Maria Leonard Olsen graduated magna cum laude from Boston College (Bachelor of Science in Business Management, 1985) and the University of Virginia School of Law (Juris Doctor, 1988), where she chaired the Student Legal Forum (and was a commissioner in the famed UVa softball league). Upon graduation from law school, she worked as a commercial litigator at Dow Lohnes, which was then one of the largest law firms in Washington, D.C. In 1992, she was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General (AAG) for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), to advise the AAG on legal matters of special interest to the Administration. She served as a DOJ liaison to the Judiciary Committees, advised the AAG, prepared testimony for government witnesses, co-drafted the DOJ’s first Pro Bono Policy, represented the AAG at White House and other governmental meetings, gave presentations on DOJ matters to visiting legislators from other countries, organized citizen outreach sessions, and researched and presented on civil justice reform issues until 1995. During her time there, she was honored by Attorney General Janet Reno to speak as the highest-ranking Asian American political appointee at the Justice Department at the annual Asian American Celebration. From 1995 to 1997, Ms. Olsen served on the Access to Justice Task Force and as the DOJ’s first Pro Bono Program Manager, under the Assistant Attorney General for Policy Development, having helped design the model pro bono program for federal government agencies. After her second child was born in 1997, she continued to do pro bono legal work for the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project and the East Coast Migrant Head Start Program, and to work as a freelance journalist, as well as an editor and writer at Bethesda Magazine.
Ms. Olsen joined The Pels Law Firm in 2014, as a general litigator handling construction, corporate, tax, employment and other matters. She advises businesses on employment issues and represents both employers and employees on termination, discrimination and contract matters. She has testified repeatedly at Montgomery County Council meetings, having developed an expertise in certain administrative law issues.
She is an author of children’s books and adult non-fiction books, and hosts/produces the “Becoming Your Best Version” podcast, in which she amplifies the voices of inspiring women. Ms. Olsen hosted/produced a live radio show for eight years on WPFW fm 89.3 that focused on diversity and LGBT community issues. She has been a foster mother for eight newborn babies awaiting adoption, and has served on the Board of Visitors for the National Children’s Medical Center, and the boards of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Washington (where she chaired D.C.’s first Walk to End Alzheimers), the Catholic Coalition for Special Education and the Pastoral Council for the Shrine of the Most Holy Blessed Sacrament. She continues to serve on the board of the Nepal Youth Fund and on the Advisory Board for Girls Up, an empowerment organization for middle school-aged girls. She served for six years on the advisory committee for the largest alcoholism/addiction recovery club in the Bethesda area, and continues to mentor women battling life’s challenges. Her book talk on Not the Cleaver Family: The New Normal in Modern American Families (Tate, 2016), was featured on C-Span’s “Book TV” show. Her last book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018 hardcover, 2019 paperback/audio), was selected for the National Press Club’s National Book Fair and was the subject of her TEDx Talk at City University of New York in 2021. The book continues to elevate the lives of readers and attendees of women in midlife events at which Ms. Olsen frequently speaks. She continues to write for The Washington Post, AARP’s The Ethel, Parenting Magazine, Thrive Global, Meer, The Midst and Authority Magazine, among other publications focusing on women in midlife and travel, and is working on her next book, on the legal and other ramifications of consumer DNA test kits. Ms. Olsen has spoken at the National March to End Rape Culture, the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, The Washington Independent Review of Books and The Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest conference for mixed race people. Ms. Olsen fosters dogs awaiting adoption and is a motivational speaker at corporate and non-profit events. See MariaLeonardOlsen.com for more information.
Ms. Olsen is the recipient of the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year Award. She was honored by her high school alma mater, the Academy of the Holy Cross, as Distinguished Alumni of the Year in May 2023. She is admitted to the Bars of the District of Columbia and Maryland, and is admitted to practice before the United States Circuit Court for the D.C. Circuit, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and the United States Tax Court.