Melissa Schaller always thought she would be a writer one day.
Being a lawyer has given her a way to fulfill that dream while also put her talents toward the betterment of society.
Schaller regularly finds herself filing briefs on behalf of the state when it is challenged by people whose parole and extended-supervision privileges have been revoked. At other times, she’ll be defending disciplinary measures taken in one of the state’s prisons or providing advice in workers’ compensation hearings.
But, Schaller said, her writing responsibilities are just the start of what she likes about her job.
“There’s the problem solving,” she said. “That has an element of immediate gratification to it. You get a decision from a judge that says you were right or wrong and it has some real impact on people. Sometimes you get to uphold a decision to keep someone off the streets who is not contributing to society, to put it nicely.”
Not only has Schaller travelled a long path in her career; she has moved literally hundreds of miles to get to where she is today.
Raised in Richmond, Va., Schaller came to Wisconsin in 2003, enrolling at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Three years later, she had a juris doctor degree and, not long after that, a limited-term employment position in Madison with the state Department of Justice.
That job lasted for about six months. Schaller then did a stint at the Department of Corrections and then worked as a staff attorney for a couple of Dane County judges: William Foust and Michael Nowakowski.
After a few years she learned that a full-time position in the Department of Justice had opened; she was hired in 2008.
David Hart worked with Schaller in the Department of Justice’s Madison office when she started there. Hart, now an assistant state public defender and a pastor at Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church in Madison, said he immediately noticed how Schaller was always willing to take under her wing young women of color who came to the Department of Justice as interns or externs.
“It’s something she does without being asked,” Hart said. “There is no formal program. But when she sees someone — women and especially women of color — she makes sure they have all the support that they need. She is always following up with them.”
Outside the office, Schaller enjoys spending time with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. A second child, a son, is expected in June.
Schaller said that no matter how many of the old workplace barriers are swept away, certain things are unlikely to change for women.
“Even if you’ve got the greatest husband in the world, which I do, most of the caregiving tends to shift to the mother,” Schaller said. “That’s pretty much a universal theme for a lot of women in any career. Certainly being a lawyer is no exception to that.”