In a Word: Moxie
Linda Crook Martin tends to get what she wants
Published in 2009 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
on October 19, 2009
Updated on October 26, 2009
To land a job at a city’s top firm, a young attorney usually has to go through a lengthy, ritualized hiring process. Not Linda Crook Martin. Back in 1980, after following her then-fiancé from her home state of Tennessee to Tulsa, the new law school grad decided to take the radical step of just showing up at law offices and asking to see the partner in charge of hiring.
“When I got to town, I looked up every law firm that had a woman attorney on staff,” Martin recalls. “There really weren’t that many of them back then, so I also looked for firms with an attorney who’d graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law. I was searching for any connection I could find.”
Many firms didn’t know what to think of this young, unknown female attorney who presented them with her modest résumé. But Martin was undeterred. “I just needed somewhere to start,” she recalls. “I had to get my foot in the door somehow. I believe it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission, so I just showed up.”
At the Tulsa firm that is now known as Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson, Martin managed to impress the hiring attorney with her confident approach. When he explained that the firm preferred to hire lawyers who had clerked for them in the past, she made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I said, ‘Fine. If you’re willing, I’ll clerk for a month, and if you’re interested in me after that, you can hire me. If you’re not, you can set me free,’” she recalls. “The firm agreed to that plan. I ended up clerking for six weeks, and at the end of that time I was offered an associate position. I’ve been here for 29 years.”
Martin continues to bring that enthusiastic sense of initiative to her work, says Bill Anderson, a partner at the firm who has worked with Martin since she first walked in the door.
“The word moxie is the best word you can use to describe Linda,” Anderson says. “She had had a lot of life experience before she’d been in law school, and she was a pretty streetwise person. She knew what employers valued in terms of initiative and getting her foot in the door. That’s the way she approached it, and that way worked for us. Turns out, we were lucky she chose us.”
Sometimes, having moxie means making the truth look even better than it is. Colleagues like Anderson, who’ve known Martin since she first blew in the door, still like to tease her about one element on her first résumé.
“She told us she was second in her graduating class—which was true,” says Anderson, “what she didn’t tell us was that there were only 17 students in her class. It’s not like it was Harvard.”
“They’ve been kidding me about that ever since,” Martin says. “I was just trying to get in the door. I wasn’t trying to be untruthful.”
Over the years, Martin has more than made up for her youthful puffery. As partner and head of the firm’s environmental practice group, she has led many high-profile cases.
When Martin began practicing law, the environmental movement was in its infancy, and the field of environmental law was just getting started. “When I was in law school at the University of Tennessee, they didn’t even offer classes in environmental law,” she recalls. “By the time I got to this firm, the Superfund law had just been passed.”
Then, when Martin had been at the firm for a few years, one of the founding partners called her into his office. “Mr. Saunders sat me down and said, ‘Our attorney who covers environmental law is leaving to go to Houston. I would like to know if you would like to take over,’” she recalls. “I sat up straight and said, ‘Absolutely. Sure.’” Martin began studying environmental law and attending seminars, getting herself up to speed in record time. Soon she was ready to take over the practice. She hasn’t looked back.
“I do love the environment,” Martin says, “but it wasn’t a passion when I accepted the challenge to become my firm’s environmental lawyer. It was just something I could do.”
Since then, however, she’s become an environmental advocate, receiving major accolades from her colleagues in the movement. Just last year, Martin was asked to be a fellow in the American College of Environmental Lawyers. “It was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received,” she says.
While she mostly works as a defense lawyer on behalf of companies, Martin still considers herself an environmentalist. “It is my job to bring the companies I represent into compliance with environmental law,” she explains. “When my daughter was small, one day she came up to me and said, ‘Mom, do you represent polluters?’ My response to that was, ‘Absolutely not.’ I represent companies who are bringing themselves into compliance with environmental law. Lawyers are here to serve. I’d never represent a company just so they could pollute.”
Martin believes she was lucky to get in on the ground floor of the environmental movement. Some of her first cases involved Oklahoma’s Hardage/Criner Superfund site. Superfund laws had just been enacted in 1980, and Martin along with about 100 other attorneys were hired by a number of different clients to sort out the complicated legal issues surrounding these heavily polluted zones.
“I was learning [about the case] at the same time as everybody else,” she recalls. “Through my work at Hardage, I got to know some of the finest Superfund lawyers in the country. I got to understand that case inside and out. It was a great experience.”
Martin had already built a professional life before she decided to go to law school. In 1972, after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in sociology, she worked in the juvenile division of the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
“In this line of work, I found myself in court quite a bit,” Martin says. “One day, I looked around and I thought, ‘I could do that.’”
So she went to law school at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Law school was harder than she expected, but Martin eventually found she enjoyed the challenge and intellectual stimulation. When she graduated and set out to find her first job as an attorney, it never occurred to her that she could fail.
“Growing up, I didn’t know I had any limitations,” Martin says. “It was instilled in me that with education, I could do anything I wanted to do. The sky was the limit.”
She brought her own two children up the same way. Her son is a graduate student in chemical engineering at MIT, and her daughter is working part-time in a hospital and studying to be a registered nurse.
Because her own bold beginnings are never far from her mind, Martin is committed to helping out new attorneys, to providing a sympathetic ear and an experienced mind for wise council.
“I think that it is my obligation and responsibility as a senior attorney to be a mentor for new attorneys,” she says. “One of the things I have always appreciated about my law firm is the fact that doors are always open here, from the senior partner on down. Advice and help is freely given. I’ve tried to carry on that tradition.”
When Elise Brennan, chair of Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson’s health care practice group, joined the firm 26 years ago, Martin had only been on board for a few years. Still, she stepped forward to provide Brennan, the fourth woman hired at the firm, with the support she needed.
“I’ve always looked up to Linda,” Brennan says. “She’s the senior woman attorney in our firm. She wears that title very appropriately. She’s a wonderful mentor to all of the women in the firm. She’s helped build bridges that make it easier for the rest of us who come behind her. Linda’s got Southern charm and southern hospitality and warmth, but she’s also as smart and tough as they come.”
Nearly 30 years after she wedged her foot in the door, Martin still feels happy and at home at her firm, which, she says, “is like family.” She says she has no plans to retire, joking, “If you could see my 401(k), you wouldn’t ask me that.”
And Martin says she still has a lot to do, cases she hasn’t yet argued and an environment that still needs to be protected.
“Sure,” she says, “I think it would be lovely to be able to travel the world and not have to work, but working is something I love to do, too. Anytime you’re doing something good for the environment and bringing a company or a city into compliance, you’re doing a good thing for everyone.”