April 9, 2019
Melissa Martinez took the long road to a career in law and partnership — literally and figuratively — that she recounted in compelling and poignant detail in a March 6 article she wrote for a Law360 series on the foundations of lawyers’ legal careers.
In “Why I Became a Lawyer: Finding a Voice, and a New Home,” Martinez wrote of her childhood in Tondo, which she described as a “gritty” city in the Philippines beset by crime, poverty, and a landfill where residents scavenged and lived.
Eventually, she wrote, her family moved to Baltimore, where her parents found work. Unable to speak English in her new Maryland elementary school, she was ridiculed and made to feel “keenly aware of my other-ness.”
Martinez picked up English watching sitcoms. Books became her refuge and made her a stickler for grammar. She excelled in science and math and earned a full academic scholarship to an all-women liberal arts college. In history, government and communications classes, she learned to use language to master arguments. She became a Fulbright scholar with an eye to melding her science background and her linguistic acumen to someday become a patent lawyer.
Her grandmother’s struggles to buy medications inspired her Fulbright project. In her paper, she advocated for mandatory licensing of lifesaving medicines in the Philippines to balance intellectual property considerations with public health protection. After earning her J.D. from the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law, her passion — patent law and commercial litigation — became her profession.
“There are times when I still feel my other-ness,” she concluded, noting that when she made partner at McGuireWoods, she joined a tiny sisterhood of Asian-American women who are partners in U.S. law firms. “But, surrounded by my colleagues and friends in our Baltimore office, I found a home.”