Starting a Private Family Law Firm

I was asked by Lionel Halsey to write an article about opening a law firm. I was honored that Lionel asked me to participate by writing an article for the North County lawyer.

The first step in my evolution of opening my own firm was when I left the County of San Diego Department of Child Support Services after working there for six years and joining a large family law firm in Encinitas, California.

Working at the law firm of Edmunds and Claery gave me the opportunity to gain a great deal of experience working on a large caseload and making courtroom appearances throughout San Diego County.

While working at the law firm of Edmunds and Claery not only did I get to chance to appear in front of most of the judicial officers but the caseload also allowed me to form relationships with members of the bar and specifically members of the Family Bar in North County. I found many of members of the family Bar North County extremely cordial and friendly and we're happy to work together to resolve cases that can often be quite emotional for the participants.

During my tenure at Edmunds and Claery, one of the attorneys who appeared on dissolution matter, representing the other spouse was attorney Michael Fischer. Michael Fischer was a young attorney who had his own practice. We formed a good working relationship while representing our clients and Michael informed me that he had just taken over some of Roger Thomson's cases as Roger Thomson was retiring. His practice was growing quickly and we worked so well together he was interested in forming a partnership with me. One of the reasons Michael stated he thought we worked well together is because we were not only interested in representing our clients zealously but also interested in helping them navigate through the emotional and legal issues that arise in family law and bring their case to a swift, just but cost effective conclusion so that they could go on with their lives. At the same time Michael and I both recognized we wanted to have the opportunity to spend some time with our individual families to insure we still had personal lives as well.

I was flattered by Michael Fisher's proposal and gave it a great deal of thought. My wife, Elizabeth is extremely financially conservative and is also a member of the bar, who works as an alternate public defender in the juvenile dependency system. She was less than excited about me starting my own firm, but when I spoke with her about partnering with Michael Fisher, she was much more supportive and excited about the prospect of partnering with a like-minded individual who had experience in making small businesses work After working for two years at Edmunds and Clary I decided to take Michael Fisher up on his offer. To ensure that our initial analysis was correct and that we would have a harmonious relationship as partners, we worked together for four months before formalizing our relationship. During the first four months, we were sharing an office space with other attorneys including Michael Fisher's brother-in-law Michael McColloch of McColloch and Campitiello. I really enjoyed working at their Carlsbad office especially when the other attorney complained that I was overdressed. It was very refreshing to see attorneys working in a relaxed atmosphere, but still providing quality representation for their clients.

Four months later, not only did Michael and I decide to formalize our relationship as partners, an opportunity presented itself when a real estate business quickly vacated their office in Oceanside, leaving behind some of their office furniture.

Both Michael and I were a little disappointed to leave behind our office mates at McColloch and Campitiello but we vowed to bring the same relaxed but professional atmosphere to new office.

It was a little stressful moving our office on the Thanksgiving weekend. However, all of our clients seemed quite impressed with the new office space. In order to ensure that we could cover larger overhead that our new office brought, we immediately put ourselves on referral lists for the San Diego County Bar Association. This not only included referrals for family law but also from the referral list for modest means clients. It was nice to provide representation for clients who needed help but could not come up with the usual large retainers, that are required when seeking a professional attorney.

Michael and I also spent a great deal time discussing the development of our firm's website and how to maximize our results in advertising on the Web. We both agreed that based on the feedback we received from potential clients, Web advertising seems to be one of the best ways to get our name out to the general public. We even had Michael’s wife, Catherine, a professional photographer, do a photo shoot to place our photos on the firm's website. We have placed a great deal of emphasis on web development and search engine development. We decided to place our advertising money in visibility via the internet and sought out a high end web designer and search engine optimization company. We were very lucky in finding the Search Engine Guys out of Austin Texas to do our search engine optimization for us. We found that you get what you pay for; although more expensive on paper than other companies we researched, they have done a great job of developing our site and getting us very good placement on the internet in a relatively minimal amount of time and cost.

Three months into our now formalized partnership, our firm seems to be growing. We seem to have enough work to keep both of our paralegals busy. Also, we were able to further reduce our overhead by moving to a much better space in the same building. We even offered office space to our colleague/mentor Roger Thomson, who decided he was not yet ready for retirement.

One of the most rewarding aspects of starting my own firm with Michael Fischer was the feedback I have received from my fellow North County Family Bar members. You have all wished me well in my endeavors and given nothing but supportive suggestions. Your well wishes confirmed to me that indeed this is a profession that I want to be part of. I have also especially appreciated the kind words and suggestions from Steve Medaris and James Ratzer. I look forward to continue working with all the members of the North County Bar, while the Law Practice of Fischer and Van Thiel continues to grow.

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