Why Jarvis Law PLLC? Fiction Meets Real Life

The other day I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about lawyers fighting over the copyright for “Best Lawyers” lists. Apparently, so and so used the phrase “Best” or “Top” with “Lawyers” and they think that it’s wrong for anyone else to make a list of their favorite lawyers. This made me laugh really hard. As Shinedown says in their song “I’ll Follow You,” next they’re gonna “trademark the color blue.”

Lawyers that fight like this are not the best. These are not my favorite lawyers. My favorite lawyers aren’t real, but they formed me and how I try to practice law. The first one is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (also one of my all-time favorite novels). Atticus is authentic and honorable. There’s a sadness there, and a goodness that you know goes to the root of him. Whenever I’m unsure of the moral ground I stand on, I try to think of Atticus. And Scout. She makes me smile.

Man Thinking in court

Speaking of smiling, my second favorite not real lawyer is from the movie My Cousin Vinny. Played by Joe Pesci, tough guy Vinny Gambini gets called down to Alabama to represent his cousin Bill for a murder Bill didn’t commit. The problem is Vinny, after five tries, has finally passed the bar. Never tried a case. And all the evidence points to his cousin’s guilt. 

Bill’s family, so Vinny goes down to Alabama with his fiancée Lisa to help Bill. It doesn’t go well for Vinny at first. He’s over his head. He doesn’t understand basic criminal practice. He looks foolish, even inept, in court the first few times he appears. Even his sartorial choices (especially the used maroon tuxedo) cause issues. 

Despite a rough beginning and mistakes that border on hilarity, Vinny brings grit and creativity to bear on the case. Deep down, I identify from time to time with Vinny. Like him, I’m good and I mean well. Like him, I’ve had my successes and failures, and I’ve also pursued many interests outside the practice of law. Like him, there have been many times when I’ve found myself over my head.

Why? Because there are few challenges I am too scared to take on; and I’m not afraid of work. I like my work because for me, practicing law offers me a chance to do two of the things I like most: help people, and fix things. When it comes to fixing legal matters, I’m as much an artist as a lawyer. I see difficult cases as empty canvases, in need of the right brush strokes, paint colors, and perspective. When I get a case, I will use everything in my experience arsenal to find a way to get my client a fair and just outcome. 


My cousin Vinny in court

That brings me back to Vinny Gambini. He was lost as the case began. Didn’t know Alabama procedure; did not, in fact, know much of any procedure. And he dressed funny, but that’s a different story, and yes, he finally found an acceptable suit. As the case wore on, and with the help of his outrageously wonderful girlfriend Lisa (played by the great Marisa Tomei), Vinny uses his unusual perceptiveness to begin tearing up the prosecutor’s case. For example, Vinny observes that grits take a long time to cook—which invalidates the testimony of one witness who  gives the wrong length of time for observation of the alleged perpetrators. Sight lines and visual obstructions, as Vinny identifies them, knock out the persuasiveness of two other prosecution witnesses.  

The state has one last piece of evidence that seems unassailable: the tire tracks left at the murder scene are identical to Cousin Bill’s 1964 Buick—which was supposedly observed at the scene. The prosecutor brings in a ringer to testify about the tire tracks: FBI analyst Bill Wilbur. That’s where Vinny gets creative. Fiancée Lisa is an expert on automobiles. She grew up in a family of mechanics and she has an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of automobiles. In the meantime, by examining photos of the tire marks, Vinny, also knowledgeable about cars, is certain that the tire tracks were not made by Bill’s 1964 Buick. Why not? Because the tracks are flat and even. Only a car with four-wheel independent suspension could have made those tracks.

Proving that is difficult—unless you have an expert witness on hand. Vinny has Lisa. The prosecutor of course objects to her qualifications as a witness—until she tears it up during voir dire and proves, by answering a string of difficult questions, that she does in fact qualify by way of experience as an expert witness on automobiles. 


When questioned, Lisa explains that only a car with an independent rear suspension and “positraction” could have made the tire marks. Positraction is a term of art for limited slip differentials, and there is one model of cars, a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, that had that feature. In the meantime, Vinny has done his own research: a 63’ Tempest, mint green, was spotted at the scene. The driver of that is the killer—not Cousin Bill. Cue the music . . . Bill wins his freedom and Vinny wins his first case.

So what does all this have to do with asking my firm to help you? Like both Atticus and Vinny, who live in our minds, I’m good people, as we like to say in my family. I am what I am—authentic. I aim to serve and protect with honor. I’ve got tools, knowledge, skills and a will to help you with your legal problems. From business law and consumer protection, to drafting wills and trusts, and finally to helping you and your family through difficult times, I will be here, ready to give you my best.

Elaine Jarvis smiling with Sunglasses

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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.