Immigration attorney Melanie Shapiro has built a thriving legal practice through compassion and a singular dedication to clients in need. Read her story and discover her five keys to long-term business success.
From the start of her career, Melanie Shapiro knew that she had a special purpose and wanted to use her legal expertise to assist those most in need. In 2012, she earned her law degree from the Roger Williams University School of Law with a specialization in immigration law. Soon after, she founded The Law Office of Melanie Shapiro with the motto “Holistic, Compassionate Lawyering.”
Melanie focuses on asylum cases for refugees around the world—with a special focus on LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and victims of domestic violence and child abuse.
Like many small businesses, Melanie’s law office started as a one-woman operation with humble beginnings. In fact, she wrote her initial 1st Circuit Court of Appeals brief from the basement of her home.
In July 2014, her practice expanded into a one-room commercial office in Dedham, MA, and by 2019 she was able to move into a larger office space in nearby Norwood. Today, Melanie’s practice has multiple locations, employs eight full-time staff, and is actively hiring.
As she expanded her operation and built a successful legal practice over the past decade, Melanie gained a deep knowledge of the skills and determination that are necessary to run a small business. Here are the lessons she’s learned and the advice she would share with any small business owner looking to pursue new growth for their company.
The Importance of “Self Teaching”
Needless to say, you don’t need formal business training or an MBA to become a small business owner. However, as Melanie points out, there are many essential responsibilities that go along with running a business that are not common knowledge. As she quickly discovered, being an active learner is essential.
“Lawyers definitely don’t go to business school, for the most part. So, I’ve had to figure all that stuff out on my own. That meant learning about taxes, about corporations, about managing staff.”
Melanie works to fill in her knowledge gaps proactively by reading books, researching business blogs, and taking educational courses on any new entrepreneurial topic that could be useful to her and her business. No one business owner has all the answers to the legal, financial, and social challenges of owning a business, but actively embracing the opportunity to learn can go a long way.
Five Key Lessons for Small Business Owners
Although many aspects of running a business involve concrete details, such as taxes and payroll, there are a wide variety of soft skills that are necessary for success. Here are five lessons Melanie learned that you may not find in a business textbook.
1. Be authentically you.
Through the years, Melanie has sometimes felt that the cultural expectations of what a lawyer is supposed to be are different than what she herself wants from her own career. She soon realized that to truly make a difference in the legal field, she had to move beyond the expectations of others and stay true to herself. This is Melanie’s first piece of advice for other business leaders: let go of preconceived notions about how you’re supposed to act or look based on your profession.
“The most success I’ve had is when I let go of that idea and connect with my clients and my staff authentically,” she says. “When you’re authentic about who you are and what your values are, then success usually follows.”
2. Know your worth and don’t waiver.
As a successful woman in business, Melanie stresses the importance of knowing your worth and the value of your time and effort. This could include drawing the line on working after hours, rejecting offers for payment that you believe are too low, and staying true to your values.
To this day, Melanie’s philosophy is simple: “Know your worth and don’t waiver on it.”
3. Learn to delegate as you expand.
Starting out, The Law Office of Melanie Shapiro was a single-person business. Melanie was in charge of every aspect of her practice—from clerical work to filing documents to taxes and everything in between.
However, as her practice expanded and became more profitable, it became necessary to embrace delegation and share responsibilities in order to do the most good for her clients. It took some time getting used to, but Melanie’s willingness to trust the talent she put around her has allowed her to better capitalize on new opportunities.
For other business leaders, she suggests that they focus on budgeting their time and energy: “Focus on doing only the things that you need to do and try to delegate everything else in order to increase the amount of time you can use to grow your business.”
4. Find ways to de-stress.
Handling life-altering legal cases for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities can take an emotional toll. Melanie emphasizes the importance of hobbies and activities outside the workplace to reduce stress and anxiety and maintain work-life balance.
For Melanie, that hobby is painting the portraits of her many past clients that adorn the walls of her law offices.
No matter what industry you operate in, the everyday challenges of keeping a business running can be highly demanding. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, follow Melanie’s lead and make sure you carve out personal time for hobbies and leisure.
5. Embrace technology.
Finally, Melanie advocates for the use of technology to lighten the load for business owners, especially as your business grows and adds new employees. For example, a good online workflow management software can automate key business tasks like invoicing and human resources, and some platforms have project management features that can streamline communication among your in-person and remote employees to get more work done for your company. Digital tools can also be key for marketing, as customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, and even something as simple as social media can provide major results.
Additionally, if you’re looking to gain more insight into your business finances, discuss online and mobile banking options with your financial institution. These services can offer enhanced visibility into your accounts, convenient access to funds, and fraud prevention controls to help keep your money secure.
Ultimately, selecting the right technology will likely depend on the nature of your business and the tools you already have in place, but as Melanie discovered, going digital and leaning into the latest innovations can yield big returns for time-strapped business owners.
Looking to the Future
Moving forward, Melanie plans to continue the growth and expansion of her practice. She is currently aiming to add additional attorneys to her staff to maximize the number of refugees and asylum seekers she is able to assist.
Incredibly, Melanie’s professional duties don’t stop in the courtroom. Outside of her practice, Melanie teaches two courses at the Roger Williams University School of Law: “Representing Immigrant Survivors of Domestic Violence” and “Federal Litigations and Appeals for Immigrants.”
She completed criminal law training with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and serves as a Bar Advocate. She started a nonprofit aimed at providing support for refugees, and she is a mentor for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Education Collaborative, and the Student Clinic for Immigrant Justice. She also co-chairs the Litigation Committee for AILA New England.
Taking with her the lessons she’s learned over the course of her business journey, Melanie is well prepared to balance the many hats that she wears in her personal and professional lives and continue making an impact on the issues that matter to her.
For more information about Melanie and her legal services, visit melanieshapiroesq.com.
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