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Creating a Fulfilling Career in Family Law With Chris Smith

Creating a Fulfilling Career in Family Law With Chris Smith

June 7, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
Chris Smith Chris SmithChris Smith is the Managing Attorney at The Smith Firm, a family law practice based in Oklahoma City specializing in divorce and custody cases. Chris is a Martindale-Hubbell® AV Preeminent peer-review-rated attorney representing clients in domestic litigation matters. He was recognized by Journal Record’s Achievers Under 40 and included in the Super Lawyer Rising Star list from 2014-2020. As an advocate for parental equality, Chris contributed to the writing of 2021’s House Bill 1151, which strengthened the public policy for equal rights for parents in Oklahoma. Chris is the author of the Oklahoma Divorce Guidebook and Faithfully: Issues of Faith & Family Law in the 21st Century Church.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Chris Smith shares how The Smith Firm was established
  • What was Chris’ motivation for pursuing a career as an attorney
  • The challenges of running a law firm while actively practicing law
  • Why Chris chose to focus on family law
  • Chris reflects on the proudest moments in his career
  • Chris’ advice for aspiring attorneys

In this episode…

Navigating the intricacies of family law requires a deft touch, a deep understanding of the legal field, and a commitment to client advocacy. Those ready to face these challenges will discover a career that is rewarding, full of purpose, and can make a real difference in society. Chris Smith utilized his love for academic rigor, argumentation, and a desire to help families navigate the complicated court system to build The Smith Firm. With his niche focus on high-conflict custody cases, Chris discovered the significance of forging connections with his clients, effectively advocating for their needs, and maintaining a relentless pursuit of justice. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Chad Franzen interviews Chris Smith, Managing Attorney of The Smith Firm, to discuss his journey to establish a thriving family law practice. Chris shares valuable insights on the evolution of his career, his passion for family law, the challenges of running a law firm, and the milestones he cherishes. He highlights how personal experiences influenced his professional choices, the importance of perseverance, and the rewarding aspect of being a voice for parents.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to adam@gladiatorlawmarketing.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know but likely don’t. Chad Franzen  0:12   Chad Franzen here, one of the hosts of share your voice where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. Chris Smith is the Managing Attorney at The Smith Firm, a family law firm based in Oklahoma City. He focuses on individuals in domestic litigation matters and has been recognized as a Journal Record Achievers Under 40. And has been recognized by best lawyers in the area of family law. His genuine compassion combined with experience allow him to break down complex legal manners in a relatable way for his clients. Chris, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? Chris Smith  1:14   I’m good, Chad. Thanks for having me. Chad Franzen  1:16   Hey, it’s my pleasure. Thank you. Hey, tell me a little bit about how The Smith Firm got established and what led up to it for you. Chris Smith  1:26   Well, The Smith Firm started back when I was about two years out of law school and had an opportunity to start a practice and then quickly realized I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. So I went in with a firm. And we are now in about the third iteration of The Smith Firm, or Chris Smith Law, some version of that. And so I’ve got two associates that have been with me, we all came from another firm, here in Oklahoma City where we were for a little bit and then it’s it’s kind of grown out of a general practice. I’ve practiced in various areas. But then ultimately, a few years ago, I made the decision that family law was where I was having the most fun, where I felt like I could do the most good and and help the most people. And, you know, it probably fit my skill set a little bit better than other practice areas. And so we focus exclusively on family law matters. We do some civil litigation for tangential areas relating to certain issues that are kind of overlap. But generally speaking, we’re representing parents or grandparents or, you know, folks who are going through a family law situation. Chad Franzen  2:46   How and when did you realize you wanted to become an attorney? Chris Smith  2:52   Well, I was one of those guys that went to law school, not really anticipating practicing law and thought I was going to be doing, you know, I really had a kind of a desire to go into politics and to go into government. And I’ve kind of worked in that area. And so when you’re a, you have a degree in government from undergrad, there’s not a lot of options. And so law school was the, you know, kind of the regular route. And so when I got there, kind of fell in love with the idea of practicing late and worked in the DA’s office when I was in law school for a couple of years, as an intern, where I got a lot of good experience and figured out I had to make a living. And so one thing leads to another and, um, you know, I started practicing. And so it’s been a been a journey, about 18 years into this thing. And, you know, it’s, I feel like I’m just now figuring out what I’m doing. Chad Franzen  3:55   Did you join the Club? Did you? So you started The Smith Firm, or Chris Smith Law about two and a half years out of law school. What did you do right out of law school? Chris Smith  4:08   I worked for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. I was a teacher’s kid and I, you know, had an opportunity to go to work and do education law, which is something that you really don’t get a lot of opportunities to do. In it had a lot of appeal to me an opportunity to work in the DA’s office, but you know, had this this opportunity come along to work for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. That was my first law job. I was the attorney for the School Boards Association, went around, it was probably my favorite job I’ve ever had. I went around the state and talk to school boards and educators and school administrators on legal issues. And then talk to school administrators throughout the day on legal questions. And it was just really if you can have a fun, legal job It’s just practicing law really in terms of billing hours and get going to court. It was great, you know, and so had an opportunity from there to kind of go do some other kind of lobbying type related stuff. And it was kind of still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And, you know, I had an opportunity to kind of practice a little bit while also doing some work for a group. So I kind of started and quickly realized I had no idea how to practice law. And so I took, I went in to a firm here in Oklahoma City that did estate planning and did a lot of business transactional work. And then they had one partner who was a family law for family law judge, and I had no desire whatsoever, be a family law attorney, I didn’t, I didn’t even take family law in law school. And so I was doing, you know, a lot of estate planning type work, I was an associate that was helping with business transactions and setting up LLCs. And, you know, kind of a golf shirt practice that, you know, you never had to wear a tie if you didn’t want to. So, I kind of got bored and I wanted to go to the courthouse. And so I tagged along with the family law attorney who was the reason I was there, I knew him in was the reason I was there, tag along with him and helped him with one case. And then he kind of took on my own case, started doing a case here in a case there family law, and then he ultimately took a sabbatical and kind of took some time off. And I was kind of left with a few cases that he had been handling. And then that kind of led to a few cases in a few cases. And I was the only person in that firm that was doing mean family law. And, you know, quickly realized that firm kind of wanted to be a business transactional practice, and I was doing a lot of this other stuff over here. You know, and so I, I had an opportunity went and took my clients and went into an office that I rented some space from, and some friends of mine that were personal injury attorneys in town, and they were, I say, rented, they probably come to me, you know, my space more than any, they, they, I think them to this day for, you know, support, and kind of grew a practice from there and grew up in LA prices just mean a laptop when I began. And that was the beginning of it. And I think I still have that laptop, it’s kind of hard for me to get rid of, because it’s such a historical item in my life. And so I started practicing outgrew that space. And then we moved into some new space, I hired an associate, hired some staff and then ultimately brought a partner in later about 2015 brought a partner in thinking that I needed another kind of top level attorney that would kind of help the day to day and help when I’m out there. He and I worked together for about five years. And then we just kind of you know, partnerships go, you can go your separate ways and decided it’s kind of better to go this direction. And then I had an opportunity and thought that I kind of wanted to go into a larger firm and did that for a few years and then decided that wasn’t for me. And I’m back in to the what I consider probably the ideal setup for me in terms of what I like to do and how I like to do it. And that’s the Smith firm, as it’s currently configured. And we’re practicing law having a lot of fun doing it. And, you know, we’re able to, if we have an idea that we want to implement, we can move pretty fast, and we don’t have to, you know, we can try it and experiment if it doesn’t work, we can pivot and so it’s it’s a lot of fun. Chad Franzen  9:16   So when I asked you about your your kind of original voyage into your own firm, you said that you you said you didn’t know what you were doing, and what ways would you say that was the case? Chris Smith  9:27   Well, first of all, I had never handled a family law case had never done an estate plan had never really done anything in terms of the nuts and bolts of kind of practicing on your own. And luckily I had some friends who were had been practicing a few years longer than me they kind of had some ideas and shared some forums and helped you know, kind of guide me a little bit. It was just real hard for me to make money, you know and to feel calm. Often enough to take on cases that would pay me. And so that was the part for me, I’m the type that it’s, I’m hesitant to take on a job that I’m not comfortable taking on. And so for me at that age, and at that period of my career, I just wasn’t comfortable with a lot of stuff. And so I knew I knew I needed to go somewhere where he gained some experience and, and get confident with the actual content and the law and the courthouse and all of those things. And then I could go, if I wanted to go do my own thing, I could do my own thing. But that was that was kind of the idea behind it. Chad Franzen  10:40   What would you say was more challenging at that time? All those legal aspects that you were talking about? Or you know, running your own business? Or was it all all kind of wound up together? Chris Smith  10:53   Well, I can probably say all of the above. I mean, it’s when you’re that I was, I was single, I didn’t have a family, I had no obligations outside of just taking care of myself. And I had a low overhead, I lived in a little house that I bought at a law school. And so my mortgage wasn’t that much. I could, I could live pretty cheaply. And that was critical for being able to feel comfortable doing it. Hardest thing for me was probably just mastery of the law. Okay. I was I felt like, Okay, I know how to Bill, I could think I was using time slips back, you know, this was pre 2005. And so I was, I felt like I could, I could send the bill out, and expect to get paid, put it in the right bank account, payment bills as I as they came in. So I felt like I could do the basics. It was it was the other stuff, the actual work product that I wasn’t near as confident in looking back, I was probably a little bit more capable than I gave myself credit for. But in the in the moment, I didn’t have a yardstick to compare it to. Chad Franzen  12:11   Sure. Sure. What were some of the turning points that led you to realize that, you know, now you said, your this is where you realize that you know, this is this is kind of your place to be kind of doing domestic litigation and things like that, what were some some of the turning points that made you realize that this is where you should go? Chris Smith  12:28   Well, I had kind of always done family law since about 2006 2006 was probably when I really started doing family law. And then, really, it was, it was the bulk of my practice, beginning in 2008, was still doing some personal injury and some other litigation type stuff. But it was probably around 2016, or 17, when I felt not only that, this was where I could be happiest. But also that I was confident enough that I was going to have plenty of work that was going to pay the bills, I didn’t have to worry about the other stuff. And that was probably a that’s probably a critical element for anybody that’s, you know, you hear a lot of talk about, you know, niching down and getting into a very specific niche. I was real concerned like most people, okay, well, if I say no, to work over here, is there going to be enough work over here. And it took me a long time to get confident enough in what we were doing that, that I could do that. And it probably there, you know, looking back, I could always say, Man, I wish I wouldn’t have gone that direction, I wish I wouldn’t have gone that direction. But looking back, the dots start to connect to the point that I probably wouldn’t be as niche today. And as happy doing it. If I hadn’t taken the various career turns that I have. And it was the it were those terms that got me to the point where I could say, I am a family law attorney, and I am proud of that. And I enjoy it. And I’m not really worried about going over here and building an estate planning practice, or going over here and doing contract litigation or those things. And that that took me a long time to get to. But it was a matter of looking at myself and realizing, you know, I’m not happy was a real I was real unhappy practice. And that’s not I don’t think unusual for a lot of people. And so I kind of came to the realization that I had to figure out how to get happy. And so I looked at things I enjoyed doing away from law that I said if I could just make a living doing these things, what are those things? And I realized I can kind of incorporate that into what I’m doing and this is kind of what I do and I see it that way. And that’s when I started, you know, kind of feeling better about the practice and my practice and confident in it. And, and that got us to where we are. Chad Franzen  15:11   Yeah, great. What is it about family law and your kind of your niche as you as you call it, that, you know, either makes you happy, or it doesn’t take away from, you know, your natural happiness that you already have? Chris Smith  15:22   Well, I love I love reading and studying and getting into the weeds on the academic side of, of this practice area. And what I mean by that is, I represent a lot of parents who have been trying are really fighting to have a relationship with their kids. And I represent a lot of parents who are having a hard time with the court system, and they’re just, you know, it just it’s been hard, I represent a lot of high conflict cases and involved in a lot of very contentious custody cases. And so that a lot of people don’t like that, I enjoy it, but I also enjoy the academic side of it. So the reading, studying the journal articles, the the books, on parenting issues, and all of these things, I really like that, then, you know, I like to argue my wife would tell you, I love to argue, you know, and so I just, I, you know, I would argue with her about whether I liked to argue. And finally, I just embraced it and said I you know, I like to argue it’s kind of fun to me, and let’s go do that. So you know, you just kind of have to look at those things that you enjoy doing. And, you know, making arguments, preparing those arguments, finding the academic support for it, writing, you know, we handle a lot of appellate work now, where we didn’t used to handle as much we handle a lot of appellate work. And that’s a product of a little bit of that, because that’s more of a research and writing project. And so those are the things that I recognized that I enjoyed, then I just had to transfer them into my practice. And so that all came about. Around the time I had my first child, which was 2016, that also had a big impact, you know, when you have your first kid, and it makes you evaluate and consider everything. And that also created some context for what I did is representing parents that I didn’t have before. And so all of that was just kind of a perfect storm, to get me, you know, to a place where I felt good about what we were doing. Chad Franzen  17:36   So your your career, your journey has kind of taken a lot of twists and turns. And now you’re you’re at a point where you’re pretty happy, you’re satisfied, you’re really enjoying what you’re doing. Compare what you’re doing now to maybe what your vision or hopes were when you first went to grad school when you first went to law school. I mean, when I first chose my college major, my goal was to become the radio voice of the Denver Nuggets. Now, you know, now I’m doing this, what was your What was your like vision or goal or thought that you might end up at the time? Chris Smith  18:05   You know, I thought I would probably end up in DC working, you know, on Capitol Hill or having you know, running for office or doing something like that when I was 16 1516 years old. I was one of those kids that had student council syndrome and wanted to be involved in every political thing I could came out of work for a governor and congressmen and all that before going to law school, and then went to law school and kind of thought it’s probably where I would go, in fact, I gave up a summer clerkship to go back to work for the Congressman I was working for. So I kind of thought that’s, that’s where I was probably going to head you know, and it ended up that I just kind of figured out, I wanted to go do my thing. I wanted something to build outside of just some political thing. And so to be honest with you, where I thought I would end up you know, luckily, God God has been good in terms of just getting me to that point where if I look back, I’m probably where I wanted to be, you know, and that’s, that’s that’s kind of I can’t I can’t look anything Oh, man. I wish I had five more lawyers working for me and we were 15. That’s not really what I wanted at the time. And so but your desires and the things you want to do and the things you want to see they kind of evolve. But I feel pretty content about where where things are. I’ve got a beautiful wife. I’ve got two beautiful kids. I can’t complain about it and it but it’s, it hasn’t been easy to get there. Sure, sure. Chad Franzen  20:00   Is there like a moment or some milestones that you’re particularly proud of, in the course of your journey and figuring out where you are? Chris Smith  20:07   Oh, I mean, I think that, if I look back on it, I’m probably most proud of the fact that I didn’t just quit. I mean, there was a time and you know, prior in 2008, where I was, you know, I got out of law school to doesn’t for about four or five years into this thing, I was seriously thinking about just quitting going to culinary school and going and becoming a chef and being done with this, you know, it was in so I’m thankful that I did not give up on the practice, because now I feel like I’m, I’m in a place where I can actually be a voice for people who need me to be, I feel like that I’m, I’m where I need to be right now. And, you know, 10 years ago, I probably would have never thought 10 years later, I would be saying, I feel like I’m where I need to be. And so, you know, just that stick to itiveness, that grit, that, to just keep going and know that, you know, there’s always an ebb and flow in life and things kind of have a way of working themselves out as you go. And we’re here. So as far as specific milestones, I mean, every I don’t know, every client that that sends you a thank you note, or every client that says, you know, I really appreciate it, I couldn’t have done this, you know, without you. That’s really good. And so, you know, that’s, that’s, those are the things that I appreciate and look forward to. Chad Franzen  21:40   Great. Sounds good. I have one more question for you. But first, how can people find out more about The Smith Firm? Chris Smith  21:47   Our websites, thesmithfirm.net. So thesmithfirm.net. And you can find our website, and we’re on all the social media outlets as The Smith Firm or The Smith Firm OKC. You know that you can follow me at on Twitter @attychrissmith. So Atty Chris Smith, that’s probably the easiest place to interact and, and find us. You know, if if we can be of help to anyone, we’re always helpful. I’m happy to and so attorneys, especially I like talking to lawyers about kind of where they are, especially younger attorneys. I’ve got two attorneys that are working for me that are, you know, less than 10 years in and so we’re, they’re still kind of finding their way a little bit. I’m trying to make sure they don’t make some of the same mistakes I did. And so hopefully, I can help them avoid those things. Chad Franzen  22:51   Last question for you. You have the choice of answering one of two questions, what’s either the best advice you have received from maybe a mentor of yours? Or it sounds like you’re kind of establishing yourself as a mentor for other people? What’s the best advice you could give somebody that you kind of learned that you wouldn’t have learned if you hadn’t had your own journey? Chris Smith  23:13   The sun will come up tomorrow. It does. And that’s one of the things that I’ve I’ve had to learn the hard way. And also one of the things that I have learned from mentors of mine, that I’ve seen go through some of the same challenges that I’ve experienced as I’ve gone and so I think that that’s the one thing that I would always just remind people and as a as a family law attorney, it’s something I heatedly remind people is that, you know, the sun’s gonna come up and you’re gonna be okay. And it’s, it’s it, there’s a new day tomorrow, you know, we get start over. And the practice of law is very much the same way. And if you allow yourself to get too wrapped around, for example, I had a terrible interaction with an opposing counsel. You know, a couple nights ago, three nights ago, I think, and, you know, it was one of those situations where I could have really let it bother me or I could just have realized, okay, that’s, that’s him. That’s his problem. I’m gonna get up and I’m just gonna do my job. And tomorrow, you’re always gonna have those things. And so knowing that, hey, it’s gonna pass, this too will pass. It’s probably the best thing I could I could pass on is that there are going to be ebbs and flows, but they do pass. Sounds good. Chad Franzen  24:36   Hey, Chris, thanks so much for your time today. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s been great talking to you really, really appreciate it. Chris Smith  24:42   Thanks, Chad, for having me. Thanks, everybody. Outro  24:47   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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