By Chris Musillo
July 1, 2019 marks ten years since Musillo Unkenholt began. America itself was founded on July 4, 1776. It was serendipitous to birth an immigration law firm over the same week as the country itself was birthed. In celebration of our tenth birthday, MU will be closed on Friday July 26. We will be having a food and drink tasting event out of the office. We are being chauffeured to a number of cool places here in Cincinnati!
I hope that you will indulge me with a little history on our special birthday.
Cindy Unkenholt and I launched the firm by choosing a name that continues to confuse the legal profession: Musillo Unkenholt. Very Italian, and very, very German.
Besides the two of us, we started with five paralegals: Rita, Jenna, Amy, Kathryn, and Mary. Three of these five are still here at MU: Rita, Jenna, and Amy. The fact that I remain working with these three stars fills me with daily happiness.
These three set the MU culture, and the others who work here embody it and enhance it. It is fashionable right now to talk about an office “growing” a culture. We have had a great culture from MU’s first day. We are creative and dedicated. We don’t cheat the work – we work hard. Everyone takes tremendous pride and ownership over a successful case.
We are dedicated, and yet we have fun too. We go to ballgames, happy hours, firm lunches, road trips, and parties. We give back to our community. We treat each other with immense respect. And we also eat a lot of cupcakes.
The culture is evident in a significant way: the long tenure of these special people. In ten years, we have never had an attorney quit the law firm. We have had very few paralegals leave the firm. The consistency of our team is because of the culture that is set by the people. Let me tell you a little about these amazing people.
In spite of retiring a few years ago, Cindy remains one of my closest friends. It would have been impossible to start this firm without her. Her willingness to take this chance with me is something that will fill me for the rest of my life. She supported me when I needed to be supported. She also challenged me when I needed to be challenged. Some of my favorite memories with Cindy are the early days, when she and I worked through the processes that are necessary to start a business: websites, payroll, insurance, leases, budgets, bank accounts, and a thousand other things. I am so glad that she continues to be a part of the firm, regularly showing up at MU events.
These ten years have been a rich journey that would not have been rich without Rita, Jenna, and Amy. These three outstanding women are the lifeblood of the firm. They have worked on the hardest cases, and for the largest and most demanding clients. They have put in countless hours in these ten years (As I type this, on a Saturday morning at my desk, Jenna is across the hall working on a case). I cannot thank them enough.
Rita recently earned a promotion to become MUs Human Resource Manager, although she still pitches in as a paralegal during busy times. She was my first hire back in 1999. She has a dedication, an energy, and a sense of ownership of MU that is incomparable. She is always the first one at the office, and sometimes, the last to leave.
Jenna constantly goes far beyond what any employer should ask of her. Her passion for the work has brought clients to tears of joy. These thankful clients have sent her beautiful emails and gifts to recognize her part in making their American dream come true. Like Rita, Jenna’s work ethic is unbounded.
Amy has a unique sense of honing in on exactly what the client needs. It is most evident in her ability to communicate confusing immigration concepts in a clean style. This ability has put many, many client’s minds at ease. But that’s not her only talent: Amy’s baking skills are responsible for the cupcakes.
Our attorney team is outstanding. I was proud to invite Maria into the partnership this past January. She has been at MU since 2011, and quickly fell into the MU way of doing things. She is a smart, hardworking lawyer, who has blossomed into much more than just a co-leader. She takes her leadership skills beyond the MU doors. She founded the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Immigration Committee. That proved so successful that they asked her to join the CBA Board. She teaches at the University of Cincinnati’s Law School as an Adjunct Professor. She came into the firm with a passion for immigrants -- a passion that even drove her to marry one!
Anshu is our next longest tenured lawyer. Her ability to work through any problem with grace under fire is something that everyone should envy. She never gets frazzled, no matter the challenge in front of her. She concentrates entirely on the solution. It’s remarkable. Maria and I can’t wait to bring her into the partnership.
Shabnam was our first student law clerk that we offered the opportunity to join MU, a decision that has worked out so well that we repeated it with Allyson, Olivia, Rob, and soon, Megan. John is our only lateral attorney, and we’re lucky that he left Montreal to come back to Cincinnati. This group shares strategies, and genuinely cares about each other’s success. We have great and productive attorney meetings where the energy for the work really shows.
Beyond the three originals, we have an enormously talented group of paralegals. Nicole was an old friend who took a few years away from paralegal work, came back, and hasn’t missed a beat. She is laser-focused on getting cases filed and approved. We plucked Annalisa right out of paralegal school and, as with Shabnam and the attorneys, has been such a pleasure to work with that we repeated the practice with Heather, Candice, Julia, Ally, and Tyler.
Ana, Mary, Tina, Denna, Gwendolyn, Aigerim, and Tess, came to MU from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are immigrants or come from first-generation families. Some are natives. All are Americans. And all are very much appreciated. Like the US itself, the diversity of our team’s personality, race, gender, vibrancy, and background, enhances the experience that we all have with each other.
This entire experience would be impossible without our inspiring clients. These businesses are not just from here in Greater Cincinnati, but from Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, California, Washington DC, Maine, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and, well now that I think about it, every state. We have even secured a visa for healthcare worker in rural Alaska.
Many of the business clients started with us from the day that we opened the law firm’s doors. Many started small and have developed into exciting companies. Together they employ thousands of immigrants, and tens of thousands of Americans. They serve literally millions of people. They have grown as we have grown. The product of these client relationships is exponential.
The owners and leaders of these companies are not just business colleagues, but genuine friends. We call and email and text at weird hours and on weekends. I have been to many of their homes. I have met their spouses, children, and parents.
Our clients are from countless countries around the world, most often from the Philippines and India. I have worked with thousands of wonderful people from these two lovely countries helping them achieve what my own family achieved a generation ago: legal passage to the US to a place that lets them maximize their talents. I have had the chance to visit both countries and have a deep appreciation for their values and ethos, and maybe a little too much of an appreciation for their food.
Beyond these two incredible countries, MU has worked with clients from nearly every country in Europe, much of Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Still we can do more. We have not yet immigrated any penguins from Antarctica.
The next ten years will be exciting. Immigration is a dynamic area of law. We will be moving our office into larger space in the fall, having outgrown our home at 205 W Fourth Street.
We have a stalwart group of experienced employees who continue set a model tone. We have a collection of younger employees who infuse this place with enormous energy. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of ten wonderful years. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next ten.
With an incredible amount of thankfulness and gratitude,