- Law Job Star
The Life and Career of Kim Martin Lewis, Partner, Dinsmore & Shohl, Cincinnati, OH
by Regan Morris
Martin Lewis initially thought something had exploded or a gun had been shot. She saw a fiery ball fall from the ceiling above Justice Ginsburg's head, and there was a minute of chaos in the court. Something had exploded, but it was only a light bulb.
"It sounded like an explosion. I can't really describe the noise, other than it was really loud and it did sound like a shot," Martin Lewis said. "I realized at about the time that Justice [Stephen] Breyer said the light bulb exploded. I guess I never expected a light bulb to explode. I don't know how common it is for a light bulb to explode. But I don't think it's a common thing."
The Justices "made light" of the situation, with Chief Justice John Roberts cracking jokes before Martin Lewis continued. It was the Ohio attorney's first case before the Supreme Court.
"It happened right dead in the middle of the argument, but I think I kept my cool," she said.
Martin Lewis' case, Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, questions whether federal bankruptcy laws trump states' sovereign immunity.
Bernard Katz, the liquidating supervisor of a bankrupt bookstore in Virginia, wants to collect money owed to it by four state schools so that the money can be used to pay the bookstore's creditors.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of Katz, and the schools appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case.
A Cincinnati-based partner with Dinsmore & Shohl, Martin Lewis said arguing before the Supreme Court was a dream come true, but not something she had actively pursued.
"Lawyers dream about arguing before the Supreme Court, but it wasn't something that I went out searching for," she said. "It was just something that happened in one of my cases. It was a wonderful thing to happen. I'm glad that I did it, and it's an experience that I will never forget.
Martin Lewis' practice focuses on business reorganization and corporate bankruptcy. Early in her career, while working as an associate in Los Angeles, she worked on the bankruptcy of Federated Department Stores with attorney Rick Cieri, now with Kirkland & Ellis.
The Federated Department Stores, Inc./Allied Stores Corporation and 65 affiliated corporations—including Bloomingdale's, Inc.; The Bon, Inc.; Burdine's, Inc.; Jordan Marsh Stores Corporation; Rich's, Inc.; and Stern's, Inc.—was at the time the second-largest Chapter 11 case in history, involving $9.6 billion in assets and asserted claims in excess of $60 billion.
Martin Lewis, who is from Pennsylvania, said working on that case as a third-year associate launched her career.
"When we came out of that case, I had made significant contacts throughout the country. That was really the start of my professional career after that case," she said, adding that she felt lucky to have so much responsibility so early in her career. "The best thing you can do is train yourself on the job, be confident, and love what you do. Because at the end of the day, you'll be incredibly successful."
Martin Lewis became an attorney after studying to become a speech pathologist. She took the LSAT on a whim and did so well that she ended up with a full-tuition scholarship to Southwestern University School of Law. She graduated in 1987, cum laude.
Martin Lewis, who has five children, said it's important for attorneys to find what they love and specialize as soon as possible. In law school, her favorite classes were in secure transactions and bankruptcy. After law school, she joined a boutique firm that specialized in bankruptcy and commercial transactions.
For attorneys preparing for a Supreme Court argument, Martin Lewis said preparation and moot courts are the way to go.
"I did two moot courts, one before the Public Citizens in Washington, DC, and then one I did was in Georgetown. You learn a lot from doing those, and you get great feedback," she said, adding that several of the participants were former Supreme Court clerks. "And you get a lot of feedback from people who have seen a lot of Supreme Court cases, and they say, 'Hey, I'm not sure you really want to argue it this way,' or 'I'm not sure you want to start out with this argument.' They were really very helpful."
Martin Lewis said she hopes the Supreme Court decides on her case sooner, rather than later, especially because Justice Sandra Day O'Connor intends to retire once her replacement is confirmed. If Samuel Alito's nomination is confirmed and he joins the Court before the Justices have decided on Martin Lewis' case, he will not be permitted to vote on the case. Justices can only vote on cases that they personally heard. The situation opens the possibility of a tie, which could mean the attorneys will have to argue their cases again.
Martin Lewis said she hopes she doesn't have to reargue her case. During her argument, most of her family, four of her five children, and several high school teachers were there for support.
"It was exciting, obviously. It's not such a terrible prospect to have to go back," she said. "But the reality is for my client, it's certainly costly to get ready for a Supreme Court argument. I wouldn't want to go through that entire process again, because it was a tie vote."