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Home / 2011 Leaders in the Law / Retirement still a long way off for Melli

Retirement still a long way off for Melli

Joseph A. Melli – Melli Law

Lifetime Achievement Award

Photo by Kevin Harnack

Photo by Kevin Harnack

Joseph A. Melli thought, as an idealistic new lawyer, that he’d represent workers.

He nonetheless found himself representing an employer, a small milk-tank hauler, against the Teamsters’ Union not long after he hung his own shingle.

The matter involved employees arguing they were owed back pay, but with no language to that effect in the employment contract. Melli was sure that once he brought that to opposing counsel’s attention, they’d settle.

He was wrong. Opposing counsel chuckled and told him, “Joe, you have to realize that we’re not dealing with civil law here. We’re doing labor relations. In labor relations, we go by the muscle, and guess who’s got the muscle in this case — your owners of a 12-employee shop, or the entire Teamsters Union?”

So the union struck, but eventually returned to work — without the back pay.

It was a David-versus-Goliath case — no one prevailed over the Teamsters in 1951, Melli said.

It taught him the importance of shunning ideologies, and simply judging each case by its merits.

It also started him on the path to becoming one of the state’s most highly regarded management attorneys.

Over time, his firm, Melli Law, has grown from two lawyers to 17. Although labor and employment law remains the firm’s mainstay, it has expanded into business and civil litigation, as well as school, construction and family law and estate planning.

Melli said he’s extremely proud of and grateful for some of the firm’s long-term client relationships. Now 87, he still comes into the office daily, to provide counsel advice.

That’s on top of creating the Dane County Bar Association’s Mentorship Program. That project began in 2006, when he and Sun Prairie attorney Joshua J. Kindkeppel first matched 10 new lawyers with 10 experienced lawyers.

Since its second year, the program has annually paired 20 mentors and mentees, and has been deemed so successful that State Bar of Wisconsin President James C. Boll Jr. chose replicating the program as one of his goals for his term.

The Dane County program has been re-named the Joseph A. Melli Mentorship Program, and he and Kindkeppel are now helping a handful of other local bars to establish their programs.

In addition, Melli is president of the State Bar’s Senior Lawyers Division, where he is currently organizing a program entitled, “Transition to Retirement from Law Practice.” It will discuss the practical and ethical dictates for retirement, as well how to stay active in their profession, post-retirement.

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