obtain a federal judicial externship for the summer. Thank you, mentors. A small investment goes a long way.
Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Esq.
Associate, Berger Singerman
The mentoring program opened doors to levels of personal and professional growth that were otherwise unattainable without the guidance and dedicated investment that each one of my mentors made in my development. My mentors taught me about the important aspects of the legal profession that extended beyond the standard law school curriculum. I learned the value of candor, the impact of responsiveness, and the significance of service to clients, my community, and colleagues.
Just by virtue of their experience, mentors can effortlessly advise, challenge, and encourage. Mentees provide an opportunity to positively impact the life and career of young attorney. A mentoring relationship is reciprocal learning experience that is fun, fulfilling, and can be shared by all who take the time participate this exceptional program.
Rochelle N. Willis, Esq.
Associate, Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin
I was assigned a mentor through John Kozyak’s mentoring program as a 1L student at the University of Miami School of Law. The University’s Black Law Students Association also endeavored to provide 1L students with upper class mentors, but having a mentor who was already engaged within the legal profession was invaluable. I met with my mentor, Jennifer, on various occasions. It was a relief and inspiration to hear from a person who had recently been in my shoes but was now a successful attorney who was happy within her profession. John’s mentoring picnic and networking events also helped to get me acclimated to Miami’s minority bar. It was encouraging to see familiar faces at these events and to meet with other people who shared similar experiences and goals. John and Jennifer made my first year of law school, and the ensuing years, a much more comfortable and manageable experience by giving me the confidence and composure to embrace my calling. I hope to invoke the same sense of confidence in the students that I now mentor.
Andre D. Pierre, Esq.
Mayor, City of North Miami
I’ve learned that being a mentor is a choice and that every time I choose to truly make an effort to get to know my mentees I am rewarded with an opportunity to continue my mission to make a positive difference.
My experiences as a mentor and an attorney have allowed me to explore other avenues in life and develop skills to become:
- A motivational speaker
- A career guide and counselor to family and friends
- A role model
- An adviser
- An achiever
- A catalyst for reflection upon my own practice
And as a mentor, I have been presented with various opportunities to:
- Develop personal and professional skills
- Network with other professionals
- Amplify career and professional development
“Mentoring helps me know that I am doing more than just my job each day, hopefully I am helping someone else get more out of their career.”
Marlon A. Hill, Esq.
Partner – delancyhill, PA
A mentor-mentee relationship is both a professional and personal bond that is committed to a set of mutual expectations and rewards. The KMMF is one of Florida’s key nurturing grounds for these relationships in the legal profession. I am confident that this movement will transform our profession and the soul of our relationships for generations.
Everyone needs a mentor or to give of themselves to a mentee at different phases of their career and life. KMMF opens this door and creates this opportunity.
Associate, Carlton Fields
As a law student, the mentoring program provided me with an opportunity to connect with many leaders in the legal community. As a young associate-attorney, I am now comfortable networking and interacting in any setting because of my constant interaction with various mentors throughout law school. The Kozyak Mentoring Program helped me make a confident transition from a law student to a practicing attorney. Now that I have the opportunity to mentor students, I find the experience to be rewarding because I am able to connect with future leaders in the legal community.
University of Miami School of Law, Class of 2011
As you talk with your mentor and attend events together, you’re learning more about each other. This is significant because you’re building the foundation for a bond that will last beyond law school, and throughout your career. As a mentee in the Kozyak Minority Mentoring Program, I was able to develop a mentorship with a role model and someone that I can always turn to for advice. My mentor has taught me about professionalism, and exposed me to events and opportunities, that would have otherwise been out of my reach or nearly impossible without her.
I’m looking forward to the day when I myself become a mentor, to help other law students see and experience the big picture as my mentor has done for me. Becoming a mentor would be a way to remain involved with a program that has positively impacted my law school experience, and to contribute to strengthening our legal community.
University of Miami School of Law, Class of 2012
During my first year of law school, I had the great opportunity of attending the Minority Mentoring Picnic hosted by John Kozyak. A fellow law student and friend cautioned me to push pass the urge to use the picnic as a much needed break or an occasion to enjoy the company of my friends and great food. She challenged me to take advantage of the many networking opportunities to which the picnic was designed to introduce me. I listened to her advice and it resulted in a wonderful experience. Through the picnic, I was able to meet two incredible mentors, Assistant United States Attorney James Weinkle and Magistrate Judge Chris McAliley.My mentors have committed their time and resources to ensuring my success in law school. They took a strong interest in my future by providing me with guidance and support. They also served as great sounding boards as I encountered challenging experiences during my first year. When I called Mr. Weinkle, worried that my contracts class was sure to destroy the GPA I had worked so hard to attain in my first semester, he was more than willing to engage in a two and a half hour impromptu tutoring session on how to understand and apply the UCC code. His time and effort resulted in my receiving the CALI Award in Contracts in recognition of achieving the highest grade in the class. He also edited my practice exam answers to help improve my writing. Judge McAliley warmly opened her chambers to me and offered great advice on choosing career paths, looking for summer internships, and developing essential skills to increase my marketability and job prospects. The value of mentorship should never be underestimated. Because of my mentors’ willingness to share their challenges and experiences with me, I did not have to tackle the daunting first year of law school alone. Their mentorship has deeply enriched my law school experience and has greatly contributed to the success I have accomplished during my first year.For the remainder of my law school career, I will be the voice that encourages incoming minority students to not only enjoy the food and fun, but to meet those who are willing to impart wisdom and guide them to success. I will be the one to inform them that mentorship is invaluable. Who knows, maybe they will share in my luck. Not only did I gain two outstanding mentors but I also won box seat tickets to a Miami Heat game! I truly enjoyed the picnic and the wonderful experiences it afforded me. I appreciate John Kozyak’s tireless efforts to expose minorities, who otherwise may not have the opportunity, to mentors in the legal field. I would encourage everyone to take part in the Minority Mentoring Picnic. Mentoring truly works.
James A. Weinkle
Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney
For most of my 23 years of practice, I have quietly given of my time doing pro bono service and anonymously serving as a mentor to any law student or young associate that I met who cared to have a mentor. Moreover, like many, I gave of my time, anonymously helping people in need…from elderly people to young children. I also served on the boards of not-for-profit organizations from time to time. When the Minority Mentoring Picnic was founded, I went. I tried to go for most of the years I have been in town if I was not working on the Saturday of the Picnic. I first started going when I was a partner at Duane Morris and then I continued when I became an Assistant United States Attorney several years ago. I have met wonderful students and people along the way and the last several picnics were no exception.
Two years ago, I didn’t find a mentee until I sat down to eat. I introduced myself and asked the woman sitting across from me if she had a mentor. She said her name was Quinshawna Landon and she did not have a mentor. I offered myself up. She accepted and I followed up when I got home. So began an incredibly enriching experience that continues to this day and will likely continue throughout our respective careers. I told Quin to call me and email me whenever she wanted. I gave her advice at the beginning of and throughout her first year of law school (and we have continued throughout her law school and summer work experiences). My advice extended from how to study for law school to preparing for classes to breaking down legal concepts to helping her refine her writing. I worked with her before exams and helped her understand how to write a better law school exam answer after she sent to me a draft answer from a practice exam. She worked very hard and I mentored.
Quin is now sitting in the top 7% of her class. She won the University of Miami School of Law’s 2010 and 2011 Moot Court Competitions and the CALI Excellence for the Future Award which recognizes academic excellence for her work in contracts. Quin also won a Dean’s Certificate of Achievement award as one of the top one or two students in Legal Rearch and Writing and Advanced Moot Court. She was invited to join the University of Miami Law Review and Moot Court Board. Her casenote will be published in the Fall 2011 edition of the University of Miami Law Review.
While Quin is obviously an extraordinary woman and would likely have excelled even if I had not been in the picture, I know you know what I mean when I tell you that I cannot describe how much I have gotten out of this experience. Quin believes, as I do, that Mentoring Works.
Thank you for doing what you do John. The community is better for it. The legal world is better for it. I am better for it.
University of Miami School of Law, Class of 2013
You will often hear successful people express some words of gratitude to a mentor who helped them along the way. There are many benefits to having a mentor, but the most important benefit is that a mentor is the person who will advise you when you are simply uncertain about what to do next. Life is full of uncertainties, especially for law students preparing to enter the legal field. The reality is that no amount of previous life experience or work experience can substitute for the advice and assistance of someone who has gone through obstacles that await a law student or a new attorney. Success is built on a number of factors, but sound advice from knowledgeable mentor is at the top of list.
Mark P. Schnapp, Esq.
Co-Chair, White Collar Criminal Practice – Greenberg Traurig
I was paired as a mentor to David Moreno by John Kozyak almost three years ago as David began his first semester of law school at the University of Miami. I spent a lot of time with David speaking to him about school and career challenges. David, who was an out of state student, also spent time with my family at various events. The experience for me was extremely rewarding as I watched David grow to become a school leader and moot court champion. Based upon my experience with David, I think that the mentoring program keeps the legal community in touch with the challenges facing minority students both in school and in the job market. As a mentor, I became invested in David’s success at school and now as a young lawyer. I will continue to be his mentor and friend as he embarks on his career as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. I have not doubt that, in short order, David will become a leader in the New York legal community.