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Alumna adjusts to civilian practice

April 5, 2013 | Alumni

After serving 11 years as an active duty Marine Corps officer, Melissa Palmisciano ’05 is happy with her decision to transition to civilian life. The mother of three and attorney in the Columbus office of Baker Hostetler said she now has more of a family life.

“You have to obviously figure out what your priorities are. My family is always going to be number one,” she said of her decision to practice civilian law. “But I also am dedicated to using my law degree and striving for that crucial work-life balance.”

Since joining Baker Hostetler in 2010, Palmisciano has focused on employment and labor litigation. While she has enjoyed learning a new area of the law and the technicalities of civil litigation practice, she admits the job is much different from what she used to do as a judge advocate in the Marine Corps.

“In court an issue comes up instantly, and you have to respond on your feet,” she said, describing the adrenaline rush she enjoyed in the courtroom for five years.

Upon graduating with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1998 with a degree in political science, Palmisciano was commissioned in the Marine Corps and required to serve five years on active duty. She started her military career at the Basic School in Virginia and then attended training at the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center. Thereafter, she relocated to San Diego to serve as an aviation intelligence officer at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

In 2002, Palmisciano was selected for the Marine Corps Excess Leave Law Program, which allowed her to attend law school while on active duty. The Pickerington, Ohio, native said the decision to move back to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law was difficult because her husband, Matthew, stayed stationed in San Diego as a Marine F/A-18 pilot.

Throughout her summers of law school, Palmisciano traveled back to San Diego and worked as a law clerk at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where she served as government counsel at administrative employment and misdemeanor criminal hearings.

Immediately following graduation and the Ohio Bar Exam in 2005, she drove to Newport, R.I., to attend Naval Justice School for training as a judge advocate. After completion of her training, Palmisciano was then stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

Her first assignment was as senior defense counsel for the base, where she represented service members in criminal and administrative trouble. “I was in the courtroom within my first week on base, so that was very exciting,” she said.

In the following years, she transitioned to the senior prosecutor billet and also served as special assistant to the U.S. Attorney, prosecuting civilians in federal court who were charged with federal crimes that occurred on base. She ended her active duty career in 2009, while working as the senior prosecutor and deputy staff judge advocate – positions that required her to act as the legal advisor to senior military commanders similar to the role a general counsel plays for a corporation.

In the military, Palmisciano enjoyed the ability to “make a lot of recommendations to people who outrank you, giving legal advice actively to clients, and taking the fight to the courtroom.” Those trial skills and legal analysis have been beneficial in her civilian law practice, she said.

Palmisciano and her husband live in Grandview, Ohio, with their three children, Madeline, Abigail, and Giovanni. Presently serving in the Marine Corps Reserves, Maj. Palmisciano still gets a taste of a military courtroom every so often, providing trial support to active duty forces, prosecuting cases, and acting as a legal advisor to senior commanders. She also assists the Military Assistance Task Force through the Columbus Bar Association.

She added of her decision to leave active duty and focus on family: “You have to decide what’s going to come first, and if you always make your decisions with that priority in mind, everything’s going to work out.”

This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.