In a legal career that has been focused on servant leadership, Carlton Martin is making a difference by helping law students enter the profession’s path through the ICLEO program. But he’s also become a model of professionalism himself, placing an emphasis on civility, ethics and opportunity. As a leader and educator, he counsels young attorneys and those seeking a legal career with eyes-wide-open advice and encouragement to make their pursuits personal while adhering to the profession’s noblest traditions.
In your view, what is the most valuable aspect of the ICLEO program?
The people. From major law firm partners, corporate counsel, successful prosecutors, public defenders, solo practitioners, military officers, judges and everything in between, ICLEO has produced quality attorneys into the legal profession. Also, a specific benefit to Indiana is the major role it has played in trying to make Indiana a more diverse and welcoming legal community for minorities.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
The entire journey. I am growing to appreciate it more now. When I started, I didn’t imagine the career path I’m walking would lead me to see parts of the world I never thought to travel, meet people I probably would never be in a room with, or be part of projects that would positively impact many people. I don’t think I would feel this way if I went a different route.
What advice would you give a young lawyer pursuing a career in public service?
Learn to see the world through your client’s eyes. This awareness is vital in public service, especially when serving the indigent. Understand their world and spend a little time to connect before meeting their legal need.
What motivated you to pursue a legal career?
I had practical, intellectual and emotional motivations for pursuing a legal career. Practically, I wanted to earn a decent living by doing something honorable and at some point, lucrative. Intellectually, I wanted a career that would continuously stimulate my mind and keep me engaged in all aspects of society that impacted my life. Law does that. Emotionally, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
What would you be doing if you had not become an attorney?
I would be a sociology professor. I still remember walking into my sociology class as an 18-year-old know-it-all freshman, thinking, “I am about to breeze through this course without much thought.” Then, the professor rolled out the projector and showed us the popular “milkman” skit from the Chappelle Show. He connected the racial stereotypes from the skit to our lesson for that week. He had my attention, and so did sociology from then on out. In fact, I credit professors Judson Everitt and Rashawn Ray for changing the way I thought about college. They made academia cool.
Who is someone who inspired or mentored you, and what did you learn from them?
I have been inspired in different ways from a collection of people. One great practical piece of advice came from my friend and mentor, Gregory Gadson. I recall sometime early in my 2L year he told me to not allow myself to be pigeonholed into one area and put in a box. Define my own limits and potential.
What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not in the office?
Reading (I know, cliché), boxing and traveling places with my wife.
Where do you see your legal career 10 years from now?
In a position to pay off my student loans quickly.
If you could change one law, what would that be?
Indiana would become the 46th state with a clear and specific hate crimes law on the books.
How does teaching young people improve your legal abilities?
Teaching young people requires patience, adapting to vastly varying learning levels, and breaking down complex information into more simple and digestible parts. Law practice requires the same abilities. In law, not only do you have to be patient with people — your clients, opposing counsel, judges, etc. — but you also must be patient with the process, and ultimately, patient for change. This is not easy; however, the more patience you display, the less frustrated you are with delay. Regarding learning levels, consumers of legal services enter our world with varying degrees of knowledge, which means that lawyers must close the knowledge gap between the consumers’ understanding of their own legal needs and the actual facts of their legal situation. Lastly, breaking down complex and multifaceted information into digestible parts is one of the biggest challenges of law. Teaching just exercises these abilities in a different context.
What’s something about you not many people know?
I appeared on a Netflix documentary that was an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. The film is called “Night School.” I have had a grand total of two people stop me on the street and ask if I was the attorney from the movie. They didn’t ask for an autograph. I think my SAG card may still be on its way, though!
What’s your advice to a younger person who’s thinking about a legal career?
I would remind them of three things. Firstly, I would tell them that pursuing a legal career is a significant financial investment for most, and an emotional investment for all, so spend a lot of time thinking about why you want to go into law. Be intentional about charting your path to what you want to accomplish so that you can move through law school strategically. Eliminate all wasted motion. You will save dollars. You will reduce stress. And you will gain peace of mind. Second, I would remind them that you reap what you sow. So, if you want opposing counsel to be civil, show civility. If you want good things to happen to you, be good. You may not reap immediately, but as a general principle, you will see results in the long run, and you may discover that you are an improved version of yourself in the end. Lastly, I would tell the young person to put their “stamp on it.” Which does not mean you are focused on being seen — be felt. Attach your energy signature to everything you are a part of. Make it a signature of value so that people do not just know you were there, but are glad you were.•