Enjoying the challenge of criminal defense work

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

A paralegal at Rockind Law in Southfield, Jennifer Mellas first dipped her toe into a legal career in 2003, with a job as a receptionist for a small general practice law firm in Livonia.

When the firm’s legal assistant took on a new position, Mellas enjoyed a promotion.

At the time, the Livonia native was a student at Schoolcraft College, but was unsure where her college degree might take her.

After taking on more responsibility in her job, she decided to pursue an associate’s degree in paralegal studies from Oakland Community College.   

“Sadly, my boss at that time passed away shortly after I began the paralegal program,” she said. “I worked with another attorney to close the practice down, while looking for a new position.”     

Fate lent a hand when Mellas’s father spotted an ad in the paper for a legal assistant/paralegal with criminal defense attorney Neil Rockind.

“My dad thought I might be interested since I most enjoyed working on criminal defense cases at the previous firm,” she said.   

After acing her interview, Mellas was offered the job on the spot.

“I’d been offered two positions at other firms that week, but knew right away I wanted to work at Rockind Law,” she said.    

She completed her OCC paralegal degree, magna cum laude, in 2007.   

“I cannot speak highly enough of the paralegal program,” she Mellas said. “I was extremely fortunate to be taught by prosecutors from Wayne and Oakland counties, by Judge (Fred) Mester who was previously on the bench in the Oakland County Circuit Court, and by several circuit court staff attorneys.    

“Between my instructors and working for Neil, I learned an invaluable amount of information that I use on a daily basis when dealing with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts.”      
Mellas has a variety of duties at Rockind Law, in a very fast-paced work environment.

In addition to keeping two attorneys organized, she is responsible for filing documents with the court, maintaining contact with the client base and making sure clients are well informed about their cases, drafting basic pleadings, performing legal research, drafting plea reduction requests and sentencing memorandums.

At the same time, Mellas assists with trial preparation and witness interviews, and participating in trial proceedings such as jury selection.   

“I think the most important part of my job is making sure our client base feels safe and secure with their representation, and that they understand the proceedings ahead of them and where their case is headed,” said Mellas, a member of the State Bar of Michigan Paralegal Section and of the Oakland County Bar Association.   

“My favorite part of this job is seeing a case from the beginning to the end — watching it proceed all the way to trial and seeing our work in action, and of course the relief and gratitude in a client’s eyes when they hear the words ‘Not Guilty’ at the conclusion of a trial,” she said.    

“It’s an extremely gratifying position to have,” Mellas added, “and I’m very fortunate to have a job I truly love and feel strongly about.”   

Mellas and Jeff, her husband of nine years and an executive chef, live in Livonia, and are expecting their third child in November, a sibling for Jackson, 3, and 18-month-old Jameson.

“Our lives are very busy trying to balance our careers and caring for our small children, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mellas said. “I’m truly blessed.”

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