Lawyer Limelight: Jenny Martinez

Jenny Martinez is a true Texas powerhouse. A self-made businesswoman and single mother of four, Martinez rose from humble roots to represent some of the biggest names in business, including playing a crucial part in Halliburton’s legal defense in the landmark Deepwater Horizon litigation. Her 20-year practice has spanned working for small, large and midsized firms, including 12 years at a boutique litigation firm in Dallas, culminating with her earning the title of name partner and executive vice president. She continues raising her three boys and recently adopted daughter, all while supporting the next generation of female practitioners through her involvement in initiatives such as S.H.E. Summit. A Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyer, Jenny joined Munck Wilson Mandala last year as a senior litigation partner. She received her B.A. in political science from Southern Methodist University and her J.D. from SMU Dedman School of Law.

Lawdragon: Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?

Jenny Martinez: No, but I knew I wanted to break the cycle of financial hardship and lack of education in my family. Watching my parents constantly struggle to pay basic utility bills and feed three children motivated me to want a stable and secure income. In high school, I signed up for programs that allowed me to work for credit and earn pay, and after graduation, I moved out and worked full time in the printing department of an engineering company.

I quickly learned that entering the job force without a college education would lead me to the same financial challenges my family faced. My grandparents offered to pay for my college if I moved in with them. The caveat was that they lived in east Texas and they were very strict − a big change for me, having lived on my own for two years in Dallas. I accepted my grandparents’ offer and enrolled in the local junior college near their home. I earned an associate’s degree with a 4.0 grade point average in one and a half years.

My grades earned me a scholarship to Southern Methodist University, where I completed my undergraduate degree in political science, graduating magna cum laude. While at SMU, I lived in a small university-owned apartment and supported myself by working as a server at Outback Steakhouse. After graduation, I got married and attended my law school of choice—SMU Dedman School of Law. I financed my entire law school education and worked as a law clerk during my second and third years.

LD: Describe your career path. How did you arrive at your current position?

JM: My first job out of law school was with an insurance defense firm who also had self-insured clients with commercial litigation needs. I quickly found that I enjoyed working on the commercial cases more than the insurance cases, and after two years with the insurance defense firm, I accepted an associate position in the commercial litigation section of one of Dallas’s largest law firms. After a few years with the large firm, I wanted to start a family and began rethinking the long commute downtown as a new parent. Around this time, my cousin and one of his law partners decided to start their own boutique transactional law firm in Plano, Texas, less than fifteen minutes from my home. When he offered me the opportunity to join his firm as the only trial lawyer – and with full maternity benefits − I jumped on it. As the only trial lawyer, I had to figure out how to solve many client problems on my own. This “sink or swim” environment provided me with invaluable training and confidence, and working closely with transactional attorneys made me a much better writer.

After working at the transactional firm for four years, a dear friend, who was a downtown trial lawyer, accepted an in-house position with a Fortune 500 company and encouraged me to join the firm she would soon depart. Although I was soon to be divorced and not thrilled about a downtown commute, I agreed to meet with the firm’s CEO if he agreed to bring me in as a partner. I worked at that firm for the next 12 years, handling a wide variety of business disputes in multiple areas, including finance, real estate, and employment. After a few years with the firm, I was appointed to the Executive Committee, and after 10 years, I became a name partner. I was a key member of Halliburton’s defense team in connection with all civil litigation and investigations arising out of BP’s Macondo well (Deepwater Horizon) blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon litigation was the most challenging and demanding experience of my legal career, but also one of the greatest.

In 2018, I accepted a position as a senior partner at Munck Wilson Mandala, a well-established technology law firm headquartered in Dallas. I continue to work with great clients and extremely talented attorneys, and I have built a strong network of people who I enjoy working with.

LD: What do you like about Munck Wilson Mandala in terms of culture or characteristics?

JM: For over 20 years, Munck Wilson Mandala has exhibited strong leadership and an inclusive culture. The firm is strongly committed to diversity and inclusion, and its leadership understands and respects family obligations. The energy at Munck Wilson Mandala is positive and all employees’ opinions and ideas are respected. I love the partners’ tradition of providing breakfast for all employees every Friday. I also love the firm’s annual movie days, monthly birthday celebrations, and annual holiday events and parties. It’s a warm, welcoming culture and I enjoy working here.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

JM: The most interesting matter I have handled is the litigation arising out of the BP Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, which was the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. I was a key member of the defense team for Halliburton, who designed and placed the cement into the well. There were over 200,000 plaintiffs, including the U.S. government, state and local governments, and private individuals and businesses. The trial of this extremely complex, high stakes litigation took place in three phases over three years in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. For three years, I travelled to Louisiana on Sunday and returned home on Friday. As an attorney, this time was the most exciting and challenging of my career, but as a single mom, it was also the most difficult.  Our team of attorneys obtained outstanding results for Halliburton, who was allocated only 3% of the liability, with no finding of gross negligence.

LD: What advice do you have for current law students?

JM: Do excellent work and start building your professional network now. Doing excellent work will give you credibility and professional recognition within your firm or company, which will in turn lead to promotions. If you are in private practice, credibility, promotions, and a strong professional network will help you develop a book of business, which is necessary if you want to control your own destiny. Your book of business and professional network will give you a strong voice within your firm and will decrease your dependence upon others for your livelihood. When you begin practicing law, time will fly. The sooner you develop friendships and professional relationships, the sooner those friendships and relationships will cultivate into opportunities.

LD: What do you do for fun when you are outside of the office?

JM: My sons are involved in several activities that keep me busy when I’m outside the office, including gymnastics, soccer, baseball, tennis, and orchestra. I enjoy watching them grow into better athletes and musicians. My daughter is a toddler and I enjoy playing with her and watching her boss her big brothers around. I also enjoy concerts, movies, and long weekends at the beach or by the pool.

In August, Munck Wilson Mandala will once again sponsor S.H.E. Summit in Dallas. This event is so much fun and I look forward to sharing a full day of networking with friends and clients who are focused on creating better opportunities for women in the workplace.

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