The Wild One
For 20 years, Melinda Singer was the Evel Knievel of family law attorneys
Published in 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers Magazine on March 17, 2020
Whether in work or life, family law lawyer Melinda Singer is aware of time, tempo and speed—but mostly speed.
Twenty-two years ago, Singer channeled that love of speed into riding motorcycles, a hobby she picked up from her then-husband, who encouraged her to learn to ride. After a few trips across the Eastern Seaboard, then up to Montreal, it was on to the big leagues for Singer: trekking across the Italian Alps, riding at altitudes of more than 10,000 feet through the Dolomites in northeastern Italy. Singer wanted to perfect her skills to better maneuver the steep angles and curves. Fellow riders suggested she go to road racing school, so in 2005, she signed up at Penguin Road Racing School at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“I fell in love with it that first weekend,” says Singer. Soon she was spending most weekends racing her Ducati in New Hampshire or at other tracks around the country. She would head to New England from her Hackensack office on a Thursday afternoon, the bike in a trailer hitched to her Chevy Silverado. Singer would practice on Friday and Saturday, race on Sunday, and head home for work on Monday. In the summer, she would arrange to take off more days or even a week for racing. The judges who presided over her divorce cases often teased her, asking where her leathers were. Most of her clients and colleagues thought her new hobby was cool, but still clients would say, “Don’t crash. I need you on Monday.”
Finding balance between her family law practice and her hobby was challenging but necessary.
“You’re doing stuff that’s so heart-wrenching and so hard in people’s lives, and racing just gives you a great outlet,” she says. “It also allows you to focus on something completely. Being on a bike requires 100 percent of your attention.” As does her family law practice.
“We go through a lot of mediations,” says Singer, who helps clients negotiate critical decisions like parenting time and custody schedules. “You have to be disciplined and clear your mind for what you’re doing. When you’re racing, you’re one thousand percent focused on the moment. If you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, you can get seriously injured,” says Singer. “It’s the same kind of skill set.”
Racing is one thing. But there’s also all the prep work required to stay fresh. After her workday, Singer would spend the week between races at the gym, riding a bicycle, swimming or running. She also spent a lot of time organizing and maintaining her equipment. The extensive preparation had benefits beyond the track. “I noticed I had more confidence in the courtroom,” Singer says. “I felt much more confident trying different cases.”
No matter the preparation or expertise, injuries are almost inevitable. Particularly when a male opponent is dead-set on not getting smoked by a girl—even in practice. “He made a wrong move, and there was nowhere I could go but crash,” Singer says of a collision with a rider who later admitted he didn’t want Singer to get by him. Singer broke her collarbone in the crash, then drove the five hours back to New Jersey using only one arm. The injury took four weeks to heal. She’s also endured breaks in her wrist, scapula, ribs, fingers, and toes.
“You gotta be tough, have tenacity and a love for the sport, ” says Singer. “But you also have to know that you have work on Monday.”
In 2016, after a surgeon fused together three of her vertebrae to repair herniated cervical discs, Singer decided she didn’t want to assume the risk anymore, so she’s on a break from racing.
She’s not sure what she’ll do next, but it’ll likely involve speed. “I’ve always had a hobby,” says Singer, who rode horses in college and spent most weekends at ski resorts.
For now, her rescue puppy Bubula is taking up a chunk of her time. And there’s always her firm. “There are some intense cases,” she says. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”