THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 190
Interview on 05.12.2022

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

Jonathan Merel



Managing Partner of
Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C.

About Jonathan Merel

Jonathan Merel is the Managing Partner at Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. in Illinois.

Jonathan is an experienced attorney who advocates for his clients in all divorce and family law proceedings, including settlement negotiations and trials. His ability to settle heated divorces and custody disputes has gained him a great deal of respect from fellow attorneys and judges within the Chicagoland legal community.

Learn from his expertise and what trends are helping grow his firm on this episode of The Managing Partners Podcast!

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Kevin Daisey:

All right. We are recording. Welcome everyone to another live recording of The Managing Partners Podcast. I’m Kevin Daisey, and I’ll be your host. And today, I am joined by Jonathan Merel out of Chicago. Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan Merel:

Thanks for having me, Kevin. Happy to be here.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Excellent man. So I appreciate you coming on today to share your story, your journey. And we got to talk a little bit backstage about some marketing and the pandemic and working from home versus not. So I know we got some cool things we can talk about here today. So hope everyone’s engaged, listening and ready to learn from Jonathan. So Jonathan, just to get started, tell us your story. What makes you unique? What made you become an attorney?

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah. Well, my story, well, obviously I work in Chicago. I’m also born and raised in Chicago. Went to school in Madison, Wisconsin for college. Ended up coming back to Chicago for law school. And here I am, 20 years later. Never knew I wanted to be a family law or divorce lawyer, but in law school I started law clerking at a firm that did strictly that and realized, all right, this could be interesting. It definitely won’t be dull or boring. And here I am, 20 years later. Started practicing out of law school at a firm that did family law and then seven and a half years later started my own practice. So going on almost 13 years at my own firm, grown from starting on my own. Now we’re up to 15 attorneys. So it’s been a long journey and a lot of ups and downs, but more ups than downs. And here I am.

Kevin Daisey:

Awesome, man. And so you have left Chicago once, right? You lived in Madison.

Jonathan Merel:

Madison College. And prefer to get out of Chicago as much as possible in the winter.

Kevin Daisey:

I bet it’s pretty cold there. I bet it’s windy too, right?

Jonathan Merel:

Windy and cold, the usual.

Kevin Daisey:

So the name of your firm?

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah, the name of my firm is the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, which you can find us on the web at Merel Family Law. That’s M-E-R-E-Lfamilylaw.com.

Kevin Daisey:

And that’s just right at the bottom of your screen for anyone that’s tuning in on YouTube or through video. But yeah, go check out his website. It’s a really nice website. You’ll learn more about him. But I think, Jonathan, 15 attorneys, a family law practice, that’s pretty big. It’s pretty hefty.

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah. It’s big. And we’ve grown a lot in the past … well, we’ve always grown steadily, but there’s been a big jump in the past, I don’t know, five to seven years, I’d say, where we’re growing at least one or two attorneys a year and expanding our office space. So whatever the reason is, hopefully we’re doing something right. But yeah, it’s been a good ride, and we’re getting bigger, which is exciting and also terrifying at the same time, but more exciting than terrifying. And we’re continuing to grow, and appreciate you giving me the chance to be on a show like this and spread the word some more about the firm.

Kevin Daisey:

No, I appreciate it. And I think what you’ve done is pretty amazing. I’ve talked to a lot of managing partners in the divorce and family areas, and again, 15 is on the large end of that. Now, you have other general practices or personal injury, I’ve seen a lot larger practice areas, but for family that’s pretty big. So you mentioned office space and growth, right? And so we were talking about this a little bit. So I just want to kind of go on a tangent as growing the office space. Other firms, I’m sure, are thinking the same way you are. What do I do? Do I get bigger space? Do I hire just remote folks? Will I allow that?

Jonathan Merel:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

The experience that they have and build by working together side by side, are they going to get that experience by being at home? So share kind of some of your thoughts on that?

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely been a struggle. Ever since the onset of COVID, there’s obviously the work from home component that really wasn’t as prevalent as it was before. I mean, in a law firm setting and the legal space, no one even really considered the idea of working from home being something that was mainstream and normal. So that’s had to be something. Obviously, when we were quarantining, everyone was doing their thing from home. But as things have eased up and everyone’s gotten back into the office, there is still that home component lingering out there that has become almost expected, whether that’s good or bad. So as a law firm owner, I obviously always want to make sure my employees are happy and that I’m retaining the talent I have.

Jonathan Merel:

And when there are other law firms where working from home might be appealing, you have to consider that in what you’re offering your employees. So that, when you figuring office space, and office space in downtown Chicago is a huge expense, but you got to have an office for somebody in your office, but then you also want to give them the ability to work from home. So it’s a struggle as far as finding that right hybrid, but you still got to maintain the office. So that’s always been something on my mind, and you got to just adapt with the times, really, which is what has gone on in the past couple years.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Yeah. And I was saying, we’re kind in the same place, where most of my staff now are remote. We’re just a marketing company, so it may be a little different than being an attorney. But I was sharing with Jonathan that my core leadership, the president of my one company and me and my partner, he’s the CEO, I’m the CMO, we’re both founders, and some of our earlier top leadership, we really prefer to be in the office if we can be. We collaborate a lot. We have a lot of impromptu meetings that are productive. Sometimes, not every time. And there’s a lot of things that we pick up on and we discuss and brainstorm. You can’t just send a video link every time because you’re like, “Well, am I interrupting them? I’m not sure what they’re doing. Do they have a meeting? Let me check their calendar.” So there’s just a lot of things that I think you lack there.

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:06:40].

Kevin Daisey:

It’s challenging.

Jonathan Merel:

There’s definitely things you can’t replace being outside an office versus in. I mean, as I alluded to before when we talked, I mean, especially for the new, younger lawyers who have never practiced as an attorney in a law firm setting, they need to see what goes on there. They need to be able to walk down the hall and consult with a partner or a more senior attorney about a case or an issue, or ask a question. Where if everyone’s working from home, like you said, it’s not that accessible. I just can’t do a Zoom meeting every five minutes when I have a question. Or just picking up the call, maybe they’re more hesitant to do so. I mean, there’s an invaluable component to being in a law firm setting, or any office setting, especially for people who are trying to learn the business and be a sponge for information. So that’s definitely an issue we’re concerned about.

Kevin Daisey:

On the lighter side, those few people that bug the crap out of you every five minutes, you kind of get away from them, but that’s about it.

Jonathan Merel:

That’s true. That’s a benefit. That is a perk.

Kevin Daisey:

That’s the one perk. Well, now, I appreciate your insight on that. And I think we’re in the same place. It’s kind of like, where are we? It’s a challenge. It’s questioned. We see where things are going and we take it one day at a time, but you got to be willing to adapt and you have to be ready. A lot of the younger, smaller firms, and I’ve had a lot on this show, that are 100% remote, 100% technology driven, 100% paperless everything day one, because they started in the pandemic and they have no other way. That’s it.

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah.

Kevin Daisey:

And so that gives them an advantage in some ways.

Jonathan Merel:

For sure, but it’s also crazy to think this has been going on so long, it’s all such a blur, but there are lawyers who are two years out now that have never been in a courthouse or have never been in an office. I mean, it’s crazy just how quickly this has passed. I mean, it seems like it’s been a long time, but also it’s been two years, which seems pretty quick. And there are attorneys who took the bar exam from their house and never really went into an office, but have a job, and have never really experienced what it means to be in a law firm and going to court and coming back and talking to clients in person. I mean, down the line, it’s just there’s so much lacking from that experience, which is such a huge component of being an attorney and talking to clients in person. And all that’s just been turned upside down. So it’s crazy to think about.

Kevin Daisey:

It is kind of crazy. I didn’t think about that. I’ve definitely had a few on here that started in the pandemic and have, yeah, never done any of that stuff. Never interacted personally with a client probably at this point.

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah. Wow.

Kevin Daisey:

Which is just crazy, you know?

Jonathan Merel:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kevin Daisey:

We thought it was crazy when it first happened that … I remember some of my sales team people were like, “Well, how we going to sell stuff? What do we got to do online? We got to do video calls.” We have clients around the country anyway, but it just kind of blew up the whole concept of, I have to go sit down and shake your hand and come to Chicago. And I would do that right now anyway, but it just kind of … it’s not necessary.

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah, it changes things. I mean, you can’t replace shaking someone’s hand, seeing them in person. And the same applies to being in court. When you’re examining a witness on your computer at home versus sitting in front of them on a witness stand, it’s definitely different. But here we are. It’s kind of how it’s been for a couple years.

Kevin Daisey:

I can’t imagine. I know for someone that goes to trial, it’s got to be … everyone’s told me I have a disadvantage because I can’t have a jury in front of me. I can’t be there talking to them and you see the body language and all that stuff. So yeah, some people definitely have a disadvantage, I think, when it comes down to it.

Jonathan Merel:

For sure.

Kevin Daisey:

Well, yeah, good stuff, man. Appreciate you sharing that with me. So change of topic a little bit, what are some of the ways that you’ve done … You had good growth, 15 attorneys, add a few, one or two a year. What are some of the things that you’ve done marketing-wise, a little bit more related to what we do, but what have you done that’s been successful at driving clients to your firm?

Jonathan Merel:

Sure. I’ve tried to differentiate my law firm from the other family law firms in Chicago. Obviously, it’s highly competitive. You got your pay-per-click, your local service ads on Google, and obviously starting with a nice website and doing what you can to direct traffic to your website. And that’s what you guys do, so you know it full well. But I’ve tried to distinguish myself by going and trying to do other sort of mediums. I’ve been on the radio. I’ve become friendly with the morning talk show host of this radio show on Q101, which is a popular station in Chicago. And they’ve had me on through segments called relationship court. They do a great job of marketing me and my firm, and I’ve extended that to advertising on the station.

Jonathan Merel:

I’ve also gotten into using short codes as a way for people to contact my office. So I actually utilize a short code that’s 22222 so people can … in order to contact me, they can text. All they have to do is text the word divorce to 22222 and it puts them right in touch with my firm, which is a medium that I think is just starting to reach the legal industry. It almost isn’t there yet, but I think it will really catch on, because if you go on TV or listen on the radio, you’re seeing these short codes everywhere, like text info to 525525 or anything like that. I think it’s just a natural progression into the legal industry to use these codes. And instead of a billboard or a commercial giving you a website or a phone number, it’s just easy to remember words to text codes. So text lawyer to 55555, text injury to 22222, text divorce to 22222.

Jonathan Merel:

I’ve gotten great feedback. I actually use a lot of radio marketing, and it’s been a great way to get people in because it’s an easy to remember and everyone likes to text these days. So just trying to find ways to differentiate from the traditional methods of marketing, which are obviously all still great, but a lot of my growth has been attributed to obviously pushing marketing in all sectors and really hammering that home to try to distance myself from my competition.

Kevin Daisey:

I love that. Yeah. So you’re trying other things too. You’re testing. You’re willing to explore. You’re not just sticking with the normal stuff and just hoping that it continues to work.

Jonathan Merel:

Exactly. Exactly. And at the end of the day, too, you got to do a good job. So we pride ourselves on the work we do and our reputation. And anyone could pay money to get people to your website, but if you’re not doing a good job, then the business isn’t going to continue. So we make sure we do a great job and that our clients feel comfortable with us, and obviously get referrals from them and nice reviews online, which is all part of it. So got to do a good job at the end of the day.

Kevin Daisey:

No, 100%. You got to do a good job. Referrals are the best thing you can get, 100%. I like the things that you’re doing with the different marketing tactics and trying different things. Those text in type of things, I see myself using them more often all the time too for other products or services. And I haven’t really seen it in the legal industry much at all, to be honest with you, so I’d be interested to know if others have found some success with that.

Jonathan Merel:

It’s starting to catch on a little. And again, it’s just the ease of communication. I mean, personally, if I’m trying to get in touch with a client and I leave them a message or send them an email, I may not get an immediate response. You text a client, you text somebody, they’re responding immediately. And the same has really proven true with potential clients. I mean, they want instant responses. It’s so easy for them to text, because people are doing it with their eyes closed and it’s right at their fingertips. So I think it’s a great medium that will only continue to get exposure in the legal industry.

Kevin Daisey:

100%. Actually, we have a sales training program here for me, my partner and my sales team. It’s actually Grant Cardone, which you’ve probably heard of. There’s a whole section on just text messaging. And that’s why for this show even, Jonathan’s a guest, we always ask for the cell phone number so we can alert him, make sure he shows up to this, make sure he … he’s a lawyer. He’s a busy guy, right?

Jonathan Merel:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

Getting that cell phone number is so important. In our sales process, we make sure we get cell phone numbers for any prospect.

Jonathan Merel:

For sure.

Kevin Daisey:

And the way you ask for it, you don’t say, “Hey, let me get your cell phone number,” but “Hey, I want to text you a reminder about our meeting,” and then they go, “Oh yeah, here’s my number for that.”

Jonathan Merel:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

But it’s like 300% that your chances of getting ahold of them and a response is-

Jonathan Merel:

The statistics as far as responsiveness and attentiveness with text messages, it blows the other mediums out of the water.

Kevin Daisey:

You’re going to 100% at least see it. Whether you respond or not, you’re going to see it, because you always look … I look at my phone right now.

Jonathan Merel:

Of course.

Kevin Daisey:

If we got a text, I’m going to see it.

Jonathan Merel:

Of course. Your phone’s vibrating, you see a text, it takes two seconds to respond as opposed to opening up an email, making sure … I mean, it’s informal, but it gets to the point. And obviously, texting is everyone, especially with younger generations. I mean, my kids don’t even talk on the phone. It’s texting nonstop.

Kevin Daisey:

They don’t even talk at all.

Jonathan Merel:

Yeah, exactly. They don’t have to speak. But yeah, I just think that’s the future, and it makes sense. And it’s surprising, frankly, that it hasn’t taken off more in the legal industry. But I think sometimes the legal industry’s a little slower to kind of accept things. And I think when people see some firms doing it, like their competitors, that might encourage them to kind of say, all right, well, they’re doing this, I think I got to become part of it.

Kevin Daisey:

Well, at the end of the day, you’re providing a service. Customer service. And I think the biggest complaint side here that clients would have with a firm is that they’re not aware of what’s going on. They’re not communicated to enough. Not necessarily the result of the case or outcome of what you’re doing for them. It’s just that unknown feeling of what’s happening. And so communicating with your clients, and that’s the same for us. My clients are sure to be mad if they don’t hear anything from us, no reports, no updates.

Jonathan Merel:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

So for us, we text, email, call every time we do anything for any client. And when it’s not done, we call, email, text as well. Whatever they like, we’re going to do it.

Jonathan Merel:

Sure.

Kevin Daisey:

It’s just they don’t have to respond. Maybe they, “Oh, cool. They got back to me. I know where things are.” Same with your clients. They feel good about where things are because they just at least got some information. “Hey, we’re not there yet. We need another week. We need another day.”

Jonathan Merel:

Right. Just a simple check-in just to know you’re on it. That’s what clients like. I mean, that’s literally the number one thing that I think is most important to clients in their attorney-client relationship. They just want to know you’re available and accessible, even if it’s just a quick text to just say, “Hey, we’re on top of this,” or to let them know, “Hey, I got your email. We’re going through it,” or, “We got your documents. We’re organizing them.” That goes a long way as opposed to them just not hearing from you. I mean, spending 10 seconds checking in goes a long way.

Kevin Daisey:

100%. I love it. And if you don’t check in, for one, they’re going, “Okay, did I make the right decision? Did I hire the right attorney? Did I make a mistake? I haven’t heard back from them.” And then they start creating all these scenarios that are not even [crosstalk 00:19:19].

Jonathan Merel:

… scenarios in their head. Right. “Oh my God, that means he’s never working on my file again. He’s gone. He’s abandoned me.”

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. So it’s just to avoid … and again, this applies to my business as well.

Jonathan Merel:

Sure.

Kevin Daisey:

I mean, everyone can use this model for any type of business you’re in.

Jonathan Merel:

Absolutely.

Kevin Daisey:

So anyway, people like to text everyone.

Jonathan Merel:

Yes.

Kevin Daisey:

Use it and make it part of your business. It makes sense. Employees too. Reminders about meetings. People that they’re working from home. There’s so many things you can apply it to.

Jonathan Merel:

Absolutely.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. I love it. All right. Well, next question. What are your plans? I know you already had some good growth and things like that. What’s your plans for the next two to five years? Do you have any big goals to hit? Have you kind of really thought out what’s going to happen 2022 and beyond?

Jonathan Merel:

Well, I mean, the growth is there. We’ve just seen a continual explosion in our clientele coming in, and it’s the brand that I think we’ve created and word of mouth, along with the marketing that we’re doing. There’s definitely going to be continued growth, hopefully. And me as the head of the firm is really just kind of trying to figure out what moves need to be made to put the infrastructure in place to be able to facilitate the growth. And whether that’s office space or HR policies, just kind of making sure we got all our I’s dotted, T’s crossed, bases covered. Just making sure we’re on top of everything.

Jonathan Merel:

I mean, we definitely see growth, and we want to make sure our, obviously, most importantly, we have the best people working for us, which is obviously a crucial part of it. I mean, you’re nothing without good employees. So we’ve made it a point to make sure we’re looking at prospects, making sure we’re hiring the right people with differing levels of experience and putting the building blocks in place to kind of sustain the growth and continue to grow down the road. So that’s been my focus a lot, and I think it will continue to be. We just got to knock on wood that it will continue to happen and we continue to grow.

Jonathan Merel:

Obviously, when you grow, you just don’t want to sacrifice things along the way. The one on one facilitating communication with the clients, you don’t want to become too big where clients are getting lost in the shuffle. So those are all kind of things we’re thinking about as we continue to grow and into next year and beyond.

Kevin Daisey:

I love it. We are in the same place, I think, as you, but I don’t have … I’ve had a few guests on here like … they’re like, “We’re going to do this, this office in this place,” blah, blah. But I think you can easily miss those things, like what you just mentioned, and that’s where we’re at right now. We’re in a process of kind of restructuring a little bit, making sure that we have a good foundation to have any more growth. And one of the things that we’re doing now is we’re only taking on two law firms a month. That’s it. Which just seems a little ridiculous. But until we know we can crush it for two a month and everything’s good, and we have all the right people in place, that’s what we’re doing.

Kevin Daisey:

And my sales people are like, “Well, not really two, right?” Like, “No, no, really two.” Our intake process, just like your intake, we can’t break everything by just taking on 10 clients or five clients. And so we’ve limited it to two, and January is already, we can’t take on no more clients for January. So a big bold decision, but we have a lot of clients and we’re fine where we’re at. And we know we have to have some time to have our people work on things. My project manager is going through and creating processes for everything that we just haven’t really documented. And once we feel comfortable, we’ll up the number. That’s where we’re at right now.

Jonathan Merel:

That’s great. I mean, that’s a great place to be as a business owner when you know you have the ability to sustain fiscally, but you can also make the adjustments you need to make sure the quality doesn’t change. I mean, that’s got to be a good spot, although I’m sure it’s nerve-wracking just like any business owner. But to be able that make those kind of decisions for the best interest of the company, that’s awesome.

Kevin Daisey:

Well, we just … we have to. I think it’s going to take a lot of pressure off some folks that run the company, allow them to have some time to, “Hey, if you could do the best and make a change here or improve this, if you had the time, what would you do? Okay. Here’s the time. Let’s figure it out.” And then have our team say, “Hey guys, we’re ready to take all more clients. We’re good.”

Jonathan Merel:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

And we want the client to have the best experience possible. And so lost in the shuffle, we can’t let that happen. So that’s something that we’ve done. Now, for us, a law firm like you, you’re probably taking on way more than two clients a month. For us, it’s steady growth for us.

Jonathan Merel:

Awesome. Awesome.

Kevin Daisey:

I love it. I love it. I guess last question. Really, what’s the best way that people can contact you, Jonathan? I know your website’s below. Everyone, you’re watching. It’s M-E-R-E-L familylaw.com. So merelfamilylaw.com. What’s the best way to reach out and connect with you personally if we have another attorney, someone that could have maybe a referral or that could work with you guys?

Jonathan Merel:

Absolutely. Well, yeah, I mean, my main office number is 312-408-7000. So that’s obviously an easy way. As I mentioned before, if you want to text divorce to 22222, that’s certainly another way you can get in touch with my office and me personally. My email is J-M-E-R-E-L @merelfamilylaw.com. That’s another way. But yeah, I mean, happy to chat with any colleagues, whether it be legal industry, marketing industry as much as I enjoy practicing law, the business of law is just as appealing to me. So running a law firm, building a law firm, marketing, all that stuff, I love talking about all of it. That’s why I appreciate you having me on and giving me a forum to talk about it. I know you guys do great stuff and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who’s either in my situation or down the road from me or just starting out. I’m definitely here however I can help.

Kevin Daisey:

Now, Jonathan, I appreciate it so much you sharing some of the things. We got to, I think, talk about some different things on here today and I appreciate that and your thoughts and perspectives on it. I just started a book which is about law firms. Technically, it’s written by John Morgan. It’s Can’t Teach Hungry. Check that out if you haven’t.

Jonathan Merel:

Awesome.

Kevin Daisey:

But it’s how to build a multimillion dollar law practice, I think. So you’d probably be asking, “Well, why am I reading that?” Law firms are our clients. But it’ll apply to any business. So it’s a good book. Can’t Teach Hungry. I think it’s hard to come by. I went on Amazon, it’s like some ridiculous price. But that’s John Morgan. I think he owns … is it Morgan, Morgan and Morgan?

Jonathan Merel:

Morgan and Morgan down in Florida. They’re huge.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. So check that book out. It’s actually a pretty short read.

Jonathan Merel:

Great.

Kevin Daisey:

A lot of things about running a business, marketing, operations, processes. It’s actually pretty cool. So any attorney listening, check that book out and give it a try. Other than that, reach out to Jonathan. Connect with him. 15 attorneys in family law, pretty impressive. Connect with him. I’m sure he’s happy to chat and collaborate.

Jonathan Merel:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me on, Kevin. This was great. And definitely, we’ll chat again soon, I hope.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Well, stay on with me for just a second once we end the recording. We can chat for a minute backstage. Everyone else, you can check out Jonathan’s episode soon. It’ll be up on our website arraylaw.com/podcast. We’ve had probably 150 some … I’m not sure how many of you all have made it on the website yet, but his episode will be up there soon. You can also, on our website, you can filter by state or by practice area. We’ve had attorneys almost in every single state in the country. And we cover pretty much … we probably have a half a dozen to a dozen in every single practice area at this point. So if you’re looking for a particular attorney running a firm like yours, you should be able to filter and sort for that.

Kevin Daisey:

Jonathan will be featured too in our newsletter soon, be on our LinkedIn and everywhere else. So keep an eye out for Jonathan as his content comes out on our social media channels. And then if you do need help growing and being a successful firm like Jonathan’s, reach out to us, arraylaw.com, and we can help you with your marketing. So Jonathan, anything else before we go?

Jonathan Merel:

No, that’s it. I appreciate, again. Thanks for having me on. And yeah, if anyone wants to chat or reach out, I’m happy to connect for sure.

Kevin Daisey:

Awesome. Jonathan, I appreciate that. Everyone else, we’ll see you later. Jonathan, stick on with me.

Jonathan Merel:

Got it.

Kevin Daisey:

Have a good day.

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