The "VTLA Member Spotlight" is an opportunity to turn the spotlight on a member making an impact in the Association and the profession. These members exemplify the mission of VTLA and we are thrilled they're part of the VTLA Family! If you are interested in being highlighted or nominating a colleague, please contact Courtney Hammack: chammack@vtla.com or 804.343.1143 ext. 316.

Member Spotlight Archive
2017 - Joanna Suyes, Eva Juncker, Tom Curcio, Amy Griggs, Andy Reinhardt, Lisa O'Donnell, Lee Livingston, Tillman Breckenridge, and Mark Dix
2016 - Amy Whitelaw, Kevin Duffan, Tom Albro, Molly Garrett, and Cory Ford
2015 - Jonathan Wren, Lauren Ellerman, Gobind Sethi, Rob Dean, Julie Gerock, and Brody Reid


Brian Gillette
November 2018


Brian J. Gillette
Gillette Law Group
Williamsburg

What kind of law do you practice?
At the Gillette Law Group, PLLC, we help people applying for Social Security disability benefits, and/or Virginia Retirement System (VRS) disability retirement, obtain the benefits they need to improve their lives. 

Where were you born?
Washington, DC


What is your favorite holiday and why?
I love Thanksgiving because it kicks off the holiday season and, in addition to 
family, we often have friends who join us throughout the four day weekend.

What are you most thankful for this year?
I'm thankful for my family and friends and the compassionate and hardworking team that works with me!

What is your favorite Thanksgiving food?
Scalloped Oysters and here's the recipe.


If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?
I would be able to manipulate time like your DVR remote.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?

Learning to become a lawyer while finding, or creating, a practice that will serve their lives instead of sacrificing their lives for their practice.

Music on your current playlist?
I like to stream radio station WWOZ in New Orleans on my Amazon Echo speaker.

Favorite social media account or app?
The Waze and Scannable apps have helped me save a great deal of time.

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?

Don't be afraid to take chances and fail. Everyone fails, it's how you respond to failure that matters.

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)? 
I like to watch "reality" TV like The Profit, Gordon Ramsey's 24 Hours to Hell & Back, and Bar Rescue.
 
If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?

Professional touch football player or Navy fighter pilot.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
I would like to visit The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay in Northern California.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

  • I enjoy doing CrossFit workouts 3-5 times per week.
  • My wife, Jennifer, and I have four children ranging in age from 12-21.
  • Jennifer is a legal nurse consultant who works at Gillette Law Group reviewing, analyzing, and summarizing medical records in support of our clients' disability claims.
     

Best book you have ever read?
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
20

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?

The listserves have allowed me to draw on the collective experience of my colleagues to confront challenges in my everyday practice. Service on the Board of Governors has allowed me to meet and develop referral relationships with talented lawyers all over the commonwealth. 

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
Dynamic Champion

If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Filet mignon with creole meunière sauce and garlic mashed potatoes. Check out my November 2016 newsletter for a recipe for creole meunière sauce.
 


Bridget Long
October 2018


Bridget N. Long
Allen, Allen, Allen, & Allen
Petersburg

What kind of law do you practice?

Personal Injury

Where were you born?
South Boston, VA


Favorite social media account or app?
I don't have a favorite, but I have recently gotten into Snapchat because it is a fun way to talk to my 15-year-old-daughter.

 
What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)? 
Shoe shopping

Music on your current playlist?

Anything by Eric Church, but I also have been throwing back to my college days and listening to an early 90's variety of Pearl Jam, Dave Mathews, Counting Crows, etc. 

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
20

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
The greatest benefit I have received from being a VTLA member is sharing in the wisdom and experience of my colleagues from around the state. Either through the great CLE that VTLA provides, or the listserve, I get the benefit of the knowledge of the best trial lawyers in Virginia, all in one place.

 


John Rasmussen
August 2018


John J. Rasmussen
The Insurance Recovery Law Group, PLC
Richmond

What kind of law do you practice?

Insurance coverage for policyholders and tort victims, both with claims before litigation and in coverage suits. I also help personal injury lawyers draft complaints that minimize exposure to coverage defenses. By doing this the complaint’s allegations resolve initial coverage questions, which is nearly always more efficient than litigating after the fact. And since most of my work is in federal court under diversity, I sometimes help trial lawyers with federal practice and procedure.

Where were you born?
Wiesbaden, Germany

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?
Flight, invisibility, and fluency in every language (but not mind reading).

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?

Finding a mentor from whom to learn how sophisticated, prepared lawyers practice law. The time pressures on senior lawyers and the demand for productivity from junior lawyers have eroded this important tradition.

Music on your current playlist?
On my recent playlist: The Descendants, the Kinks, Ludacris, Weezer, New Order, Dead Kennedys, Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, Buzzcocks, The Pogues, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy.

Favorite social media account or app?
Instagram

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?

Each of these suggestions will help you at some important point: Follow your bliss, lighten up, don’t be afraid to ask, when someone angers you they conquer you, the fat lady never really sings, prepare and adjust, and be kind.

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)? 
Binging British sitcoms “Coupling” and “Yes, Minister” mixed in with 2BrokeGirls. I don’t really feel so guilty about the first two. 
 
If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?

U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Two months at a game preserve in Africa, or the Irati River fishing trip in Spain from the Sun Also Rises.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I started obsessively watching Julia Child on The French Chef and Graham Kerr on the Galloping Gourmet at age 3. By age 5, I was cooking twice a week with my own recipes. Burned out on the chef lifestyle after age 10 when sullen adolescence took hold. Chef John briefly returned, learning Thai cooking to impress my mother-in-law. That predictably failed: she makes the best Thai food I have had anywhere. She will never read this so I’m not winning any brownie points for this tribute, either.


What is your favorite holiday and why?
New Year's - because it encourages retrospection and aspiration.

Best book you have ever read?

The Sun Also Rises -- Ernest Hemingway. a stellar example of brevity and clarity

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
8

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
The examples provided by members who have worked in some cases for decades to help the injured are inspiring. I have also been able to work on some quirky and challenging insurance matters.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
The Beauty of Grey (for many reasons, the least of which is I'm color blind).

If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Cheeseburgers from Hodad's in San Diego

Who is your hero?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – strategically brilliant in developing discrimination law using male victims; intellectually powerful; driven; fierce. The biggest surprise in meeting her was how thick a Brooklyn accent she has. It makes her intimidating in a visceral and not just intellectual way.
 


Norman Thomas
July 2018


Norman Thomas
Norman A. Thomas, PLLC
Richmond

What kind of law do you practice?

I practice appellate law across the spectrum of subject matters, primarily in the Virginia Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. I really like the diversity and challenge of my practice!

Where were you born?
Norfolk, VA

Who is your hero?
My late parents are my heroes. They sacrificed much for my brother and me to have the educations that we would need to have the careers we wanted. And they taught us about faith, love, life, values, and how to manage in a challenging world.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?
As a litigation attorney, I've lived by the creed that I'll fight you hard in the courtroom, but not outside of it. Our young lawyers must resist pressures to adopt uncivil attitudes and sharp practices. The profession and their well being demand it! 

Music on your current playlist?
I have an eclectic taste in music. My old-timey iPod contains everything from rock and roll to bluegrass to symphony (especially Mozart)!

Favorite social media account or app?
Believe it or not, I really don't use social media much. I have a Linkedin account, but only for professional purposes. 

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?
Your life will not be lived according to these plans you are making. So much will happen that is out of your control and that challenges you in ways you do not anticipate. And the days will come that you will bury each of your beloved parents. Yet yours will be a good and fulfilling life, both personally and professionally. Through the best and the worse, you have the tools to make it!

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)? 

I love to listen to audiobooks when my wife, Kim, and I don't commute together. We typically "carpool" on our hour-each-way commute. But on the days I drive alone, I enjoy listening to a good book!
 
If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?
Geez...that is such a tough question. I've been an attorney for 38 years, so I suppose I have it now!

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Kim and I both want to visit Venice.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

I love to ride my motorcycles. I own two, a Honda Goldwing for touring and a Ducati Monster to ride when I want to be a hooligan! I stopped riding motorcycles at 20 years old and took it up again at 50 after my children were grown. What can I say? It was worth the wait. It gives me joy!

What is your favorite holiday and why?
Christmas is my favorite holiday, for its Christian meaning to me and the opportunity to gather together with my "coast to coast" family. 

Best book you have ever read?
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
5

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
I joined VTLA in 2014 after more than 31 years of public sector law practice. My friends encouraged me to join and I've truly enjoyed the experience. The network of old and new friends is the greatest benefit to me. Our shared commitment to the profession, trial by jury and access to justice unifies and motivates us all.

 


Brielle Hunt
June 2018


Brielle Hunt, YTL Chair-Elect
Phelan Petty
Richmond

What kind of law do you practice?

All things personal injury - medical malpractice, motor vehicle accidents, products liability, mass torts/pharmaceutical liability, premises liability. I particularly enjoy the complexity and novelty of a new med mal case. 

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
4

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
As many others have said before me, the incredible wealth of knowledge available on the list-serve is truly invaluable, especially as a young lawyer. I must say, however, that the greatest benefit I've received from VTLA is membership in the Women's Caucus. I have had some of the most productive, enlightening, supportive, raw and empowering conversations with members of the Women's Caucus and I am so thankful for the inspiration, mentorship and friendship I have found in it.

Where were you born?
Ridgewood, NJ

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
You Can In Fact Take Jersey Out of the Girl

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?
The challenge of seeing the light at the end of the claustrophobic, suffocating tunnel of law school debt.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Can it be a restaurant? Because it would be Stella's. Last year for my birthday, I ate both lunch and dinner at Stella's, and I'm not the least bit ashamed.

Music on your current playlist?
OAR, Hootie & the Blowfish, DMB...and a lot of country pop that I am teased for on the reg.

Favorite social media account or app?
Instagram. All photos, no soapboxes.

If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?
I would love the power to heal people.

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?
Do not take your brother's car for a joy ride. Because you only have a learner's permit and that is illegal.

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)?
Honestly, Grey's Anatomy. I've been a loyal fan for 14 seasons. It is the only show that I have the patience to wait for in between episodes (all other shows must be
binge-watched). My husband always asks me why I intentionally watch something that I know will bring me to tears. I don't really have a good answer, but I'm welling up right now thinking about that episode when McDreamy died.
 
If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?
I would probably be a yoga or cycling instructor somewhere exotic like Bali or the Maldives.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Somewhere exotic like Bali or the Maldives, so I can check out the job prospects.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I always wanted to be a doctor. Oh, the irony. 

 


Bryan Slaughter
May 2018


M. Bryan Slaughter, VTLA President 2018-2019
MichieHamlett

Charlottesville

What kind of law do you practice?
I handle catastrophic and serious personal injury cases. I have a practice that is split between products liability, general negligence, and medical malpractice. I love the diversity of the cases that come to me - everything from coal mining equipment to monster trucks to excessive force cases, and everything in between.

Best book you have ever read?
The Great Gatsby

What's your favorite holiday and why?
That's easy - Thanksgiving. I get to cook with my kids all day, see family and friends as they come through the kitchen, eat a huge meal, and maybe watch some football, and nothing else!    

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?
The Powerball numbers for when I was 17, and to buy shares in Apple and Microsoft. On a more serious note: that life is a marathon and not a race - keep plugging along and getting up when knocked down, back off the drinking during the first two years of college, have lots of kids (and you'll never regret spending time with them), and don't screw things up with the pretty brunette in your bar review class.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Nepal, Peru, and Patagonia.

Music on your current playlist?
I'm really all over the place - I have Lyle Lovett, Seldom Scene, Brandi Carlile, Pearl Jam, DMB, The Smiths, English Beat, REM, Eminem, Snoop Dog, the Notorious B.I.G., and the Hamilton soundtrack. This doesn't include classical and jazz.

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
20

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
There are so many, it's hard to pick one. The association has given me incredible professional support and also some incredible friendships. Our jobs can be demoralizing sometimes, but the association provides an incredible group of colleagues who understand how difficult the fight can be.   

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)?
Definitely reality crime shows - the First 48, American Greed, Dateline, etc.

Favorite social media account or app?
None yet - I can barely keep up with email and texting.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?
Without a doubt - getting experience trying cases in front of juries. Skill mainly comes from repetition, and it's hard to become a skilled trial lawyer without trying cases.

 

Damon Pendleton
March 2018


Damon Pendleton
Christina Pendleton & Associates
Richmond

What kind of law do you practice?
I represent clients injured in auto, motorcycle and trucking crashes as well as a few premise cases. I've started representing clients in a few mass torts as well. 

Where were you born?
Havre de Grace, Maryland

What's your favorite holiday and why?
Thanksgiving because it's 
about family, good food, and football. I could live without the football but the other two are a must.

What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?
You're right, but you are going about it all wrong.  

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
8

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
I regularly search the plaintiff listserv for answers to questions that come up in practice. It could be looking for an expert, finding a mediator for a particular type of case, or to check the temperament of a judge I haven't appeared in front of before. It's simply a fantastic resource for finding answers. I hope after another 20 years or so I can provide half as much assistance to the young lawyers in the group as many seasoned attorneys have provided to me over the last 8 years. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young lawyers today?
Fewer and fewer cases go to trial, so there are 
less opportunities for the young lawyer to gain jury trial experience.

Music on your current playlist?
I'm mostly stuck in the 1800's for classical, 60's for jazz, 70's for R&B, and 90's for hip-hop and reggae.


If you could invite anyone in the world to dinner (living or dead), who would you invite and why?

It's cliche but if I can invite anyone it would be Jesus. There are few people in recorded history who have had a more profound impact on the world as I understand it, so I definitely have some questions for him. What did you mean by this? Did you actually say that? Did you know how much confusion that line would cause? I've got enough questions to fill a meal for sure.

Title of the last book you read?
Rework by Jason Fried

If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?
I am passionate about entrepreneurship but the Virginia climate is anything but dreamlike for me. Also, I am fascinated with technology. So, if money wasn't an issue (and I couldn't practice law), I'd probably be on a Caribbean beach building a company around technology. When I'm not building something I get bored easily.  

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?
He Did It His Way (and You Can Too)

What's the craziest thing you've ever done?
This is read by lawyers, right?

 

Kyle McNew
January 2018


Kyle McNew
MichieHamlett
Charlottesville

What kind of law do you practice?
Personal injury and appellate

Where were you born?
Portsmouth, VA, and I survived!

What's your favorite holiday and why?
Christmas - it's an opportunity to reflect on the year, and the kids are so excited.

What is your guilty pleasure (TV show, sweet treat, etc.)?
Singing/talent reality shows and Broadway musical soundtracks.

How many years have you been a VTLA member?
7

What is the greatest benefit you've received from being a VTLA member?
I can't limit it to just one. For me, the greatest benefits have been (1) access to the listserves and (2) the collective advocacy on behalf of my clients and my practice, both in the General Assembly and in the courts via the amicus committee. 


What would you most like to tell yourself at age 16?
Slow down and experience the present - whatever it is you're running toward will still be there whenever you get there.  


Favorite social media account or app?
Favorite, and only - Facebook

If you could invite anyone in the world to dinner (living or dead), who would you invite and why?
My wife, kids, and parents, because if my answer was anything else I'd be in trouble with all of them. And I also happen to really enjoy their company. 

Title of the last book you read?
The Old Man and the Boy - Robert Ruark

If money wasn't an issue, what would your dream job be?
Probably a hunting and fishing guide. Something that allowed me to be outdoors, but on my own terms because hey, money isn't an issue in this hypo. 

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
Despite being described by some - quite unfairly - as loud, bombastic, and obnoxious, one of my favorite things is silence.