Lawyer Limelight: Jenny Martinez

When she wanted to become a mom, litigator Jenny Martinez knew that staying at a large downtown firm would not provide her with a stable work-life balance, so she moved to a smaller firm in the suburbs that would provide maternity leave and give her more flexibility to focus on her family’s needs.

Later in her career, Martinez rose to name partner at a downtown firm, but she did not feel that the legal industry had changed much since she was a young mother. She wanted to bring about change and make a difference in the lives of other women attorneys. To facilitate this goal, she moved to her current firm, Munck Wilson Mandala, where she has since helped recruit dozens of female attorneys and triple the firm’s number of female partners.   

Since her move, Martinez has devoted her career to helping more women see that it is possible to stay in the legal profession without sacrificing the choice to become a parent. A senior partner at Munck Wilson Mandala, she is also the co-chair of the litigation section, is on the firm’s executive committee, and prioritizes the recruitment of others who want to maintain a demanding legal career in a family-friendly environment.

This cause is important to Martinez because, as she points out, when she was in law school 20 years ago, women made up half of the graduates, but the percentage of women equity partners in law firms is less than 10 percent. “That math doesn't really work,” she says, “so there's something going on. Sadly, I think a lot of women view raising a family and having a demanding legal career as an impossible balance. You find a lot of women exiting the market because it's just too difficult.”

That difficulty is what she and her partners at Munck Wilson want to mitigate. Originally brought over by leadership to help recruit women lawyers, she and her team have done that and more. They have spearheaded efforts to recruit and maintain a gender-diverse environment in a multitude of ways, including hiring more female lawyers to their team and obtaining two woman-owned boutiques.

Recruitment efforts at the firm are headed by director of administration Stephanie Elovitz and are bolstered by women lawyers like Martinez, who is heavily involved in the interview process and shows women candidates that the firm is truly diverse and family-friendly, without sacrificing the quality of legal work being done. Since she arrived at the firm, Martinez’s efforts have led to the increase in woman partnership from 15 percent to 31 percent. Of the 40 lawyers the firm has hired since 2019, 23 of them have been women.

Martinez’s work with Munck Wilson and her prior firm has earned her a place in the Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America since 2017. She is a trial attorney who represents her clients in business disputes, particularly in real estate, banking, employment, and intellectual property. Her most challenging and memorable experience was being a key member of the trial team defending Halliburton in the BP Deepwater Horizon litigation, which remains the largest environmental litigation in U.S. history.

With her commitment to empowering women to remain in the legal profession, Martinez will continue advocating for the placement of women attorneys in high-profile litigation and for a more compassionate and productive work environment for attorneys of all genders moving forward.

Lawdragon: Jenny, you are the co-chair of the complex litigation group at Munck Wilson and on the firm's executive committee. How would you describe yourself when it comes to your leadership style?

Jenny Martinez: I have a pretty reserved leadership style. I think that you almost have to as a woman. It is a fine line we have to walk to be in a position of authority without being interpreted as too aggressive. Contemplative is probably the right word for how I am as a leader.

LD: Were you always interested in the business side of law firms, or is it something that grew more naturally out of the work you were doing as a litigator?

JM: It just naturally occurred, which I think happens more often in a mid-size firm environment. I also think I’m very collaborative, which is the style of most of the leaders at my firm. That's why I love it here. It's a good partnership and a good meshing of styles.

LD: And you joined the executive committee and became co-chair just last year, right? Was this in the midst of the pandemic or did you step into these roles before the lockdown started?

JM: It was after the pandemic started. We had the lockdown and most people worked from home for about six to eight weeks. I returned in May 2020 and my promotion to executive committee and co-chair occurred at the end of 2020.

LD: That’s nice you weren't away from the office for too long.

JM: I was eager to get back. The City of Dallas, like so many others, shut down any businesses they deemed non-essential, which at first included us. I believe it became clear to everyone that lawyers were indeed essential, and we came back.

When we opened our offices back up in May 2020, we left it optional for those who did not feel comfortable or those who were particularly impacted, like women who had children who were being homeschooled or had no backup childcare. Basically, we wanted to allow people to live their lives in that very strange time and attend to their family's needs and allow them the opportunity to work through our technical team’s home office setups.

So, it was up to the individual lawyer. For me personally, working from home was hard with four children and all the other distractions of home. So as soon as I could come back, I did. I was fortunate enough to have help with my children who could not go back to school immediately, but not everyone had that luxury. Now most people are back, though.

LD: Was it a challenge to keep up the collaborative nature of the firm when people were still remote?

JM: It took a very conscious effort on behalf of our executive committee to keep people engaged and keep the collaboration going. We had regular Zoom meetings about workflow, and we followed up with people to make sure everyone was okay with the work they were doing. We also had virtual happy hours which were super fun, and allowed us to keep the social life of the office alive and we could all bond over this strange situation we were in.

We were able to maintain professional collaboration to get our work done and serve our clients, and we were also able to stay socially connected and check in on each other, which I thought was really needed during that time.

LD: That’s wonderful, and you’re right, so needed. Were you able to retain all your staff through the year?

JM: We were.

LD: Wow, good for you. Good. Is the team growing?

JM: The team is growing. We've added several attorneys. In 2020, we added a female-owned real estate boutique, Simpson Law, and we also brought in Carolyn Raines, who was my former partner at my prior law firm. In 2019 we acquired several lateral females, and we also have hired associates and staff. It has been an exciting time. I know a lot of firms have had the opposite experience, but we have been very fortunate that our practice has really expanded.

LD: That's incredible. And you’re mentioning all these women coming over – what would you say makes Munck Wilson an attractive environment for women?

JM:I think it all boils down to the leadership of the firm being family-oriented and understanding that your personal life affects your working life. We want employees to meet their family obligations. Bill Munck has told me on more than one occasion, if you have something going on with your child, a game or something, “Go.” The most important thing really is to be there for your kids.

Working with leaders who have that attitude makes it a lot easier for women with families. We allow people the flexibility to attend to their family needs. For women, that is particularly important because we tend to be the main caregivers, even if there are two parents in the household.

So, I think other women lawyers see that we are really putting this into practice and that draws them to this environment. It's not just someone talking the talk, and I'm proof of that. Not everyone makes the decision to have kids – especially not to have four, like me – but everybody's situation is different, and we want to accommodate that situation, whatever your life looks like.

LD: I love that. How old are your kids by the way?

JM: I have three sons, who are 17, 16 and 13, and an adopted daughter who is four. The teenagers adore their sister – they’re very protective of her.

LD: Oh, that's sweet. So, tell me about when you were first starting as a young female associate. Did you seek out firms that were family-friendly? And did you have strong female mentors, or did you have to sort of build that for yourself? What was your experience?

JM: The environment was very different when I was a young associate. You did not even request accommodations back in those days because you were not viewed as a team player if you did. You were not viewed as fully committed if you were not doing it the same way it's always been done.

I had some female mentors, but very few. Most of my mentors have been men. They were great mentors, but I lacked female leadership. I saw a lot of women just falling out of the market or going in-house, leaving the firm environment.

I left a big firm and went to work for a small one because I wanted to have kids. That smaller firm agreed to pay me the same maternity leave that the big firms paid. I made a choice and I've never looked back, but I had to move out of the big firm environment to make that workable for me.

LD: Big law firm leaders really need to hear that because they’re missing out on some incredible talent when they ignore the family aspect. Has Munck Wilson looked at any options in terms of childcare, like nursing rooms?

JM: Yes, we have a nursing room, and there’s no policy against kids in the office like there has been at other places I’ve worked. It is an unusual situation, but if you do not have somebody to watch your child and you need to come up to sign documents or finish something, no one's going to look down on you or think that you're breaking some kind of rule if you have your child with you. People are understanding here.

LD: Tell me about your plans for growth as a firm. As you grow, how big do you want to get?

JM: Some of the more immediate goals are to grow our Austin office and to open a Florida office. One of our attorneys has been operating out of her Miami home for several years and she has built a multimillion-dollar practice doing so. We want to expand upon that and get some more lawyers in Florida. We already have 11 attorneys in our LA office.

Now, I don't think we want to become a law firm with hundreds of attorneys, but we would like to add 10 to 20 lawyers in the next couple of years.

LD: Are there any particular practice areas that you're wanting to build up?

JM: Yes, we want to build up our sports law practice and our real estate practice, which we’ve started doing already. We started the sports law practice by hiring Tasha Schwikert, who’s a former Olympic gymnast. Her husband is a former professional basketball player and collegiate basketball coach. We also want to continue developing our strong IP practice based on patent litigation, technology law, and our commercial litigation practice, particularly in the area of complex litigation.

LD: Amazing. It sounds like you really enjoy the process of recruiting. Can you talk to me about that?

JM: It is really a team effort but having me involved is very helpful in that I'm a woman and I've been at other firms.  I can talk about the color of the grass on the other side. I'm excited about our growth and our potential and I'm excited about my move. Making the move was probably the hardest decision of my life, but I did it.

One thing that has been very helpful for us also, when we obtained a woman-owned law firm in 2019, one of the lawyers in that firm, Stephanie Elovitz, was in an administrative role, serving as their executive director. When she came to Munck Wilson, she took over the recruiting function. She's doing other corporate legal work for the firm and some HR work, but her skills in recruiting have really made our recruiting efforts more robust and organized.

LD: That's great. And then when it comes to women, are you deliberately working towards getting your numbers up or do they just happen to be the good talent you’re seeing?

JM: It was very deliberate and that is one of the reasons Bill Munck recruited me. He wanted me to bring in more women lawyers and mentor our young women lawyers. We thought it would take a couple of years to make it happen, but we met our goal of bringing other women in within a year.

LD: That's impressive, and your numbers are already much better than the national average.

JM: It has been phenomenal for us all. We have a great team here and we're going to keep it going.

LD: How do you think Bill Munck chose recruiting women as a focus? You mentioned he was very family oriented.

JM: Yes, he is very family oriented. And I think that he, like many other leaders of law firms, started to see that you might invest the time and money in training lawyers, but then if you do not take care of them, you can lose them, which can be a devastating blow not only financially, but personally. So, Bill had already put a flexible schedule program in place when he brought me in – we had at least two female lawyers who were three-quarter time lawyers. He also made sure to watch their hours so they didn’t work full time and only get paid part time, which can happen easily in our profession.

We continued with that and made more people aware of it. I was not part-time, but people could see me taking time for family obligations and know that I wasn’t going to be penalized or looked down upon for it in any way. A lot of times women have to see it to believe it.

LD: That makes sense. Focusing on hiring and retaining female lawyers is really just good business.

JM: Exactly. More and more companies are demanding diversity and demanding that law firms make these changes and step up. So, I think not only does it make good business sense from the perspective of training someone and not losing them, but it’s also a great model for getting new business because if your firm doesn't look like the company that you want to work for, they're not going to hire you. They want to see diversity and feel like they are reflected in the firm representing them. It just makes good sense to recruit women lawyers and build a firm where they want to stay.