Drew Eckl & Farnham’s new blog series, “DEFining Moments,” highlights attorneys and the pivotal moments that have shaped their careers, the lessons they’ve learned along the way and the advice they have for young associates beginning their legal careers.
Kicking off the series is Melody Kiella, civil litigator and partner at Drew Eckl & Farnham. Kiella specializes in all aspects of civil litigation, including trucking/transportation law, rideshare/gig economy-related claims, catastrophic personal injury defense, premises liability and negligent security. With over 10 years of experience, she is a zealous and loyal advocate for her clients, effectively understanding how their businesses operate and consistently taking into consideration any short- and long-term goals her clients have that may impact litigation and/or trial strategy.
After graduating summa cum laude from Michigan State University College of Law in 2010, Kiella worked as in-counsel for a software technology company before moving onto real estate litigation. She then joined Drew Eckl & Farnham in 2014 with four years of legal experience under her belt and began working under her now long-time mentor, Douglas Burrell, a partner at the firm. In addition to crediting many of her career successes to Burrell, she also learned a great deal from firm partners Karen Karabinos and Jennifer Parrott, both active female leaders within the firm who have continuously encouraged and supported Kiella as she’s grown personally and professionally.
Kiella’s DEFining moments at Drew Eckl & Farnham have included a mix of client wins and personal achievements. In 2018, she was given the opportunity to work with a Southeast-based real estate investment trust involved in multifamily and residential development and management. Kiella’s hard work and dedication to the client ultimately led her to become their go-to civil attorney. Another key DEFining moment in her career came while she was still a senior associate at the firm. Kiella had the chance to work on her first major pitch for a national rideshare company alongside Burrell (and others), who allowed Kiella to actively participate in the extensive pitch process. This moment showed her the importance of giving associates the opportunity to be actively involved in client pitches.
Kiella is the chair of Drew Eckl & Farnham’s Association of Women Lawyers and also serves on the firm’s Diversity Committee, Transportation Industry Committee and Marketing Committee. Additionally, she is active in the Defense Research Institute (DRI), the American Bar Association (ABA), and is a member of the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel. In 2020, Kiella, along with several DEF attorneys and mothers, launched the podcast The Mother Board, which features conversations from mothers who have taken charge of their careers while still being engaged with their families and handling the obstacles of motherhood.
In addition to giving young associates the chance to grow on their own, Kiella credits the firm for its receptiveness to recommendations for change from attorneys at all levels. Recently for example, Kiella was instrumental in advocating for a non-equity liaison to be present at all equity meetings in order to relay any topics or issues that non-equity partners may have to the equity partners. Another way the firm strives to be fully transparent is through its path-to-partnership program that serves to guide associates in the journey to partnership and provides associates with a deep understanding of what it means to be a partner at DEF, including the business side of the practice of law and non-legal skills needed to be a good partner. In 2019, Kiella was asked to participate in the firm’s first inaugural path-to-partnership program.
Kiella became a partner at DEF in January 2020 and spent her first year as a partner learning to balance her growing practice, the challenges associated with supervising virtual learning for her then kindergartener while also working from home, and having a baby in July 2020. Kiella credits the survival of her growing practice and mental sanity during the pandemic and her maternity leave to her work family, including but not limited to Burrell, Whitney Lay Greene, Lara Ortega Clark, Emily Bowlin and Andrea Geddes as well as her fellow Mother Board podcasters and colleagues Taylor Poncz, Juliana Neelbauer and Aarati Subramaniam.
When asked her biggest piece of advice to new attorneys, Kiella says establishing relationships and perfecting your craft should be your top priority, especially in your first two years of practicing.
“It’s important to learn and perfect your craft before anything else. Once you have perfected your area of expertise, that’s when you start getting involved in more extracurricular activities and networking with others in the legal field,” says Kiella. “Establish relationships with your peers and be open to mentors, even from those who are not in your same practice group. Attorneys want to give cases to those who they know and trust, so it’s important to establish those relationships early.”Melody Kiella
Melody Kiella is an experienced civil litigator specializing in all aspects of complex civil litigation, including trucking/transportation law, catastrophic personal injury defense, premises liability, and negligent security. She has extensive experience in managing high-volume and high-profile cases from the pre-litigation stages through trial. Melody is the Chair of the Drew Eckl & Farnham Association of Women Lawyers and also serves on the firm’s Diversity Committee, Transportation Industry Committee, and Marketing Committee. Additionally, she is active in DRI and is a member of the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel. Specifically, Melody serves as the Online Programming Chair and the 2021 Trucking Law Primer Vice Chair for DRI’s Trucking Law Committee.