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Lessons Learned from Family Law Attorney Michelle O'Neil

Michelle O’Neil talks law and advocacy
Photo: O’Neil Wysocki

North Texas is booming for small and large businesses alike. But those beyond these companies can provide an insight into what makes these businesses successful and what it means to be a leader in our community. 

Local Profile recently interviewed Family Law Specialist Michelle May O'Neil.

O'Neil has more than 25 years of experience representing small business owners, professionals and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody and complex property division.

O’Neil has been recognized as one of the top family law attorneys locally, statewide and

Nationally, including being featured in Local Profle’s Top Lawyers issue

How has your career changed over the last 5 years?

About 8 years ago, I formed a new firm with Michael Wysocki. We combined our talents and books of business to start something new from ground zero. Our collective goal as well as our individual goal has been to expand our reach from a very local reputation among a small group to a reputation that expands across the state as an authoritative thought leader in family law in Texas. By intentionally expanding our network, we have been able to help a broader spectrum of people.

What is the most important part of a relationship with a client? 

The most important part of the attorney-client relationship is the trust the client has that the attorney is going to zealously advocate the client’s position in an effective way. An attorney increases the client’s trust in the relationship by sharing knowledge of the system and giving the client a realistic expectation of the outcome, even if the advice provided is different than the client’s desired outcome.  

What does being an advocate for a client look like?

Advocacy to me involves preparing the client for the realistic best and worst case scenario of the outcome of the process, then packaging the presentation to emphasize the client’s positive qualities and address the negatives. The goal should be to increase the trust the judge has in the presentation on behalf of the client to give the judge confidence in the client. Advocacy also involves pushing to achieve the client’s objective even in the face of skepticism or even a negative outcome. Clients understand that courts involve wins and losses. They understand that we cannot control the actual outcome. But, if the attorney has used their strengths to advocate the client’s best position, the client will feel “fought for.”

What is the first thing you want a client to know? 

I believe that gratitude is the first thought that should be communicated to the client. There are many choices of lawyers that a client might hire. That he or she has entrusted me with their most difficult and most emotional of problems is something I do not take lightly and I want them to know I appreciate that. Beyond that, I think it is important for the client to have a realistic understanding of the application of the law to their situation so they understand the possible outcomes that are likely.

What is most misunderstood about your business? 

I think many people lack knowledge about how the law actually applies to their situation. They rely on Google or friends or TV shows for their understanding. This is why it is essential to hire a highly qualified attorney who has experience in the specific nuanced area of the law that affects the client. The attorney can educate the client and inform the client about realistic outcomes.

What is something you wished you knew before entering your career? 

I think many people enter the legal profession and specifically family law because they have a genuine desire to “help people.” While we are in the service industry and our main job is to help people solve their problems, often family law involves a higher level of stress and pressure than a younger person would anticipate. When a case is lost that the attorney feels should have been won, or the client gets a less-than-desired result, it can leave the attorney with a feeling that the justice system is the opposite of “helpful” and the client with a distaste for everything involved.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My Momma was a Southern woman full of pith and vinegar. One of her favorite pieces of advice to me, when I was a young child, was, “Don’t be cattle”. In other words, cows tend to follow the herd and end up as a hamburger. She believed in going your own direction and following the path less traveled.

How do you manage your time most effectively?

I believe in the bullet-journal method and practice that every night and morning. I plan my day the night before, double-check it in the morning and then almost constantly cross-reference throughout the day to make sure I’m on track with the goals of the day. I decide what are the 3 most important things that need to be accomplished and then fill in the rest of the day with the “extras.”

What is the best book you have read in the past three months?

Right now I’m reading Grant Cardone’s books. I finished 10X and it taught me to think big and then think bigger and then think even bigger than that. It also taught me that the hardest worker will always get farther. The entire premise of the term “10X” is that whatever you want to accomplish will require ten times the amount of work you think it will, so you need to consistently and diligently apply yourself to achieve the biggest goals you can imagine.

What does community mean to you?

I think community is a feeling — a feeling of belonging, acceptance and support. Being part of a community, whether it is a town or a smaller segment such as a church, reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation and provides opportunities for meaningful connections and friendships. It is a shared experience for people with common interests, values and goals.

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