Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 6

This is the last in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to questions #7: 

  • Who in your firm will work on my case and how much will I pay for their time? 

Our firm operates on a team basis – when you hire one of us, you get all of us. Michelle May O’Neil leads the team.  She is a 21-year veteran family law specialist, well known for her ability to put together effective strategies in complex cases. 

Katie Lewis, an 8-year law graduate of what is now Texas A&M School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan School of Law), is board certified in Texas family law and was named to the 2013 Texas Super Lawyers list in family law.  She is one of the youngest lawyers to make this list. Katie focuses on the litigation side of the law firm’s practice. 

Ashley Bowline Russell focuses on the appellate side of the O’Neil & Attorneys practice, where she is responsible for most of the legal research and brief writing in all cases at both the trial and appellate levels. 

The firm has two outstanding paralegals.  Christina, our senior paralegal, has worked for Ms. O’Neil for 14 years, and receives compliments regularly from clients for her attentiveness and compassion.  Sandra received her board certification as a Texas family law paralegal and is well-known for her attentiveness to detail. Clara is our paralegal-in-training who assists in uncontested divorce cases and hearing/trial preparation on all cases. 

The attorneys and paralegals each bill at different hourly rates, based on their level of experience. 

Our team is rounded out by Robin, our firm’s administrator and new client coordinator, and Christopher our receptionist and file clerk. Neither Robin nor Christopher’s time is billed to the clients. 

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law? And question #2 What is your approach to a new case? And question #3 What percentage of cases do you settle? And question #4 What is your approach to settling a case? And questions 5, 6 and 8 What retainer do you require up front? Is any unused portion of the retainer refundable? How often will I receive an accounting of my retainer?

Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 5

This is the fifth in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Her fifth, sixth, and eighth questions are related, so I will answer them together. Here is my answer to questions #5, 6, and 8:

• What retainer do you require up front?
• Is any unused portion of the retainer refundable?
• How often will I receive an accounting of my retainer?

Most firms, mine included, require an upfront payment to secure the representation. In my firm, this deposit is held until the end of the case to secure payment throughout the representation. In fact, client deposits are held in a trust account completely separated from the law firm’s accounts. We operate on a “pay as you go” system, where clients are charged on a weekly basis for the work performed the prior week. We invoice on a monthly basis to show a reconciliation of the work performed during the month versus the amounts paid and the deposit held in trust. Upon conclusion of the representation and full payment of all billing, this amount is fully refunded to the client.

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law? And question #2 What is your approach to a new case? And question #3 What percentage of cases do you settle? And question #4 What is your approach to settling a case?
 

Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 4

This is the fourth in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to question #4:

• What is your approach to settling a case?

The most important factor is reaching a good settlement in a case is knowledge -- having all of the information needed to negotiate with. In a case with complex assets to divide, this may mean having a valuation expert complete an analysis on the value of the community property business. Or, knowing the method of dividing certain complex employment benefits.

Also analyzing each party’s position and the likelihood of success of those positions at trial is an important part of the settlement process. This means understanding the best alternative to settlement and the worst alternative to settlement. Having an experience attorney is essential for this stage. The euphemism of “a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge” rings true here. Knowing how the judge is likely to rule on a particular issue is essential for a fair evaluation of the alternatives to settlement.

This is also an important part of managing expectations. A case is unlikely to settle outside the range of each party’s best/worst case scenarios. For example, the law says that a parent who does not have primary custody of his/her child must pay child support; so, a non-primary parent who will “only” settle the case if he or she is not ordered to pay child support has unrealistic expectations and will likely not reach an agreement. The primary parent would never settle for something that is a guaranteed outcome at court.

The last factor in a good settlement is planning – knowing the most likely ending point of the negotiation process and planning each strategic move in the negotiation to get to that desired point. This also involves understanding the negotiation process.

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law? And question #2 What is your approach to a new case? And question #3 What percentage of cases do you settle?
 

Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 3

This is the third in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to question #3:

• What percentage of cases do you settle?

Most cases settle before trial. Otherwise, our court system would be more clogged than it is currently. In the “old days” before mandatory mediation, lawyers collaborated together to get cases settled. When mediation came along and most judges made the process mandatory prior to trial, the rate of settlement increased. Estimates are that around 95% of cases settle prior to trial.

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law? And question #2 What is your approach to a new case?
 

Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 2

This is the second in my line of posts responding to the questions posed by Carla Schiff Donnelly in her article about hiring the right divorce lawyer. There, she poses several questions that a person should ask a divorce lawyer in the initial interview. Here is my answer to question #2:

  • What is your approach to a new case?

Every case is different, depending on whether it is contested or uncontested, just beginning or already in the middle of litigation, and depending on the issues involved. Most often the first step would be to file the divorce petition and schedule a temporary hearing. The purpose of the temporary hearing is to get some ground rules – temporary orders – in place that will last while the divorce is pending. During this phase we evaluate the need for experts or consultants to add to our team – one example would be to hire a business valuation expert if that is an issue. The next phase involves gathering the information needed to attempt settlement of the case. This phase is called discovery. Once we have enough information to make educated decisions, then we will work to schedule mediation in order to try to get an agreement. One thing is for sure, a divorce will only happen after one of two outcomes – either settlement or a contested trial. If settlement doesn’t work, then we request a trial setting and prepare for presentation of the case to the judge.

See my answer to question #1 How long have you practiced family law?
 

Why should I hire you as my Dallas divorce attorney? Part 1

In my prior posts…

How to choose the right Dallas divorce lawyer and
What to ask your divorce lawyer

…I reviewed the article by Carla Schiff Donnelly from the Huffington Post and her six points for choosing the right lawyer. In her 4th point, she poses several questions to ask a divorce attorney in the interview. Over the next several blog posts I will endeavor to answer these questions. Keep in mind that some of the answers may be generally stated because the specific answer would depend on the case. So here is the first question and my answer:

  • How long have you practiced family law?

After receiving notice that I passed the Texas bar exam in 1992, I opened my law practice in Belton, Texas, my hometown. I initially accepted criminal and juvenile defense cases by court appointment and family law cases by private retainer. I have practiced family law since then – so over 21 years. I became a Board Certified Texas Family Law Attorney in 1997, only 5 years after becoming a licensed attorney. This is the minimum number of years of practice for an attorney to apply for certification in Texas. My background also includes experience working with a nationally-respected family law firm, where I gained experience in complex, large scale litigation.
 

What to ask an attorney during your first interview

Our prior post entitled How to choose the right Dallas divorce lawyer reviewed the first three points of the article written by Carla Schiff Donnelly from the Huffington Post. Her final three points address the questions you should ask a potential divorce lawyer before hiring and the questions you should ask yourself. Here, I will review the questions Donnelly poses. Then, in a future post, I will endeavor to answer the questions Donnelly advises be asked.

3. Ask questions of the attorney at the initial consultation.

Donnelly advises you to ask the following questions of the divorce lawyer being interviewed:

• How long have you practiced family law?
• What is your approach to a new case?
• What percentage of cases do you settle?
• What is your approach to settling a case?
• What retainer do you require up front?
• Is any unused portion of the retainer refundable?
• Who in your firm will work on my case and how much will I pay for their time?
• How often will I receive an accounting of my retainer?

4. Take inventory after the meeting regarding your feelings regarding the lawyer interviewed.

• Did you feel comfortable opening up to this attorney?
• Did you feel intimidated by him?
• Was she a good listener, or did they spend the entire time singing their own praises?
• Did you feel as though this attorney would take a practical approach to your case?
• Did she tell you anything you did not want to hear? This is a good thing because the attorney’s job is to tell you what to realistically expect from the process. Unrealistic expectations serve no reasonable purpose.

5. Trust your gut – if it doesn’t not seem right, it probably isn’t.

Hire the attorney that you connect with. You need to feel comfortable with your lawyer. If he or she doesn’t give you “warm fuzzies” when you first interview them, hire a different lawyer. There’s nothing wrong with that. We just don’t connect with everyone.
 

How to choose the right Dallas divorce lawyer

When spouses separate, they are often not thinking clearly. Emotions run high, causing feelings ranging from sorrow to revenge to wanting it over with quickly. These emotions may lead to making the wrong decision in hiring a lawyer. But what attorney you choose at this stage is crucial to how the case progresses from start to finish and how much it costs in terms of financial and emotional cost. Most of the Dallas area family law judges will require spouses to negotiate in good faith and try to settle the contested issues prior to taking up the court’s time in a hearing or trial. Are you picking the right lawyer to both negotiate for your best outcome and to litigate for you if necessary?

Carla Schiff Donnelly, a Pennsylvania family law attorney writing for the Huffington Post, suggests six tips to help avoid making the wrong choice in hiring a divorce attorney in her article Don't Get Stuck With The Wrong Lawyer: 6 Steps To Avoid the Most Common Divorce Mistake. Here are the first 3 of her points. I will discuss the remaining 3 points in our post What to ask an attorney during your first interview.

1. Identify the potential need for a divorce attorney early.

It is better to interview potential lawyers at a time when you are not under the pressure of choosing one. Once getting served with divorce papers you will be under the stress and time-crunch of choosing someone, turning the important factors from who is the best fit for your case to who is simply available at the time you require.

2. Reach out to trust sources for referrals.

Searching for a divorce attorney on the internet – googling “best dallas divorce attorney” – can give you a list of attorneys to start researching. But, financial advisors, marriage counselors, attorneys practicing in areas other than family law, CPAs, or even friends who have recently gone through divorce can give you valuable insight into the pool of divorce attorneys you should be talking to. Some recent divorcees may even refer you to the divorce attorney who represented their former spouse. (This has actually happened to me more than once – the opposing party in a case I handled referred me a friend of their’s.)

3. Hire a specialist.

The Texas Board of Legal Specialization is the certifying authority for lawyers in the State of Texas. Out of 70,000 attorneys in Texas, only 763 attorneys state-wide are certified in Texas family law. Certified Family Law specialists have participated in the contested trial of cases involving matters such as divorce, property division, child custody, child support, adoption, paternity or other matrimonial matters. (O’Neil & Attorneys is proud to have two board certified family law specialists on staff, lead attorney Michelle May O’Neil and associate attorney Katie Lewis.)
 

Writs of Habeas Corpus: Get Out of Jail Cards in the Courts of Appeals

As part of our appellate practice, clients often come to us asking what they can do after they suffer an unfavorable ruling in the trial court. Most people are familiar with a traditional appeal (challenging the trial court’s final order in the courts of appeals). But a traditional appeal is not available in all family law cases and sometimes other appellate remedies are necessary.

For example, traditional appeals are typically not allowed from child support and possession enforcement orders. Because these orders often include penalties of contempt, which sometimes means jail time, these are some of the most common orders that people what to challenge. But what can you do?

The appellate relief in contempt cases is called a writ of “habeas corpus” (Latin for “that you have the body”). The Supreme Court and the courts of appeals have jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus in cases in which a person’s liberty is restrained (meaning jail) because the person violated an order, judgment or decree (child support or possession for example) in a civil case. Because personal liberty is at issue, habeas corpus proceedings are expedited in appellate courts.

There are several bases on which a writ of habeas corpus may be granted including (1) lack of jurisdiction by the trial court, (2) violation of due process, (3) inadequate or no notice, and (4) if there is no proof that the contemnor violated the trial court’s order. But, if the contempt order does not involve physical restraint (i.e. jail), then mandamus (the subject of my post next week), not habeas corpus is the appropriate way to challenge the trial court’s order.

Time is of the essence when it comes to a writ of habeas corpus. You do not want either yourself or a loved one sitting in jail any longer than necessary. If you think that this remedy might be appropriate in your case, contact an attorney with experience in family law appeals immediately.

 

The Many Hats of a Divorce Lawyer

As a divorce lawyer in Dallas for 20+ years, I’ve learned that divorce lawyers wear many hats when working for their clients.  From mental health counselor to financial planner, from creditor’s rights to business litigation,  divorce lawyers give advice to clients about many different areas of their life. 

This week, I wore the hat of a landlord/tenant lawyer. My client received two rental properties in the asset division and now he must learn to deal with issues such as property managers, security deposits, and rent collection.  At the same time that he assumed the ownership and responsibility for the properties, the tenants in both properties moved out.  Thus, we had to address the return of the security deposits to them in accordance with the law. The rental properties are in another state, so this complicated matters.  We also had to reconcile the rents received, mortgages paid, and HOA dues paid. I’ve been asked to interface with the property management for both units to make sure that the security deposits are addressed properly and to ensure my client’s records are up-to-date with his take over.  Having a basic understanding of landlord/tenant law assisted me in helping the client navigate these  new waters. 

I also was called upon in another case to research the criminal record of the opposing party.  We found that he has multiple criminal convictions.  Because I’m not as familiar with criminal law, and especially federal criminal law, I called a friend who practices in that area for advice.  Sometimes it is better and more economical to seek help from a specialist in an area rather than charting new waters. 

I’ve also had to address bankruptcy issues this week regarding a third client. For various reasons, the client may need to file for bankruptcy and we had to evaluate whether to file now or whether it would be better for him to file at some point in the future. He was under the mistaken impression that filing bankruptcy would speed up the divorce process.  To the contrary, I had to explain to him that filing bankruptcy actually works to stay the divorce proceedings, which will elongate the process, not shorten it.  Again, I called in a bankruptcy lawyer to advise the client in areas unfamiliar to me. 

At any point in time, a divorce lawyer must also know something about business law, corporate litigation, bankruptcy law, creditor’s rights, criminal law, landlord/tenant, real estate law, estate planning, and many other areas.

 

We Love Happy Clients

We received this wonderful note from a happy client this week. Thank you D.C and good luck in your new endeavors!

“Thank you Robin for all your help through this process. Ashley Russell was top notch and so very kind throughout this ordeal. As well as Christina Garcia being patient with me in gathering the necessary documents, etc. You all have made this situation as bearable as can be in such an unwanted event in my life. The professionalism was there from the start with my meeting with Michelle until my court appearance with Ashley. Your representation was beyond my expectation. I thank you from the bottom of my heart! – D.C.”

Attorney's Fees - Who Gets Them and When: Part 2

 

As I said in my post last week, virtually every party in a divorce asks for attorney’s fees at one point or another. The truth is that in Texas (a community property state) both parties to a divorce are likely getting their fees from the community estate – or on community credit via loans or credit cards – unless you are in a situation where one spouse has complete control of the vast majority of marital assets.

Attorney’s fees owed and/or incurred by both sides can impact the court’s division of the community estate in a divorce. Texas case law recognizes this reality, providing that attorney fees are one of the factors that the court may consider in making a “just and right” division of the community estate under Section 7.001 of the Texas Family Code. Keep in mind that the court has discretion to consider attorney’s fees and what is in fact a “just and right” division of property is subjective, based on a number of factors, and the consideration afforded attorney’s fees by the court might not necessarily be dollar-for-dollar.

Also, at the temporary orders stage of a case the Texas Family Code specifically provides that the court can award attorney’s fees while the case is pending “for preservation of property” and/or for protection of the parties. Requests for “interim attorney’s fees” are common at temporary orders hearings – especially in situations where the parties do not have equal access to financial resources from which to pay their attorneys.

Once a divorce is granted and if an appeal is filed, the trial court has the authority to award attorney’s fees to one side or another under the authority the Texas Family Code provides for temporary orders pending appeal. This situation is far less common than attorney’s fees awarded as temporary orders while a case is pending.

In addition attorney’s fees in a divorce, the court also has authority under Texas law to award attorney’s fees to one side or the other in suits affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCRs). Stay tuned to part 3 of my blog next week for this discussion.

 

Texas divorce FAQ: My attorney is attractive - can I date him/her?

Having a personal relationship with an attorney while he/she represents you raises an ethical conflict of interest and will require the attorney to withdraw from representing you. Further, such a relationship will compromise the objectivity of the attorney’s advice. if the attorney is worth dating, he/she will be worth dating after your case is over. It is always advisable to wait until your current relationship is over, if it is a divorce, to start a new one.

Texas divorce FAQ: My spouse had a great lawyer the last time we separated, then we reconciled. Can I hire him/her next time?

Once an attorney has a relationship with one party to a lawsuit, ethical rules prohibit the attorney from representing the other side. This rule also extends to any attorney with whom your spouse has had a meeting, even if the attorney was not hired at the end of the meeting.

 

Texas divorce FAQ: Can I change lawyers?

 

You have an absolute right to have the lawyer of your choice represent you. If you become dissatisfied with your lawyer, you can fire that lawyer and hire another one. Keep in mind that the new lawyer may spend time, and therefore charge you money, for getting up to speed on your case. And, your contractual obligations to pay your prior lawyer for time spent on your case are not relieved just because you change lawyers.

 

Texas divorce FAQ: Can I bring a relative or friend with me with I meet with my lawyer?

Although a friend or relative may accompany you to the lawyer’s office, it is not advisable to have a third party meet with the lawyer with you. Anything that is discussed between you and a lawyer is protected from disclosure to the other side. But, if a third party attends that meeting, then anything discussed is discoverable by the other side. If the matters discussed and the advice given is general, then there may not be a big issue. But, if private or embarrassing matters are on the topic, then you may want to have your friend or relative wait in the lobby.

How to Find the Best Lawyer for You

Not just any lawyer, the best lawyer.  It is certainly understandable that someone who suddenly needs a lawyer to end a marriage would want to find the best one around. It's not only part of our competitive nature, but it's also common sense.

When trying to find the best lawyer for you, wherever you are, here are some things to consider.

1. You need to define what makes a lawyer the best one for you. What are the most important qualities that you are looking for? Do you want a business-like personality or someone who is very personable and casual? Do you want a very structured attorney or a more laid back approach? Some lawyers are abrasive and others are instantly your best friend. You should get to know something about a lawyer’s personality and approach to practicing law.

2. Another stylistic option is whether you want a decision-maker or an option-developer. Some lawyers get the facts of the case and then start telling clients what to do. Other lawyers help clients develop a variety of options and then assist them in choosing a course of action. Some clients just want to turn over their legal matter to their attorney and let the attorney take care of it. How involved do you want to be?

3. What is the financial range of fees you are comfortable with? Generally, the more experience or more demand there is for a lawyer, the higher the fees will be. More expensive lawyers aren't always the best, but they often are much better than inexpensive lawyers. If your case is very complicated or unusual, you may want to hire an experienced attorney, but make sure you can afford the attorney. Even among very good attorneys, there will be a range of fees that they charge.

4. Do you want or need a trial lawyer or a settlement specialist? Don't assume that you necessarily want to take your case to trial. Likewise, you shouldn't assume that your case will be settled. It is true that most family law cases settle, but some have to be tried. You should consider both approaches and find out how prospective lawyers view your case.

5. Sometimes, location can be a consideration. You generally want to hire a lawyer in your own county, or wherever the suit is located. But, you may or may not have to go to your attorney's office very often after the attorney is hired. Much of the contact between lawyers and clients takes place via email or by phone or fax. However, you probably should hire someone local who is familiar with the local courts, judges and courthouse personnel.

Hat tip to Dick Price for his April 15, 2011 post

How Can You Control Your Legal Costs?

Posted by Michelle May O’Neil on July 11, 2011

Accept that you may not have the control you would like to have over the legal costs. If your spouse is unwilling to negotiate a settlement and wants to drag matters over a period of time or through to trial, the legal costs will escalate. Sometimes one or both spouses start out not fully comprehending the stress and high costs that are involved in fighting it out in the litigation process. Months later they may come to the realization that it is better to work out a settlement to end the “emotional and financial bleed” and get on with their lives. Sometimes one or both spouses are so angry that they will do everything possible to drag matters out just to have their “day in court.” Then they realize only too late that putting their lives in the hands of the court is anything but empowering. The court may make decisions that neither of them desires.

Taking the things that you cannot control into account, you can do some things to make your time with your lawyer more cost effective and control your legal costs to some extent.

  • Gather, photocopy, and organize all of your personal and family financial documents and records. This includes your personal income tax returns and any and every document you can find that relates to your family finances, such as cancelled checks, records of investments, loan agreements, bank account statements, insurance policies, real estate documents, RRSPs, and the like. If you have a marriage agreement, a domestic contract, or any other agreement, your lawyer will also require these documents.
  • Calculate all of your current overheads. If you haven’t been keeping records of your expenses before, start writing down everything that you spend money on-groceries, gas, utilities, child care, your children’s haircuts, your children’s extra-curricular activities, your children’s medications. Keep a record of everything that you spend to support yourself and your children on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
  • If you have friends who have been through this process and can give you practical advice, listen and consider their input. Although each situation is unique, learning from the experiences of others can help you focus on the specific matters that you will need to discuss with your lawyer.
  • Plan your telephone and face to face meetings with your lawyer. Write down your questions before you talk or meet. When your lawyer gives you advice, take notes so that you have the information you need to make the best decisions for you and your children.
  • If your lawyer calls you but your children are in the room, or for some other reason you do not feel you can concentrate on the matters at hand, ask for a time that would be convenient for you to return the call. Call back when you are feeling calm and prepared and assured of privacy.
  • Do not use your lawyer’s billable time to talk about your emotional situation.
  • Do not have your lawyer do all the legwork if there are matters you can handle.

Make the calls, pick up the documents, and do whatever you can to gather any information or documents that your lawyer requires. But of course you also need to consider the trade-off of the cost of your time versus the cost of your lawyer or his or her assistants doing this work.

  • Ask your lawyer directly if there is anything that you can personally do to keep the costs down.

In matters of property division, you may have to provide records to determine any worth that is separate from the family property or you may have had prior to the marriage. If you had a marriage contract, these matters may be dealt with there. If not, you will need to provide the appropriate documentation. If you owned property or had investments such as an RRSP prior to your marriage, do you have valuations as at the date of the marriage? If you do not have the records to substantiate property or investments you believe should not be considered in the division of the matrimonial property, can your financial advisor, present or former employer or banker provide information that would substantiate your claim? There are professionals who do forensic valuations of property but these services will add costs to the bottom line of your separation or divorce.

 

 


 

This article has been edited and excerpted from the book To Have and To Hold with permission by McGraw-Hill Ryerson,Copyright ©2010 by Kathleen Aldridge and Nancy Jane Bullis.


Divorce Attorney Expectations

You are going through divorce -- you retain an attorney and at the end of the day you have a visceral reaction -- you either love or hate your divorce attorney. While a good attorney could use his legal knowledge and skills to get you a better settlement, the facts of your case largely determine the outcome of your case. So why then, do clients have such extreme reactions to their lawyers?

In large measure, the client’s satisfaction with his legal representation is directly related to his expectations from the attorney-client relationship. So what can the client expect of his attorney?

Cathy Meyer in her article Are You Expecting Too Much From Your Divorce Attorney? identifies five things clients should minimally expect from their attorneys:

1. Regular Communication.

Responsiveness is crucial. More complaints are lodged against attorneys with disciplinary boards for not returning phone calls than any other reason.

In my office, it is the practice to attempt to return calls and answer client emails the day they are received . Divorce is emotionally charged. It can be nerve wracking and gut wrenching. Your attorney should expeditiously answer your questions and address your concerns in a timely manner.

2. Full Disclosure.

Your attorney should be willing to discuss in full with you what is happening in your case and what they expect to happen in the future. A good divorce attorney will suggest strategies for your case; explain the discovery process, negotiate on your behalf, and have your back should you go to divorce court.

Client’s should receive copies of all letters, emails and legal documents. When the communication involves a client’s substantive rights, the client should have an opportunity to review the final product before it goes out.

3. Due Process.

It is your divorce attorney's responsibility to make sure you are treated fairly by the court during your divorce.

4. Availability.

Appointments with your divorce attorney are an opportunity for you to gauge where you are in the divorce process and the direction your case is heading. If you have a divorce attorney who cancels or rushes you through appointments, you have a bad divorce attorney.

5. Basic Courtesy and Civility.

Little things matter. It costs nothing to be courteous and polite. While the adage “the customer is always right” be not be 100% accurate in a divorce case, the client is always entitled to respect and common courtesy. When differences of opinion arise on how an issue should be handled, the client is entitled to a reasoned, but polite explanation. It is seldom productive to be rude, derisive or hostile

In the end, the client should expect the attorney to counsel and to communicate a strategy and an analysis of the relevant facts and law to enable the client to make informed decisions about their case.

Hat tip to Daniel Clement of the most excellent New York Divorce Report.

Save Attorneys Fees Through Email

Most of our clients are very comfortable using email for their informal correspondence to friends and family. Not every client is accustomed to using email as a form of business communication, however. In some instances misuse of email in client correspondence can misdirect and even hinder an attorney's effectiveness in the case.

If you've hired an attorney to represent you in your divorce, child custody, or other family law matter, or plan to do so in the future, then you will be communicating with your attorney's team on a regular basis. You'll meet with your attorney and legal team face-to-face. You'll talk on the telephone. You'll send and receive letters by U.S. Mail, FedEx, and UPS. And you'll send and receive emails, probably a lot of them. Today's article is about getting in the habit of sending emails to your attorney in a productive time-is-money manner.

Tip #1. This is business. Stick to the legal matter at hand.

Avoid using emoticons like smileys, and abbreviations like ROFL and OMG, in your email messages to your lawyer. Those are certainly fun and useful in personal email messages and maybe on your facebook page, but they detract from your message in an email to your attorney. Also, make sure to check your spelling, and use proper punctuation and standard capitalization. TYPING YOUR EMAIL IN ALL CAPS SHOUTS AT THE READER, DOESN'T MAKE WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY MORE IMPORTANT, AND CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE MUCH MORE DIFFICULT TO READ.

Tip #2. Think. Pause. Think Again. Then Send.

This is great email advice for everyone from the American Society of Legal Writers. Always proofread your email carefully before you hit send. If your email is replete with errors, or doesn't flow logically, then the attorney receiving it will spend that much more billable time trying to figure out what you really meant to say. Take the time to write carefully, to proofread your message, to make sure it reads logically and says specifically what you intended. Then send. If you can get your message across to your attorney on his or her first reading, then you've saved time and money in legal fees.

Tip #3. A timely "reply" is good. A "forward" to your attorney is good. A "forward" of your attorney's email is too late.

Don't be in such a hurry to send a message to your attorney that you accidentally "forward" instead of a direct "reply" to your attorney's original message. If you receive an important message from your sister, for example, with a link to your estranged spouse's MySpace page, then forwarding her message to your attorney may help your case. But don't forward your attorney's emails to anyone, ever. Here's an example: Let's say you feel an overwhelming need to share what's happening in your case and so you forward your attorney's email to your sister, who forwards it to your mother, who then shares it with your 16-year-old son, who promptly forwards it to your soon to be ex-spouse, who now knows way more than he or she should about your attorney's strategy in the case.

Tip #4. Always protect your privacy online.

Because of emails' simplicity and universal application, it is far too easy to send personal information without reflecting on what is being sent and where it could end up. Never provide your Personally Identifiable Information (PII)-such as your social security number, birth date, mother's maiden name, or banking information-in an email message. Don't give away anyone else's PII either. Criminals use PII to exploit and steal identities. So think before you send and always remember that unencrypted email is the postcard any carrier can read and forward.

Contact the Dallas family law attorneys at the O'Neil Attorneys by email today, we look forward to hearing from you.


Resources:

Law Office of Scott David Stewart blog

The American Society of Legal Writers
http://www.scribes.org/


 

Hire the Right Attorney for Your Dallas Divorce

Client Testimonial Tuesday: 

Divorces are very difficult and painful. Don't make matters worse by hiring the wrong attorney. My "donkey was in a ditch" and Michelle May O'Neil not only got me out, but put me back on track to obtain my desired results. She is well respected in her field, very knowledgeable , and will fight for your rights. If you want things done right, do them right the first time, have Michelle May O'neil represent you.

A.Y.

Dallas Family Lawyer Will Fight For You!

Client Testimonial Tuesday:

Client says Michelle May O'Neil is a Dallas Family Law Attorney who cannot be intimidated!

A lot of people say "they saved my life" but this is a true statement in regards to Ms. O'Neil. Thanks to her and her firm, my daughter is now enjoying college. She handled my case from the Texas Supreme Court (which we won) back to the District Court where we won again. She can't be intimidated by opposing counsel, she didn't back down. You can count on her and the firm to stand by you no matter what, she will fight for you.

Yvette Dobbins

Our Choice for Dallas Family Law Attorney

Client Testimonial Tuesday:

“I hired Michelle May O'Neil to represent our daughter in a custody/divorce suit in Dallas Texas. We had our choice of Dallas family law attorneys. Michelle's "leave no stone unturned" approach was all we needed. We won  full custody and we are grateful for a job that was done as it should have been done. INCREDIBLE results." 

Tom Ermish

How To Find A Good Lawyer When You Need One

Most people do not have a clue how to find a good lawyer when they need one. In fact, statistics show that 68% of consumers spend two hours or fewer gathering information before selecting a lawyer. The vast majority of consumers report feeling they “can trust” their lawyer is the most important factor in the selection process.

The first step is to determine what type of lawyer you need. In most states, a licensed attorney may practice in any field of law, but most concentrate on very specific areas. Most states also have a process of specialization for attorneys. “In days gone by, most lawyers were general practitioners, meaning that they handled cases in a wide variety of practice areas. As the number of lawyers grew, the law became more complicated, and our society spread out, it has become necessary for lawyers to concentrate their efforts,” says Michelle May O’Neil, a board-certified Dallas divorce lawyer.

One of the best resources to find a lawyer that does the kind of law you need is through other lawyers. Everyone should know at least one lawyer they could call and ask for a referral. Even if the lawyer you know practices criminal law and you need someone to prepare a will, the criminal lawyer will be able to give you some referrals in the practice area you need.

 

There are also referral lists maintained by most local and state bar associations. The downfall of using these services is that there is usually no screening on the qualifications of the particular lawyer with the individual need. It is then up to the consumer to inquire sufficiently into the lawyer’s experience compared to the need of the consumer.

 

The internet is an extremely beneficial source of locating a lawyer. Many websites maintain directories of lawyers nationwide. Most law firms these days maintain websites and usually you can find those through any search engine. Often lawyers are active in professional or community organizations which may be featured on a website. “My firm’s website is a key tool in educating clients on what distinguishes my family law firm from another firm in Dallas,” says Dallas Divorce Lawyer Michelle May O’Neil. “I find that most potential new clients read all or part of an attorney’s website before meeting in person.”

 

For more information, download the article: How to Find a Good Lawyer When You Need One in pdf format.

 

Also see related information at: On The Case -- How To Choose The Best Divorce Lawyer For You.  This article has a list of questions that you can ask an attorney you interview.

How To Find A Good Lawyer When You Need One

Most people do not have a clue how to find a good lawyer when they need one. In fact, statistics show that 68% of consumers spend two hours or fewer gathering information before selecting a lawyer.

1.  Determine the type of lawyer you need.

In most states, a licensed attorney may practice in any field of law, but most concentrate on very specific areas. Most states also have a process of specialization for attorneys. "In days gone by, most lawyers were general practitioners, meaning that they handled cases in a wide variety of practice areas. As the number of lawyers grew, the law became more complicated, and our society spread out, it has become necessary for lawyers to concentrate their efforts," says Michelle May O'Neil, a board-certified Dallas divorce lawyer . There are almost as many different practice areas as there are lawyers. For example, a lawyer who practices admiralty law might not be the best attorney to assist a person needing a divorce. Or, a construction lawyer might not be best suited for a real estate dispute.

2.  Utilize referral sources.

One of the best resources to find a lawyer that does the kind of law you need is through other lawyers. Everyone should know at least one lawyer they could call and ask for a referral. Even if the lawyer you know practices criminal law and you need someone to prepare a will, the criminal lawyer will be able to give you some referrals in the practice area you need. There are also referral lists maintained by most local and state bar associations. The downfall of using these services is that there is usually no screening on the qualifications of the particular lawyer with the individual need. It is then up to the consumer to inquire sufficiently into the lawyer's experience compared to the need of the consumer.

3.  Look online to research lawyers in the area you need.

The internet is an extremely beneficial source of locating a lawyer. Many websites maintain directories of lawyers nationwide. Most law firms these days maintain websites and usually you can find those through any search engine. Often lawyers are active in professional or community organizations which may be featured on a website. "My firm's website www.oneilanderson.com is a key tool in educating clients on what distinguishes my family law firm from another firm in Dallas," says Dallas Divorce Lawyer Michelle May O'Neil. "I find that most potential new clients read all or part of an attorney's website before meeting in person."

4.  Meet in person with a couple of lawyers.

The initial interview with an attorney that you are considering hiring is extremely important. Take with you to the interview all of the documents and other information that relates to your problem. Also take with you the names and addresses of the important people that have something to do with your case. Don't be afraid to ask your lawyer about his or her credentials. Ask how many cases similar to your's that she has handled. Prepare a list of questions to ask when you get there - what is the law related to your case? What are the realistic outcomes? What is the lawyer's philosophy for handling your case? Does she recommend an aggressive approach or one geared more toward settlement? Consider your comfort level with the attorney and the personal compatibility. Did you get a feeling of trust from the attorney? Did the attorney seem to know what she was talking about? Did the lawyer seem confident about your case? I never recommend that a person hire the first attorney they meet

5.  Establish reasonable expectations.

Many people have never dealt with a lawyer before, so they don't know what to expect. First and foremost, you should expect frank, honest advice. Your lawyer should point out for you the strong and weak points of your case and give you a realistic expectation of the potential outcomes. She should keep you informed and send you copies of documents pertaining to your case. If a lawyer gives you a guaranteed result, run the other way!!! Lawyers are prohibited from guaranteeing any particular outcome, so be very leery if this happens. Don't expect your lawyer to act as a psychologist, financial advisor, tax planner, or to give any other advice outside of her expertise. If you need advice in other areas, consult a professional in that area.
 

This post originally appeared on Avvo.com:  How To Find A Good Lawyer When You Need One.  Look at my AVVO profile here.

Happy birthday to the Texas Lawyer's Creed!

The Texas Lawyer's Creed turned 20 years old on November 5, 2009 marking a milestone in the Texas Bar community for the promotion of professionalism and civility in the legal profession.  Being an attorney in the great state of Texas (any any other state for that matter) is a privilege.  With this privilege comes a great amount of responsibility.  Unfortunately there are some bad attorneys out there who have tarnished the image of the legal profession.  The lawyer's creed sets forth a model of behavior which, if followed, helps to improve the public image of the legal profession and bolsters good will among members of the bar.

One of the most important components of the lawyer's creed addresses the lawyer's relationship to his/her client.  The legal profession is a service industry, and there certainly isn't a lack of capable attorneys to handle cases.  Being capable, however, is only part of the equation for success.  Following the lawyer's creed is also a large part of the equation in obtaining a favorable result for a client. 

So happy birthday to the lawyer's creed and here's to another 20 years of helping us lawyers strive for excellence! 

 

Why Is There No Free Consultation?

Why Is There No Free Consultation with Dallas Divorce Lawyers?

Tarrant County divorce lawyer and blogger Dick Price recently posted a relevant article about initial consultations with divorce lawyers.  Frequently we are asked when a client first calls for information whether we provide a free consultation.  We charge a reduced flat fee for a consultation, less than our hourly rate, but enough to make sure the potential new client is serious in his inquiry.  Here are the reasons Dick Price lists for Divorce Lawyers in Dallas and other places to charge consultation fees:

  • For the attorneys who charge by the hour, time is money. They keep their business open by charging for the time they spend working in some fashion on the client's problems. Real information is provided in real time to the client. For the attorney, the service provided is essentially the same type of service they will be providing once they are hired: listen, ask questions, determine needs or goals, gather information, analyze, strategize and create plans.
  • Other professionals routinely charge for their time and services at an initial assessment. This includes doctors, mechanics and electricians (just to name a few). The time and skills of the professionals are being applied to the problems at hand.
  • In addition, when an attorney meets with a prospective client, the attorney becomes immediately disqualified from representing the spouse. That can result in a loss of income for the attorney.
  • Another consideration is that the attorney is unable to work on other clients' business when they are attending an initial meeting with a potential new client. That means less income for the attorney and no progress on the other client's issues. Even if it only delays the work, the delay can become a problem for the client and then the attorney. Most clients prefer not to be put on the back burner. They want their matter resolved NOW!
  • In addition, busier attorneys will charge for the consultation. To not charge for the consultation would subject the attorneys to spending a lot of uncompensated time with the new client. Again, that prevents the attorney from being able to do significant work on other cases.

 


 

Tips for controlling attorney's fees.

Make no mistake about it, divorces can be quite expensive.  Notwithstanding, there are several ways that you can help reduce the amount of attorney and paralegal fees you incur in your case.  As a Dallas divorce attorney our office has found that the following are quite helpful in controlling costs:

  1. Communicate with your attorney via email.  A typical day for me involves reviewing hundreds of emails and returning several phone calls.  Putting your thoughts down in writing helps you to single out what your concerns are when you talk to me.  With that in mind, when you email me, try and be as concise as possible.  In doing so I won't have to dig through your email to determine what the question or concern is.  
  2. Keep accurate financial records.  In all likelihood you will be required to file an inventory and appraisal of the community and separate estates.  By keeping up with your financial records, or at a minimum knowing where to readily obtain them, you can greatly reduce costs.  If you don't keep accurate records, or know where to get them, either I or my staff will have to obtain them for you and then sift through them.  
  3. Understand that while I genuinely care about you and your case, I have to charge you for my time.  With that in mind, try to limit our communications to the subject at hand.  We are genuinely empathetic to all our clients and are very passionate about what we do, but if your emotions are running high, you can save a good deal of money by talking to a counselor, friend, clergy member or family member.
  4. When our office sends you something for your review and approval, please do so as soon as possible.  If I or my staff have to contact you to remind you about a task, you will incur fees.

If you keep these tips in mind, you can greatly reduce the amount of attorneys fees in a divorce case.  These tips are simply guidelines and not hard and fast rules.  When seeking out an attorney, it is completely appropriate for you to ask how you can help control costs.  If the prospective attorney does not have an answer, I suggest you keep looking. 

Dallas divorce specialist teaches lawyers at seminar

Dallas divorce lawyer Michelle May O'Neil presented a speech on pretrial appellate remedies entitled Mandamus and More.  The continuing education conference for Texas divorce lawyers was titled Family Law on the Front Lines and it was held at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort June 18-19, 2009.

Ms. O'Neil discussed the standards for pursing mandamus appellate remedies when a trial court makes an error in the middle of a case, prior to trial, that requires review before a trial can be held.  She, together with co-presenter Rick Flowers of McEvily and Flowers in Houston, discussed the seminal mandamus case of Walker v. Packer that set for the standards for seeking mandamus as requiring a 1) clear abuse of discretion by the trial court, and 2) lack of adequate remedy by appeal at the conclusion of the case.  Further, she reviewed the impact of the 2004 Texas Supreme Court opinion in In re Prudential, which expanded the examination of the adequacy of appellate remedy by adding a balancing test of the detriments versus benefits of mandamus review.  Lastly, Ms. O'Neil examined the 2008 Texas Supreme Court opinion in McAllen Medical Center, which clarified the Prudential balancing test to include an analysis of the expenditure of money, time and judicial resources if mandamus is not considered.

It is best to win without fighting.

Recently I posted an entry about the lamb, the bulldog and the fox,  In keeping with that post it is fitting to share an entry which describes the perils of being overly aggressive.  In Fox Rothchild's New Jersey Family Law Blog the author described how fighting for the sake of fighting distracts the court from the two most important things: (1) our client; and (2) our client's rights and needs.  Clients hire divorce attorneys for two main reasons: (1) the attorney knows the law; and (2) the attorney will be objective.  If the attorney is more interested in fighting for the sake of fighting, then objectivity is frequently lost.  When objectivity is lost the client is the one who suffers. 

Although our Dallas divorce firm zealously advocates on behalf of our clients, we also understand how to combine the right amount of aggressiveness with tact in order to acheive the absolute best result for our clients. 

You look so nice, but can you be mean?

I recently came across a blog written by an Alabama divorce attorney that covers one of the questions our firm is asked a lot:  You look so nice, but can you be "mean"?  Typically people come into our office looking not only for a way to move on with their lives, but also for some sort of revenge.  The style of your lawyer will greatly influence to what extent this is possible and appropriate.

Divorce lawyers generally fit into one of three categories: (1) the lamb; (2) the bulldog; and (3) the fox.  The lamb is the type of lawyer who takes a reactive instead of a proactive approach to case management.  The lamb avoids confrontation with his or her client and opposing counsel at all costs, and often at a disadvantage to the client.  In short, the lamb's laissez-faire mentality hinders client advancement and often results in an inequitable resolution of the case. 

Directly opposite the lamb is the bulldog.  The bulldog seeks out confrontation (often on frivolous issues) at all costs and is typically the first personality type that comes to mind when clients think of a "mean" lawyer.  Although the bulldog's aggression is no doubt appropriate in some instances, it also poses an obstacle in the road towards favorable resolution.  The bulldog's aggressive approach can end up costing the client both in terms of property and custody matters but also in unnecessary attorneys fees. 

Finally, we have the fox.  The fox sees the forest through the trees and is cunning enough to know when aggression is appropriate and when it is not.  Unlike the lamb, the fox is not afraid of confrontation; and unlike the bulldog, the fox knows that fair out of court settlement are always preferred to litigation.  The fox is assertive when appropriate and aware of the consequences of its actions. 

Do yourself a favor when searching for a divorce attorney and hire yourself a fox (our Dallas divorce firm has three of them). You'll be far better off in the long run than you would with a bulldog.

Tips to Surviving a Divorce

Recently I came across a blog discussing tips to surviving a divorce.  Interestingly, the blog wasn't written by an attorney but the divorce survival tips all come back to one thing - the importance of hiring a good lawyer.  The blog has some good tips that apply to a divorce in Dallas Texas which I will outline in the order they were presented.

  1. Hire a good divorce lawyer.  Hiring an attorney that is compatible with your personality is absolutely critical in protecting your rights and best interests during such a troubling time.  The right attorney serves not only as a mediator but also as an advocate of your interests.
  2. Keep written records of everything.  Keeping a journal of who said what and when often shows which of the parties is more organized.  Also, written records of conversations are helpful during the division of community property.
  3. Keep your cool.  Although this is a stressful time, keep in mind that everything you say or do is going to be looked at under a microscope.  If you lose your cool, you can stand to lose a lot.  Not only in terms of property, but also in custody determinations. 
  4. Read everything.  Obviously, a good attorney will ensure that you understand everything relating to the division of property and custody issues.  However, never assume that just because your attorney reads everything that you are not responsible for doing the same.
  5. No guilt trips.  This ties in closely with number three.  Remember, nobody likes a sneaky, passive aggressive person.  Communicate your concerns to your attorney in a direct manner.  Address any problems as they arise - not after everything has built up and is coming to a head.
  6. Never use children as leverage.  All to often we see clients who put their interests (i.e. revenge) before those of their kids.  Remember that the divorce is not their fault, and that you have absolutely nothing to gain (but very much to lose) by using your children as a bargaining tool.

Although these may seem like common sense, it is easy to forget them during a divorce proceeding.  A good divorce attorney who clicks with your personality will help you remember them.

Our firm would like to help you with your divorce.  We represent people getting a divorce in Dallas, Collin, Denton, and Tarrant Counties in Texas.