En garde: Fencing enthusiast brings strategic skills to bear in the law

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Melanie Duda notes the sport of fencing is similar to the practice of law—albeit without the metal weaponry.

“Fencing has been described as a combination of chess and football,” says Duda, who during her collegiate days captained the Wayne State University Women’s Fencing Team. “Defeating your opponent requires thought, strategy, and evaluation of weaknesses, while at the same time demanding speed, strength, and endurance. I can’t think of a sport that would have prepared me better for this job.”

A recent addition to the Southfield-based civil rights and personal injury law firm of Moss & Colella PC, Duda focuses on litigation involving first and third-party auto law, negligence, medical malpractice, civil rights, discrimination, gross negligence and governmental immunity cases.

“I enjoy the challenge of plaintiff’s side work, as well as the fact no two cases are ever the same,” she says. “While it’s unfortunate clients are always experiencing negative circumstances, being able to change those circumstances by fighting for justice on their behalf is a privilege and honor I take very seriously.”

Duda previously litigated cases of civil rights, sexual assault, medical malpractice and negligence at Fieger Law in Southfield, where she worked on several multi-million-dollar cases including two seven-figure auto negligence cases, a seven-figure medical malpractice action, and a massive products liability class action lawsuit involving the New England Compounding Center and a contaminated steroid administered to thousands of patients including hundreds in Michigan. In 2017, she was featured in the “Notable Women Lawyers in Michigan” special section of Crain’s Detroit Business, as a “Woman to Watch.”

For two years, Duda flew solo in her own firm, working on criminal defense, family law and real estate matters. Her passion for the legal field was piqued by anthropology studies, with bachelor and master degrees in the subject from Wayne State University. Her father sparked her interest in high school with a book about paleoanthropologists discovering the remains of ancient human ancestors in Africa. Her studies provided opportunities to travel and conduct research locally and abroad.

“Ultimately my interests shifted from the ancient to the modern and I became very interested in how socioeconomic disparities affect present day populations, which ultimately influenced my decision to go into law,” she says.

A member of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM), Duda earned her J.D. from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she was a member of Law Review, served as a symposium editor, and clerked at the Troy firm of Giarmarco, Mullins, & Horton.

“I went to law school because my research and travels focused my attention on the injustices and inequities that unfortunately pervade our society—I was looking for a career that allowed me to actively effectuate change,” she says. “Becoming a lawyer seemed like my best opportunity to address these issues and create positive outcomes for individuals who have been injured, marginalized, or had their rights violated in some way. I’m extremely fortunate to have the kind of job where I can work toward that goal.”

A non-traditional law student, Duda was older than most of her fellow students, and juggled family responsibilities with a rigorous full time academic schedule.

“Going to law school seemed terrifying at first—however, I always felt like I belonged at UDM, and the administrators and professors provided the support and guidance for me to successfully launch my career,” she says.

Her favorite experience was the law school’s Criminal Trial Clinic.

“I received actual experience in a courtroom, defending real clients in front of actual judges,” she says. “By the time I graduated, I had enough experience to walk into court on my own and represent my own clients.”

In her leisure time, the Livonia native enjoys running, with Heritage Park in Farmington Hills a favorite spot, with its wooded paths and abundance of nature; and participates in local races, including the annual Twinkie Run in Ann Arbor, raising money for ALS research. She also volunteers with the Polish American Historic Site Association– Detroit, and has served as committee chair and den leader for her son’s Cub Scout Pack in Livonia.

She has enjoyed whitewater rafting in West Virginia; often kayaks on Ann Arbor’s 3.7-mile Argo to Gallup River Trip on the Huron River, and recently kayaked in South Carolina’s Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, with alligators for company. She remains close to the sport of fencing, with her son following in mom’s footsteps—or foils.

Duda enjoys living and working in the Motor City area.

“Detroit has a great vibe due to the amazing cultural diversity,” she says. “From Dearborn to Southwest Detroit to Ferndale and everywhere in between, there’s so much to explore and experience. Plus my family is close, a definite bonus.”

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