5 top lawyers share insight into their careers

There are literally tens of thousands of lawyers in this region. So, when you need one, it can be hard to know where to start. With Northern Virginia Magazine’s annual Top Lawyers list, now you do.

justice bronze statue
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There are more than 24,000 lawyers practicing in the state of Virginia and over 56,000 practicing in DC, according to recent data from the American Bar Association. Think about it. When was the last time you went to a dinner party, kids’ soccer practice or other local gathering where you didn’t bump into a lawyer? The point is: There are literally tens of thousands of lawyers in this region. So, when you need one (for more than just cocktail-party chatter), it can be hard to know where to start. With Northern Virginia Magazine’s annual Top Lawyers list, now you do. We interviewed a few to find out what it’s really like to be a lawyer in the DMV.

deobrah d. cochran from cochran allan law firm
Deborah D. Cochran (Photo by Aaron Spicer)
Deborah D. Cochran

Cochran Allan

What do you love about being a lawyer?
Every day I come to work and get to meet with interesting people. My job is to listen to my client’s concerns and goals and to help develop a plan to alleviate their worries and concerns. Developing an estate plan is like putting a puzzle together and is very rewarding when it all comes together in a way that honors my clients’ wishes and best preserves their assets for their heirs. I love to help clients make their decisions and see them visibly relax and feel more secure and confident with the process.

Tell us a favorite client memory.
My funniest memory is when I took my young son to the bank to meet with a client on a Saturday after her mom died because she needed help going through her mother’s papers. My son ended up leaving his bottle of milk in the safe deposit box and nobody noticed for a week. You can imagine how awful the bank smelled after that!

elaine charlson bredhoft from charlson, bredehoft, cohen and brown law firm
Elaine Charlson Bredehoft (Photo by Aaron Spicer)
Elaine Charlson Bredehoft

Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown, PC

What inspired you to become a lawyer?
I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was 6 years old. I had a first grade teacher who picked on weaker students and I would stand up to her on their behalf. My dad was a trial lawyer and I would sometimes wake up late at night, and watch him with his legal pad, talking to himself and working on his arguments for trial. In third grade, I petitioned for two snow hills so the fifth and sixth graders would not be able push the third and fourth graders off the hill so easily. Everyone in the third and fourth grade signed my petition. From then on, there were two snow hills. I continued throughout school to advocate for changes, including girls no longer had to wear skirts and girls did not have to take home economics while boys took shop. I learned that when I worked hard and spoke out against unfairness, we were able to effect change.

peter d. greenspun from greenspun shapiro law firm
Peter D. Greenspun (Photo by Aaron Spicer)
Peter D. Greenspun

Greenspun Shapiro, PC

What inspired you to become a lawyer?
It is a long and funny story, but I had a retired uncle in Philadelphia who was a court watcher with a small group of older, retired men. They went to federal court every day and watched trials. They were known to the judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and had a true insider track on what was happening. After college, law school became a somewhat default choice as to what was next. There is much more to the story, but this was the start.

What do you love about being a lawyer?
It is a bit corny, but simply helping people get the best result possible, and also helping them—and often their families—move forward. Pretty regularly I receive a letter or email from someone we represented years ago, telling me how well they are doing. That is just terrific, and makes my day.

Susan M. Pesner (Photo by Aaron Spicer)
Susan M. Pesner

Pesner Altmiller Melnick & DeMers, PLC

Tell us about a favorite client memory.
Oh, there are so many—completing a sale or a purchase of a home for a client is always very satisfying and I enjoy each one of those settlements. Additionally, the past few years I was appointed by the court in settlement of two intra-family litigations and served as a court-appointed trustee of family trusts/partnerships that owned valuable Fairfax County real estate. I solicited bids, negotiated contracts, maintained and insured the properties, shepherded the process of rezoning and/or subdivision of the properties into building lots in order to achieve the highest prices for the families and completed settlement and disbursement. I think my calm approach after years of litigation was comforting for the families and allowed the process to flow with minimal confrontations and very few bumps in the road.

Sonya L. Powell from Powell Radomsky, PLLC
Sonya L. Powell (Photo by Aaron Spicer)
Sonya L. Powell

Powell Radomsky, PLLC

What do you love about being a lawyer?
Family law attorneys are so different in that clients trust you with their most personal information, good and bad. It is humbling to have clients feel that their trust is well-placed and to know that how you represent them can affect their lives in profound ways, such as custody and finances.

Tell us a favorite client memory?
It is always a great feeling to have cases in trial go your way and where you feel that everything you did was exactly right and you and the judge are on the same page on all the issues. But, my favorite memories of clients are not of the wins in trial. It is of clients who come to see me and they are initially overwhelmed, sad, depressed or just afraid. I put together strategies, to-do lists and hopefully give them a sense of power or hope. To see clients become stronger, confident or better co-parents at the end of the process is wonderful and keeps me doing what I am doing.

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more profiles on NoVA community members, subscribe to our newsletters.

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