2011 Legal Elite profile

By Virginia Business – 11/30/2011

L. Steven Emmert
Sykes, Bourdon, Ahern & Levy
Virginia Beach

Title: Partner

Birthplace: Elkhart, Ind.

Education: Bachelor’s 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 (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 I’m 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 he’s 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 don’t 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 couldn’t 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 I’d done this 10 years earlier.”