Hurricane Katrina caused many New Orleanians to question their future. For Jacqueline Brettner, the exact opposite happened.
“Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do,” she says. “I lost everything in the storm, but it made me see how much I loved the city, and when it came back better and stronger I wanted to be a part of it.”
Brettner was part of Tulane University’s first graduating class post-Katrina. Armed with her J.D., she began work at local law firm Phelps Dunbar LLP, moving over to her present firm in 2011.
“I worked on all of the consolidated cases from both Katrina and Rita,” she says. “The BP oil spill, Chinese drywall, I’ve worked on it all from the insurance perspective.”
Born in California, Brettner grew up in her mother’s native country of Panama. She received her undergraduate degree at the University of Florida where her father practices law.
“I love the nuances of law,” she says. “I love that it’s never the same, there’s always a new client, a new problem.”
Among the most satisfying ways Brettner has found to use her law skills was when she worked in conjunction with Louisiana Appleseed to form the policy work behind the Louisiana Language Access Guidelines. Brettner helped draft a law that gives those who speak English as a second language access to interpretation services within the legal system.
“It was signed into law by Justice Kimball in 2012,” she says.
On Valentine’s Day that same year, Brettner married her partner Lauren, a pediatric nurse she met while playing for the Big Easy Rollergirls. The couple were married in New York, where same-sex unions are legal.
Lauren gave birth to their daughter, Sophie, in April 2013. Though legally married, when the couple tried to have both their names written on the birth certificate, the Louisiana state registrar denied the request.
Brettner is now again hoping to make a difference through the legal system as part of a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s constitutional ban on recognizing marriages performed legally outside the state. The suit was filed on behalf of an organization called Forum for Equality. The Brettners are one of four plaintiff couples – three from New Orleans and one from Shreveport.
“I was honored to be asked to be a part of it,” Brettner says. “Not just for our family, but for all families. We live in two different America’s right now and that just doesn’t feel right. But I have faith that we will be on the right side of history very soon.”
mentor: I’d say I have three: my grandmother, who taught me that the only person who can give you limits is yourself, my mom, who always told me that no task is too small to give it 110 percent and my partner Lauren, who has taught me that the key to a balanced and happy life is an open mind and heart. I think of these three women every day.
defining moment: Professionally, I’d say Katrina. Like most things in my life, my career path was a result of a fortuitous accident. Personally, I feel there is no greater perspective than parenthood. Sophie changed how I saw the world and I intend to spend the rest of my time being someone she can be proud of.
advice for young women: Don’t let other people’s dreams define you. Only you know what inspires you.
goals: I want to continue doing the work that I’m doing and be there for my family.
favorite thing about what I do: The constant new challenges and the diversity of people I come in touch with. I love to learn new things and come up with innovative solutions with the people I work with and the clients I represent.