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Kelly Martyka '04

Lawyer practices positivity

Kelly Martyka

By: Lisa Kohlndorfer

Published May 2016

After talking for only a few minutes with Kelly Martyka, ’04, one can see her light-hearted attitude shining through. Choosing to see the good in every person and situation, she practices the SJA Catholic value of acceptance. Martyka particularly credits her St. Joan Antida High School education with helping her appreciates different points of view, something which has been useful in starting her career as a lawyer. A graduate of UW-Madison and St. Louis University Law School, Martyka is excited to be back in Milwaukee to establish her own law firm.

Originally from Milwaukee’s Southside, Martyka had no problem fitting in at SJA. But before entering the school, Martyka distinctly remembered that it was her mother’s choice she attend the small, single-sex school.

“My mom had heard that girls learned better in an all-girl environment,” remembered Martyka with a laugh. “I became more excited after I learned that some of my friends were joining me.”

Martyka recalled bonding with close friends like Bridget Miliacca, ’04 and Vanesa Carmona-Lewis, ‘04, on the weekends, waking up early and traveling together for Forensics Team and Ensemble Choir. Making friends within SJA’s diverse student body taught Martyka the importance of listening to different points of view.

“I believe you should always keep an open mind,” she said. “You can open yourself up to new experiences and even new friendships.”

Martyka kept this flexible mindset when she switched career paths as an undergraduate. Though she entered UW-Madison planning to become an engineer, Martyka found her strengths lay in the social sciences. She graduated in 2008 with three majors: Political Science, Legal Studies and Sociology.

After graduating, she stayed in Madison to volunteer for a year before applying to law schools. Martyka appreciated her family’s patient support during that tenuous time in her life.

“When I decided to go to law school, my family didn’t question my choices,” she said. “They wanted me to do what made me happy.”

Taking the opportunity to experience living outside Wisconsin, Martyka decided to attend St. Louis University Law School in Missouri. It was a growing opportunity for her, adjusting to a new environment and taking intensive classes. During her second year there Martyka faced her biggest challenge: the death of her mother. Yet even in this dark time she could find the silver lining.

“I would call it bittersweet,” Martyka reflected. “My mother had been sick for a long time, so on some level I was relieved. But I also missed her. It was a huge disruption in my life.”

Focusing on the positive steps she could take, Martyka worked through her grief by concentrating on her studies and part-time jobs. Martyka also refused to let the loss of her mother define who she was.

“I was able to get through that period by the support I received from other people,” she remembered gratefully. “My friends at school understood that I didn’t want to be treated differently, that they shouldn’t constantly be feeling sorry for me.”

Above all, Martyka appreciated her family’s up-beat attitude – resilient even in the face of hardship.

“In my family we like to keep things light and look at the positives,” she explained. “The funeral director we worked with said that he had never had so much fun planning a funeral—we just kept remembering all the things she would have found funny.”

Keeping such optimism has been essential for beginning her career. After overcoming her personal challenges, Martyka graduated from law school on time in 2012 with an International Law Certificate. Martyka then took the bar exam in both Missouri and Wisconsin, and began working in a legal research and writing firm. Pursing more stable career opportunities, and to stay close to her family, she eventually decided to move back to Wisconsin.

Since returning home to Milwaukee, she has been sharing an office with another lawyer who will soon be retiring and allowing her to expand her practice. Though she prefers to stay in her new-found specialty of probate law, for the time being she sees the importance of remaining open to all sorts of possibilities in order to build her client base.

“Right now I’ll take what work I can get!” Martyka said, in characteristically high spirits.

Particularly in her professional and personal relationships, Martyka remembered how her time at SJA taught her to not only embrace new opportunities but also new people.

“SJA was very diverse—economically, racially, culturally,” said Martyka. “It’s been beneficial to have experienced so many perspectives before going out into the world. I’m better able to understand and relate to all different types of people.”

While Martyka embarks on her budding legal career, she remembers to look on the bright side of every situation and keep her head up in any challenge.

Learn more about Martyka’s law firm and how to connect with her at