Jeffrey W. Martin – Civitas Senior Living
It seemed an example of an attorney earning his stripes as Jeff Martin spent almost a decade working at several Dallas-area law firms practicing in multiple areas but specializing in commercial and complex litigation.
Diligently, he researched, wrote briefs and litigated, learning all the while how businesses both large and small operate.
And yet, when Martin was named general counsel for Civitas Senior Living, arriving as the company was rapidly expanding beyond Texas to own or manage assisted living and memory care communities as far away as Florida and Kentucky, he says his legal education began anew.
“This is a different type of intensity because of the myriad of legal issues that hit you day to day,” he says with a laugh. “You have to dip into certain arenas where you didn’t have as much experience.”
Meeting the demands
Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Civitas Senior Living operates assisted living, memory care and independent living communities in six states. As baby boomers age, those services are in increasing demand, and it shows. The company expanded by more than 30 percent in both 2018 and 2019, with similar growth projected for 2020.
By the end of 2020, it will own and manage over 50 communities, Martin says, but Civitas is deliberate in its expansion.
“There used to be multiple markets that were ripe for opening assisted care facilities,” Martin explains. “Now markets have become more saturated, so we have to be careful what we are looking for. We’re not stopping development, but we are being more selective in where we proceed.”
Civitas acquires existing communities and constructs new facilities in almost equal measure, Martin says. Vertical integration is crucial to its growth, as sister companies Trepex Construction, Senior by Design and Front Porch Creative assist with new marketing, developments, interior design and creating and maintaining its brand called Passionate Senior Living.
The brand is expressed through the company’s Passion Program covering wellness, nutrition and food service, and activities for residents. The “My Passion Pathway” program builds community and the Passionate Employee program guides meaningful interactions between staff and residents.
“’Passionate service’ is our motto,” Martin says. “I’m focused on creating the legal structure and policies and procedures to ensure our continued success, but this is also about creating a genuine sense of community, belonging and safety.”
The legal load
Martin’s workload ranges from business entity formation to ensuring compliance with state and local rules as the company expands into new markets.
“Some states can be more challenging to operate in because of how litigious they are,” he says. “We always take that into consideration before expanding.”
Due diligence begins when the finance and development teams identify the next project. This includes purchasing and maintaining insurance for the entire Civitas portfolio, which has over 150 separate business entities, Martin says.
“Our legal department is small but mighty, and I would be truly lost if it wasn’t for Associate General Counsel Heather Mees and Executive Legal Assistant Melissa Williams,” he adds.
New construction can be easier in some ways, but he’ll still be working with local outside counsel and consultants to get a project from planning to occupancy.
“When we start from the ground up, we’re not stepping into any potential liability immediately,” Martin says. “The quality control is in our grasp, and we’re also able to build quality communities that meet our values and brand.”
New staff needs training
Martin also assists with the investigation and resolution of employment and labor law disputes involving Civitas’ growing workforce of almost 3,000 employees. As it grows, he anticipates handling more and more employment and human resource related issues.
Still, it allows Martin to accentuate the Passion Program—its key 10 points are printed on cards employees must carry with them.
“In terms of my management style, what I enjoy the most is building a team like a family,” Martin says. “When you go to work, it should be something you truly look forward to.”
While Civitas grows, Martin’s making the legal department more efficient and accessible. One of his 2020 projects is to create a legal intranet portal resembling an IT help desk. It will use Smartsheet software, but the ultimate design and functionality is still under development.
He imagines the portal tracking queries and responses involving everything from vendor contracts to human resources. Martin says it also needs to be a legal repository, storing the forms, waivers and other documentation needed by staff members.
“This is also expected to help reduce our workloads and increase our efficiency,” Martin adds. “Having those documents available to the people who need them will make a tangible difference for all of us.”
An in-house home
Despite the pressures of his job, Martin is looking to stay a long time.
“It’s a different type of stress. It’s nothing like making an oral argument in front of a judge,” he says. “But I’m part of a team that has a passion for helping people enjoy their lives to the fullest.”
Born and raised in the Dallas area, Martin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in film and government, aspiring to become an entertainment lawyer or agent. While at UT, he also served as an intern for the Party of Wales in Great Britain’s House of Commons.
Martin earned his J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, in 2008, a year after he clerked at the United States attorney’s office there.
Martin didn’t find his niche in entertainment law as he had originally envisioned, instead building his career in litigation at several Dallas law firms. Before joining Civitas in 2018, he served as outside general counsel for several hospitality, transportation and oilfield service companies.
While building his career, he’s also helped build housing as a longtime volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
“It began when I was in law school. I’d go to Taos, New Mexico, with Habitat and build houses for people who were just priced out of the market,” Martin recalls. “I spent two years building a home. Sometimes I’d mix the materials for adobe bricks, sometimes I’d peel the bark off pine logs for the support beams. It makes you feel good about how you spend your time.”
Martin can swing a hammer and tickle the ivories, too. A classically trained pianist, he also composes contemporary music.
“I love to just go home and play, it’s how I unwind,” Martin says.
Unwinding is a must. Civitas is growing by leaps and bounds, and the pace keeps Martin hopping, too.
“I joke we are moving at Mach-4 speed,” Martin jokes. “What I enjoy most is the entrepreneurial spirit and growth while also providing an environment where people feel truly wanted and appreciated.”
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