I represent people in divorce situations and child custody matters (unmarried parents). I have always worked in these 2 areas, however, I wasn’t always exclusive to these 2 primary practice areas. The last 5 years or so I’ve become more and more narrow in my focus as these 2 areas have really grown and then it becomes a bit of a snowball where we’re doing good work and you’re getting repeat business and referrals from former clients in these areas.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
Some 5 years ago I bought a retiring attorney’s law practice that definitely spurred some growth and because the practice I brought was very family law focused it was at that point that I really narrowed the scope of my practice strictly to the divorce and parentage/child custody areas. It was also at that point that my role as an attorney-employer really became central to my work life as well.
Prior to 2011, I was a pure sole practitioner with a very part-time legal assistant. Currently my firm is 3 attorneys with 2 non-attorneys so my role has shifted and will continue to evolve to more mentoring/leadership and a little less direct client representation. My vision for the next few years is a 10-person firm with multiple locations with more flat fee options for prospective clients.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Constantly work at improving your selling abilities. If you’re in private practice and surely if you’re a sole-owner firm your survival depends on retaining new business. Personally this has been a sea change in terms of my career satisfaction. I was a miserable lawyer going back 7-8 years ago, but, conversely have thoroughly enjoyed the last 4-5 years of my career and the big change has been the marketing/selling improvement. Because I’ve improved the ‘sales piece’ dramatically I’m not constantly worried about finances and thus have found that I really enjoy helping clients with their family law disputes and helping my staff grow.
What’s one technological device, application or tool you could not function without?
I would say the various secure, ‘cloud-based’ software applications that undergird our Firm (RocketMatter/DropBox/Google Apps) that really allow us to provide great customer service and work flexibility for our staff. On the client side, I think back not many years where they’re getting letters and mailing checks and now everything about their case from court orders, documents, calendaring, and invoicing is now just signing into their portal online 24/7 and seeing all information about their case. And on the lawyer side everything I need to be productive anywhere and particularly for court appearances is in my pocket on a smartphone or laptop/tablet.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
For me civility is fundamental to client stewardship and acting in clients’ best interests. The reality I deal with as a primary Cook County attorney is that it’s more and more difficult to actually get substantive hearings before a judge within the domestic relations division of the court system so oftentimes if you’re not advocating for your client via diplomacy or negotiation with the opposing party or attorney, then you’re actually not able to do anything. Thus, if I don’t practice civility with the Court and opposing parties there won’t be fruitful negotiation with the opposing party/attorney and then usually very little will is accomplished which returns to the issue fundamental question of, am I serving my client’s best interests if I’m uncivil?
I just finished a case last week that involved entering a final Allocation Judgment (what we used to call a child custody judgment) that had been flailing around for 6 months without resolution not because of significant substantive disagreement but rather because of a lack of civility between the parties’ and attorneys. I got into the case and in substance there were like 5 minor areas of disagreement between the parties’ that we resolved in one pre-trial settlement conference with the Court. Conversely, in the actually very few but still a handful of cases where I’m dealing with lawyers who aren’t civil and fundamentally I can’t trust, then I’m forced to work only through litigation which is the slowest and least efficient path to a resolution.
What do you do for fun?
I’m a total jock with my current participatory pursuits being triathlon and golf tournaments. Additionally, my wife and I have likely been on nearly every historic home or architecture tour within 2 hours of Des Plaines.
Peter Olson is the managing partner at Chicago Family Law Group.