Small Law Lifestyle: Michelle O’Neil

August 24, 2011

What do family law and photography have in common? Michelle O’Neil, a Dallas, TX Divorce Lawyer shows us how the two work so well together, plus much more, in her Small Law Lifestyle profile.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?

I took the fast track program at Baylor University in Waco, where I finished undergrad and law school in five years total. A lot of people think that is impressive, but in hindsight I wish I would have stayed in college longer. I had lots of goals and ideas! After graduation, I opened my own firm. I did that for about six years and did very well before moving to Dallas. There, I worked for one of the top nationally recognized family law firms and got a lot of experience learning how to handle bigger cases. In 2003, I left and have been on my own since. My practice is still exclusively family law appellate/high level litigation work.

WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF YOUR LEGAL WORK?

Well, the most recent example covers the hot topic of same sex custody cases in Texas. Now, we do not have same-sex divorce in Texas, but we have a lot of same-sex couples that have children. Specifically, the issue I have been dealing with is where one of the partners is a biological parent and one is not technically, legally a parent; although emotionally they feel like they are. Then the relationship breaks up and what is the connection of the person who is not a parent and their future relationship with the child? I actually have the case on point that is out of the Dallas court and since that case there have been 15 cases in the appellate courts on those types of issues.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH PHOTOGRAPHY?

Well, I have always looked for things to do outside of practicing law because I tend to be a little obsessive. I got to the point where I was like, “Wow! All I do is law.” A couple of years ago, my husband bought me a camera for my birthday. When I first started learning how to use my camera I took pictures of my dog, Chewie. I entered this picture of Chewie into the Texas State Fair,won a blue ribbon, and it just kind of inspired me.

WHAT TYPE OF PHOTOS DO YOU TAKE?

I basically go around whenever we are out and take random pictures that are usually very anonymous so you cannot identify the people. I take pictures of single parents doing parenting type things. My favorite is one that I took one on a ferry boat in Maine. This gentleman was holding a child who was not having a very good time and you could tell that the man was really concerned because of his facial expression while comforting the child. It was just the sweetest picture. Another favorite was at a hotel in Phoenix. There were three kids with suitcases following their mom in a row, almost like ducks…mama duck and the babies.

DO YOU DISPLAY YOUR PHOTOS IN YOUR OFFICE?

Yes, I have them hard mounted and set out from the wall with a shadow. It’s not the typical lawyer office with heavy furniture and hardwood frames. Hopefully clients see some warm quality that makes them feel more at home. I even have clients that have donated their family pictures for my lobby, so they are not all ones I have taken. Many clients comment on how much they like the pictures in my office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW HAS WESTLAW NEXT HELPED YOU?

I have been a Westlaw customer since I was at Baylor. In my appellate practice we obviously use Westlaw heavily.  About a year ago we switched to WestlawNext, and that has been very good for us. I have an iPad with the easy-to-use WestlawNext app. I used it in a courtroom when an opposing council argued a case that they didn’t cite before, and tried to talk about it in an argument. I pulled up WestlawNext and was able to skim the case, and argue why that case wouldn’t apply. I am so dependent on having the portability of the iPad. I turn on WestlawNext and I am rocking.

We also bought PeopleMap at the same time. And I love it. In a recent hearing a guy tried to claim that he didn’t live in a certain place, but PeopleMap showed that he had connected cable and internet service at this particular house. We used PeopleMap to cross examine him and prove that he really did live there.

Michelle O’Neil maintains the Dallas Divorce Law Blog, and has also authored two books, All About Texas Law and Kids and The Basics of Texas Divorce Law, and developed three iPad apps available through iTunes. Check for upcoming related blog articles coming soon to Westlaw Insider.

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