In January 2014, a panel of experienced judges will gather in Boston at the National Championships to select which figure skaters will represent the United States in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  Though she won’t be a part of this particular panel, Drinker Biddle associate Melissa Dillenbeck might well be one of the judges for Nationals the next time the Winter Games roll around, in 2018.

This summer, Melissa, who has been a part of the firm’s Intellectual Property Practice Group since 2001, was appointed as a National Singles/Pairs Judge by U.S. Figure Skating’s Governing Council. This appointment designates that Melissa is qualified to judge at the highest levels of U.S. competitive figure skating in men’s, women’s and pairs categories. Melissa is one of an extremely small group of judges who have reached this status – likely less than 100 individuals across the country.

“This comes with a real feeling of accomplishment,” Melissa says. “Figure skating has given me a great deal over the course of my life and it’s a nice feeling to be able to give back to the sport.”

Melissa, who skated competitively as a child and as a teenager, has been judging figure skating since law school. Over the years, she has judged Olympic Champion Evan Lysacek, and Olympic hopefuls Agnes Zawadzki and Alissa Czisny. Earning appointment as a National Judge, however, became a more recent goal.

The process is a rigorous one and involves several years of trial judging at a variety of local and regional competitions. “It’s almost like an apprenticeship,” Melissa says. “You score competitions and then ultimately compare your scores to the scores of the officials. You learn the process and climb the ranks over time.”

Ultimately, to earn appointment as a National Judge, Melissa had to complete a series of oral and written exams, during which she was required to justify her scoring. Now that she has earned her appointment, she may be called upon to judge men’s, women’s, and pairs competitions at any level, up to and including U.S. Nationals. In November, she will be a judge at the Midwestern Sectional competition, where the top skaters in each event will qualify for Nationals.

“It really is an honor to be so involved with U.S. Figure Skating,” Melissa says. “Everyone who puts in the time and effort to reach this level does it because they truly love skating, so it’s a wonderful group to be a part of. Looking back, I remember the coaches and officials who guided me and helped me along the way in my development. So I’m thrilled to play that role for someone else.”