The Chicago Bar Association is pleased to celebrate 2022 Women’s History Month which commemorates and encourages the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. As a part of the celebration, the CBA is profiling a diverse group of women lawyers and judges who share their personal stories, their perspectives on how to thrive within the profession, their advice for women entering the profession and their predictions for the future. For a full list of the CBA’s Women’s History Month events and programs, visit the CBA’s website here: Women’s History Month (chicagobar.org).
Below is our featured interview with lawyer and Civic Leader Virginia Martinez.
What is the most important lesson you have learned during your legal career about how to thrive in the profession?
Create a network of colleagues upon whom you can depend. I always told everyone that my most important research tool was the telephone (before computers). I had a network of friends and colleagues that I would call on with questions, share information or just commiserate. This was especially true when as a young attorney, I represented victims of domestic violence.
What do you believe are the most important attributes of a leader in the legal profession?
All leaders need to determine their core values. Actions based on values such as truth and integrity will build trust among clients, colleagues, employees, judges and others.
Please provide an example of a person, or a quotation that inspires you. Explain why you are inspired by that person or quotation.
Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I believe in activism. While I was in law school, a group of women in my community of Pilsen saw the need for bilingual social services for women and created Mujeres Latinas en Accion. Mujeres has saved lives and improved the quality of life for families they serve. In law school, Latino students created the DePaul Latino Law Student Association to support Latinos in law school. At the time there were only 15 Latino attorneys in the entire state. LLSA continues to encourage college students to consider attending law school and provide support for law students.
Virginia Martinez is a retired attorney who has spent most of her career working in non-profit organizations and has been a strong advocate for Latinos, women and children. Prior to retiring she served as a member of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. The PRB is an independent body whose members are appointed by the Governor of Illinois. The PRB imposes release conditions for offenders exiting penal facilities, revokes and restores good conduct credits from inmates, conducts hearings to determine whether parolees have violated conditions of parole. The Board also makes confidential recommendations to the Governor relative to executive clemency petitions. She previously served as Sr. Policy Analyst for the Illinois Latino Family Commission. The commission was established by statute to improve the opportunities and resources available to Latino families throughout the state. She was also Legislative Staff Attorney in the Chicago Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). She had been the first Regional Counsel at MALDEF when it opened its Midwest office in 1980. MALDEF is a national civil rights organization and the Chicago Office is responsible for the 11 state Midwest region.
Virginia was also formerly Director of the International Center for Health Leadership Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, developing collaborative leadership capacity of individuals from communities, community health centers, and academic institutions and was dedicated to building multidisciplinary bridges to join communities and institutions. Martinez was Executive Director of Mujeres Latinas en Accion from 1992 until 1997. She has also held positions with Voices for Illinois Children, and the Latino Institute. Virginia has volunteered with many organizations over the years and currently sits on the board of Gads Hill Center.
In 1975, Virginia and her friend Viola Armijo Rouse, became the first Latinas to be licensed to practice law in Illinois. Virginia was a founding mother of the DePaul University Latino Law Student Association, the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She was lead counsel in the historic redistricting cases of 1982 that created the first Latino wards and legislative districts. She has, over her career, received numerous awards and recognitions. Most recently she was honored with the History Makers Award by Illinois Latino Judges Association and a member of the Inaugural class of the Lincoln Juarez Society of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois.
She recently published her first children’s book entitled “Adventures with Abuela: Let’s Go to the Zoo.” (Abuela is grandmother in Spanish.) The book is available on Amazon.