Manuel R. Geraldo, Esq., known by his colleagues in the profession as Manny, is a small firm practitioner in Prince George’s County, Maryland. As an active member of the community, Manny is a past-president of the Prince George’s County Bar Association, current MSBA District Governor, and current Board member of Portuguese-American Leadership Council of the United States (“PALCUS”). We caught up with Manny to learn more about his practice and other projects.
Q: How has your practice evolved over the years?
MG: I have a general practice with 3 lawyers. My son Alexander is one of the lawyers. The other lawyer is my partner Gerald Robinson who practices in Harrisburg, PA. Gerry and I started the practice 40 years ago in Washington, DC. Gerry was from Reading, PA and he wanted an office in Pennsylvania. Within two years, we opened an office in Harrisburg, PA. We chose Harrisburg because we were doing utility work in Washington, DC representing the People’s Counsel at the time, and the Public Utility Commission in Pennsylvania was in Harrisburg. I also handled cases in Pennsylvania. I recall leaving DC at 5:00 in the morning to appear at a 9:00 am hearing in Reading, Pennsylvania. Eventually, Gerry moved to Harrisburg and the firm opened a separate law firm under the same name in Pennsylvania. My practice today is primarily representing injured workers in compensation cases in MD, DC and Virginia, personal injury, family law, and civil law. I also handle criminal cases in federal court.
I did not start out with the intention of representing injured workers in workers’ compensation cases. My practice developed in this area of the law because of the need that existed in the community. I speak Portuguese and Spanish. Because of my language skills I represented persons who were underserved in several areas of the law. Over the years more and more Latinos predominated the construction industry as laborers and carpenters. Early on in this region, there were only 2 or 3 lawyers who spoke Portuguese or Spanish and these workers needed legal representation in workers’ compensation cases who spoke their language and understood their culture.
Q: What are you focused on in your professional career right now?
MG: I have three projects of importance to me in my professional career. Two of the projects involve my participation in 2 organizations and the third concerns my practice. With my practice, I am mentoring my son on becoming a great lawyer, on learning the business of running a law practice and on the importance of being involved in the Bar Association and the community he serves. He is a quick study and welcomes the mentoring. I passed on to him the importance of doing pro bono work. My goal is for him to take over the practice and for me to exit.
My other projects involve my role as a director on the Board of Palcus and the pro bono work I do for the organization. I am the longest serving member of the Board. At one time, the Board was composed mostly of successful middle-aged men . PALCUS was viewed by many in the community as elitist. As a result, membership was dropping. The organization was stagnant. If the organization was to flourish, it needed more diversity of views. I along with a few of the other directors had a goal of diversifying the Board by adding more women and youth. Now the Executive Committee of the Board is all women and we have added youth which has attracted second and third generations of Portuguese Americans.
My third project involves my role as a Commissioner on the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, specifically as a member of the Planning Board for Prince George’s County. As a Commissioner, I am an advocate for transit-oriented development, eliminating food deserts and opposing the construction of managed lanes for Routes 270 and 495 because of the negative environmental impact and the lack of social equity in transportation. The persons who live the furthest from employment centers are wage earners and they need affordable transportation which is not managed lanes.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your legal career so far?
MG: I have many fond memories from practicing law which makes it difficult for me to choose one. However, I did handle a pro bono case in which I represented an undocumented woman in a child custody case in Prince George’s County. The woman was barely an adult and her stepfather sued her for custody of the child she had as a result of his raping her. She was 14 and had been living with her mother and stepfather when he raped her. The young girl and her mother moved and hid from the stepfather. He located her and after she gave birth, the stepfather filed for custody of the child. The stepfather continued his abuse by threatening to report her to Immigration if she did not give him the child. The stepfather filed for custody. The young lady was referred to me by the Prince George’s County Law Foundation (now known as Community Legal Services) to represent her in the custody case. She was awarded custody and I reported the stepfather to the prosecutors in Washington, DC where a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Q: Why did you enter the legal profession?
MG: I had a genuine desire to help people, especially immigrants. My father was an immigrant who came to the United States for opportunities he did not have. He then helped others who immigrated after he did to adjust to the United States. He was not a lawyer, but he cared for others and was benevolent. I modeled his behavior. I considered law as an avenue of helping others while making a living.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received from someone in the legal profession?
MG: To listen carefully because facts matter. It signals my compassion to the client that I understand the problem and, genuinely want to help resolve the problem. A thorough knowledge of the facts is also important in the event law is not on the client’s side.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you would give someone in law school or considering a legal career?
MG: I would encourage them to take clinical courses because that would help guide them in deciding if they want to practice law or use their legal education is some other career. In other words, don’t become discouraged if you change your mind about practicing law, you can use your law degree in other careers. You don’t have to be a practicing lawyer to use your law degree.
Q: What are your goals for 2021?
MG: To continue to serve my clients, the legal profession by being active in the MSBA and the Prince George’s County Bar Association, and to serve the residents of Prince George’s County,
A little more about you….
Q: What’s your favorite hobby?
MG: Gardening in the spring and summer. I have several varieties of fig trees.
Q: What do you do to unwind/ de-stress?
MG: I read and enjoy time with my wife. We work out together and walk our pandemic pup, Chase. We adopted a rescue German Shepherd at the beginning of the pandemic and walking him replaced the time we normally spent at the YMCA. We both teach spin.
Q: What’s an interesting fact about you that no one would guess?
MG: I am a certified spin instructor for 13 years. I have taught at YMCA facilities and Fitness Evolution.
Q: What’s a cause or charity that you are passionate about?
MG: I am on the Prince George’s County Advisory Board to the Greater Washington Community Foundation. The Foundation is a philanthropic organization that invests directly in non-profit organizations, communities in systems change to solve problems and change lives. I also sit on the Board of Directors of the Portuguese American Leadership Council. The mission of PALCUS is to be the national voice that advocates for and promotes the advancement of the Portuguese American community economically, professionally, culturally and politically. During my term as President of the Prince George’s County Bar Association I encouraged greater participation of the association with the community and County Government. In 2020 the Bar association’s community project to promote participation in the 2020 census in conjunction with County Government and Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The Bar Association also worked with several faith-based organizations in sponsoring expungement fairs for residents. I believe that as attorneys that we have an obligation to integrate with the community in which we practice.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
MG: Ferry Street Barbecue in the Downneck section of Newark, NJ
Q: What’s your favorite vacation spot?
MG: Negril, Jamaica