Jan White retired at the end of 2022 after 50 years of practicing law, 32 of them at Pasternak & Fidis as a family lawyer. In her early years of law practice, she was a trial lawyer at Legal Aid in Durham, NC, and then at Hogan Lovells (then Hogan & Hartson) in DC. She and her husband had moved to DC because of the wealth of legal jobs for them both at a time when law schools had only recently begun to admit substantial numbers of women and there were still questions as to whether women lawyers would be encouraged in their careers.
When the Carter Administration came into office, she joined the Commerce Department as Assistant to the General Counsel, then Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce, both of whom had come from Duke University, Jan’s alma mater. Jan was at Commerce for thirteen years working on international trade litigation. During this time, she divorced with two young daughters. She found extensive travel incompatible with single parenting and she decided to find a career compatible with her family life doing something she loved. Having experienced divorce, she knew the importance of a good family lawyer to divorcing clients. By this time, Jan was invested in her own therapy as well as family therapy and had concluded that not only was this therapeutic work important in re-orienting her own life, but it would also better equip her for a family law practice. Jan also recognized that she had two other skills important to family law: courtroom experience and financial training, which she began with an accounting class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a finance course she took at Stanford Business School while she was attending Stanford Law School.
Jan had no plans to become a family lawyer. As she describes it, “one day I was not a family lawyer, and the next day I was.” In order to practice family law, she felt she needed to be a member of all three bars, so in 1989, Jan took both the Virginia and Maryland Bar exams, standing at her front door to get the Maryland results prior to rushing to the post office to meet the deadline to apply for the Virginia Bar. She formed a partnership that first year with Gary Marx, whom she met at a continuing legal education course. The following year, she joined her former Duke dormmate and friend Marcia Fidis at Pasternak & Fidis in Bethesda, where she worked until her retirement. In those first years, Jan met Linda Ravdin at an ABA meeting and found a friend and mentor. Jan raided all of Linda’s old continuing legal education (CLE) materials as she ramped up her family law training. Jan always liked being a student and, as Marcia Fidis put it, Jan “never met a CLE she didn’t like.”
Working with Marcia Fidis on divorce tax and pension issues, Jan began teaching with Marcia at the Maryland Bar CLE programs on tax and retirement issues. In 2001, Vicki Viramontes-LaFree, a colleague of one of Jan’s closest Stanford Law School friends, joined the firm. In 2002, Linda Ravdin joined the firm, after years of Jan’s urging.
In 2005, Jan trained in Collaborative Law and immediately concluded that this process offered the most satisfactory experience and outcome for divorcing clients. Jan again jumped into more CLE as she trained on communication skills and Collaborative Process skills. In the Collaborative Process, the clients each hire Collaboratively trained lawyers to reach an out-of-court resolution. The clients and attorneys, along with a neutral financial expert and mental health professionals who have trained as coaches for the Collaborative Process, meet together to resolve the client’s financial and parenting issues. Jan was a member of Collaborative practice groups in Northern Virginia, DC, and Montgomery County, Maryland, and, in the early days, took on the informal role of building communication among the three groups. She was Co-Chair of the Collaborative Professionals of Northern Virginia and later President of the District of Columbia Academy of Collaborative Professionals. She was on the Boards of these organizations, as well as the Board of Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals (“CDRP”) in Montgomery County, Maryland. While Protocols Chair of CDRP, she decided that the Collaborative contracts that clients sign to embark on the Collaborative Process should be made uniform and created the DC Metro Protocols Committee with representatives from all of the Collaborative groups in the DC area. This group wrote and distributed the DC Metro Protocols Resource, which included uniform contracts as well as a how-to manual for handling a Collaborative case. Jan was also Co-Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Maryland Collaborative Practice Council and, with Sue Soler and Robin Taub, wrote and distributed the Ethics Guidelines for Collaborative cases. These publications were instrumental in getting Collaborative practice established in the DC area and are still in use. Most important to Jan have been the wonderful friends and colleagues in the Collaborative community—mental health professionals, financial professionals, and lawyers. She feels that she and the Collaborative community were able to make a real difference to help clients and that, even if clients have chosen not to use the Collaborative process, the goals and skills of the collaborative community informed her law practice to help the clients get through a difficult process.
Marcia Fidis had this to say about her friend and colleague: “This September will mark 60 years since Jan and I met as first-year students at Duke University. We practiced law together for over 30 years. Few attorneys reach the standard of excellence that Jan achieved in her work for her clients, both in her ethical practices, the quality of her work and in her concern for and commitment to her clients. Congratulations, Jan, on an outstanding career!”
Jan plans to spend more time at her beach house in North Carolina and with her grandchildren in DC and Philadelphia: India, Louisa, Cadence, and Linden. She intends to continue her grassroots political work with 31st Street Swing Left and to return to her interests of traveling, brushing up her Spanish language skills, and dancing.