Friday, March 27, 2015

What newly licensed family law attorneys need to do

I have mentored many newly licensed attorneys over the years.

Here is a short list of things a Harris County family law attorney needs to do:

1.  Get a phone number and never change it.

2. Network, network, network at every opportunity.

3. Always be professional and nice to all attorneys that you interact with - you never know if that person might end up a judge or you might need a "favor" in the future.

4. Take your resume and introduce yourself to each judge and associate judge. Offer to accept some free and/or small fee cases to help you learn.  Many people don't like being appointed to "missing parent" cases so you can offer to do one for free or at a huge discount to gain experience.

5. Volunteer at Houston Volunteer Lawyers to gain some experience.

6. If you are a mediator, agree to do free mediations at the Dispute Resolution Center. Offer to co-mediate with an experienced mediator.

7. Join the Houston Bar Associate's Family Law Section and attend their monthly luncheons.

8. Attend the Advanced Family Law Section meeting each August. Even if you cannot afford to attend, go. Hang out and talk to attorneys and judges. Don't stay in your room.

9. Join Facebook attorney groups - there are many. You can learn a lot reading other posts.

10. There are many free internet sites to advertise on. Some are yelp,, Do this at least once a year since sites pop up all the time. Keep your information current. Answer questions on avvo and spend the time to answer their profile questions - it will get you a higher ranking.

11. Don't put all your marketing money in "one basket". There is not one site that will be "magical". Everyone claims they have the best site but basically that is wrong. I've never found the "magic" website.

12. When you accept a case, call opposing counsel and introduce yourself. If possible, take opposing counsel out to coffee or lunch. Get to know other attorneys on a personal basis. You can learn a lot hanging out with more seasoned attorneys.

13.  Keep your overhead low.

14. Return phone calls, text and emails promptly. This is the biggest complaint the State Bar of Texas has for attorneys.

15. If you have a "bad feeling" about a potential client - don't take them -- it's not worth it.

16. If a client does not "trust" you then withdraw.

17. Always document all communication with clients - even via text and email. Clients often "forget" how much they call or email you.

18. Send out monthly bills. Let clients see where their money is going. I always offer a few "no charge" phone calls or emails but I show the contact on their bill.

19. If a client does not pay you as agreed, consider withdrawing. If their plumbing at home breaks they will find the money to pay a plumber - so why not you?

20. Put your money into your IOLTA account and don't withdraw it until you have earned it. Be safe -- not sorry!

21. Never do anything to risk your law license - you worked too hard for it. Remember if the State Bar of Texas receives a complaint against you then you have the burden to prove you are innocent. Always document everything in the client's file.

22. If you withdraw from a case, immediately have a copy of all pleadings for your client to pick up. Be sure to have a form for them to sign that shows they received a copy of their file. Your notes are yours and you do not give client's copies of your notes! Notes are attorney work product and they belong to you only.

23. Find some mentors to guide you.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Locate a parent service through the TX A G office

Go to the TX A G website and find the "Application for locate- only services" to ask the TX A G to try to help you find a "missing" parent.

Complete the application form and mail it to:

Office of the Attorney General
Child support division - MC 040
State Parent Locate Service
P O Box 12017
Austin, TX 78711-2017

This service can only be used for:
establishing a court order for paternity, child support or medical support
collecting court-ordered support
enforcing custody or visitation.

The State Parent Locator Service only provides information about the missing parent's possible location(s). They obtain the latest available address and employment information from state and federal records, and forward that info to the applicant.

This agency will not verify or investigate the information obtained and cannot guarantee that the missing parent will be found.

You can only use this service if you qualify --
you must be the custodial parent with physical possession of the children or
the person who has had physical possession of the children for over 6 months (if you are not one of the parents) or
the legal guardian or managing conservator with legal custody of the children or
a court with jurisdiction to enforce custody or visitation or
the attorney of the chldren for whom paternity and/or support is sought.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 Texas Legislature in Session - laws might be changing

Every other year the Texas legislature meets and votes in new laws.

The area of family law is impacted every time the TX legislature meets. They always "tweak" some laws.

So...PLEASE read the date of my blog posts! Laws change. I try to update this blog but my old blog ( is "broken" and I cannot access it any longer -- I cannot delete incorrect or update this old blog.

If new laws are passed then they usually (not 100% of the time) go into effect September 1st of the odd numbered year (in this case 2015)...

As each legislative session begins many bills are submitted. Many never make it out of committee. Of the few that make it through the committee process only a few are actually approved by the legislature.

Be aware that the TX legislature "controls" the Texas Family Code - if you don't like something in the current laws -- unfortunately it is too late to impact the 2015 laws.

If you want to change TX laws -- you need to begin NOW for the 2017 legislative year. You need to have a legislature write & agree to submit a bill for consideration. This is not easy or a quick process.

Stay tuned for my comments on the new laws -- we won't know for a few more weeks that actually is revised/changed/new for Texas families...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Benefits of mediation for minor children

The Benefits of Mediation for Your Children

Being involved in a family court dispute is one of the most emotionally draining experiences a person can have, especially if child custody or visitation is involved.  

During traditional family court litigation, if the parties cannot agree on how to resolve issues involving their children, they are turned over to a judge.   

After hearing testimony and reviewing evidence, the judge will decide which parent has primary custody of the children and how much the other parent is allowed to see them.

Using mediation in Texas family court cases allows the parties to maintain control over their dispute.  

Mediation encourages the parties to create their own settlement.  

When parents do not have to fight over their children in court, they are less hostile toward each other.  

Maintaining a peaceful relationship will provide multiple benefits for the entire family.

When custody or visitation is disputed, the courts often appoint an attorney called attorney ad litem to the case to meet with the children and offer an opinion on these issues to the court.  

Of course, both parents will be ordered to pay for the attorney ad litem's time. Fees usually start at $500 and can run into the thousands - I've seen some ad litems charge $15,000 for difficult and complex custody cases. 

If the parents can work out these issues in mediation, their children will not have to meet with a stranger to discuss their relationships, which can often be scary for them.

Texas elder law mediation cases

Mediating Elder Law Cases in Houston

Elder law cases are often of a pressing nature.  These cases may involve estate planning, elder housing issues, who will handle the person's monthly bills, who will make medical decisions, who will handle burial arrangements, and even guardianship if the person is incapacitated.  

These issues are typically very emotional and stressful for the parties involved, especially when the elderly person and his loved ones do not agree on how to handle a dispute.

Elder law cases in Houston have been resolved much more quickly when the parties choose to use mediation.  

Mediation may be scheduled much more easily than a trial, often with just a phone call.  

The parties may even use mediation if no formal lawsuit has been filed—mediation may be used for any type of dispute.

During mediation, a third party neutral, called the mediator, will meet with the parties to discuss their positions.  

The mediator will then assist the parties with creating their own settlement agreement.  

The mediator does not make any decisions on behalf of the parties—any settlement reached is the product of their own agreement.

Mediation is especially useful for emotional cases because it preserves the relationships of the parties.  

During an adversarial trial, personal relationships are often permanently destroyed.  

However, when parties work together to resolve their disputes, they feel much less animosity toward each other.

In Texas, judges prefer mediation to litigation when families cannot agree. 

Elder mediation can be scheduled while litigation is pending or before any lawsuit is filed in an attempt to avoid the expense of litigation.

Call an elder law mediator if you have further questions. 

Texas Arbitration vs. Mediation

Arbitration vs. Mediation in Texas

Using arbitration and mediation in Texas disputes have provided beneficial results to many parties.  Although both of these methods of alternative dispute resolution encourage the parties to settle their cases outside of the courtroom, they are very different.

Mediation encourages the parties to collaborate and create a settlement agreement that each party can live with.  No settlement is reached in mediation unless the parties agree to its terms.  The mediator does not make any decisions on behalf of the parties.  Mediation puts the parties in control of the finalization of their case.

There are no rules of evidence in mediation and there is no set procedure that the mediator and the parties must follow.  The parties may discuss any issue they like with the mediator and they may bring any evidence that they want to be considered.

In contrast, during arbitration, a panel of up to three arbitrators will decide the outcome of the case for the parties.  This decision is final and is very difficult to appeal.  A formal arbitration hearing is held, during which the parties introduce evidence and testimony in front of the arbitrators.  Arbitration provides the benefits of a non-jury trial without its expense and delay.

Update on finger print cards for adult name changes

You can no longer get fingerprinted except through identigo locations, starting last November 2014.

You can't submit them electronically anymore, or get fingerprinted at a local police station.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

One Judge's view on visitation by the non-custodian parent in Texas

Visitation by the non-custodial parent: 

A lot of comments/questions have been made on a facebook attorney group (a private group for only Texas family law attorneys) about whether or not a parent can send his parents, new wife, whoever to exercise his period of possession. 

Lots of opinions have been expressed by family law attorneys about this, but in a case in Montgomery County recently (CCL #3, Judge MacDonald), the judge had this to say (paraphrased): 

"Dad's time with the child is his time, and he can do what he wants with it. If he wants to send the child to spend that weekend with his parents, that is his right. He does not need Mom's permission, any more than Mom needs Dad's permission to let the child spend the weekend with a friend, or the maternal grandparents, or anyone else. Mom cannot refuse to surrender the child to Dad's designated competent adult because she doesn't believe Dad will be the one exercising the period of visitation. It is Dad's choice." 

So, there's One Judge's Opinion. 

Another judge might have another opinion.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015