Cynon Valley Leader, 30th September 2010
As a child, Melanie Hamer loved to watch Crown Court on a black-and-white TV with her grandparents. Now she runs her own law firm. Emily Woodrow has met up with the divorce lawyer from Cynon Valley and talked about achieving “more than she imagined possible”
GROWING up in Aberdare, Melanie Hamer had a very happy childhood.
Her parents, dad John, a painter, and mum Audrey, who worked for the local council, did not have a huge amount of money, but what they did have they spent on her and her younger sister Deborah.
She lived in a typical terraced house surrounded by her friends, but as her mother worked, she spent her school holidays with her grandparents, which is where her dreams of becoming a lawyer began.
“We used to watch Crown Court together on a black-and-white television and I was fascinated by it”, said Melanie, now a 45-year-old mother-of-two.
“So by the age of 13 I had decided that was what I wanted to do, despite coming from a very working class background and having no lawyers in my family.
“I worked very hard in school – I wasn’t the perfect pupil, and talking too much often resulted in me having to sit at the front with the teacher, but I always got good grades when it really mattered.
“When I applied to university to do law, someone suggested I was aiming too high.
“I don’t think they realised I would rise to the challenge, but I was determined.
“I’m a great believer of covering every angle, and as I wasn’t wholly convinced I’d get the grades for university, I’d managed to get myself a job in Lloyds Bank in Merthyr Tydfil as a back-up.
“I was due to start work on the Monday, but when I got my results on the Thursday before, I had to call them and say I wouldn’t need the job.
“I think my mum wanted me to take the job so I could stay home, but I know she was proud of me going to university.
“She wasn’t the sort of mum who would say so, but when she died of cancer in 2002, I had to go through her papers looking for a will and I came across every press cutting there had ever been about me and my professional life – that spoke volumes to me.
“My dad however is incredibly verbal about his pride and will tell anyone he speaks to at any given opportunity what I now do for a living – sometimes to my embarrassment.”
When it came to choosing where to study, Melanie Hamer found it difficult to decide.
“All my friends were going to Swansea and that was where I wanted to go as I had spent holidays there during my childhood and loved the idyllic lifestyle it offered.
“But they didn’t do law, so I couldn’t go.
“Aberystwyth was only my fourth choice, but when I went to visit I fell in love with it.
“I went to Aberystwyth knowing no-one and having never lived away from home before and that was daunting, but in hindsight it was good, because I had no choice but to make friends very quickly.”
Melanie’s years at university were some of the best of her life.
Having come from an all-girls’ school in Aberdare, she enjoyed being able to have boys who were just friends and grew close to a number of Irish students who she says had “an incredible sense of humour and a great knowledge of how to party.”
From there, she went to Guildford Law School.
Melanie then returned to Cardiff to start a training contract with Phillips and Buck, now Eversheds, and Daryl, the man who was to become her husband whom she had met at university, went with her.
She claims it was much easier to get law jobs back then, as fewer people went to university or did their Law Society finals, so there was much less competition – unlike today, when she receives 500 applications for one training position.
“It was the Thatcher years, so everyone worked very hard,” said Melanie, who now lives in Pentyrch, Cardiff.
While working in the law department there, she dreamt of opening the first niche family law practice in Wales, and that dream became reality when Eversheds decided they wanted to concentrate on their commercial side.
As a result, Melanie and the rest of the family law department co-founded their own firm, Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice.
“My job makes me realise how lucky I am to have my husband Daryl and my two children Sam, 11, and Katie, six”, she said.
Melanie’s proud mother died of breast cancer in 2002, aged 65.
“I threw myself into work as it gave me something to concentrate on other than the catastrophe going on around me”, she said.
“I think it was actually my saving grace.
“It took my mind off reality, and it was wonderful to be able to pick up files and do my job.”
“I knew if I sat at home, I would just be in my bed crying and that would be a waste of my time and against what my mother would have wanted.
Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice is the largest niche family firm in Wales.
Melanie is also one of the founders of the South Wales Ladies Business Club, which now has around 700 women on their database.