As far back as age 5, Valerie A.
Yarashus set her sights on becoming an attorney. Now 43, there has
been very little that Yarashus has put her mind to that she has not
An accomplished plaintiff trial
lawyer, Yarashus is a principal of Meehan, Boyle, Black &
Bogdanow PC. Yarashus built much of her career at Sugarman and
Sugarman PC, where the 1990 Harvard Law graduate cut her teeth as a
trial attorney and quickly established herself as the firm's first
female partner in 1996.
Yarashus' latest professional accolade came when she assumed the
presidency of the Massachusetts Bar Association on Sept. 1.
An ambitious start
As a youngster, she watched episodes
of the television series "The Rockford Files" with her father. One
of its featured characters, a female attorney, made a strong
impression on Yarashus. Her career aspirations would fluctuate over
the years, but her desire to become an attorney remained the
"There is nothing else I'd rather be
doing," she said.
Growing up outside of Annapolis,
Maryland, Yarashus has called New England home since graduating
from George Washington University.
Sugarman and Sugarman's Neil
Sugarman, who hired Yarashus following her graduation from Harvard,
described her as a "stand out" among the other applicants. "Valerie
had a desire to practice plaintiff personal injury work from the
very earliest [of her career] and she excelled at it," he said.
"Valerie learned quickly and
absorbed the lessons" gained in her early career, according to Paul
Sugarman. As a result, he said, she set goals and grew
"Valerie's success as a trial lawyer
is hard to ignore," said David L. Yas, publisher and
editor-in-chief of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. Yarashus'
victories in many of Boston's high profile and big money cases have
established her as "one of the more prominent, leading female
attorneys in Boston," according to Yas. Those impressions made
Yarashus worthy of being named an Up and Coming Attorney by the
paper and later being inducted into its Hall of Fame.
All the while, Yarashus maintained a
sense of helping people and trying to do what's right for people in
need, according to Neil Sugarman. "That was her drive early on and
she never lost it."
"Among the many credentials Valerie
brings to her new office, her longstanding commitment to, and
leadership on, diversity and mentoring in the legal profession
particularly stand out, said Supreme Judicial Court Justice
Roderick L. Ireland.
Ireland recalled meeting with
Yarashus and one of her high school mentees, a young
African-American woman, some time ago. "I was impressed not only by
the student, but also by the depth of the relationship between the
two. I could see that they had a special bond, and that Valerie was
devoted to seeing the student succeed," said Ireland. The young
woman is now a freshman at Harvard University. "Res ipsa
loquitor," said Ireland.
"Mentoring is often just helping
others to realize what they already know," says Yarashus, "and
that's one thing lawyers do in the courtroom-help judges, jurors
and even opponents realize the truth in the evidence before
No one can question her success at
that. Yarashus has handled the full spectrum of litigation-from
multi-million dollar medical malpractice and defective product
cases to workplace injuries and automobile matters. According to
Yarashus, she particularly enjoys working on cases in which she can
help bring about safety-related changes for the future.
This past January, Yarashus entered
the next phase of her career with Meehan, Boyle, Black &
Bogdanow PC, in Boston.
"She is the single most thoughtful,
prepared and fearless trial attorney I've met in nearly 20 years of
practice," said law partner Brad Henry, who managed the Del Valle
"Big Dig" ceiling collapse case. Henry has had the opportunity to
work closely with Yarashus on a number of cases since she joined
"Every time I hear Val examine a
witness, I learn something new about being a trial lawyer -
thoughts about when in the course of a narrative to drive home a
point, how to reorder a series of questions for maximum effect,
what to best leave alone for later use on re-direct," he said.
Henry describes Yarashus as being on
a non-stop quest to make the most out of every detail and pressing
every advantage in each case she handles. "It's exhausting! But,
it's also exhilarating and a joy to watch," Henry added.
"To quote our firm's John Carroll, 'I feel like we've acquired
the legal equivalent of Tom Brady,'" said Leo V. Boyle, Yarashus'
law partner and long-time mentor. "Valerie is the complete lawyer
and person. She combines keen intelligence with impeccable judgment
and a passion for service to others. It is amazing to watch her
handle so much responsibility so calmly and elegantly. She's an
Focusing on what she loves
Yarashus takes seriously the
altruistic aspects of her chosen profession.
"It is important for my kids to know
that I love what I do and I'm making a difference," said Yarashus,
who enjoys being a mother to four children - Sarah (14), Rachel
(10), Daniel (3) and Benjamin (2).
"I try to explain to them in an
age-appropriate manner the difference I make by being there for my
clients," said Yarashus, who has struck a comfortable balance
between her trial work in Boston and her family life in
"I have had the wonderful
opportunity of going from one thing that I love to another," said
Yarashus, who explained that it is always "important not to feel
pulled." As she juggles her many professional and personal
obligations and interests, Yarashus' method is matter-of-fact.
"When I'm at work, I focus on work, and when I'm home, my focus is
However, for Yarashus, her time and
energy is not simply divided between her office and home.
Volunteerism is at the core of her personal and professional
worlds. She and her family volunteer at her church in Holliston and
at "The Crossing" - a progressive church in Boston - where she
serves lunch to the homeless each Monday.
Through all her personal and
professional efforts, it is apparent that Yarashus places a high
value on relationships. She explains that relationships help her
prioritize her many obligations and put things into
"There is not anything that Valerie
wouldn't do for me," said Diane Reynolds, one of Yarashus' closest
friends. In 2003, at a time when Yarashus' had her hands full with
two young daughters and an escalating career, Reynolds had to
undergo surgery following a breast cancer diagnosis. When Yarashus
learned of her friend's ordeal, she talked to Reynolds about
helping her with post-operative recovery. Reynolds knew that
Yarashus would have to make considerable adjustments in her home
and work life to make the lengthy trip to San Antonio, so she tried
to dissuade Yarashus from doing so.
However, Yarashus got things in
order in New England and flew out to help her friend. Yarashus
describes that as a defining decision that taught her about
priorities. "Looking back, I can't remember what the work was that
I left behind, but I vividly remember how appreciative Diane was
that I was there for her."
From that decision and others since,
Yarashus has learned that "all we have to give in life is our
This was her guiding consideration
when Yarashus decided to adopt her two sons at a time when she was
on the officer track for the MBA and her career continued to
thrive. Yarashus feels the decision to adopt Daniel paved the way
in making the decision to adopt Benjamin that much easier.
Benjamin's medical condition rendered him too ill to be transferred
by MedFlight to Boston and required Yarashus to live in Kansas City
on and off for eight weeks. Fortunately, much flexibility was
extended from opposing counsel.
Despite the two lengthy adoption
processes, Yarashus and her family can't imagine life without its
two youngest members.
"Sarah and Rachel have told me that they thought adopting Daniel
and Benjamin was the best thing we did as a family," said
Raising the bar
Like with her other life priorities,
Yarashus appreciates that her bar involvement makes a
Throughout her work as an MBA
officer since 2004, Yarashus has accomplished much. Prior to
serving as president-elect in the 2008-09 association year, she
served as treasurer following two customary terms as vice
president. A past chair of the Health Law Section and a former
member of the Civil Litigation Section Council, she is a frequent
speaker and writer for continuing legal education programs and
helped to establish a bench-bar task force for plain English jury
instructions. Yarashus established the MBA Diversity Task Force and
served as the chair from 2005-07. She is an Oliver Wendell Holmes
Life Fellow of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (the philanthropic
partner of the MBA) and has served on its grant advisory
In addition to serving as a
long-time officer and ultimately president of Massachusetts Academy
of Trial Attorneys (2002-03), Yarashus remains an active member of
its Board of Governors.
"Valerie was really instrumental to
bringing strength and sound oversight to our organization," said
Christopher Milne, who began his presidency of MATA on July 1. When
Milne joined MATA's officer ranks as secretary four years ago, it
was Yarashus' advice he sought as he prepared to ascend the track
to its presidency.
Yarashus is also active in the
American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial
Lawyers Association), from which she was awarded the prestigious
Weidermann Wysocki "Citation of Excellence" for her commitment to
the civil justice system. Yarashus is also a member of the
Massachusetts Women's Bar Association.
Yarashus' shared commitment and interest in bar association work
with her close colleagues inspired the creation of Yarashus,
Wagner, Cook, Freiberger and Washienko LLC in Boston. Although
Yarashus spent a brief period of time there before leaving to join
Meehan Boyle, the firm's founding principles remain important to
A productive year on the MBA horizon
In her capacity as president-elect
of the MBA over the last 12 months, Yarashus has been thoughtfully
preparing for her turn at the helm. She is now the seventh woman to
serve as president during the MBA's nearly century-long
Technology, preserving access to
justice and enhancing diversity in the profession will be Yarashus'
top priorities for the 2009-10 association year. She will also work
to ensure the MBA's benefits and programming bring about greater
efficiencies for practicing attorneys, allowing them to strike a
better balance between the office and home.
Yarashus plans on continuing two of
her signature initiatives. Yarashus sees the continued work of the
Diversity Task Force as being instrumental in fostering greater
diversity among MBA leadership and membership as a whole.
In tandem with these efforts,
Yarashus will continue the MBA Leadership Roundtables. She
co-founded the series with immediate Past President Edward W.
McIntyre two years ago. Building on its early success, Yarashus has
charged her fellow officers to join her in leading one of the
roundtables - run much like a book club - in the 2009-10
association year. Yarashus will lead the first meeting in October,
where the discussion will center on Groundswell, a book
about the power of social networking. On that topic, Yarashus plans
on expanding the MBA's social networking presence well beyond its
presence on networks like Twitter, which has already drawn nearly
400 followers in just eight weeks.
The roundtables are open to members
of the MBA's Executive Management Board, section council chairs and
members of the Diversity Task Force. Yarashus recognizes the
importance of the roundtables as two-fold - developing
relationships with current and aspiring bar leaders and the
opportunity to discuss leadership principles.
Learned leadership principles will
not only benefit the attorney's work in the association, but they
can trickle over to help that attorney in his or her firm. "Someone
may be a terrific lawyer, but no one has necessarily taught him or
her to be an effective leader." Yarashus explained that the program
helps with that development.
The roundtables will serve as just
one of many channels through which Yarashus intends to do her part
in helping to groom the next generation of legal professionals.
Yarashus, herself, benefitted greatly from the wisdom of those who
served as her mentors, including Paul and Neil Sugarman and Leo
Boyle. She takes the time to pay that forward.
In addition to being a "superb
lawyer," Yarashus has a "great deal of desire to fulfill a public
commitment," according to Paul Sugarman.
Justice Ireland concurred. "I predict a great year for the MBA
under the leadership of Valerie Yarashus, a year in which not just
the legal profession will benefit from her vision, but every
citizen of the commonwealth will as well," he said.