Start-Up Law Firms and Chris Webber Stories from 1993

Senior Honors Thesis: Department of History

Present May 7, 2022 Front Royal, VA

It’s a Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day. I’m free to work, more or less. It’s a gloomy day in May. It’s rained since Thursday. The creek is running and the walkway up from our driveway is sinking. We live on a mountain, so the water runs downhill and the walkway gets flooded as often as New Orleans gets sacked by hurricanes.

The slugs are out, but so are the Wisteria blooms. I take notice of these things. I just called a client to schedule a meeting and her voice has a lilt, almost like the purple Wisteria flower. Clients come first if you forget about God and family and professional responsibility (all of which really come first).

Speaking of family, as a mother you’re always putting your family first, and that holds true for our special day. Truth? I need to work all Sunday on getting my law firm, Jarvis Law PLLC, planted in its new space at 29 Crescent Street in Front Royal. I have deadlines and commitments. There’s a song lyric in that sentence. My life, after all, is about words.

Past April 5, 1993 Ellicott City, Md

Speaking of words, deadlines and commitments, I had all three the night of April 5th, 1993. My first draft of my History Honors thesis was due at 3 PM April 6th, and Professor Eckstein scared me. Short of a hospital visit for something more serious than a broken leg, I owed him 20-25 pages, properly cited, and error-free. My topic: The Progressive Era and the Supreme Court. Pages written: zero.

It’s about ten o’clock. I’m glued to the TV, the old-fashioned kind that you lock behind wood doors in a tall cabinet. UNC is playing Michigan. Power teams. I don’t like UNC, no good reason—family affiliation. My brother is a Duke grad. I’m pulling for the guys in the yellow jerseys. Chris Webber is one of them. He’s got the ball—rebounded it after UNC’s Pat Sullivan missed a free throw with 19 seconds on the clock. UNC leads, 71-69. 

Michigan has one shot at tying or taking the lead. Chris has the ball. He needs to pass it. He’s a big guy, All-American forward, can’t dribble real well, but is a monster under and around the rim. Instead of passing it, he dribbles, gets jammed up, double-teamed. Has nowhere to go. Time’s ticking away. He needs to call a timeout. The problem is that Michigan has no timeouts left. The penalty for calling a timeout with no time left? Automatic technical. Other team gets two free throws and the ball back.

Chris freezes. Has a baffled, terrified look on his face. He jumps in the air, juggles the ball—and calls the timeout. 

I watch all this, knowing full well I have twenty pages to write. Can’t take my eyes off the screen. The end result: UNC 77-Michigan 71. There’s a lot more you can say about the game. I didn’t have time to think about it then. I have a scholarly paper to write. Deadlines and commitments.

Coffee. A whole pot of nasty smelling Maxwell House coffee. This is before the days of sweet Ethiopian from Happy Creek Coffee in Front Royal, or a gentle Kona from Hawaii. No matter. I drink it black, which is a desperate move. No half and half. It’s 11:30 PM before I’ve opened a file on the Mac in my Dad’s study. The carpet crinkles under my feet. A soft light glimmers from a faux antique desk. Books surround me. Notebooks tip over handwritten scraps of paper; books line the walls and precariously perch in piles that will topple if I ram them with my toes.

I write like hell. No pace like it, not since. The sheer insanity of the words streaming out of me, mostly good, well-formed, thoughtful words. Even though I’m under the gun, even though I’ve put myself into the corner holding the ball with no timeouts left (I chuckle all night, a sympathetic not a mean chuckle, at my shared predicament, thinking “it’s okay Chris, we all get jumbled up sometimes”). And I’m joyful. Three, maybe four pages an hour, pace set and kept for hours. Parents wake, come and go. They’ve seen me this way before. Mom makes another pot of coffee for me. Dad smiles. 

By 9 AM, 19 pages are saved, double-saved, and printed. I can take a two-hour nap and add the conclusion, the works cited page. Proofread the mess. It’s done.

The result? Good work—now rework the entire paper. It’s my Junior Year Honors Thesis, and by my Senior Year, I will have written a 70-page thesis titled, The Roosevelt Court: A Culmination of Legal Reform. The University of Maryland History Honors Program awards the paper Highest Honors. I do not write it all in one night. Learned from my Chris Webber Timeout to check my deadlines, only call timeout when I have one in the bank.

Michael Jordan Playing Basketball


Still at the kitchen table. Have answered three questions from my teenage son, dug up my old thesis, and gotten the cable squared away for the new office at 29 Crescent Street. Right across from E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School. 

In case you’re not a basketball fan: more on Chris Webber. He went on to have a long career in the NBA. After the Championship game in 1993, Chris’ teammates held him together and stood by him. You need good teammates in life.

In the next blog, I will share more stories from a law firm start-up, and maybe some more stories about the why I’m someone you can call for help with your business. About how we can be teammates. If your question is “how can you help me,” my answer is and will always be: we will figure it out together and yes, yes we can.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Amanda Chaillan

Senior Adviser, Business

Amanda Chaillan earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in English from Chapman University in 2008. Her collegiate study focused on intercultural and global relations, including a research semester at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic and a semester of study at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. She also completed an Executive Certificate in Strategic Management from the Harvard Extension School in 2017.

Amanda’s career has always been at the intersection of nonprofits, business and government. Focused on delivering positive impact, she has helped build organizations, develop business strategies and craft messaging that advances the work of visionaries and leaders that are shaping the world. She played a critical role in marketing and practice integration for the energy sector group of a global law firm, led engagement with legal counsel and the Board of Directors to establish and facilitate strategic planning for the launch of a water-focused nonprofit, and has led program teams addressing a range of corporate social responsibilities (CSR) issues.  

Amanda brings her business acumen and operational expertise to every engagement, drawing on her particular strengths in stakeholder engagement, program development and storytelling. She is committed to continuing to build a career of service and working to make a positive impact on the world.

Tarra Smeltzer

Office Manager

Tarra Smeltzer has constructed a career that builds on her passion for personal wellness and strong business ethics. She brings a big heart and incredible attention to detail to every role she takes on. Whether it’s supporting customers or working with colleagues, she is a doer and fixer, helping manage cases, fostering a collaborative culture and trouble-shooting operational and legal issues.

With more than 30 years of customer service experience, Tarra manages the trial and team schedules and coordinates office operations to deliver the best outcomes for Jarvis clients. She also brings research skills and issue experience in the areas of real estate, consumer and family law.

Tarra is a vital member of the Jarvis team, and a caring champion of clients. In her free time she enjoys hiking in the Shenandoah Valley, reading and spending time with her loving family.

Madeline Farris


A student at the College of William & Mary, Madeline Farris is a Classics Major who plans to follow in the footsteps of Mrs. Jarvis as a lawyer and an author. Ever since the age of 12, Madeline has been writing: with six complete novels, Madeline is determined to publish her work, but she loves her work at Jarvis Law, where she is able to crack fascinating cases and help good people. Madeline figures in a leadership position in her campus’s Unitarian Universalist ministry, and also works at the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist Church as the Childcare Coordinator.

Madeline has experience in the nonprofit and legal aid sectors: she worked with Mrs. Jarvis as Mrs. Jarvis’s intern while Mrs. Jarvis was still a staff attorney at Blue Ridge Legal Services, and also worked with Valley Assistance Network from 2019-2020 as an intern, where she was able to help connect struggling people with necessary resources.

Madeline is also the stepdaughter of a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), so she is studying to obtain her light sport pilots license, for as Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Madeline’s favorite areas of law are family, consumer protection, and business law. She enjoys finding odd solutions to difficult problems, and assisting wonderful souls in a world that is sometimes unforgiving and cruel. Madeline’s hobbies include playing the clarinet, taking long walks in nature, and talking to her vivacious pet goldfish, Bertie.

Joshua Smeltzer


Joshua Smeltzer obtained a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy from James Madison University in 2022, following his service with the U.S. Army. He is a compassionate and committed public servant building a career that draws on his strong communication, research and management skills.

Josh seeks out opportunities that require critical thinking and creative solutions to address the complex challenges faced by clients. As a lead researcher, he dives deep into an issue to inform the legal strategy of the Jarvis team. He has led research on legal issues including consumer law, real estate, family law and estate planning.

Josh is a dedicated family man and proud member of the Shenandoah Valley community. In his free time, Josh enjoys physical activities and indulging in a new book.

Elaine Jarvis

Elaine Jarvis obtained her law degree from the Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 1997. She practiced law in D.C. and Northern Virginia for several years, obtaining experience in litigation, antitrust, mergers & acquisitions, bankruptcy and contract law. She put the practice of law on hold for a bit to raise three children and run multiple businesses, with a focus on publishing and helping non-profits. Over the course of a decade, Elaine wrote ten novels and built a social media following of more than 50,000 people with her page and blog, Running from Hell with El. Her first two novels, Ripple: a Tale of Hope and Redemption and I Run: a Novel won awards and hit Amazon bestseller’s list at #1 and #2.

In 2015, Elaine moved from Fairfax County to the mountains of Front Royal and found her love for the practice of law rekindled. She joined Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc. (BRLS) in Winchester, where she helped low-income clients in Frederick County, Clarke County, Front Royal, Shenandoah and Page County–and all parts in between. These clients faced legal issues in consumer law, bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, and estate planning. At BRLS, Elaine counted success as roofs kept over heads and clients saved from overwhelming threats to their survival. Leaving BRLS and her office mates was hard, but being able to help folks in Northern Virginia, Manassas, Winchester, the Valley and of course Front Royal while also focusing on complex fact patterns, small businesses, and aggrieved consumers makes for a journey into an exciting future. Elaine’s outside interests include writing, flying airplanes, hiking, adventuring, gardening and piloting things that go fast and land gently. She enjoys running and traveling from mountain to ocean and just about anywhere in between—as long as she can escape the city. She welcomes people from all faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, genders, and personal belief systems to her practice.