Martica Douglas has been practicing law, primarily as a trial attorney, since 1977. Back then, she was the only woman in the Portland firm, Hews and Culley. Since the beginning, her practice has included a broad base of personal injury, toxic exposure, professional malpractice, and insurance coverage cases. She also offers her services as a mediator in divorce cases.
As time went on and the number of female partners increased, Douglas says it became obvious that she and the other female partners had “a different set of needs,” revolving around maternity leave and demands of family. That led to an “amiable parting of the ways along gender lines,” she says. By 1992, her new firm consisted of all female partners with an “occasional male associate.”
For the past five or six years, Douglas, Denham, Buccina and Ernst has been an all-female partnership.
“We enjoy identifying as an all-female firm,” Douglas says.
Douglas grew up in Nyack, N.Y., but spent some of each summer visiting her grandparents’ farm in Maine.
“It felt like heaven,” she says.
She graduated with honors from Barnard College in New York City in 1973 and obtained her law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 1977.
Douglas lives in Portland and has two grown children. She and three of her law firm partners have been together for more than 30 years. While Douglas and her partners enjoy being an all-female firm, Douglas doesn’t think the distinction makes much of a difference to clients.
“It depends on the case,” she says. “Oftentimes, males are advantaged by having female representation. It can help to defuse any implication of boys against girls, especially in domestic cases,” she says.
For the women in the firm, the advantages are important, however.
“When we had school-aged children, we had the same priorities and expectations, so there wasn’t that dual-citizenship that can happen (in some law firms),” she said. “No one felt subsidized. We didn’t feel guilty or like we were shirking our responsibility.”
Today, there are seven attorneys in the firm. Douglas says there is no “pecking order” and no competition for the best clients or the best results.
“If one person has a good result, we all have a good result,” she says. “Inevitably, we are going to lose, as well. We’re all supportive of that.”
What were your most important needs in getting started??
Smart, capable, compatible co-workers with different strengths. We didn’t all have the same strengths. That’s a good thing. You also need a supportive environment. A lot of women don’t have the luxury of being able to set priorities and still be successful.??
What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own??
I was one of three girls. My mother worked as a teacher. My dad valued us and our intelligence.
What do you think the advantages are of being a female in your work??
We tend to be more collaborative than hierarchical. It’s our natural inclination. If one person has a client, a case, a trial, we all perceive it as a shared interest. We perceive each other’s successes as our own. Women also tend to be very practical. Because of all the demands (of work and family) on us, we don’t waste time, don’t get sidetracked by all the skirmishing along the sidelines. You have to take the fewest detours and get the job done.
What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur??
Make decisions consistent with your principles and values. Let that be your guide rather than trying to align yourself with someone else’s agenda. Obviously, you have to make compromises all the way through. But I had these kids, and only one chance to be their mother. I understood my priorities and made choices based on them.??
If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently??
I don’t think so. Which is not to say that you don’t learn from your mistakes. You learn from them – and move on.
-– Joanne Lannin