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Happy 15th Birthday, Merel Family Law!

There’s been a lot of change for Merel Family Law in the past 15 years. From rapid growth and expansion of services to a full rebrand in December of 2023, things are starting to look a lot different here. Under the careful stewardship of Founder and Managing Principal, Jonathan Merel, that growth has helped us fight for and help even more families in Chicago, but it hasn’t made us lose its small-firm values.

15 years ago, Merel Family Law – then The Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C. – started with two people: Jonathan and Melissa Caballero Dunn.

“We both did everything,” Melissa said. “We didn’t have a receptionist; we didn’t have a clerk or a billing assistant – we didn’t have anyone but us two. He and I answered the phones, we made our own copies, we hand-delivered documents to the court. It was very much a controlled sort of chaos; it was a lot crazier back then.”

Looking back, it’s equal parts surprising and exciting to see how far things have come. For both Melissa and Jonathan, the Firm has developed in such a way that they could never have foreseen back in 2009.

“I didn’t envision this – maybe Jonathan did ­– I think that this size probably would have scared me back in 2009,” Melissa said. “I don’t think I foresaw it, but I couldn’t see it any other way now.”

Jonathan said he was always confident the Firm would be successful, but even he couldn’t envision today’s growth.

“We just kind of got the machine to work in the right way, then the clients continued to come and then we had more resources,” he said. “My big thing was I always reinvested in the company, and I think that enabled for better marketing and ultimately helped grow the company. But I never knew that it would be 20 lawyer firm. I would have been a little surprised, but not totally surprised.”

Partner Bradley Kate says that the Firm’s strong base has been a big part of its growing success.

“I think, you know, between Melissa, myself, Josie – who was a law clerk at the time and now is obviously a partner – I think we’ve helped contribute to that in taking what we’ve learned from Jonathan and then taking what Josie and I have really learned from Melissa in how to run a practice. And obviously, yeah, as we’ve gotten bigger, we have had to become more organized. We have a marketing director, we have an HR department, and stuff like that. But still, at its core, I feel like our firm is very personable.”

Josie Norton, current Partner and one of the first Associates of the firm, believes a lot of the growth can be attributed to the Firm’s open-door policy and leadership’s willingness to assist everyone in all facets of the practice.

“It allows for knowledge sharing and mentorship, which is crucial for personal and professional growth,” Josie said. “Learning from experienced attorneys helped shape my approach as a lawyer. It helped me become a better associate because I learned how Jonathan did things, I learned things he experienced; I learned how Melissa did things, I learned what she experienced. Now, everyone experiences something different and handles it different as well. It helped me build what kind of attorney I wanted to be and how I was going to address things myself.”

To associate attorney Marleena Broekema, a huge aspect of the Firm’s growth has been how it treats its employees.

“They promised to invest in my career and growth, and they’ve kept that promise by supporting my development from a law clerk to a practicing attorney,” she said.

As the firm has grown and continues to grow, Marleena believes the thing that sets Merel Family Law apart from other firms in the industry will be the people factor.

“Our friendship and camaraderie are outstanding here,” she said. “It’s unique to be able to have such a friendly relationship with colleagues while still maintaining professionalism. I hope we can preserve this balance as we grow. I mean what other firms can you text all your colleagues at six in the morning and crack jokes and then ask for advice about your cases in the same thread?”

For Melissa, the first 15 years were filled with excitement and surprise, but the vision is clear for the next 15 and beyond.

“I think continued success comes from stability,” she said. “We have an amazing crew, I love everybody here, and I think they all do a wonderful job for all their clients. I would be content with just kind of tying it up a bow and keeping with the direction we have now.”

As Merel Family Law celebrates its 15th birthday this year, the overwhelming sentiment from the staff, from top to bottom, is that they can’t wait to keep serving the families of Chicago.

“I want to dedicate a heartfelt thank you from all of us here at Merel Family Law to the clients who have entrusted us with their cases over the past 15 years,” Jonathan said. “Your trust has been instrumental in the success of this firm and has inspired us every day to continue to fight for families all across Chicagoland.”

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