Jonathan Merel is the Founder and Managing Principal of The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C., a premier law firm concentrating on the practice of divorce and family law based in Chicago. A thought leader in the family law space throughout his 20 years of practice, Jonathan is often featured as a contributor in news publications, on local radio shows, and in other media.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Growing up, my father and uncle were both attorneys, so I was exposed to this profession at an early age. After graduating from law school, I joined and worked at a Chicago-based family law firm for 7 years. Once I gained enough industry experience, I decided to start my own firm in 2009 and have grown it to become one of the leading family law practices in the Chicago area.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My practice’s main focus is divorce and family law. This means that a typical day in the office for me usually consists of settlement negotiations, courtroom litigation, and helping individuals devise sound legal strategies enabling them to achieve their goals while navigating the divorce process. By taking the time to make sure each client receives the one-on-one attention and personalized service they deserve, I’m able to maintain a high level of productivity that helps my clients better endure the difficulties and uncertainty they’re experiencing. Along with personally helping clients, I also have many responsibilities as the CEO of my company. Whether I’m hiring new attorneys, overseeing business finances, managing organizational structure, maintaining the awesome culture we have at the firm, or setting strategic goals, I’m always working to ensure that my law firm is performing to the best of its ability.
How do you bring ideas to life?
To bring ideas to life, I feel it’s best to first understand and become very familiar with the current situation of each client. Once my legal team and I have a clear understanding of each client’s challenges and needs, I can then begin to devise a legal strategy centered around informative decisions and goal achievement to implement the most effective solutions possible.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Networking after the pandemic is a current trend that excites me. Since the pandemic, the majority of networking has moved online. Learning how to better interact with people online and come up with more creative ways to personalize communication with both my clients and fellow colleagues has been a fun and exciting challenge for me and my team. If you can’t bring in the business you’ll never make it to the top of your line of work. By taking the time to invest more time and resources into things like social media and virtual events, my firm and I have been able to break down more geographical barriers and further expand our opportunities to reach more clients and like-minded colleagues.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Hard work. As a young lawyer, I made sure I was always one of the first to arrive and last to leave the office each day. By taking the time to foster a strong work ethic when I was just starting, I was able to acquire the drive I needed to eventually open my family law firm. As a result, I’ve been able to create one of Chicago’s leading family law firms with an unmatched caliber of legal representation.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Like anyone else, I made my share of mistakes when I was first starting out. There’s a lot you can learn when you’re building your career. But I honestly wouldn’t go back and change much in those earlier years of my working life. If anything, I would tell my younger self to just keep pushing forward and continue doing what makes you happy. I credit much of my success as a lawyer to hard work and pursuing my dreams.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Countless people think that to be a successful lawyer you need to go to a top-tier law school. Though I went to a great law school, I wouldn’t fully accredit it to the success I have gained as a lawyer. While law schools will give you exposure to countless cases and their verdicts, they won’t give you actual practice in the modern legal field, which is what all aspiring lawyers need to be successful in this line of work.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Helping others. I love going to work every day knowing that I’m going to be doing things that will make a profound difference in the lives of my clients and/or their children. When you shift the focus from yourself to those who need help, you can transform your company into one that is truly great and highly sought after.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Client care is the number one thing that has helped me grow my business. By making a concerted effort to go above and beyond for each client, I became more motivated to do a good job and help them achieve their goals. This, in turn, enabled me to build a good rapport with my clients and made it more likely for them to share the experience they had at my firm with their friends and family, and bring more awareness to the community as to what I could do for others who may be struggling with similar issues.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
You cannot get to the top of your profession without some mistakes along the way. Risk-taking goes hand in hand with success and every decision made is not going to be the right one. I have taken some chances in the marketing development of my business that did not always turn outright. Soon after starting my own firm, I experimented with using different SEO or digital marketing companies and platforms without doing enough research of my own beforehand. This quick-trigger approach did not work out as I hired marketing firms that did not deliver as promised. This taught me a lot as far as doing my homework before making important financial decisions that impact my firm. Although I made these mistakes, I learned from them and they made me a smarter business owner in the long run.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Make time to connect with others. I am a strong believer in positive human action playing a key role in the success of any law firm. So take the time to be around and learn from other colleagues who have been in your line of work for a few years. Doing this will give you more exposure to your line of work, help you fine-tune your skills at a faster rate, and make you a more viable asset and contributor to your company.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
DIGITAL BUSINESS CARDS. Game changer! One of my partners introduced me to these and they are a must-have for any professional as far as I’m concerned. The days of paper business cards are gone. If you give someone a paper card, chances are it’s ending up in the garbage by the end of the day. A digital business card is a plastic or metal card you keep in your wallet that you can tap on someone’s smartphone and your contact info (which you can customize with anything you want) goes right into their phone. It’s also a great conversation piece and a great networking tool. I got one for every attorney in my office and they are great. Go get one!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
There is much work to be done when running a successful law firm. This means you’ll need to rely on other services and programs to help your business thrive. As I’ve mentioned before, exposure is crucial for the success of any business. One way to do that is through client care, another is through digital marketing. I recently started working with a digital marketing agency, Scorpion, to create effective online campaigns to further enhance my firm’s online presence. By partnering with another company to oversee marketing, I’ve been able to spend more of my time focusing on my clients and the operations of the business.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is one book I will always recommend. Though it has been around now for over 2 decades, this book still has some of the best advice on productivity, time management, and positive thinking. When it comes to being in the business world, these are three crucial things every law firm and business out there should master in order to be successful and stay on track with their goals.
What is your favorite quote?
“Sometimes you gotta say WTF and make your move” – Miles Dalby in Risky Business
- Client care is the key to having a successful business.
- Creative networking is a great way to quickly grow your business and expand your clientele after the pandemic.
- Hard work will always help you achieve your goals.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.