OWING MILLS, Md. – Attorney Sheela Murthy has registered great success as founder, president and managing partner of the immigration-focused Murthy Law Firm, which has grown from a single-lawyer practice into an organization with 75 legal professionals. However, this on-paper success means little to her; she takes pride in the immigrants she has helped and the lives she believes she has changed.
“My work is a labor of love and caring,” Murthy said. For her, what matters the most is her passion for helping immigrants into the United States and contributing to this country by helping to bring in “the best and the brightest.”
Headquartered in Owing Mills, Md., Murthy Law Firm represents small- and mid-sized companies, Fortune 500 companies, as well as individuals undergoing the U.S. immigration process. The firm focuses only on U.S. immigration. Of the firm’s 75 employees, approximately 20 are lawyers, the rest are paralegals and support staff. The firm also has about 20 employees in an office in Chennai, India.
Murthy Law Firm has departments that specifically focus on H-1B visas, 485/I-140 visas, Permanent Labor Certification and Green Cards, and National Interest Waivers.
A benchmark for Murthy Law Firm is its Web site www.murthy.com. The site, which was launched in 2005, has become a household name in immigration circles and is widely praised for the wealth of free information it provides on U.S. immigration. The site features a weekly live chat with Murthy, online bulletin boards and a weekly e-newsletter. Search engine analyst firms have reported murthy.com receives more unique visitors that Web sites of the top immigration law firms in the world. According to Murthy, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services trains its officers to follow the site for up-to-date immigration information.
Murthy Law Firm puts a lot of time and effort into the Web site and has full time lawyers and staff dedicated to it. “To me the branding and the name is something we worked very hard to sell,” Murthy said.
The popularity of the site actually works to showcase the approach Murthy takes to immigration law, particularly her emphasis on helping immigrants over profit. Much of the information provided in the site is advice other law firms would charge for. Murthy said she often runs into other lawyers who think she is crazy for giving away such information for free, but she has no qualms about it.
“My goal is to help people achieve their dreams … by working and living in the United States,” she said.
For Murthy, if that means a few less billable hours and overall more immigrants helped through the Web site, so be it.
An immigrant from India, Murthy’s attitude toward her clients can be traced back to her experience with the immigration process. Though she was a budding immigration attorney at the time, Murthy still hired a lawyer to do her immigration papers. The experience was less than enjoyable and it opened her eyes.
“He really didn’t seem to have any empathy or sympathy or care that this is my whole life,” she said. “That is when I realized, hey, there is a need [for immigration lawyers that show concern about the significance of the process].”
Murthy became determined to be just that.
With her father in the Indian Armed Forces, Murthy grew up all over India. Shrugging off the traditional Indian vocations of medicine and engineering, she attended Stella Maris College in Chennai and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in political science. She followed that by attending University Law College in Bangalore, graduating with a law degree in 1985. While studying law, Murthy impressed finishing first in the Jessup Moot Court competition for law students in India. She then went on to represent India internationally in the competition, which was organized by the American Society of Law, finishing third individually and second with her Indian team.
Harvard Law School followed and Murthy graduated from the school with her law degree in 1987.
She then joined international law firm White & Case LLP in New York. After two years, in 1989, she took at job at Gordon & Feinblatt LLC and moved to Baltimore. Originally Murthy focused on corporate and real estate law, but her own experience with the immigration process and inquires from clients pushed her toward more and more work in immigration.
After four years at Gordon & Feinblatt, Murthy joined immigration law firm Shapiro & Olander LLC in 1992 and began to focus predominantly on immigration law.
In addition to her progression into immigration law, Murthy’s career path was also following a progression from large to small in regards to the size of the firms she worked at. White & Case had about 1,000 lawyers, Gordon & Feinblatt had about 150 lawyers and Shapiro & Olander had about 35 lawyers. This path had Murthy discovering that opening her own practice was what suited her.
“Working at a large firm just didn’t appeal to me,” she said. “I just couldn’t see myself as a cog in the wheel.”
Two years after joining Shapiro & Olander, in 1994, Murthy made the move and started her own law office. She was the only attorney at the start and, according to her, for the first half decade or so she was working 18-hour days, seven-days-a-week. Eventually, Murthy began to add lawyers and staff and her small law office blossomed. In 2005, the organization began operating as the Murthy Law Firm.
Murthy views the firm’s growth as a Catch-22 because through it she can help more immigrants, but it does become increasingly hard to keep fees low due to overhead and infrastructure. Still, she is dedicated to providing immigration services as affordable as she can. In fact, Murthy Law Firm charges flat fees for most of its services, different than the law-industry standard of hourly billing.
Through the Murthy Foundation, Murthy also gives a lot back to charities both in the United States and India and was just recently tabbed as Philanthropist of the Year by the United Way of Central Maryland.
An active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and leader of the association’s Washington chapter, as well as board member of the American Immigration Law Foundation, both Murthy and her firm have received numerous awards and recognition for legal work. Murthy’s entrepreneurial spirit was also recently honored when she was named a 2009 regional winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Above all else though, Murthy truly shows her passion for the current state of immigration and is excited about her involvement.
“It is a strange time and a difficult time in the world of immigration,” she said. “There are very polarizing thoughts about immigration in this country today.”
As Murthy sees it, on the one hand, many believe immigrants are making this country better, particularly with their role in science and technology; on the other hand, many believe immigrants are here for a “free ride.”
Like many in the immigration industry, Murthy highly anticipates the comprehensive immigration reform that President Barack Obama promised during his campaign.
“We expect Obama to come through on immigration reform,” she said.
However, she is realistic in the view that the current economic crisis has put immigration reform on the backburner. In addition, she also believes that the collision of immigration reform and the economic crisis has fueled the emergence of a protectionist mentality, which calls for the protection of U.S. jobs as unemployment rates continue to rise and the fear that immigrants are taking U.S. jobs spreads.
She also applauds the White House’s stance on undocumented immigrants as an immigration and national security issue. She believes this will lead to quicker action on what to do with all the out-of-status workers in the United States, many of whom are “doing the work American don’t want to do.”
“It is a combination of national security and business reality,” she said.