“I was willing to do the difficult tasks, be consistent and show improvement.”
In the National Football League, some players are drafted onto teams with expectations that they will be stars. Others are drafted as “projects” that coaches expect may, or may not, make a final roster. Some show up as undrafted free agents, hoping for a chance. Conrad Bolston was the third. As an undrafted defensive lineman, Conrad Bolston recognized that, while he wasn’t the highest drafted or most “athletically gifted” member of his team, his work ethic, discipline, and ambition gave him a fighting chance to be successful.
“It takes a particular kind of person to line up against people about your size, know that a couple of them are going to try to knock you off the ball — and still lunge head-first play after play,” he said. “I was willing to do the difficult tasks, be consistent and show improvement.”
Today, Bolston applies that same drive as an environmental and white collar attorney at V&E, where he’s worked with seasoned lawyers like Environmental & Natural Resources partners Ron Tenpas and Maggie Peloso and White Collar Criminal Defense partners Fry Wernick and Mike Dry. Learning from great lawyers, he said, is one of the best parts of working at V&E.
“In football, when the starters are practicing or playing, you’re not supposed to be sitting there kicking rocks. You’re supposed to be watching what they do and how they do it — it’s almost like an apprenticeship at times,” he explained. “At the firm, it feels similar — I get a front-row seat to how other people practice, write, interact with clients and make decisions about important matters. You learn through people talking to you about your work and giving you feedback. You learn by watching, doing, and others helping you grow.”
The story of how a former NFL defensive tackle like Bolston became an attorney is about as surprising as a fake punt.
Bolston grew up in a suburb in Montgomery County, Maryland, where he divided much of his spare time between a deep love of Japanese anime, sci-fi novels, and a commitment to youth baseball. But a chance meeting with a persuasive high school football coach changed Bolston’s mind about his sport of choice. Shortly after taking the field, he realized that football was where his talent lay. He ended up excelling at the sport in high school and went on to be a three-year starter at the University of Maryland.
Bolston left college a semester early to pursue a career in the National Football League. He went undrafted but landed a tryout at camp with the Minnesota Vikings. He later gained a spot on the Vikings practice squad before moving up to the team’s active roster mid-season. That same year, Bolston signed with the Green Bay Packers and had a busy 2007-2008 season as the team advanced to the playoffs. But that season would prove to be his last. Throughout the 2008 pre-season camp with the Packers, Bolston found himself with a nagging pain in his back. He blamed it on what he thought was an injury.
It turned out to be a rare form of spinal cancer that threatened his life. Two surgeries to remove the tumor quickly followed.
“I really didn’t know what to think. I was in a lot of pain, so my thought process at the time was, ‘I don’t care what you have to do, let’s fix this issue,’” Bolston recalled. “It wasn’t until just before surgery that it dawned on me: My football career was over.”
Another career, however, was just beginning. At the University of Maryland, Bolston had majored in Environmental Science and Policy and especially enjoyed an environmental law class. He knew he didn’t want to spend his life writing academic policy papers, but he could see a future for himself in the law.
“As a former athlete, I wanted something that appealed to my need to compete. I needed some type of conflict and action,” Bolston said. After speaking with his professors, academic advisors and friends who had attended law school, Bolston concluded that, indeed, a legal career was right for him.
He began studying for the LSAT while recovering from his surgeries and undergoing radiation therapy. He returned to the University of Maryland, took the exam, finished his course requirements, and graduated with an acceptance from Georgetown Law School in hand.
During law school, Bolston interned at the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. After graduation, he clerked for the Honorable James R. Spencer in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. After four years at another firm, he joined V&E in 2018.
Bolston’s recent work has included matters relating to environmental enforcement and litigation, environmental justice and environment, social, and governance (ESG) reporting, compliance counseling, and white collar defense.
“The variety has been a really good experience at V&E,” he said. “There’s just a lot going on and there are fantastic attorneys.”
When he’s not at work, Bolston spends time with his wife and two children, ages 7 and 5. His oldest, he said, now joins him in reading comic books.
Could legal briefs be next?
“No,” Bolston said. “We’re starting him off on baseball.”