Today is the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of my law firm. What a great time it has been! I have been practicing family law in Texas for 22 years, 16 of those years in Dallas, and now 10 of those years in my own divorce boutique firm in Dallas. I remember when I made the decision to leave the security of the firm I worked for and branch out… I was scared that no client would ever find me in this big city. But they did. And, I’m grateful. From my early years in Bell County, to the days at the McCurley firm, to now, many people have influenced my career and made me a better lawyer. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

•  From Tooter Porter, a legal assistant in Bell County who took me under her wing, I learned how to file a divorce at the courthouse, how to set a hearing, how meet a client who is in jail, how to draft pleadings (in the days before everything was on the computer). Beyond the procedural, I learned from Tooter many lessons in strategy and life.

•  From Jimbo Kreimeyer, a seasoned criminal defense lawyer in Bell County, I learned lessons about how to stand up for my clients. He taught me about fighting the system and sometimes even the judge if the client’s interest warrant it. I learned not to be afraid of what the judge or opposing counsel might think or say or do, as long as I was doing what was best for my client. He told me, you aren’t a “real” lawyer until you’ve been held in contempt by a judge for standing up for the client’s rights. The point being, when there’s a crossroads between fighting for the client versus protecting myself, a lawyer should always have the courage to choose the client. (I have had to do that a couple of times in my career. Thanks, Jimbo, for giving me the courage.)

• From Judge John Barina, in front of whom I tried one of my first trials, I learned that a lawyer doesn’t have to object every time an objection is available. Choose objections wisely, when they really matter, and when there is a good reason. Don’t just object to object. I also learned that sometimes, even when I fought my hardest and best, losing might be in the client’s best interest.

•  From Bobby Barina I learned about Sun Tzu’s Art of War and how useful that can be in the strategy of litigation. I learned about techniques for cross-examination. I learned about creating strategies for a case, but also implementing strategies for dealing with other lawyers. I learned the art of advocacy. I also learned about how politics affects the practice of law. We spent many nights in our youth drinking coffee and discussing esoteric theories of law, which made me a better thinker and a better strategiest litigator.

•  From attorney Ed Brown I learned not to go down rabbit trails.

•  From Judge Jack Prescott I learned not to get offended if a man calls me “dear” or “honey” and to relax a little on my feminist tendencies.

•  From Judge Bill Black I learned not to take it personally if a judge yells in court. From Judge Ed Johnson, I learned to take it personally when a judge yells in court.

•  From Kathy Kinser I learned about being a strong female litigator while still acting like a lady. I learned that it’s okay to wear pants to court. I learned that looking prepared and being prepared are both important. I learned the science of advocacy.

•  From Mike McCurley I learned that preparation is the key to winning. Evaluate the strategy of both sides’ arguments from all angles and think through all possible avenues of response. I also learned to know the law better than anyone else in the courthouse. And, I learned not to get stuck in the form book – create your own pleadings asking for what you want. There are many “McCurley-isms” that those of us who have “been there” know and understand. One of my favorites is, “sometimes all you’ve got (to argue) is due process, that’s when they I know I really mean it”. And, “the ostrich dance – when you stick your head in the sand, wiggle your ass, and call it dancing”.

•  From Mary Jo McCurley I learned the benefit and necessity of taking care of my personal health and wellbeing.

•  From Julie Crawford I learned that what you know is important, but so is who you know. Socializing and getting to know other lawyers is important because it establishes rapport and a working relationship before you have to discuss a client’s difficulties.

•  From Lisa McKnight I learned to stop thinking so much and take action. I also learned to think on my feet and cover every angle in cross-examination. “Keep your overhead low,” Lisa said, over and over again when I first started my practice.

So to all of the lawyers and judges along the way that have influenced my career and made me a better lawyer, thank you. To the clients that have entrusted me to handle their case, thank you. And a special thank you to my husband who keeps me grounded and sane, even when I’m stressed out and going crazy. This has been a great 10 years – here’s to the next 10!

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.