My name is Melinda Murphy Dionne and I was born in Sylacauga, Alabama on May 16, 1961. For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be an attorney. My mother has copies of “contracts” that I drafted when I was 10. The majority of my childhood was spent living outside of Montgomery, Alabama. My mother was the head nurse at the Mount Meigs Boys Reform School and we lived on the campus. We lived at Mount Meigs until I was in high school. I graduated in 1979, from Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama.
In August of 1979, I started at the University of Alabama. I graduated from Alabama, Summa Cum Laude, in May of 1983. In August of 1983, I began my legal studies at the University Of Alabama School Of Law. In May 1986, I graduated law school and began clerking for the Honorable George S. Wright. Judge Wright was, at that time, the Chief Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of Alabama. It was during my two year clerkship that I developed an interest in practicing bankruptcy law full time.
After my clerkship, I had the privilege of working with Jerry W. Schoel at the firm of Schoel, Ogle, Benton and Centeno. Jerry served as my mentor and teacher for 5 years. He was the best bankruptcy attorney I have ever known and he helped me become the attorney that I am today. While working at Schoel, Ogle, Benton & Centeno, I meet and married my husband Donald L. Dionne.
Don and I were married in 1990. At that time, Don worked in the legal department of a large accounting firm. I worked in a law firm with 5 other attorneys. Life was good and we both had steady paychecks.
Then in 1992, things began to change for us. We went from two good paychecks to one. We learned that having a large family, or even one child, might be impossible. We struggled with having a child and were about to give up all hope when we found out that we were pregnant with our daughter. The doctors told us she was a statistical impossibility. Yet, she was on her way and she would change our lives forever.
Amelia is now 17 and she is the light of our lives. She is enrolled in an internet school and will start at the University of Alabama in the fall. We are truly blessed to have her with us every day. We also have eleven dogs who we love like they were our children. We have one cat but the fish, hermit crabs and two other cats have passed on.
There are times when I think back over my life, or that of my husband, and I think that we have come a long way through some very hard times. I worked my way through college and my first year of law school working 30 hours a week at a Taco Bell. I would make the 2 hour drive home every Thursday, go to work at 5:00 and finish my 30 hours on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. I would then drive the 2 hours back to college and work my job there Monday through Thursday afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong I feel very blessed to have the life that I do. I have a wonderful and loving family and I have been blessed with far more than some people. But that doesn’t mean my life has been without real struggles. We have survived cancer for 16 years, we have experienced job losses and job failures, and we have made it through some other pretty serious medical problems.
Sometimes when I tell clients that I understand their fear, embarrassment, feelings of failure, and humiliation they look at me like “sure you do.” I don’t always tell them how close I have come to bankruptcy or how many family members I have helped deal with their own financial struggles. I don’t tell them that after the new bankruptcy laws passed in 2005 we struggled for 2 years just to keep the lights on and the employees paid. The not so funny joke at Christmas in 2007 was we were going to give each other our own bankruptcy case as our Christmas present. I don’t tell them that the majority of my staff members understand because they too have been there. I don’t always tell them these things because they didn’t come to hear my problems. They came to solve their problems.
I understand how scared my clients are and how much they wish they could be anywhere but in my office. I do understand what it’s like to hope the check you write at the grocery store doesn’t bounce. I know what it’s like to hold your breath while they run the credit card charge and hope it’s approved. My phone has rung off the hook with creditors calling. I have turned off the phone and refused to listen to my messages. At times, I prayed the phone didn’t ring when family or someone came to visit. I’ve had collectors tell me I was a deadbeat. I have cried and lost sleep over how I was going to provide for my family. Are these things that caused me to feel embarrassment, shame, and a sense of failure—you bet they are! Should they have caused me to feel that way? I don’t really know the answer to that question. All I know is that I was doing the very best I could to take care of my obligations.
Ultimately, we were saved from filing our own bankruptcy case by the economy collapsing. We were lucky in a way. For once, we were in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time. Going through tough times made us stronger and gave us a greater ability to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
I thank God every day that he got me through the tough times. I also thank God for making me the bankruptcy lawyer that I am today. I am much better at my job because, believe it or not, I understand. I have been there and I know the good that I can do in helping someone get out of debt. Every day of my life I have the privilege of using my knowledge to help people live better lives. I have the “super power” of stopping the harassing phone calls, stopping foreclosures and garnishments, wiping out old taxes, keeping the repo man from taking your car, and, in some cases, wiping out or reducing mortgages. Under the right facts, I can even reduce the amount you owe on your car and lower your interest rate. I can make lives better and futures more secure. I feel blessed to have these “super powers” and I use them every day to help my clients through one of the toughest times in their lives.
If you want a bankruptcy attorney with a fancy suit and a high priced fancy office, I’m not your kind of lawyer. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good bankruptcy lawyers in fancy suits with fancy offices. I just don’t happen to fit that mold. I am an everyday kind of person. I just happen to have law degree and I happen to be a very good bankruptcy lawyer. I work hard to make people feel “at home” with me, and with my office. I want you to feel comfortable talking to me and my staff. Most importantly, I want you to know that when you come to my office no one is going to judge you, think less of you, or look at you as a failure. I want you to let me use my “super powers” to make your life better.