Attorney Jacqueline “Jackie” M. Schuh recalled a significant moment as she was opening the office of Engelmeier & Umanah P.A. in St. Cloud. “Sheila Engelmeier came up to see me, and she brought a sign with her for the front entryway. All it said was, ‘Kindness Matters.’ We hung it up, and I felt like this is where I was supposed to be. It’s an unusual message to see in the entryway of a law firm, but it’s exactly the philosophy I grew up with. Every day when I walk in and see that sign, I feel like I’m home. I feel the presence of my mom. It’s a daily reminder to strive to live up to that mantra that was instilled in me as a child.”
Schuh grew up in Waite Park, Minnesota, with her sister and two brothers, all raised by their stay-at-home mom and a father who, as a 33-year postal employee, provided for them. They were never materially wealthy, but they had all they needed, and they were rich in the things that mattered. “My dad and his family were all college-educated, and hard working people. My mom had nurse’s training, but never went to college. My mom’s siblings all served in the military and were very hard-working individuals as well. My dad always emphasized education, and my mom emphasized kindness. She always said she didn’t care what we did with our lives, as long as we were good, kind people. It was a nice parenting balance. Both of my parents were always very kind in the way they treated people, and they were always willing to help others in need.”
Influenced by her parents’ example, Schuh ended up choosing not one, but two simultaneous careers predicated on acts of kindness. In the summer before her second year of law school at William Mitchell College of Law, Schuh joined the Minnesota National Guard, serving in both the Army and the Air Force, including seven years of active duty service. She served 20 years of service as a military JAG, and retired as a Lt. Colonel in 2008.
“I’ve been very blessed to have an eclectic career, both civilian and military,” Schuh said. “I’ve gone a different path than a lot of attorneys my age. The military was a chance to serve something larger than myself, my family, or my community. Only those who serve, and the families that support them, can really understand what it means to be ready to lay down your life for your country. It gives you a different world view and an education in dealing with issues related to other cultres and countries. In both my military and civilian law practices, my military experience has helped me relate to the stresses and issues that are unique to clients.”
Schuh said that her courage to take risks comes from another guiding value, the belief “you always land where you’re supposed to be. I’ve had several practices, and I’ve loved them all.”
She began her career as a general practitioner and then went on to practice as an assistant Stearns County attorney, where she dealt with cases spanning from real estate, taxes, environmental issues, contract disputes, child abuse protection, vulnerable adults, and mental health and chemical dependency. She moved back to private practice, became a partner at Gray Plant Mooty law firm, and then accepted an invitation to join Engelmeier & Umanah in early 2013.
“I feel my experiences have made me a well-rounded person and given me an appreciation for specialty areas of law, while significantly broadening my understanding of people. As a prosecutor, I grew from working with so many different types of people and became more empathic about the nature of the problems they faced. For example, I had little understanding of issues such as child or spousal abuse. I became more sensitive to the plight of both the victim and the abuser. It’s made me a better human being and a better attorney.”
Engelmeier & Umanah has proven the perfect fit for Schuh’s people-focused and varied practice. She is in good company among colleagues whose personal and professional backgrounds are also diverse. “It’s like working with family. Our firm is unique in that we don’t have a hierarchy here; we have a team structure. It’s a nice way to work. There is a level of respect and camaraderie among everybody. One of the things I hear most often from our clients is that we are down-to-earth and approachable. I agree, and as a result, I think that clients develop trust with us quickly. They feel comfortable and understood. Our environment is friendly and inviting, rather than cold and sterile. We want to maintain good relationships with people in both the short and the long-term, irrespective of whether we see them once for a problem or they need long-term legal services.”
The firm’s ability to resolve diverse issues is another differentiator, with experienced attorneys practicing in the areas of employment law; estate planning and probate; business and corporate law; early childhood education and school law; and individual specialty claims along with litigation in all of these areas.
“About 50 percent of my practice is creating and advising small and large businesses in every aspect, including employment law. I also do estate planning, trusts, wills and probate, and I handle litigation related to all of these practice areas. Occasionally, I also take on health care issues and appeals. It’s also always been a source of pride too, that we handle employment cases for both employers and employees. Working with both employers and employees makes us unique among law firms.”
Operating from her office in St. Cloud, Schuh serves clients throughout central and outstate Minnesota. “My geographic area is pretty broad, and it’s great because I get the pulse of a lot of things going on in different parts of the state.”
Pro bono work has also always factored significantly into Schuh’s legal career, and she said she has always been fortunate to work for supportive employers. Since she opened E& U’s doors in St. Cloud, Schuh has committed to doing at least two pro bono cases each month. “For a smaller firm, that’s a substantial commitment, and I’m privileged to work with colleagues who support it. We’ve been blessed with many very good clients so we can dedicate resources to serving many pro bono cases per year. For me personally, it’s become a big part of what I look forward to. I enjoy helping people solve problems, and it’s particularly satisfying when you’re helping someone who really deserves the assistance, but lacks resources to pay legal fees.”
In 2010, Schuh took on the case of 84-year-old veteran Richard Staab to assist him in seeking reimbursement for medical costs. The case has been in litigation for over six years and was widely publicized as Schuh worked in tandem with the National Veterans Legal Service Program to win a favorable order from a Washington, DC appeals court. Regrettably, the VA has appealed the decision, but Schuh and her colleagues continue their tenacious representation of Staab, expecting to prevail on appeal. The victory has paved the way for many thousands of other veterans to be reimbursed for improperly denied health care benefits.
Schuh is well-rounded in more than just her career. When it’s time to recharge, she loves to read, play golf, and she admits that her guilty pleasure is watching NCIS. “But, by far, the most fun for me is working with my hands. From the time my siblings and I were teens and learning to drive, our dad taught us all how to work with automobiles. For Christmas, when we were teens, we each got a Craftsman tool kit and had to learn to change tires, oil and filters, and belts. Out of that grew my passion to work on and rebuild cars. I just finished my 17th project a couple of years ago. I’ve done rebuilds of engines and full restorations. I have a beautiful garage; it’s my favorite part of my house.”
Schuh is held in high esteem by both clients and peers for her consummate legal knowledge, her generosity of spirit and her upbeat approach to life. She was recognized as an Attorney of the Year by Minnesota Lawyer in 2016. Schuh reflected on another guiding value that her mother bestowed. “She always had an appreciation for living each day and for finding joy in the small things. The way I reconcile my time on this earth is by looking for opportunities to be kind to somebody every day; even if it’s just a smile in passing or a kind word to somebody I don’t know. Everything else is just what keeps me busy between acts of kindness.”