Solo Practitioner Ed Varrone: ‘Every Day Is an Adventure’

March 5, 2018

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In the early 70s Ed Varrone was studying political science in Washington, D.C., at American University. The U.S. was in tumult as political scandal shook the country.

“Watergate was in its full glory—although glory is probably not the right word,” says Varrone. “At the time, all these lawyers were doing interesting things or doing bad things. In addition to that, there was a notion that the legal system could be used as a change agent.”

Many social issues of the time, from desegregation and open housing to the burgeoning environmental movement, that once simmered in the background eventually erupted in the courts, says Varrone.

“If you had even the slightest passing interest in public affairs and doing something to change or affect how things were being handled in public affairs, then law was of interest to you,” says Varrone.

As the son of a woodworker and a nurse, Varrone had no clear-cut path to the law, but after finishing his degree at American, Varrone attended George Washington University Law School. During law school, he clerked at a large federal agency and realized a career as a government attorney wasn’t for him. He then clerked at a general interest law firm where he was able to get experience in a variety of practice areas and found that he was interested in developing a practice representing clients in individual cases.

As his first job out of law school, Varrone clerked for D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie. “I learned so much from him,” he says. “I probably learned more in the two years I spent with him than probably anything before or perhaps even afterwards.”

As a clerk, Varrone says he observed and worked with “top-notch lawyers” from both the prosecutorial and defense side. Judge Moultrie would often have discussions with his clerks about the cases before him. What did they think? Judge Moultrie would then explain his thought process, which inspired Varrone.

That was just one of many experiences he valued while clerking at the D.C. Superior Court. Varrone points out a key lesson he learned then: Never let a judge commit error. “A judge learns to rely on the best lawyers,” he says. “It’s an ethos you learn. The judge is going to listen more readily to the lawyer who the judge knows is not going spin or mislead.”

After the clerkship ended, Varrone decided he wanted to open his own firm. “The notion of being in court and trying cases was really attractive to me. If I wasn't going to get a job in a law firm trying cases or being in court, I would do it myself.”

The early days were lean times, Varrone says. He learned which cases he could pursue and how far he could stretch his resources. In particular, he recalls his fourth year of practice when he took on a death penalty case that was so all-consuming that it stalled his efforts to build his practice.

“The after-effects of it took me a little while to catch up from. I learned a lot from an intellectual and a ‘how to be a good lawyer’ point of view, but financially, it wasn’t so good.”

Varrone describes his first few years of solo practice as “scary as hell,” likening running a solo practice to being a hunter-gatherer. “When you’re a hunter-gatherer, if the gathering isn’t going well, and the animals are deep in the forest, it gets a little worrisome.”

Early on, he focused on criminal justice work, calling it his practice’s “bread and butter.” But as his practice evolved, Varrone explored different areas of the law.

These days, his practice isn’t so lean. Varrone’s practice is primarily in the Probate Division of the D.C. Superior Court where he takes on cases involving estates and trusts, decedent estate administration and litigation, and conservatorships and guardianships. Varrone says this diversity in cases is a big draw for him as “every day is a new adventure.”

In addition to running his firm, the Law Office of Edward G. Varrone, Varrone volunteers regularly with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center’s Probate Resource Center. He says the barriers to legal services for people without financial or educational resources are profound.

Through getting involved in pro bono work, “you make contributions to folks who really need help, and sometimes you end up making systemic contributions. That’s rewarding to me.”

Also, Varrone says he has fun volunteering through the Pro Bono Center's Advice & Referral Clinic. “You walk into the Advice & Referral Clinic on a Saturday, and it’s fast-paced. It’s exhilarating. And you walk out and you say, ‘I really did something good.’”

Know someone whose life and career would make for an interesting Member Spotlight? Contact Thai Phi Le at [email protected].

David O’Boyle is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.