The Charleston School of Law recently sat down with Professor Melissa Simondi to talk about her passion for teaching the law. Professor Simondi teaches Legal Research, Analysis, and Writing at Charleston School of Law.
Charleston School of Law: The first obvious question for you is about the dog sitting at your side. What is your dog’s name?
Professor Simondi: This is Ginsburg. She is 17 months. Ginsburg is a service animal trained in medical alert, specifically tachycardia. That is when your heart rate becomes extremely elevated, and it causes your heart to ultimately stop, and you lose consciousness.
It’s a disorder I’ve had since I was 19. It was completely manageable until I got COVID, then it became completely unmanageable. COVID just exacerbated it to the point of it being debilitating.
Ginsburg can sense it happening before I even can. She jumps on me and starts digging and pawing at me. That’s my cue to sit down because generally if you can sit down, you can equalize your blood pressure which will prevent you from losing consciousness. In the event she is unable to alert me in time, and I do lose consciousness, she will go find someone to get help.
Charleston School of Law: Are there certain breeds that are better for this type of service?
Professor Simondi: Yes. Poodles are the number one breed for scent training, which is what you use for the medical alert. They smell the change in your nervous system, like the pheromones, and that’s how they know something’s happening. Ginsburg is half poodle/half golden retriever.
I like to travel. I have family all over. I knew I wanted a breed that would be easy to travel with. I would love to have an 85 pound poodle but trying to fly with a dog that large is easier said than done.
Charleston School of Law: How many dogs do you have?
Professor Simondi: Four. I tried to put my lab through service training, but that did not go well. In her defense, she is 10 years old. My other two are Pomeranians and they’re 12.
Charleston School of Law: You earned your J.D. from Charleston Law in 2016 and went to work as an attorney. What led you from going into the workforce as a practicing attorney to teaching?
Professor Simondi: I loved my time as a litigation attorney. I loved the adrenaline rush and the thrill that comes from being in the courtroom. But after my health problem started it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. During a trial I had in February of 2022, I suffered a tachycardia event. My doctors told me I had to make some choices.
At that time, I was teaching as an adjunct. It just fell into place that then they decided to hire full-time for the legal writing department. It’s been great. The reason I started teaching as an adjunct is – I don’t know if it’s just the way of the world and the changes in society – but the decorum of the court is not what it used to be. I had said, going into teaching as an adjunct, I’m going to try to help mold how students should conduct themselves as attorneys when they get out into practice. That’s something we focus a lot on in my class; not only how you write, how you research, but how you conduct yourself as an attorney.
Charleston School of Law: Did you always know you wanted to practice law?
Professor Simondi: Since I was 10 years old, I would tell my mom that I was going to be a lawyer. My mom was like, ‘Sure’ and laughed it off. When I turned 15, I was still telling her I was going to be a lawyer.
She made me get a job at a local law firm. She said, work here for the summer to see if you like it. She thought by the end of summer I’d be ready to leave. I took to it so well that I got poached by another firm and worked for that firm through the entirety of my college career.
Charleston School of Law: What are your passions beyond the law?
Professor Simondi: I am big into service. I do a lot of guardian ad litem work, representing children. I’m basically their voice to the court. I do a lot of work in a pro bono capacity with DSS (Department of Social Services).
I love home renovations. I am always working on my house. I have a famous pink kitchen. My entire kitchen is painted pink and gold. It kind of looks like Barbie’s, Dreamhouse – a modern version.
Charleston School of Law: How did you get interested in guardian ad litem work?
Professor Simondi: I lived the system. My parents divorced when I was two. I have no memory of ever having a cohesive family unit. After they divorced, they moved 14 hours away from each other. So I was constantly on a plane, back and forth between parents, splitting holidays. It just wasn’t enjoyable. That is something that’s really resonated for me. If I can make it easier on any child that’s having to deal with that and be their voice, I want to help.
The most important thing I want students to know is we have an open door policy here, but when I say I’m an open door, I mean it. Every year I have my students over for a Christmas party, just as a little reprieve and reward for the hard work they put in first semester.
I want them to be successful and I’m happy to use my connections to help them. I want my students to feel comfortable coming to me five years from now … I’d love to catch up with them and see how they’re doing. That was the experience I had as a student at CSOL and something I want to pass on. I still have the voicemail from 2013 on my phone from John Benfield when he called letting me know I’d been accepted to Charleston School of Law. I don’t think I’ll ever delete it. It’s just one of those things, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Professor Melissa Simondi
Links and Resources
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