Bisnow on Business/Mark Bisnow – NoVas Erin Brockovich


Think youve got it tough? 

Try being a plaintiffs attorney in Virginia, which has a $350,000 cap on punitives.  And where your federal appeals go to the Fourth Circuit, which . . . well, enough said.  Although the appellate court has been making my life difficult for 25 years, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft has beaten the odds and carved out a more-than-successful plaintiffs practice in Northern Virginia The Washingtonian, for one, has called her the areas most effective personal-injury lawyer.
Good thing that Elaine likes this line, which comes from Al Jackson, ex‑President of Government Micro Resources, Inc., for whom Elaine won a $5 million defamation verdict against his former employer. 

But the quote applies just as easily to Elaines career.  She says that after making partner in less than four years at Walton & Adams, the Virginia firm steered her towards domestic relations work after the birth of her two daughters.  She decided to strike out on her own and established her own firm in 1991.  Its grown to include a partner, Peter Cohen, and four associates.

Elaine focuses on sexual assault and discrimination, whistleblower cases (she won $3.1 million for a Leesburg police chief who called out town officials in a credit card scandal, despite asking for only $1 million), and business tort actions for high-level executives.   The unique challenges that Elaine faces in sustaining her practice include screening 50 to 200 calls a week from would-be clients.  For that, shes developed a rigorous rule:  If anyones a jerk in an initial phone call, we cut it off right there.  (Elaines actual term may have been more colorful than jerk.)  She also finds herself playing wardrobe consultant one client wanted to wear his favorite tie to court every single dayand insisting on the occasional haircut.

Currently, Elaine is representing a former executive with Parsons Transportation, who was kidnapped and held for ransom while working in the Philippines.  Elaine says that despite the familys desire to get involved, the company insisted on handling negotiations over a relatively small dollar amount (the demand was for about 200,000, in pesos)while the executive suffered torture that permanently damaged his vocal chords.  The case is now before the Fourth Circuit over an arbitration clause. As ever, Elaine is relishing the challengeand staying optimistic about the future.  There are five vacancies on the court, she says. There could be a big change.