How We Met

We met through the random power of networks.

In early 2013, Sara and Margaret, who had each just started their own firm, serendipitously met at a local D.C. networking event. They hit it off, developed a friendship and since then have supported one another in running their firms. 

Not long after that, Ellen and Sara were introduced by a mutual friend who knew Sara had her own firm and that Ellen was looking to leave the big firm where she was working. Around the same time that Ellen and Sara met, Ellen and Margaret were introduced by a mutual friend. Again, friendships developed and they have supported one another with their firms ever since. 

Michelle and Sara were running for a DC Bar position, against one another. When it was all over, they became friends. Sara then introduced Michelle to Margaret and Ellen. 

Why The Candid Counsel Blog:

As we spent time together, we found ourselves regularly talking over lunch, drinks and email about the constant media reports on in-house counsels’ concern over increasing hourly rates of lawyers and about the supposed lack of diversity in the law. In fact, our animated discussions on this topic resulted in us writing three articles on the topic that were published.

For us, there’s a stunning disconnect between what we read, our reality, and what we aim to accomplish with our firms. That is, we each decided, when none of us had to, to leave good jobs. We quit working for others so we could run our own firms, on our terms, using our creativity, legal acumen and accessible technology to provide value to our clients.

At one point, we decided that we could either keep talking amongst ourselves and writing one off articles; or we could start a conversation through social media with our in-house colleagues and business clients about our evolving profession.

So…this blog is about four proud lawyers who chartered their own paths, sharing thoughts with our in-house colleagues and business clients on how things could be. 


About Us

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Ellen D. Marcus

Ellen D. Marcus is a civil trial lawyer with a proven track record of bringing complex cases to successful and cost-effective resolution for clients, often in matters where they face better-funded adversaries, and often in Virginia federal and state courts.   

For her business clients, Ellen has secured wins in cases alleging:

  • Theft of trade secrets and confidential information,

  • Unlawful business conspiracy,

  • Breach of contract,

  • Tortious contract interference, and

  • Breach of fiduciary duties owed by officers and directors in corporations and partners in partnerships.

Ellen also has negotiated favorable employment and separation agreements on behalf of CEOs, CFOs and other high-level employees, in some cases after hard-fought litigation.

Ellen co-founded Holmes Costin & Marcus PLLC in 2014 in pursuit of her dream to have a Virginia-based firm catering to businesses and business people needing expert help in solving their business problems, both in and out of court.  For 14 years before that, Ellen was practicing law across the river in Washington, D.C. – most recently as a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, where she learned from some of the country’s top trial lawyers and represented plaintiffs and defendants in courts throughout the United States.

Ellen began her legal career as a law clerk for Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  She received her law degree from the Columbia School of Law, where she was a senior editor for the Columbia Law Review and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science, magna cum laude, from Amherst College.

In her spare time, Ellen trains for triathlons.  She occasionally races in them, too.


Margaret M. Cassidy

Armed with a law degree, several years of prosecutorial experience, the knowledge she gained from working in corporate America, an entrepreneurial spirit and love of the law, Margaret founded Cassidy Law to work with businesses and their leaders. Margaret provides prospective counsel to businesses and their leaders on navigating complex laws when working international or when dealing with governments; and, she defends clients in government investigations or prosecution.

The types of matters Margaret has handled include:

  • Defended executives and businesses in government investigations into: corruption, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; conflicts of interest violations, government ethics violations; trade violations; and violations of the False Claims Act.

  • Conducted internal investigations and advised businesses and executives on making government disclosure related to the False Claim Act, corruption, procurement violations, export violations, trade sanctions; and conflicts of interest.

  • Developed the foreign ownership, control and interest (FOCI) mitigation program for a non-U.S. entity that purchased a U.S. defense contractor;

  • Reviewed and updated a defense contractor’s anti-corruption and federal government contracting compliance program to include establishing an insider threat and human trafficking compliance programs as required by national security laws

  • Worked with a non-U.S. defense contractor to develop an ethics and compliance program for federal government contracting, foreign ownership control and interest, trade sanctions and export controls.

  • Advised a global financial services company on FCPA compliance, Office of Foreign Asset Control Compliance (OFAC), export administration regulations (EAR); international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR) and trade sanctions.

Margaret works in DC and lives there with her husband and their really old dog; but regularly returns to Cleveland to work, spend time with her parents, and to watch the Cleveland Indians. 


Michelle W. Cohen

Michelle brings the background of litigator and the experience of a trusted advisor to client matters. She has practiced for over 25 years in Washington, DC, the first 20 in Big Law. She establishes strong and lasting relationships by committing herself to client service, with many of her client relationships dating back 10, 15, even 25 years. Michelle represents clients in federal and state proceedings (FTC, FCC, state attorney generals) and in civil litigation and arbitrations, with a particular emphasis on privacy and data security, consumer protection, and advertising. Her clients span a range of industries, including global publicly-traded corporations, innovative fintech companies, and gaming businesses.  Michelle also counsels on personnel and compliance matters. Her tenure in Big Law included acting as a hiring partner, a women’s initiative chair, and a flexible schedule coordinator for the law firm.  In 2012, she joined Ifrah Law, a Chamber-ranked boutique firm, to offer clients the flexibility and attention of a smaller firm dedicated to achieving top-notch results. 

Michelle’s recent matters have included:

  • Settlement of FTC litigation involving website privacy issues and a Section 230 website host defense

  • Launching an Internal investigation involving compliance with corporate policies

  • Defense of dozens of Telephone Consumer Protection Act cases (federal court and arbitrations)

  • Resolution of Attorney General investigations of alleged do not call violations.

In her compliance practice, Michelle helps clients engage with customers and contacts, while complying with the myriad of laws and adhering to regulations that govern privacy, advertising and trade regulation. She regularly guides clients so they may launch:

  • Sweepstakes, contests and similar promotions (including social media campaigns)

  • Online gaming

  • GDPR-review of privacy practices

Since 2008, Michelle has held the Certified Information Privacy Professional (“CIPP-US”) certification issued by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (“IAPP”), where she serves on the Publications Advisory Board.  Michelle serves on several other boards, including as the Vice President-Legal and Secretary of the non-profit National Woman’s Party at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument. She is often found at area dog parks with her “Bassador” rescue pup “Joey.”



Sara E. Kropf 

Sara has over 15 years of experience in the courtroom. She started her career as a partner at a large, international firm in Washington, DC. In 2013, she decided to leave to start her own firm, inspired in part by her experience as a summer associate in a small white-collar criminal defense firm. Sara’s firm defends executives and businesses during their toughest times—when they are facing government investigations or complex business litigation. Sara’s firm also helps companies by conducting internal investigations into possible employee wrongdoing.  

Sara has won numerous types of cases in the courtroom, including:  

  • A full acquittal for a sales executive accused of criminal health care fraud

  • A jury verdict in favor of a corporate executive sued for breach of contract over a complex real-estate dispute

  • A full acquittal for a nurse accused of felony rioting during a political protest

  • A jury verdict in favor of company accused of human rights abuses in South America

She has also handled other types of cases outside the courtroom, including: 

  • Defense of sales executive in a criminal antitrust investigation

  • Defense of accounting executive in criminal health care fraud investigation

  • Defense of holding company against civil claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fraud

  • Internal investigation of public company related to extensive employee theft

In her spare time, Sara goes to as many Washington Nationals games as possible and hangs out with her teenage/almost-teenage sons as much as they’ll let her.