“It’s kind of funny, I started out in a coronary care unit, heart patients, and ended up dealing with the heart again!”
A Wilmington native and seasoned family law practitioner, Melodi recently joined the Cape Fear team after a successful career in private practice.
Early Life and Education
The oldest of six children, Melodi first went to school to become a nurse, graduating from the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 1977 with a BS in Nursing and Science. She was married soon afterward and her first job was with a coronary care unit in Chapel Hill.
After a few years, Melodi began to question her life’s path; she divorced her husband and decided to pursue a law degree. “All of my guy friends were in law school at the time and they encouraged me,” she said.
Ms. Hayes was accepted to and attended Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, her first choice, in 1983. Because the demands were so intense, she was unable to work; Melodi ended up taking a break and working as a nurse to save up funds. She graduated in 1987 and took the bar a year later, again relying on her nursing skills to pay the bills in the interim.
After a few years of general practice with a Salem law firm, Melodi decided to strike out on her own. At first, she dabbled in criminal law and personal injury but soon focused on family law.
On January 3, 1994, Ms. Hayes hung her shingle and for 26 years ran her own firm. She developed a strong local reputation amongst the clerks and judges as well as fellow attorneys. “I learned not to burn any bridges,” she said.
She quickly realized the two careers were related: “If you think about what a nurse does and what a family law attorney does, they are both taking care of folks and trying to lead them to heal.”
Joining Cape Fear
Then, when she hit full retirement age, Melodi came to a crossroads in her mind: should she continue a law practice or go back to part-time nursing (she has always kept her license current)? And if she were to remain a lawyer, should she continue solo or join another firm?
The answer seemed to come to her in a vision: in early 2020, she dreamt that she was working for Cape Fear Family Law. She mentioned the dream to Janet Gemmell, who runs the firm, in passing.
Fast-forward to today, and it has become reality: Melodi has closed up shop and joined Cape Fear. “I was so glad to hear that Melodi wanted to join our practice,” stated Janet Gemmell, owner of the firm. “When you think about care, diligence, and someone that will go into the gap with their client, you always think of Melodi. Having practiced on the other side of cases for years, being dogged by her determination on behalf of her clients, it will be satisfying (and a bit of a relief) to have her on our team for a change!”
“Cape Fear Family Law is a very well-run business, they have a great reputation, have good lawyers, and Janet is a fantastic business-woman. I was pleased that she asked me,” Melodi said.
Melodi considers herself a dog person (“I don’t do cats”) and has a Shih Tzu named Skylar. At her old office, Skylar was such a fixture clients would ask about the pet if she wasn’t there; Janet has agreed to let the dog come to the office here (“that was one of the conditions,” Melodi added).
And, true to her name, Melodi loves music and has previously been a member of the church choir. “Music and dogs are my passions,” she confided. “Not many attorneys know that about me.”