Maria Melendez ’92 still recalls Professor Norman Deutsch’s oft-repeated instruction to “always read the statute.” She continues to pass this simple yet sound advice on to young associates now that she's a partner in the New York City office of Sidley Austin LLP. As a member of the firm’s litigation practice since 1993, Melendez focuses on complex commercial litigation, including securities litigation, as well as commercial arbitrations. “At its core, it’s all litigation, which is something that I’ve always enjoyed ever since law school,” she said.
She fondly remembers her international transactions class with Professor Patricia Youngblood Reyhan. “She’s one of those people that blow you away – so talented.” Her decision to apply to Albany Law School was based in part on a suggestion by one of her public policy professors at Syracuse University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in marketing. “I did kind of a loop through Upstate New York before returning to New York City,” said Melendez, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn.
While studying at Albany Law, Melendez spent more than two years clerking for E. Stewart Jones ’66, currently chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. “You learn a lot from someone like that,” she recalled. She also found time to serve as an associate editor of the Albany Law Review and participate in as many BALSA events as possible.
Melendez maintains a full schedule today, as well, including serving as the New York chair of the Diversity Committee and a member of the Hiring Committee for Sidley Austin, a firm with more than 1,800 lawyers in 16 offices. She is also a member of the board of directors of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, an organization that has won landmark cases in education, housing, voting, migrant, immigrant, employment and other civil rights.
She has been involved with the nonprofit organization inMotion Inc. in various roles since 2001, currently serving as Sidley Austin’s corporate representative with the women’s legal services provider. Several times a year, her firm sends an associate to inMotion to work full time for three to four months providing free services in matrimonial, family and immigration law. The program was recognized in February as one of inMotion’s 2009 Commitment to Justice Award Recipients.
Melendez has two boys, ages 8 and 10, with her husband, who she met as an undergraduate and married in 1993. “Although it is not always easy, it is certainly possible to balance a fulfilling home life with this kind of work,” she concluded. “I think it is important for people just out of law school to realize that they can have both.”