Conversations with Practitioners is our new series in which we ask current practitioners about their careers.
1. What do you currently do?
I am General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. The Center is a DC-based organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women through policy advocacy, public education and engagement, and litigation.
2. What does your job entail?
I head up the National Women’s Law Center’s efforts to achieve fairness in the workplace for women. Some of our key areas of focus include fighting for equal pay, addressing pregnancy discrimination, raising the minimum wage, and advocating for fair work schedules. As far as what this means on a day to day basis, it can include talking to Congressional staffers or state legislative staff in support of a bill, drafting comments to a federal agency like the EEOC supporting or critiquing policy proposals, talking to the press about the wage gap, revising a Supreme Court amicus brief, mapping out a communications campaign around workplace issues important to women, putting together a factsheet that makes the research case for a particular policy proposal, making a pitch to a funder, or reviewing the work of staff doing any or all of the above, to give a few examples. I also act as GC to the organization, which entails tasks ranging from reviewing contracts, to figuring out employee benefit questions, to ensuring that we are properly tracking our lobbying expenditures.
3. What drew you to doing this kind of work?
I was always interested, from my undergraduate years forward, in issues related to women’s equality. I think a formative moment was a class I took on women and U.S. history that the late Ann Lane taught when I was a second-year undergrad at U.Va., which just really excited me about thinking through the role of gender in constructing our imaginations, our families, our society, our nation. That became a through line for me as an undergrad, and what motivated my choice to go to law school was that law was a way to do work that spoke to these questions in my career, in a way that would have a practical impact that could potentially help achieve concrete progress on some of these issues. I am exceptionally lucky that the vision that I had for what I would like to do that led me to law school actually matches pretty perfectly with the work that I have been able to do.
4. What did you do in law school or immediately after law school that has helped you develop your career?
I always feel the need to explain that this is not the only path, because my own story is unusual in that it is so single-minded and direct. But in law school, I really focused a lot on gender issues—in the classes I took, in the extracurriculars I did. I never took Corporations, or Evidence (though I regret that decision), but I took courses on reproductive technologies and sex discrimination and equal protection and related areas like labor law and social welfare law. The big papers that I wrote in law school centered on gender issues. And my summer internships were with the ACLU and the National Women’s Law Center—the two places that I ended up working after I graduated. So all of that helped! The other thing that I did immediately after law school was clerk, which I think is always helpful for an lawyer to gain facility in legal analysis and writing quickly, and most importantly to learn how to gain a working understanding of an area of law very quickly.
5. Do you have any advice for current law students who are interested in working in your industry (or law students in general)?
Demonstrate that commitment however you can—whether it is in the writing that you do, the classes you take, the internships you seek out, the things you read in your spare time. When I am interviewing candidates, almost everyone is persuasive in saying that they would really like to feel that they are a part of something meaningful—and that is important—but the candidates who we pay attention to are the ones who have clearly been thinking in a rigorous way about the issues we work on and who have new ideas to bring to these issues. This doesn’t mean that we expect people to be experts before they walk in the door, but we do want people who are really mentally engaging with at least some of the issues we work on before they get the job.
Emily Martin is General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. She oversees the Center’s advocacy, policy, and education efforts to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for women at work and to achieve the workplace standards that allow all women to achieve and succeed, with a particular focus on the obstacles that confront women in low-wage jobs and women of color. She also provides in-house legal advice and representation to the Center. Prior to joining the Center, Ms. Martin served as Deputy Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she spearheaded litigation, policy, and public education initiatives to advance the rights of women and girls to fair treatment at work, at school, and in housing. She was a law clerk for Senior Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Judge T.S. Ellis, III, of the Eastern District of Virginia and previously worked for the Center as a recipient of the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship. She has served as Vice President and President of the Fair Housing Justice Center, a non-profit organization in New York City. Ms. Martin is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Yale Law School.