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Women in Business: Q&A with Christina L. Martini, Attorney, DLA Piper

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Christina L. Martini is a practicing attorney, author and columnist. She is vice chair of the Chicago intellectual property practice group at DLA Piper and has been in private practice since 1994. She focuses her practice on domestic and international trademark, copyright, domain name, Internet, advertising and unfair competition law. She is Chair of DLA Piper's Global Women's Leadership Summit.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life experiences most certainly impact the leaders we are, as well as who we are and who we become as people. They also help shape the lens through which we view the world. There are a few experiences which most define who I am as both a leader and a person. My mother's passing when I was a teenager forced me to grow up fast, taught me the survival instinct and the importance of keeping things in perspective. My family's love and support enabled me to see that anything is possible, even in the face of tragedy. Studying engineering in college gave me a discipline and rigor of thought when analyzing the world and doing problem solving that I otherwise would not have had. The wide ranging professional experiences and mentoring relationships I have enjoyed over my 20 year career at DLA Piper have provided me with invaluable training and insight that is second to none. All of these things contribute to who I am today and all that I do, including leadership.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at DLA Piper?
I have been practicing at DLA Piper (and its legacy firms Rudnick & Wolfe and Piper Rudnick) for my entire legal career. Since I went straight from college to law school, my work experience before that was somewhat limited. I graduated high school early and worked in a record store so that I could have enough money to start college on time. I worked as an engineering intern for two summers at Motorola, and at Baxter Healthcare as a legal intern in the Office of the General Counsel after my first year of law school. Notwithstanding how disparate these experiences appear to be, they have all taught me how important it is to follow your passion and how customer service is everything. I have also learned that there is no substitute for tenacity and hard work. If you want to succeed and be an effective leader, you must show empathy, understand where others are coming from and speak their language.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DLA Piper?
It has been very exciting to grow up professionally at the law firm now known as DLA Piper. We have been at the forefront of what many call the most profound transformation the legal profession has ever experienced - the creation of the global law firm. It is also difficult to walk a path that others have not walked before. As with any other profession, there are always challenges during periods of growth and expansion, but the upside is well worth it. During this time, I have been fortunate to be given opportunities to wear many different hats and to have numerous experiences that have helped me to develop and grow professionally. Getting it all done continues to be one of the biggest challenges - but I see it as a sign that there are many great things happening, rather than as a negative.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I recommend that women who are contemplating a career in the law do a lot of thinking and soul searching, and enter this profession with their eyes open. As with many things, succeeding as a lawyer takes hard work and commitment, and it is not for the feint of the heart. If you ultimately decide that this is the career for you, it is important to maintain your enthusiasm and focus, and approach your career from the vantage point of what is possible, rather than focusing on whatever obstacles may exist.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
There have been many lessons learned during my career journey. While it is tough to choose one, I would say that the biggest is the importance of always pushing to learn, grow and improve yourself. Striving to be the best you can be and to diversify your skillset is critical, especially now that we live in a professional world where supply often exceeds the demand. I have been amazed by how seemingly unrelated skills can be seamlessly woven together in a unique and powerful way, particularly in the leadership context.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is a day-by-day endeavor. I like having a lot of balls in the air - it suits my personality. For me, the balance is more about trying to find time to do the things I love rather than having true downtime to not do anything at all. The key is to recognize those moments where I can do something I really enjoy, even if it is for an hour or two, and to seize them when they present themselves so that they don't just slip away.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
One of the toughest issues to deal with, particularly as women get more senior in their organizations, is the fact that there may have been very few, if any, women have walked the same path before them. This makes it harder to find other women who can be helpful as sponsors and mentors and who can provide meaningful guidance. I have found that men can also be terrific mentors. I think the trick is to understand that you cannot get all of the guidance you need from any one person, and that you can weave together all of the traits and skills that each of them bring to the fore into a wonderful framework of learning and growth.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors have been an essential element of my professional and personal development. They provide support in a variety of ways, including as teachers and coaches on how I can best accomplish whatever goals and objectives I have set for myself. They also share invaluable wisdom on their successes and failures so that I can learn from the approaches which have and have not worked in certain situations. Both mentors and sponsors often perform an advocacy role, especially sponsors who will often speak on another's behalf, particularly on issues relating to promotion and advancement. Mentors have helped me find my way and my voice, and I feel it is my obligation to then pay it forward and do the same for others who are coming up through the ranks.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There are a number of women leaders whom I admire. Within my own firm, Stasia Kelly, who is the Co-Managing Partner of the Americas, is a terrific leader and trailblazer who has been a great role model and friend to me and countless others. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis has always been intriguing to me, particularly for her quiet strength and her innate ability to treat people and handle tragic situations with a dignity and grace rarely seen in others. Hillary Rodham Clinton is brilliant, in terms of sheer intellectual horsepower and as a strategist. These three women all exemplify amazing attributes that I seek to emulate every day.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
I will continue to develop, foster and grow client relationships, which are the foundation for everything else that I do. I will also work on developing and growing client teams, both within and outside of my practice area. I enjoy the various leadership hats that I wear both within and outside the firm and will continue with those, as well as my hobby as a journalist and author by writing my two columns and developing and creating videos and other multimedia content on various topics regarding legal practice and the business of law. I am excited about where all of these great activities may lead.

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