Curtis J. Martin II did not follow a traditional path to his current position as an attorney with Miller & Martin PLLC. Instead, the former scholarship musician marched to the beat of his own drum, a successful rhythm judging from the trajectory of his legal career. We talked with him about his journey thus far and what the future might hold for this gifted young attorney.
LM: Your path has been unique. Tell us about it.
CM: I grew up in rural Virginia where my parents taught me, by example, the values of faith, hard work, good manners, and service to others. I also grew up in a strong military environment; my father was a Marine and served in Vietnam. My grandfather served in the Army during World War II, and several of my uncles retired from the military. Needless to say, discipline, integrity and character were also taught at a young age.
My parents exposed me to a broad world of culture and the arts. As a child, I expressed a strong interest in the arts, so my parents nurtured my curiosity by enrolling me in music classes. I quickly excelled in music and also found joy in other forms of creative expression such as poetry, painting and drawing. By the age of sixteen, I was touring with the US Army Band and contemplating a career as a professional trumpet player. During my senior year of high school, I received the Marine Corps Semper Fidelis Award for Music and considered attending college on a music scholarship.
Following high school, I decided to pursue a business degree and maintain music as a hobby. I attended Radford University’s College of Business and Economics and graduated with a B.B.A. in Marketing.
LM: How did you get to Atlanta?
CM: I have extended family in Atlanta and spent part of my summers here during my teenage years. During this time, my love for the arts continued to grow. Both of my cousins also had an interest in the arts during my youth, and my younger cousin, Kenan Thompson, is currently a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” I was also attracted to Atlanta because of the city’s rich civil rights era history and the success of African American politicians, civic leaders and professionals.
I moved to Atlanta immediately following graduation from Radford University and obtained a job with IBM as part of the Global Services Team. I enjoyed a successful business career and was honored to be one of the youngest recipients of IBM’s prestigious Golden Circle Award.
LM: What influenced you to leave corporate America to become a lawyer?
CM: My family often jokes that I have a habit of “jumping out of perfectly good airplanes.” I left corporate America because I wanted a career that I could be passionate about and one that could make a genuine difference in the lives of others.
There wasn’t any one person or event that influenced my decision to become an attorney. The law affects almost every aspect of our lives. The practice of law also provides a remarkable platform for giving back to others. I have always admired reading about the lives of men and women who have had a meaningful impact upon our society. Many of these individuals were trained as lawyers and, despite the numerous lawyer jokes; I still believe that the law is a noble profession.
I received my law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in Valparaiso, Indiana, but spent my final three semesters of law school at Georgia State University College of Law. While in law school, I was president of the Black Law Students Association and helped create the school’s first full tuition diversity scholarship. In the spring/summer of 2001, I founded and served as president of the Multicultural Law Students Association. The objective was to create an “umbrella” organization for each of the minority associations on campus and to provide all of our diverse students with a support network and greater access to resources within the law school. That fall, the presence of the organization really served to benefit the student body following the tragic events of 9/11.
LM: Tell me about your practice.
CM: I was a partner at an Atlanta law firm before joining Miller & Martin PLLC. I joined Miller & Martin in 2010 because of the broad platform that it offered for my clients. Miller & Martin is a full service law firm and has a strong commitment to increasing diversity within the profession and nurturing the growth of diverse attorneys.
My practice consists of business litigation and labor & employment. I represent a full range of clients from start-up businesses to Fortune 500 companies.
Litigation is never “one size fits all”. Clients retain my services because of my role as a problem solver. Clients also value my ability to evaluate their legal needs and provide a solution that is consistent with their business objectives.
Responsiveness is also critically important and this is one area where I treat every client the same. Being a lawyer is not a 9-5 or a clock in/ clock out profession. My clients know how to reach me at any hour of the day. I pride myself on my responsiveness, a trait that I acquired during my IBM years where I gained experience dealing with “mission critical” outages. Mission critical outages are situations where a tornado, hurricane or flood has knocked out a company’s infrastructure and the company is able to quantify the amount of money lost for each second, minute or hour that their systems are down. This experience is a driving force behind my commitment to always being accessible and responsive to my clients.
LM: Has your love for the arts affected your approach to practicing law?
CM: My passion for the law is equaled by my love for the arts. My artistic endeavors provide a healthy balance to my Type A personality. Mark Twain said “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” This quote embodies my approach to the practice of law. Whether I am writing a brief, taking a deposition, or presenting a closing argument, I view it as being similar to painting a picture where each brush stroke is significant to the overall picture. It all comes together when you’re able to present that picture to the judge or jury in a way that allows them to see what you see.
LM: What professional accomplishments have meant the most to you?
CM: I have two accomplishments that stand out from the others. The first was winning the first jury trial that I tried as “first chair.” I was defense counsel and we had a weak case so the instructions from our client prior to trial were to try not to “lose the company’s shirt.” Following a 3-day trial, the jury returned with a defense verdict. It was an incredible feeling and one that I will never forget. Following the trial, I was approached by a number of jurors that were complimentary of my professionalism and courtroom abilities. Interestingly, I later received two referrals from two separate jurors. I also received a letter from one of the jurors saying that I had inspired her to return to school and pursue her dreams.
The second accomplishment was awarding $20,000 in scholarships to African American law students during my tenure as president of the Gate City Bar Association in 2011. In my installation address, I promised that we would award more scholarships to our students than ever before, and we achieved that goal despite the poor economy.
LM: Why is mentoring and service to others important to you?
CM: I didn’t grow up in an environment where service was optional. Giving back to others became second nature based upon the examples set by my parents, grandparents, family and the surrounding community. Many of the societal ills present today didn’t exist when I was growing up because of an overwhelming concern for the well-being of one’s neighbor – a concern that extended beyond any demographic or socio-economic differences.
I have always been fortunate to have mentors that have invested in my spiritual, personal, and professional growth. In return, I am passionate about helping our next generation. Since 2011, I have met one-on-one with close to 100 students in order to listen, provide guidance and help them connect the dots to their future.
LM: Why does diversity matter?
CM: Any organization that desires to grow or have long-term success must embrace diversity. I believe that the business case for diversity is just as compelling as the moral case. The world has changed a lot and become much smaller. In order for any entity to thrive and remain competitive, it will be necessary to embrace differences of thought, culture and experiences.
Within the legal profession, I am deeply concerned about the alarming decline in the number of diverse candidates applying to attend law school, particularly African Americans. Given the role of the law and attorneys in our society, it is imperative that we look for ways to increase the pipeline of minority students that are interested in pursuing a career in the law. Then, once these students enter school, we must continue to nurture their growth and advancement and present them with opportunities that will lead to successful outcomes.
LM: What are your hobbies?
CM: I’m an avid golfer and once spent an entire day shoulder-to-shoulder with Michael Jordan on the golf course. My love for music has provided some unique experiences, such as the time that I danced on stage with Prince. I have a love for fitness and have competed in numerous fitness-related endeavors over the past 25 years. I am also an adrenaline junkie and completed the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, on three separate occasions.
LM: What does your professional future hold?
CM: I have always strived to be the best at what I do. I have a lot to learn and want to continue to develop as an attorney. I also want to continue my service to others. I am involved in a number of projects and exciting initiatives designed to make a real difference in the lives of our youth. I don’t ever plan to retire and want to live my life in a manner that is a positive example to others. So, as long as the platform is there, I will continue to use it to the best of my abilities.
LM: Tell us about your life outside of work.
CM: I am honored to be a husband and father. My wife, Mary, and I have two children – Curtis “Justus” Martin III (age 6) and Sydney Malia Martin (age 4). Most weekends are spent at church, soccer, karate, ballet, gymnastics and resolving youthful conflicts. I’m really grateful to be a parent and aspire to be as good to my children as my parents were to my sister and me.
LM: What persons from the past would you most like to meet?
CM: That’s easy – Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Miles Davis, Michelangelo and Paul Robeson.