Youthful Energy

Suburban Propane’s corporate counsel Lina Martinez finds herself in the job she’s always wanted—long before she ever thought she’d have it

Lina Martinez, corporate counsel for Suburban Propane L.P.
Lina Martinez, corporate counsel for Suburban Propane L.P.

Few are the attorneys who credit a family pet with putting them on the path to a legal career. But for Lina Martinez, it was a cat. When she was a child, the family cat was wreaking havoc in the Martinez household and her parents wanted to get rid of it. Martinez built a case for keeping it. The cat stayed. “I really argued with them—not screaming for attention like most kids would, but just making my point,” recalls Martinez. “And my dad said to me, ‘You know, you should be a lawyer.’”

The cases—or better said, the challenges—have of course grown steadily more complex. And now, not quite two years into her tenure with national marketer/distributor Suburban Propane, Martinez’s case-making skills are as strong as ever.

Growing up in the largely Cuban neighborhood of North Bergen, NJ, Martinez was keenly aware of the importance of obtaining an education. Any time she indicated that she liked “that car” or “that house,” her parents told her she would have to make something of herself if she wanted to have something like that.

In an even more direct way her aunt, an attorney, law professor, and judge during Martinez’s high school years, was a valuable mentor for Martinez every step of the way. From helping with school applications and class selection to internships, extracurriculars, and even LSAT preparation, Martinez says her aunt was a major force and constant source of support.

While she was at Fordham, Martinez found a summer associate position at a law firm, but it was her Spanish—which she had reluctantly learned at her parents’ insistence—that helped her clinch a full-time offer in the firm’s finance practice. Her graduation came in the midst of the recession, and her employment was deferred for a year (which she spent doing legal work in the nonprofit sector, honing her Spanish even further).

It wasn’t long before Suburban Propane hired Martinez as part of its corporate counsel team. Though she’d long envisioned herself working in-house, she didn’t think she’d get the opportunity quite so soon. “I was young and nervous,” she says, “but Suburban Propane seemed to see something in me.”

In fact, the improvised nature of the job gave Martinez a unique opportunity to prove her capability, even to herself. When she first began, she questioned how her superiors could trust her with such important decisions. “I used to have months to perfect documents,” she explains. But at the Whippany, NJ-based energy products business, she was given two days. With time comes confidence. “It’s been a journey to learn to trust my instincts,” Martinez says, “and to make the right decision for my client on my own.”