For Ana Maria Martinez (J.D. ’09), a law degree was predestined. Her grandfather was a lawyer in her native Manizales, Colombia, and she was fascinated by his work. When her family migrated to Georgia, she kept her dream of becoming an attorney close. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in marketing and after a couple of years of working in that industry, she chose to enroll in law school.
Martinez was drawn to Georgia State College of Law because of the diversity and downtown location. She was a sponge throughout her time in law school, and she says she especially enjoyed Torts with now Provost Wendy Hensel, as well as Evidence with professor Andrea Curcio. She also had the opportunity to study abroad in as part of a future of legal education seminar led by professor Clark Cunningham. She says that all of her professors challenged her to think outside of the box.
Being receptive to new and different ways of doing things has served her throughout her career and helped her form the Georgia Latino Law Foundation. It’s also helping her to balance being an attorney, wife, mother of two and a dog—the latter of which made appearances during our conversation. Here, she talks about reaching back to help students like herself.
What was your first job after graduation and what did you learn?
I worked for Owen, Gleaton, Egan, Jones & Sweeney. I started working there a few months after graduation and throughout my studying for the bar exam. I loved it. It was a great place to build my chops as a litigator. In 2013, I began working in DeKalb County as a staff attorney for Judge Dax Lopez. That first job taught me the power of being able to tell your client’s story and understanding their motivation and why they did the things they did.
You founded the Georgia Latino Law Foundation in 2015. What made you want to start the organization?
We felt a need to do our part in helping the Latino community. In a lot of Latin American countries, you study to become a lawyer during your undergrad. So, transitioning to obtaining your law degree here as a graduate degree is a big change. Also, there are many families who want to see their children produce right after high school. We saw a big need to educate and support them. Getting them to hang on those extra years and becoming lawyers was really important, which is what many of them wanted but did not count with the right guidance and support.
We started at the organization looking at what the Latino community was doing to support a pipeline into the legal profession, and what we needed to be doing to substantively diversify the profession. For example, we want to see more judicial appointments, in-house counsel and big firm partner. It’s a long-term plan.
This summer, you all started a virtual clerkships program for law students who lost their summer externships due to COVID-19. How did the judges and students respond to that?
We started looking at the ramifications of the pandemic and the experiences being lost because of it. The clerkship program was a natural step because we could offer the opportunity for students to get substantive legal experience. It was great to see so many judges offer their time and skills enthusiastically, and we ended up with 27 law students participating across the state.
How did your degree from GSU Law prepare you for what you are doing now?
The connections I made, opportunities like studying in India, showed me that it’s about more than being lawyer. It’s about being a leader and becoming an active participant in change. That was a great catalyst, not just for practice, but also seeing different ways in which I could have an impact as a lawyer in the community.
What advice would you give to current students about making the most of the GSU Law experience?
Talk to as many attorneys as possible, try as many things as you can, take advantage of externships and internships and find a mentor. I can’t thank GSU enough for challenging me, championing me and always being behind my projects and ideas. If you get engaged in GSU, GSU will be that for you.
Interview by Kelundra Smith