Tell us about yourself.
I immigrated to the U.S. with my parents when I was a child. Because of my father’s work, we had the opportunity to live on the west and east coasts and in the South when I was growing up. Later, we moved to San Rafael, where I finished high school and set my roots.
As an adult, I spared my husband, Seamus Vanecko, from a life shoveling snow in Boston by bringing him home to the Bay Area. Seamus is a construction defect consultant who works with a number of our Contra Costa lawyers.
You’re the first Elva I’ve ever met. Tell us about your name.
When my pregnant great-grandmother was on a boat emigrating to Australia, she met a woman named Elva, and liked the name. When the baby was born, she was named Elva. That was my grandmother. I’m a third generation Elva. It means elfin. I am five foot two.
Where did you go to school?
My education was primarily in the U.S., but I also attended school in Australia, Ireland and France. My undergraduate degree is from UCLA and my J.D. is from Santa Clara University.
I attended Trinity College in Ireland during my junior year. At Trinity, I studied politics and development economics. It was an interesting time to study politics in Ireland. The Irish Troubles, a 30-year territorial conflict, was still a challenge before the Celtic Tiger, a period of rapid economic growth, took off.
Additionally, my studies included Soviet politics and a trip with Trinity’s Russian department to the Soviet Union (while the Soviet Union still existed) when Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika policies were underway.
How did you come upon your focus in real estate work?
I got into real estate when, with no experience, little money but heavy on youthful gumption, Seamus and I purchased a distressed, three-unit building in San Francisco’s Mission District. We knew nothing about rent control, notices of violation or landlord-tenant matters, but learned quickly. We got the building into shape with a lot of sweat equity and I learned my way around the SF rent ordinance, the Rent Board and Department of Building Inspection. I found that I really enjoyed working in real estate.
Later, I was hired by a private equity investment firm as an asset manager. We invested in multi-family properties in rent-controlled jurisdictions. I ultimately oversaw the West Coast portfolio and the property-related litigation. I attended law school at Santa Clara University part time while working full time for the investment firm.
Where have you worked?
My first job after law school was for a small San Francisco real estate firm. I eventually determined that I preferred transactional work to litigation, and joined a 12-attorney, Walnut Creek firm, where I spent a few years getting broader experience in commercial real estate transactions. I went solo over four years ago, and love it.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to travel, garden, scuba dive, cross country ski, ride my bicycle in the Oakland/Contra Costa hills and walk my dog, Murphy. I have an Instagram account where I post pictures of street art I have found during my travels.
My last trip was to Turkey in May 2015. In addition to visiting Istanbul and Bozcaada, a wine producing island, I visited the Gallipoli Peninsula, the site of a World War I campaign that resulted in the loss of many ANZAC forces (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). Many of the trenches are still in place. It was a particularly moving experience.
I am a veteran of the Amigos de las Americas program, which trains youth leaders, many of whom come from Contra Costa. As a teen, I participated in Amigos, spending a summer in the Dominican Republic building latrines. More recently, I served on the board and as president of the East Bay chapter, working to empower youth leaders in the U.S. and Latin America and share the Amigos cultural experience.
What bar and professional activities have you been involved in?
Initially, I was involved in the CCCBA’s Women’s and Real Estate sections. I have also been a member of the East Bay Commercial Real Estate Women and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).
In 2010, I joined the CCCBA Board of Directors. One of my first projects was the development of the Law Practice Management Series (LPMS). It originally grew out of a need to support the young attorneys who were hanging their shingles straight out of law school during the Great Recession, and to support other transitioning attorneys. LPMS has grown and now incorporates programs on closing law practices, using technology in law and using alternative employment arrangements in law firms.
I have also served on the Editorial Board of the Contra Costa Lawyer, and the Access to Justice and Bar Fund committees.
What are your priorities as president?
The board is in the process of establishing its priorities for 2016, but I can share my thoughts with you. Thanks to the efforts of CCCBA Board Member and Dean of JFK University College of Law, Dean Barbieri, JFK law students now automatically become CCCBA members upon enrollment at JFK. I hope to work with this group to better incorporate them into our legal community.
Working with students can be tricky, as they are focused on school, family and often, their jobs. We have been developing training and mentoring programs to assist them and I hope to refine these programs. Similarly, I hope to provide programs that will help new attorneys launch their careers, whether they are solos or in firms.
A number of our sections have taken the lead on this, including the Barristers Section with their probate training in December, the Estate Planning & Probate Section’s new mentoring lunches and the Family Law Section’s ongoing mentoring/networking program. I hope to find additional ways to support new attorneys, both for their benefit and that of the Contra Costa firms that employ them.
Also, the new Director of our Criminal Conflict Program, long-time criminal defense attorney, William (Bill) Green, is developing training and mentoring programs for CCP panelists. These programs will include training and mentoring for new criminal defense lawyers as well as those who are more experienced. I support Bill in his efforts.
Should the CCCBA take some stands on the issues of the day?
Within the stated mission of the CCCBA, we have an obligation to represent our membership. For example, we have been following ABA Law Connect, the American Bar Association’s joint venture with Rocket Lawyer, with some care. Through this trial program, small businesses can have a legal question answered by one of three ABA-selected, California attorneys for $4.95.
This program competes with Lawyer Referral & Information Service programs of local bar associations (including our own), which do an exceptional job of referring individuals to experienced attorneys in their community.
LRIS programs offer a number of protections for the consumer that, from our understanding, ABA Law Connect lacks. The CCCBA, and many other bar associations, have raised our concerns with the ABA. View CCCBA’s letter.
Any challenges you see in the coming year?
Our Bar Association is in good hands under the direction of Theresa Hurley and her staff. I hope that 2016 will be a year in which to focus on fine tuning our programs, and incorporating new members.
The California Bar Journal recently included an article recognizing our LRIS program and the success of our Moderate Means program, developed by our LRIS Coordinator Barbara Arsedo. Making sure that we are serving the needs of our low income community is always a challenge that we strive to meet.
There is also the ongoing challenge of supporting the courts. The courts are receiving more funding than they were during the Great Recession, but new expenses are now being shifted to their budgets. We recently surveyed our membership and met with our section leaders. A lack of court reporters and translators was identified as a major issue. We hope to work with the courts to address this problem.
Harvey Sohnen is the managing partner of Sohnen Law Offices, where the focus of his practice is wage and hour law class actions, and other employment and commercial cases.