Melannie Hutzelman Dino in many respects is one of a new generation of Northern Virginia divorce lawyers - diligent and competent, results oriented, yet never showy or flamboyant. With many more women occupying leadership roles in family law, Dino - like her partner, Carole Krogmann - brings a balance and equanimity to the practice that their predecessors, typically sharp-edged litigators, often lacked. Even Dino's managing partner, the renowned litigator David Masterman, would acknowledge as much: The profession is changing, and versatile lawyers like 38-year-old Melannie Dino are very much central to that change.
A native of Erie, Pa., Dino will confirm what every non-resident presupposes about her hometown: "It's proudly blue-collar and it's cold a lot." In fact her family was bedrock of the Erie community: Her grandfather founded office-equipment maker Flex-Y-Plan Industries, and her mother's father worked for years on Erie's famed Litton Dock. Her father, Stephen H. Hutzelman, has been a prominent bankruptcy lawyer in Erie for more than 25 years; "I saw what my dad was doing growing up, and I knew the law was for me from an early age." She attended Erie's McDowell High School, with nearly 500 in a graduating class, and went to Clarion University of Pennsylvania, two hours away. ("My family had three of us in college at the time, so I stayed close to home.") She majored in communications, and went straight to law school in Harrisburg. As the third of five children, she says, she was the "peacemaker and mediator in the family" - so she saw divorce law as a natural first option. In fact, returning to Erie she worked in the practice of her father, whose partner Joseph Walsh had a thriving family law practice. She could easily have re-played her father's career as a hometown attorney, but her law school beau, Thorick Dino, inspired her to change course: They moved to Northern Virginia, wed, and launched law careers together - she at XM Satellite Radio, based in DC, and he at Sprint Nextel Corporation. Her title was National Site Coordinator for satellite repeaters, a document-heavy job that required ongoing negotiation with property owners willing to locate so-called repeaters, which enhance the effectiveness of satellite transmissions. "It was hardly glamorous, but it was important work for up-and-coming XM." She considered making a career of telecom law, a good fit in DC, but, still keen on family law, she joined the Vienna, Va., practice of Marcia Maddox. Living in Ashburn, Va., Dino spent a year in a Leesburg practice before being recruited, in 2007, by David Masterman, long one of the top divorce lawyers in the region.
Over the last five years Dino has become a name partner, helping create a uniquely "un-stuffy" culture at the Masterman firm. Still, Dino is the firm's go-to lawyer for major document analysis, key to many complex cases, and she brings ideas and insights to family law rare for a lawyer barely a decade in the practice. The firm too strikes a work-family balance that young lawyers at other firms envy: Both Dino and her partner Carole Krogmann became mothers in recent years, and each took several months of family leave when their children were born; still, the firm maintains a high level of productivity and now generally handles complex, contested cases. "We have an excellent work environment - we have complementary strengths and skills." Melannie and Thorick Dino enjoy a round of golf ("He's much better, but I'm improving"), the movies and their three-year-old daughter. They live in Ashburn, Va.