Living the Dream
Jany Martinez-Ward’s personal tribulations inspired her to help the immigrant community
Published in 2023 Florida Super Lawyers magazine
By Carol Tice on June 21, 2023
Jany Martinez-Ward’s American dream got off to a rough start.
The family emigrated from Cuba to Venezuela when she was very young, and when conditions deteriorated there, her mother brought her two children on the perilous journey north. They made it to the U.S. border at Matamoros-Brownsville–only for Martinez-Ward to watch helplessly as her mother was arrested and taken away.
She was the eldest at 14, didn’t understand English, and was holding a backpack with the family’s few belongings. She and her baby brother were then placed in foster care while their mother, Silvia Jardines, had her immigration case reviewed.
“It was a really dire situation,” says Martinez-Ward. “We knew that it was temporary, but it was scary coming from a family and a home to a foster home where you don’t have control as to when to consume food, or shower, or what to wear.”
The siblings stayed with strangers for over a month, not knowing when they would see their mother again, until Silvia was granted temporary residency to seek asylum. Then they took a Greyhound bus to Miami. “We were on that bus for three days with only the clothes we had on,” she recalls. “No shower, no brushing
An uncle had recently moved to Miami, where he was living in a hotel. “The main reason for Miami is because, in Cuba, having the American Dream [meant] arriving in Miami.”
Once there, it took more than a year for her mother’s asylum case to be approved. Baffling English discussions of residency cards and possible paths to citizenship left Martinez-Ward feeling helpless.
“I didn’t know what was going on,”
she says. “Dealing with the law was really difficult.”
The experience motivated Martinez-Ward to become a lawyer who helps Spanish-speakers. She had many hurdles to overcome—including the fact that her 10th-grade English teacher told her she wasn’t fluent enough to get into the college of her choice, the University
“When you hear those nos, it’s really hard to believe in yourself,” she says. “I had to lean on my faith.”
After she earned double bachelor’s degrees—in psychology and Spanish literature—from UF, and a J.D. at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law in Davie, Martinez-Ward decided to represent immigrants needing compensation after vehicle accidents.
“It is because the whole family is impacted,” she says. “I wanted to focus on something that could help improve the health of a person, and that could impact the family overall.”
A man she’d met during law school, Gregory Ward, shared her vision. He had grown dissatisfied with legal work helping insurers minimize victim settlements, and after the two were married, they formed Ward Law Group in 2012, focused on helping Hispanic accident victims.
“We got married, I passed the Bar, and we started the law firm in the same week,” she says. “We started with $460,000 in debt, a folding table, a chair, my law-school laptop and a phone.”
Things have improved. To date, Ward Law has recovered $500 million for its clients. One memorable case: A woman’s Ford Explorer was hit by a Mack Trucks trailer on Florida’s Turnpike. She suffered multiple lasting injuries, required surgery, and was in the hospital for weeks.
With local courts closed due to COVID-19 in 2021, the firm negotiated with the truck driver’s insurer and obtained a $2 million settlement.
“It was one of the biggest settlements in Miami during that time, with everything shut down,” Martinez-Ward says, adding that the firm also recently won a confidential settlement in excess of $100 million for another client.
Word has spread in the immigrant community of Ward Law’s successes, spurring expansion. Today, the firm has 140 staffers in its Miami Lakes and Kissimmee offices, and opened a branch in Manhattan this spring.
Mom Silvia has also carved a fulfilling life for herself in the U.S.
“She became a teacher here,” Martinez-Ward relates, “and helped other kids. Right now, she mainly helps with
Martinez-Ward and Ward juggle their expanding practice with family life and community-service projects. They often bring 6-year-old twins Chloe and Kaylee, as well as Ward’s 16-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, with them for the service work.
She says, “We try to integrate work, faith and family.”
Helping at home—and abroad
Ward Law donates hundreds of backpacks and other school essentials in South Florida annually, hands out free turkeys for Thanksgiving, and serves over 1,500 meals each year.
Nationally, Martinez-Ward was recently named to the board of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which provides mentoring, social, emotional and academic support to “Dreamers”—immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
In India, where Ward Law employs some of its virtual assistants, its drives have brought health checkups and food to underserved rural residents.
In Venezuela, a partnership with church charities brings nutritious food to destitute children.
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