Feature by Julie Vitto
Upon entering the law office of McMahon & Winters on North Lime Street in Lancaster, clients are welcomed into its inviting reception area furnished with comfortable seating by the fireplace. The color palette of pale blue and white calms any nerves one might feel when meeting with a lawyer for the first time.
Since opening its doors in 2013, McMahon & Winters has expanded its list of services with a specialized focus on criminal defense and family law. In addition to its founding partner, Joseph P. McMahon, the three-partner firm of Lancaster natives includes defense lawyer, Michael T. Winters, and family law attorney, Shawnee S. Soto-Ortiz.
As the firm celebrates its fourth anniversary on May 1, the occasion is particularly celebratory with the name officially changing to McMahon Winters Soto-Ortiz. McMahon sees continued growth in the firm’s future, with the goal representing clients in all areas of the law.
“The issues that we really get down and dirty with at our law firm are ones that can really play a big role in somebody’s life,” Winters says.
“Nobody comes to us when they’re having their best day,” Soto-Ortiz adds. “And we’re cognizant of the fact that some may never have had contact with the court system.”
“It really is a matter of trust,” McMahon says. “If you have a major issue in your life that you need resolved, you need to be able to trust the person that you give the problem to. Because in criminal law, especially, you don’t know if you had a bad attorney until it’s over.”
McMahon says he encountered Winters in his early days as a young prosecutor, and that his first trial was against Winters, who won. When McMahon started his private practice, both he and Winters decided to join forces and focus on criminal defense. With growth as the long-term strategy, they identified the most relevant area in which to expand: family law. In the summer of 2015, Soto-Ortiz, joined the firm.
“There was sort of a mesh between the criminal defense work that we did and the family practice that Shawnee was known for,” Winters says. “We wanted someone with a great reputation as a family lawyer. Shawnee just fit that for us.”
Soto-Ortiz started her career in Boston, where she worked with victims of domestic violence in law school before becoming a family law attorney. She eventually moved back to Lancaster to continue practicing law and to raise a family. Her interest was always in family law, she says. “In family law you have a long-term, personal relationship with your clients. I just knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my career.”
Winters served as a police officer for six years before beginning his legal career. “When I was in police work and I dealt with criminal defense lawyers, I knew that there were some who did a really good job for their clients, and they did it in an ethical manner. It’s this sense of fairness and justice in the criminal justice system, no matter which side you’re on, that I think really should prevail.” A self-described “law nerd”, Winters writes for the firm’s legal blog, a comprehensive resource for the Lancaster legal community that’s read by attorneys throughout the state.
McMahon began hitting his stride in law school when he interned at the Office of the District Attorney of Lancaster County. Enjoying the excitement of prosecution and criminal law, he gained a reputation as a principled and aggressive litigator and eventually became Assistant District Attorney. With a thorough understanding of both sides of the court room, McMahon says he ultimately wanted to start a private practice where he could focus on defense. “I really like the criminal defense side,” he says. “I couldn’t be the kind of lawyer that sits at a desk all day.”
The partners describe their firm philosophy as one that promotes trust and respect. When it comes to keeping a level head while facing a wide range of legal issues, Soto-Ortiz says the firm has a strong support system in place. “Sometimes we’re hearing some pretty rough stories, and it’s hard to not internalize that as a human being. It’s really a nice thing to have a family unit in a law firm, so that you can have that trust within, and then you can give that out to your clients.”
McMahon & Winters has been recognized in the community for its willingness to step up and assist in times of need. “We really have a hard time saying no when we’re asked to help out,” Winters says. “Whether it’s an agency needing someone to represent those that can’t afford a lawyer for protection from abuse, or whatever it might be. To the extent that we’re able to provide those services, that’s what we’ll do.”
McMahon & Winters Law Firm, LLC
30 N. Lime Street
Lancaster, PA 17602