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.)
 

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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.