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. 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 as Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs at the U.S. Department of Justice, where she served 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. From 1995 to 1997, Ms. Olsen served on the Access to Justice Task Force and as the Pro Bono Program Manager, in the Office of Policy Development, for the Justice Department’s first Pro Bono Program. 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 and other litigation matters. She is an author of several children’s books and adult non-fiction books, and hosts/produces a live radio show on WPFW fm 89.3 that focuses on diversity issues, and the “Becoming Your Best Version” podcast. Ms. Olsen 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 boards of the Nepal Youth Fund and and the largest alcoholism/addiction recovery club in the Bethesda area, as well as on the Advisory Board for Girls Up, an empowerment organization for middle school-aged girls. 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. She continues to write for The Washington Post, AARP’s The Ethel, Parents Magazine, Thrive Global and Authority Magazine, among other publications, and is working on her fifth book, on the Pandora’s box of 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. She is a motivational speaker at corporate/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 for 1991. She is a member of the District of Columbia and Maryland Bars, 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.
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