2011 Legal Elite profile
By Virginia Business – 11/30/2011
Sykes, Bourdon, Ahern & Levy
Birthplace: Elkhart, Ind.
Education: Bachelors degree, University of Richmond; law degree, University of Virginia
Wife: Sondra Gelb Emmert, a voice teacher and retired professional opera singer
Children: Caroline, 17
Hobbies: Sportswriter for RotoWire.com (covering the National Hockey League and the PGA Tour); 5-handicap golfer; nationally ranked player of the board game Diplomacy
First job as a lawyer: I hit the lottery; my first boss/mentor was Marc Jacobson. I was the low man on a two-man totem pole, but I learned lessons to last me a lifetime.
Fan of: I bleed blue along with the Dodgers; I can sort-of cheer in French for Les Canadiens; I never get tired of seeing Richmond beat those William & Mary rascals in anything.
Favorite vacation spot: I have two favorites: Shenandoah National Park and the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But Im always happiest to be wherever my girls are.
Recently read: Persuasion by Jane Austen and The Final Summit by Andy Andrews.
Career mentor: Marc Jacobson, who later became a Norfolk judge, showed me, time and again, what a lawyer can achieve after hes earned the respect of his peers.
How is appellate law different from other legal specialties?
One advantage I have over my trial-court brethren and sistren is that I get the same seven jurors every time, so I dont have to repeatedly try to build instant credibility with seven perfect strangers. And when you try a case, you can prevent an injustice; when you take on an appeal, you can address a thousand injustices. I like knowing that what I do matters to 8 million people.
Why did you decide to specialize in appellate law?
I found that I strongly preferred it to trial work. I had always been told that you couldnt make a career out of just appeals, and I had long heeded that advice. Faced with growing professional dissatisfaction, I eventually decided to find out whether that advice was correct, and I happily learned that it was false. I only wish Id done this 10 years earlier.