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Melissa attended college in upstate New York, where she played Division I softball and pursued her degree in English. She graduated in 2002, and accepted a full scholarship to attend law school in Boston. In 2005, after studying in Boston, doing a study abroad in Malta and spending a year studying at California Western School of Law San Diego, Melissa graduated from the New England School of Law. That summer, Melissa sat for, and passed, the bar exam. Melissa worked for several years in San Diego, and discovered, almost immediately, that her calling was criminal defense. After working at a small firm doing both civil and criminal defense, Melissa decided to look for a new home where she could practice exclusively criminal defense. In 2008, she was hired by Timothy B. Rien, then a solo practitioner, and she has been at home in Livermore ever since.
Melissa is a tireless advocate for her clients. She works diligently to negotiate creative resolutions that meet the stated needs of her clients. Melissa is compassionate with clients, and zealous with prosecutors. Every client feels like a priority, and each is treated with respect and dignity. Melissa often encourages clients to call or email with questions, as often as needed in order to feel comfortable.
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Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman 0:04
Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show. And yes, I’m an attorney. Nobody's perfect. She is a zealous advocate for her clients. Her entire practice is devoted to criminal defense and criminal justice litigation. She has lived, studied and worked on both coasts of the United States, and abroad in Malta. She is an outstanding athlete having played division one sports. And I can attest from personal experience, she is an outstanding cyclist. Melissa Adams, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Good morning, Louis. Thank you for having me.
I'm happy to have you. I see you in court all the time and I see you on the occasional bike event. And so it's fun to be able to interview you. Where's your office located right now?
My office is in Livermore, Downtown Livermore.
And what kind of practice do you have?
Melissa Adams 1:18
We have a small practice. Now there's myself and Joseph Cox, who is my esteemed business partner and Tim Rien, who I know that a lot of people know. And he's been around for a long, long time. And I sort of described him right now as being 99% retired, and we do all criminal defense.
Louis Goodman 1:34
How long have you been doing that?
Melissa Adams 1:36
I've been practicing since 2005. So that’s 16 ish years?
Louis Goodman 1:41
Where are you from originally, Melissa?
Melissa Adams 1:43
I'm originally from New York, about an hour north of New York City, which makes it sound a little bit fancy, but it's very, very suburban.
What's the name of the town?
The name of the town I grew up in is called Lake Peekskill. And it's kind of at the top of a mountain. So interesting, because it's really a summer town. That's what it was designed for originally, but we lived there year round.
Louis Goodman 2:03
Is that where you went to high school?
Melissa Adams 2:04
I went to high school in a neighboring town because the town that I grew up in was actually so small that it didn't have its own high school. So I went to a high school called Walter Pennis High School, which was about a 40 minute drive.
Louis Goodman 2:18
What was that experience like for you, in high school?
Melissa Adams 2:20
It was interesting. It was a, I would say a challenging time in my life, you know, just sort of finding myself and you know, just the ups and downs of being a teenager and trying to figure out where you fit in the world.
Louis Goodman 2:33
Did you figure out anything about where you do fit in?
Melissa Adams 2:37
Not in my teens. I didn't until my 20s, I would say maybe even a little bit later. Yeah, high school was really interesting. For me, I was kind of a punk rock and an athlete, which are two, sort of an interesting intersection. Very different crowds. So I actually ran with two very different crowds, but I somehow managed to run with both of them. So yeah, I wasn't very focused on school. I was very focused on going to concerts and playing sports.
Louis Goodman 3:02
What bands did you like?
Melissa Adams 3:03
Oh, my favorite bands, then an hour this pretty much the same rancid, old punk rock band, ironically, from here, generally, from the Bay Area. They were my favorite then they were my favorite. Now I'm actually going to see them for, I don't know that many number times, here in October.
And what sports did you play?
In high school I played basketball, field hockey and softball, but my focus was always softball.
Louis Goodman 3:29
So you really were a three sport person.
Melissa Adams 3:32
I was. I didn't play basketball in the latter years of my high school career, because while playing field hockey, which is a fall sport on the East Coast, I broke my thumb pretty badly and had to have surgery and long recovery. And so that took me out for a basketball season. And after that, I didn't, I didn't play again.
Louis Goodman 3:52
And yet you went on to play Division One Softball in college.
Melissa Adams 3:57
I did, I kind of viewed, I think growing up is like my meal ticket. You know, thankfully, I was talented enough, you know, to go play in college. And yeah, I was able to recover from the thumb surgery and went and played in college knew it. I'll admit, it was not what I expected. I often would joke and say, my summer softball travel team would have kicked my college teams really seemed just wasn't that good.
Louis Goodman 4:24
Where did you go to college?
Melissa Adams 4:26
I went to St. Bonaventure University, which is in upstate New York. If you've ever played softball, which you know, maybe you haven't upstate New York is not the place that you want to play softball because we would have games routinely snowed out and there's nothing good about that.
Louis Goodman 4:41
Well, what I don't know about playing softball, I could probably make up by knowing something about upstate New York since I went to the University of Rochester.
Melissa Adams 4:51
Oh, yes, yes, the snow belt and the cold. Yeah, it's I hate the cold and I have no idea why I chose to go to school there.
Louis Goodman 5:00
Join the club. Did you have some connection with the State University of New York Geneseo?
Melissa Adams 5:05
I did. Yeah. So I went to St. Bonaventure for two years and that's where I played softball. And I just I was burned out and so, I actually left there and I transferred to SUNY Geneseo. And that's ultimately where I graduated from.
Did you play ball there too?
I didn't no, I retired. I felt I was really past my prime.
Louis Goodman 5:30
So you graduated then from Geneseo?
Melissa Adams 5:36
I did. Not far from Rochester. It was the weather was absolutely no better. The academics were much better. And it's really kind of a funny little story here. So when I announced to my parents that I was going to transfer they were not happy at all. And the funniest part is that my father was said, Look, I'm you know, I also want to change my major from Phys Ed. So my head dreams of being a gym teacher to English, and he was so angry with me. And he had written me this note that I still have that said, You know, I really hope you know what you're doing. You know, here's your FAFSA, which of course is you know, your student aid form that he filled out for me and you know, you better get it right. Love that.
Louis Goodman 6:16
Well, there's a vote of confidence. Now, after you graduated from Geneseo, you ultimately went to law school. Did you go right away or did you take some time off?
Melissa Adams 6:26
I did, I went right away. I figured that if I took any time off, I probably wouldn't go back. So I just kind of kept the train rolling forward. And I went to New England School of Law in Boston, because I still hadn't figured out how much I hated the cold. And I couldn't have imagined there would be anywhere colder than Geneseo. But then I landed.
Louis Goodman 6:47
And you had done a little bit of study abroad in Malta at some point.
Melissa Adams 6:52
I did. Yeah. So I did that between my first and second year of law school. Yeah, yeah. It was a study abroad during Law School, which was interesting, which was great. I loved it.
Louis Goodman 7:02
So you went to law school in Boston? And how was that for you?
Melissa Adams 7:09
The first year, I think probably similar to most people's first year experience, you know, it says if you speak English, and they drop you in a German speaking school, you have no idea what's happening or what you're supposed to be doing. And you know, there's no quizzes to make sure you're on track or anything like that. You just have your final exam and hope it clicks for you. Thankfully, it did. It did click for me somewhere before those final exams. And I was actually on a full scholarship, full academic scholarship. And so I had a GPA that I had to maintain every semester in order to keep that scholarship. And so just a little bit of extra pressure in a situation that's already full of pressure. I had a couple of friends who said that they were going to go study abroad and suggested that I tag along. And so I took a look at the brochures and watch some little presentation. So what the beach looked like and immediately signed up.
Louis Goodman 8:00
So did you study law while you were in Malta?
Melissa Adams 8:03
Some? Yeah, I mean, I took I think I took two classes, Comparative Constitutional Law, and some other Comparative Class, but we only had a class I think, four days a week, and then three days a week to travel. And it was fantastic. I mean, the classes were interesting. And it was just enough class, wasn't like an overwhelming amount of schoolwork that we needed to do. I do recall very clearly that I got an A in both classes. And I also think I got an A in extra travel, because I did go to Italy, to Spain, and I went to Sicily, and it was great.
Louis Goodman 8:42
Cool. So what is it that got you starting to think about being a lawyer?
Melissa Adams 8:47
Oh, that's a good question. So my upbringing, I think was different than a lot of other people's upbringing, who end up doing this job, or does end up being a lawyer in general. I did not come from a family of attorneys or judges or anything like that. I didn't even know any attorneys growing up. You know, I came from a pretty lower class family. When I graduated college, I was 21 and just wasn't prepared to work full time yet. So I knew that I was either going to go to school and get a master's degree in literature, or I figured I could go to law school and stay in school a little bit longer. So I figured, well, you know, do I want to be in school for another one year or three years now? Let's pick three. So I applied for a few different schools. I got offered that full scholarship to New England School of Law, and that made my decision for me.
Louis Goodman 9:35
That's great. Yeah. What did your friends, family, your parents say when you told them that you wanted to go to law school be a lawyer?
Melissa Adams 9:43
Oh, they thought I was out of my mind. Yeah, it was very unexpected news to them. They had not known that that was something that I was even thinking about. In fact, I'm not even sure that I told my parents until I had received the acceptance letter. Yeah, they were pretty happy. On leaving a gym teacher, and they were they weren't thrilled about my sudden career change, which I know is just absolutely laughable, but it just wasn't, it was so far outside of a job that anyone in my family would have or would think of having it just you know, we were very blue collar people. And so it was just very foreign.
Louis Goodman 10:22
When you graduated from New England, what was your first legal job?
Melissa Adams 10:26
So I well, so I actually studied abroad, not abroad, but I studied, and did my final year of law school at California Western, which is down in San Diego, so almost like a study abroad, but not abroad, just across the country. So my first job was a family friend, or sort of a friend of a family friend who had a small civil firm in San Diego. And so I practice I worked for him for about four months doing contracts and some other random civil things that I absolutely hated.
Louis Goodman 10:59
Well, coming over to San Diego from Boston, that must have been a big change.
Melissa Adams 11:05
Yeah, it was quite a culture shock. But in the best of ways. I absolutely loved San Diego. I still miss it every day that I spend in the day, I wish I was still in San Diego. It was absolute paradise.
Louis Goodman 11:17
What made San Diego paradise for you?
Melissa Adams 11:19
The weather, of course. I mean, I think everyone is drawn there because of the weather. I just think the pace of life was a little bit slower. And so it was just sort of a break from the hustle and bustle. And I really just loved like sort of the vibe.
How did you happen to come to the Bay Area and start practicing criminal law in Alameda County?
So when I was trying to get out of San Diego, I applied for jobs all over the place. So from you know, Federal Defense Attorney in Kansas, to you know, Guam, on all the way up here to the Bay Area. So I just applied for a job up here. Tim Rien contacted me and had me come up for an interview and hired me very short time later.
Louis Goodman 12:00
And that apparently has gone pretty well for you.
Melissa Adams 12:03
It's gone pretty well. Yeah, it has, it's been fantastic.
Louis Goodman 12:07
What do you really like about practicing law?
Melissa Adams 12:08
You know, I like being able to change the trajectory. I think of someone's life, really just being able to be there with them through a process, being able to hold their hand when they need me to being able to have compassion, being in a situation where I can tell them, you know, this is what our plan is, this is what we're going to do.
Louis Goodman 12:28
Would you recommend the law as a career to a young person just coming out of college?
Melissa Adams 12:34
Oh, gosh, that's a tough question. My gut reaction to that is no. And really, it's not to do with the actual dealing with people or helping people, that's obviously the best part of the job that we do. I would say it's the work life balance, which I think many times is non existent, especially when you're younger, in your practice. I've just sort of been on this tangent lately about this hustle culture that I think that we're in the midst of right now. And how toxic it is.
Louis Goodman 13:04
How is actually practicing law been different from your expectations about it?
Melissa Adams 13:08
I was told, I think initially when I started practicing law, and especially criminal defense, not to get too close to clients, you know, obviously have boundaries and things like that. And so, you know, my expectation was that I was going to sort of be this, this advocate, but that I wasn't going to care about people in a really deep and meaningful way. That's sort of what happened to them after they intersected with my path. And that has been, first of all, that was terrible advice in anytime that I have an intern in my office, I tell them the exact opposite. And I say, you know, you are doing your client a disservice if you don't let yourself get close to them and care about them. Because you will advocate in a different way. If you allow yourself to care about them and their family and their children, you just, I mean, I just think that's human nature. And so I did not expect the practice to be so emotionally draining. I think that's really the main thing, I needed to work a lot. And you know that it would be difficult in that sense. But I did not expect to have this massive network of people now that I care about that. I check in on clients, you know, from five or 10 years ago, shoot them a quick email and see how they're doing. So I didn't expect that. I didn't expect the emotional attachment to people
Louis Goodman 14:25
How about the business of practicing law. You know, we are business people, in addition to being lawyers, and I'm wondering how that has gone for you and your partner.
Melissa Adams 14:36
Yeah, so I actually took over the business in 2016, which we obviously didn't advertise, but and yeah, the first year or two, I think was extraordinarily difficult, just a lot of loss sleep and stress and worry. I did not take any business classes in college, I had no idea how to run a business. And so that was a really, it was a really tough time to sort of learn on the fly. I also felt very much responsible for my staff and maintaining them, in maintaining salaries and things like that. So I felt a lot of pressure. But now that I'm much more used to it, I feel like it integrates fairly easily into my day and my week.
What do you think's the best advice you've ever received?
Oh, well, that's a tough one. Gosh, you know, that is a really, really hard question. I don't know, I think maybe just to continue to persevere, you know, when things are hard. Obviously, you just have to keep going. And you just have to persevere, you just have to keep going.
Louis Goodman 15:35
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Melissa Adams 15:38
No, not at all. I was actually thinking about that earlier today. And, you know, it's just obviously, the government has a lot of resources, that we don't always have. Clients that have finances, you know, considered better experts or experts in general that clients without finances can't have. I think there's sort of a misunderstanding with private defense counsel as well, where people think that, Oh, well, if your client was able to retain you, well, then they obviously have money. But you and I both know that sometimes people scrape together every dime, they have just hire us. And then we're out there begging for funding, you know, from the government, from the county, from the judge to secure the experts that we need. And that is a difficult process. And you know, sometimes we get turned down for experts that we know that we really need and that puts us in a really difficult situation. So I think that just people with resources, unfortunately, oftentimes can fare better in the system than people without them.
Louis Goodman 16:40
I'm gonna shift gears here a little bit. What's your family life like and how is practicing law affected that?
Melissa Adams 16:42
My family life is still very new right now. I actually got married in September of 2020. I bought a house just very recently, also just moved into it in March and it's in Manteca. So I have a commute and a half, which is fine. I mean, I don't really mind being in the car. Thankfully, lots of podcasts and things like that in punk rock, obviously. So yeah, but you know, the commute certainly is tough. My wife, thankfully, is a very understanding and tolerant human being. Yeah. To be if you live with me, because I can be a bit of a challenge driven kids. I have a stepdaughter. Yeah, I have a stepdaughter, who is 25 lives in Texas. And I actually have a granddaughter who's two who is just a joy. And I'm also very close to two nieces and nephews that I have, who are just have been the light of my life since they were born. And I see them pretty often and talk to them very regularly.
Louis Goodman 17:37
Now, you mentioned some of your recreational pursuits. I'm wondering if you could kind of fill us in a little bit on that. I mean, I know. I've seen you, as I mentioned at some bike events. Wondering if you could talk about what kind of recreational pursuits you have and if that helps you clear your head from practicing law.
Melissa Adams 17:58
Absolutely, yeah, it definitely, I'll start with the second part first. It definitely helps me clear my head. I need stress relief regularly. And certainly training for triathlons gives me that which is fantastic. I actually got hooked up with a Triathlon Club, which is called Tri Valley Triathlon Club, TVTC for short, a couple years ago. And so I've been training regularly with the club for a couple years. It's so fantastic, because it's this really wonderful team environment, a lot of support, new friends and people that have the same interests.
Louis Goodman 18:34
Have you ever had a job or an interest that you would pursue if you couldn't be a lawyer? Or if you were not a lawyer, what else would you do?
Melissa Adams 18:45
Oh, gosh, I thought about teaching. I would love to teach either in law school or undergrad. And I think that's, you know, something that could be in the future for me.
Louis Goodman 18:54
Let's say you and your wife came into some real money, say, $3 or $4 billion? What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Melissa Adams 19:02
Gosh, I would certainly pay off mortgages. I think for, you know, all of our immediate family members, that would be one thing I'd really want to do. Thankfully, they all live in places that are not as expensive as the Bay Area. So that would be one thing. Make sure that my granddaughter and my nieces and nephews are set for college. I am personally still paying back my student loans. So from undergrad no less. And so I would really like for them not to have that experience. I don't find it very character building like some people say that it is. I just think it's annoying and difficult. So I would do that. And my wife would tell you that she would want me to go work for the Innocence Project. She is just absolutely enthralled with the Innocence Project and everything that they do. And she very much wants me to go volunteer some time with them. So I suppose I'd probably have to do that. Which is okay.
Louis Goodman 19:51
Let's say you had a magic wand and that was one thing you could change in the world in the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Melissa Adams 19:58
I think just the inequalities of the world and very much like financial inequalities, you know, sort of the differences between the haves and the have nots is startling in and I see people all the time, not just clients of ours. But yeah, we just drive to court in Oakland in the number of people who are unhoused. I think that those are all things that I would love to address, either with, you know, $3 or $4 billion lotto winnings, or a magic wand or some combination thereof, because those are the things that I think really make me sad on an everyday basis.
Louis Goodman 20:36
Melissa, anything else you want to talk about that we haven't covered?
Melissa Adams 20:39
By just you know, I just want to say that I am a very blessed individual. I'm not very religious at all. But I wake up every day, knowing that I'm very blessed person. I mean, a very good employment situation. Like I said, I own this business with Mr. Cox with Joe, and he is the most fantastic business partner and person, he is an absolute joy to run a business with. And I just feel so incredibly lucky to have found Tim, and to then have found Joe, and to be running this business with Joe, and changing the world. I mean, we really are aware that we are changing the world every day in what we do.
Louis Goodman 21:18
Melissa Adams, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you so much for having me. Have a great afternoon.
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I'll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And Joel Katz from music, Brian Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Melissa Adams 22:10
And I remember her very clearly saying, you know, you could work at a bank and I laughed and I said like I could work in a bank without a degree. So you know, what the hell did I spend the last four years getting this college degree for.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai