By Mary Malik | Photo by Jim Baron
The legal career of Melanie GiaMaria has taken twists and turns, but one thing has remained constant — her passion for helping people.
Deep into law school at Case Western Reserve University, GiaMaria wasn’t feeling fulfilled by a future solely in the legal field. She added a master’s degree in social work and, after graduating in 2003, began her career as a full-time social worker who just happened to be a lawyer.
“In graduate school I was interning for Women’s Re-Entry Network, a program that helped women involved in the criminal justice system to successfully re-enter society,” GiaMaria says. “This program led me down the path to helping women and families, which has remained my passion.”
Full time social work, marriage, and motherhood proved to be challenging for GiaMaria, so in 2014 she started her own law practice to continue her work as an advocate for women and families, with the hopes of finding more balance in her life.
“Starting my own practice was a smooth transition for me and allows for more flexibility,” GiaMaria says. “Managing my days can be a challenge, but I have an extremely supportive husband who is a stay-at-home dad. We make it all work … most days.”
And when GiaMaria says “all,” you can bet it’s a lot. Her practice handles divorce, dissolution, child custody, and all areas of family law. GiaMaria’s practice requires her to advocate for children and adults every day.
“No one wins in contentious family issues,” says GiaMaria. “I consider an outcome to be a success when the families walk away from their experience with me knowing they were impacted in a positive, respectful way.”
GiaMaria says that her experience as a social worker is invaluable to her work with families and makes her uniquely qualified to advocate for her clients.
“I wish every attorney had a social work background,” GiaMaria says. “I don’t like confrontation, and there’s always a resolution if the people involved are willing to work to satisfy everyone. My social work experience has taught me that, and my clients know that they can trust me to guide them to a fair resolution.”
Throughout GiaMaria’s career, she has been involved with and established many programs aimed at helping at risk children and adults.
“Along with a friend, I started a pet program years ago in the women’s prison in Cleveland,” GiaMaria says. “Inmates care for pets of people temporarily unable to care for them. We are keeping animals out of shelters and fulfilling a need for the inmates to nurture and care for someone. It’s been very successful.”
So successful, in fact, that Grafton prison requested that GiaMaria develop a program specifically for cats, reducing the cat population on the prison grounds. The cats are medically brought up to date and live with inmates in their cells until they are adopted, often by the inmates themselves when released.
“I’m also working with my own rescue dog, Carly, in the hopes of working her into my practice as a therapy dog for the children,” GiaMaria says. “It’s a scary world for some kids. Nothing like a sweet dog to make them less afraid.”
With her work as a women’s advocate, GiaMaria deals with many sexual assault cases. As a survivor herself, this is an area of particular importance to her.
“It’s the first thing I tell my clients about myself,” GiaMaria says. “I am a survivor. They can trust me. I normalize it and take away the shame. The truth is working with these women has been instrumental in my own healing.”
GiaMaria admits that, even with her own firm, that balance she was searching for often still eludes her.
But with all she does for her clients and the Cleveland community, she knows she’s providing an example for her own daughters, and even though she can’t do it all, she’s doing enough.
For more info: melaniegiamarialaw.com