Cantor Grana Buckner Bucci partner Stephanie Grana has always wanted to be a lawyer.
Well, except for a brief stint at age nine, when she aspired to be a veterinarian.
Now this proud Virginia lawyer of nearly 30 years will make history at the Virginia State Bar’s 2022 annual meeting when she will be installed as the VSB’s first Hispanic president.
Grana told Lawyers Weekly that her platform as the group’s 84th president — and the seventh female to lead the organization — is not to be overstated or inflated.
“The VSB leadership and staff are impressive,” she said. “During my one, very special year as president, it is not my plan to change the system, as I don’t plan to fix what is not broken.”
Grana plans to use what she’s learned as leader of other bar organizations.
“I learned the hard way that you cannot predict what challenges lie ahead,” she said. “You must be prepared to pivot.”
And despite a lengthy “to-do” list, Grana welcomes the return of face-to-face events.
“Although COVID has forced us to recognize that Zoom, WebEx or Teams meetings or hybrid bar events can still get the job done, I miss seeing my friends across the Commonwealth,” she said.
Grana’s first goal is borne of the need to navigate a new challenge — the upcoming retirement of VSB Executive Director Karen Gould, who she had looked forward to working with. As part of the committee hiring Gould’s replacement, Grana hopes to have a new executive director start by Sept. 1.
Some of her broader, long-term goals include promoting professionalism, increasing diversity among VSB leadership and committees, recognizing bias, enhancing bench/bar relations, continuing to improve access to justice and encouraging wellness and mindfulness.
Grana’s objective to increase diversity will focus not only on race and ethnicity, but also location within Virginia, and she seeks more inclusion of leaders from outside larger metro areas.
By expanding outreach, responding to member needs, and reaching out to other bar leaders around the state, Grana hopes to “promote a communicative and engaging environment to foster heightened collaboration among all VSB attorneys.”
She is already scheduled to visit the Charlottesville Albemarle Bar Association in September and “will meet with any bar association that requests her.”
Grana takes inspiration from the words of Rolling Stone front man, Mick Jagger: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
She says this is especially true in her bar service and her “lack of a work/life balance.”
In addition to her law practice, Grana is president of the Commonwealth Community Trust Executive Committee, leads her firm’s “Boys/Girls in Blue” school outreach program and has served on the Community Brain Injury Services board.
She is a member of the Boyd-Graves Conference and was selected by the Virginia Supreme Court to serve on the Virginia Model Jury Instructions Committee and the Working Group to study expansion of the Court of Appeals.
Grana is also active with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice’s Women Lawyers Caucus.
She currently serves on the VSB Executive Committee, Council for the 14th Circuit, the Budget & Finance Committee and the Nominating Committee.
Grana feels her experience as president of the VTLA, American Board of Trial Advocates – Virginia chapter, Lewis F. Powell Jr. Inn of Court, and Metropolitan Richmond Women’s Bar Association will prove invaluable to her year-long tenure as VSB president.
Grana developed a passion for oral argument on the debate team at her Long Island high school.
“I loved to argue a position, substantiate it with facts, and prove a point!” she said.
After graduating cum laude from the T.C. Williams School of Law, Grana clerked for Judge Joseph E. Baker in the Virginia Court of Appeals.
Since then, she has focused her practice on plaintiff’s personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death. She has recovered more than 50 verdicts and settlements of more than $1 million.
She said becoming a plaintiff following the deaths of her father and brother in a plane crash made her more empathetic and, ultimately, a better lawyer.
“Along with my mother, I have endured unimaginable loss,” she noted. “I also know how it feels to be deposed and to face a jury. The deposition was difficult, and I don’t think I did well, but I was glad to have the chance to fight for my father and brother.”
While being an attorney is her “calling,” Grana says her family is her greatest accomplishment.
Through mutual friends, Grana met her husband, attorney Scott Bemberis, while they were in law school together. He considered joining the professional tennis circuit before going to law school and his first date with Grana was to give her tennis lessons.
She says that despite her athleticism — she received a presidential citation in 1990 for synchronized swimming on U of R’s nationally ranked team — she still can’t play tennis!
The pair are now raising three “incredible young adults.”
Their oldest daughter has finished her 1L year at William & Mary Law School. Their son finished his second year at Wofford College in Spartanburg. And their youngest daughter just graduated from Trinity Episcopal HS with IB Honors and is headed to UVA in August.
After years of active volunteering for her children’s schools and sports teams, Grana told Lawyers Weekly she will enjoy “empty nesting” while on the road for bar events.
Bemberis had looked forward to having more free time with the empty nest — until Grana expressed an interest in running for VSB president.
“Fortunately, my husband has always been supportive of my many pursuits in life and recognizes how difficult it is for me to say no,” she said.