In high school, Melanie Bradford Holliman thought about being a lawyer, a news journalist or a college history professor. In college, she fell in love with the legal system in the classes of Cheryl Gorham at Northeast Alabama Community College and Dr. Jess Brown at Athens State University. “In fact,” Holliman said, “Dr. Jess Brown strongly encouraged me to become a lawyer.”
Holliman didn’t listen to Brown right away. Instead, she worked as a legal assistant for Gerald Paulk of Scottsboro, Alabama, and then as a paralegal for Jennifer H. Lawrence and Phillip C. Lawrence of Lawrence & Lawrence LLP, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Through them, she learned the ins and outs of being a lawyer and how to build and run a successful law practice. She also developed a strong background in general practice, family law and medical malpractice while working for those firms.
“When I finally decided I was ready to go to law school, Jennie and Phil encouraged me to attend Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. In fact, Jennie took me to Cumberland for a tour of the school. I will be forever grateful for their guidance.”
The mentoring didn’t stop there. After law school, Holliman worked for three years with Gerald Paulk in Scottsboro, Alabama, before beginning her own law firm.
“He gave me a lot of valuable advice, but the most important was to ‘focus on the area of law you want to do and don’t do anything else.’”
Holliman took that advice, and it has defined her career. She started her solo law practice in Scottsboro, and focused only on elder law and estate planning.
“The choice of law was easy, I liked the idea that I could help people prevent problems through planning. Because my parents had me in their later years, I knew older people who had an interest in estate planning but didn’t really know how to find answers.”
Eventually, she developed a strong law practice with clients throughout Northeast Alabama and Chattanooga. As time went by, she found herself handling more trust cases for plaintiff attorneys in Birmingham. Simultaneously, she was asked to serve as executive director for Alabama Family Trust, a non-profit special needs trust company located in Birmingham.
Holliman began splitting her time each week between Scottsboro and Birmingham, a practice she continues today. Now, she handles cases for Northeast Alabama through the Scottsboro office and cases for Birmingham and Central Alabama through the Pelham office with her husband, attorney John R. Holliman.
“John and I knew each other for years and realized our practices were mirror images. We thought it might work well to merge our offices,” Holliman laughed. “It worked so well that after a few years, we decided to get married.”
Holliman fervently believes in what she does. In fact, she calls it preventative medicine. “If you come to me for proper estate planning, we can avoid a lot of the problems that face a person as they age and pass away.”
In her practice, Holliman also sees the tragic results of a lack of planning. She handles what she calls “emergency room” work when families seek help because the parent has had an event and needs nursing home care and no one has authority to handle the situation. These cases may even include families fighting over the parent’s money and may involve elder abuse issues.
A typical week for Holliman means meeting with clients that may need basic estate planning, advanced estate planning and trust work, probate work, asset protection planning, and help qualifying for Medicaid and VA benefits. She also spends time working with families and plaintiff’s attorneys preparing special needs trusts and settlement preservation trusts.
“Each case is very fact specific. We take into account a client’s wishes, finances, their health, and their mental condition. For some, the biggest concern is asset protection, and we are working to make sure the person has a plan that provides for their needs while also making sure assets will be available for their intended heirs. For others, it is helping them work with their finances and all sources of available benefits, to provide them the best care possible for the rest of their days. In many cases, we are also helping to establish a plan that can prevent financial exploitation of the person.”
Her passion for elder law soon brought her prominence in the field which led to speaking engagements. Melanie Bradford Holliman often finds herself addressing a wide variety of groups.
“Last week, I spoke to two groups of nursing home business administrators about Medicaid and special needs trusts. I also spoke to Alabama lawyers about Medicaid and VA strategies and updates for CLE Alabama. This week, I am talking to a psychology class at The University of Montevallo about the legal aspects of dying. I frequently give talks to social workers, medical personnel, and the general public about long-term care planning options and more sophisticated estate and trust planning.”
But it’s not all work, of course. When she’s not busy at either the Pelham or Scottsboro locations of Bradford & Holliman, you’ll likely find Melanie Holliman spending time with John, Alexandria and Abigail.
“We love to go to Scottsboro and Stevenson, my hometown, and spend time on the farm and on Lake Guntersville. And, our latest thing to do in Birmingham is to rock climb at the HighPoint gym.”
Somehow, in addition to everything else, Holliman still finds time to work with abused rescue animals. “I have worked with many dogs over the years who were terrified of people. Some would just hide from people and others would bite. It is always so rewarding to see them come around and realize that people can be good to them. You see some of the worst cases turn into the most loving animals imaginable.”