HOW I BECAME A LAWYER
Welcome to the GrayHawk DJC podcast. In today’s podcast, we talk with John Setzer, owner of the Setzer Law Firm. We hope you enjoy the podcast.
David: Hey, John.
David: How are you?
John: Pretty good. How you doing, man?
David: Doing well. All right, well, thank you for doing this. I mean, I know it’s a long time coming. I appreciate this a lot.
John: You bet, man.
David: So how long have we known each other?
John: Well, we met each other at Protection One.
David: Right. How long ago was that?
John: That had to be at least a decade, right?
David: More than that, right?
John: Yeah. I think I started there in 2008. I started there in 2008 and you came on a little bit after I had been there for a little bit. So I know I left in 2011.
John: So somewhere between there is when…I’m not sure when you started working there, but sometime in that time frame is when we met.
David: We just sort of hit it off for some reason.
David: I remember you coming by to fix the computer.
John: Yeah, yeah, right.
David: So tell everyone what you were doing at Protection One.
John: So at Protection One, I was a network admin and basically was responsible for the network of the building and kind of the, you know, I was on a team of three that handled basically the entire network for Protection One. Maybe there were four of us.
David: So how did you get into that?
John: Well, it’s kind of a strange story. I mean, the way I got into that was when I got out of college. I actually got a finance degree when I was in college. And I got out thinking I was gonna be a stockbroker making the big money, right. I had all those lofty dreams and everything. And, you know, I had a few interviews with those types of jobs and I realized that it’s really about what you kill and what you bring home. And they’re pretty selective about the people they hire. So I went through all that. Then, I also had an uncle that had worked for the phone company, Southwestern Bell. After I graduated, he called me and goes, “Hey, have you ever thought about working for the phone company”? And I said, “Nope”. He goes, well, give me your resume. So at the time, I’m doing all of these finance interviews and I get a call from Southwestern Bell. It was their engineering department and they said come down and interview with us. So long story short…they offered me a job and they were paying a lot more than these finance jobs. So I went that path. I got in at ATT Southwestern Bell. At the time, Southwestern Bell morphed all through its mergers and acquisitions to end up being ATT as we know it today. Then, while I was there, I had the opportunity to go to school for it. When I got in, I also realized that I’m on the landline side of this business. And, this is the late 2000’s. Back in those days, the internet’s really starting to grow and people were buying extra phone lines to dial into. And then that kind of started going away because people are now getting dedicated internet connections. So I’m on the landline side of the business and I see it’s dying. It’s just a dying business. So they had a program where I could go to school and they’d pay me for. So I went to school to learn IT and got my Microsoft certifications. After that, I got a job offer at ATT to work on the ground floor of U-Verse, which is, I don’t know if you know what U-Verse is, but it was the television product that ATT had for a while. I think it’s kind of gone away but I got in on the ground floor of that and that’s really how I went from kind of engineering telephone lines to moving in more to an IT role.
David: So finance has gone, right? You’re not even…
John: I’ve never had a job in the financial industry, never. And I have a finance degree. So it’s just funny how life works out sometimes. So that’s how I really got into it. I got all these Microsoft certifications and they were like, “Hey, you got all these Microsoft certs”. I was just a great fit. They gave me the job and I did that for a couple years. A lot of it was really strange hours. But then, I started noticing that ATT was hiring people to do my job straight from Microsoft. And they were paying them a lot more money than I was making. Since I was already their employee and I had shifted over, you know, they gave me the little raise. I also started seeing people who had come from Microsoft and they’re making like an obscene amount of money compared to what I was making. So, you know, I was like, well, sometimes you got to jump ship. And so, I started looking around and that’s when I found that job at Protection One. I got a really nice pay raise to go over there and that’s my story. At ATT, I was on their U-Verse product, managing the servers, and then I moved over to Protection One and was kind of doing a lot of different stuff.
David: So during this whole process, you just had to learn it as you went along, right? You never grew up thinking you’d be in this field?
John: Never, never…I just kind of picked it up. I just, yeah, I mean, it’s kind of one of those things. But the opportunity fell in my lap and someone was willing to give me an opportunity. I never thought, I mean, even when I was in college, that I would be a computer guy. I always like them. I still do. I still keep up with it as much as I can. I’ll always be a tech guy. I’m always interested in that field and everything but I never really saw myself as this computer guy.
David: So how long were you at Protecting One? Because I left before you.
John: Okay. Did you? Yeah, you know, they got bought. And you know what happens anytime companies get bought. They want to start making their money and, you know, the new owners want to be able to get their money back out of the company. So there were a couple of round the layoffs. I made the first one or two, I can’t remember. And then they called my number. So I left in 2011. They gave me a nice check to leave and so I left. They told me they were moving in a different direction and that didn’t include me. And you know, it wasn’t the first time I’d ever gotten let go from a job. So I mean, I kind of knew it was going to happen. You know, they call and say, “Can you come over here to the human resources department?” Yeah, “Here we go”. And having known that they had been bought by a private equity company and they’re looking to squeeze as much out of it as they can…I knew it was gonna happen. They told me I did great, you know, the whole schpeel. But, yeah, I’m fine with it.
David: So the next company you went to wasn’t that far from Protection One, right…in Irving?
John: Yeah, that’s right. I went to a company…it was called Multiview. It was a different kind of company for sure. They’re still there. I drive by them all the time. I was only there for probably, I don’t know…six, eight, six to eight to nine months. And we’ll just say that, you know, the atmosphere there was just a little different, okay. I was like in my 30s, maybe mid-30s, and I had some kids. Let’s just say that was definitely a party kind of atmosphere. A lot of young kids right out of college and I just didn’t fit in there. Well, and so, I will just say that I decided it was best for me to leave, okay. So I did. I left.
David: And when you left, you didn’t have anything else?
John: Nothing. I didn’t have anything when I left. I didn’t have anything lined up. But, you know, part of all this is, you know when…let me back up a little bit. When I worked at Southwestern Bell, during that time, I thought about going to law school. I had met my wife and she was an attorney. And you know, it’s kind of one of those things too. You never thought about doing it, but you kind of see someone do it, right, and I’m like, “You know, I think I’ll look into this”. And when we were living in Kansas City at the time, we had moved up there for her job and I transferred with ATT. And during that time, I actually took the LSAT and was thinking about applying to the University of Kansas Law School. I took the LSAT and I, just, you know…I had a job making money. So I didn’t know if I was ready to really just take that leap of faith and just quit and drop everything and go to law school. So I kind of thought about law school just because I saw my wife doing it. I was around it. I started being around other lawyers and being around that crowd. But I never did it just because you kind of get comfortable. You get comfortable with what you’re doing and then you end up in a layoff situation and your comfort goes away. So when I left Multiview, I was kind of fed up with the corporate life. I really was. You know, we kind of went through that rough patch with the 2008 crash. Lots of people were getting laid off and it just seemed like…I just didn’t want to, you know. I was just kind of tired of corporate America. We’ll put it that way.
David: So I find it very interesting that someone would just say, out of the blue, “I’m going to be a lawyer”. Is it true that because you are around your wife and other lawyers, that made it easier for you to think that way?
John: So my brother-in-law is a lawyer too. Well, he’s now my ex-brother-in-law, but still. I see him at the courthouse occasionally. I guess I’ve been around lawyers. Just being around and being exposed to it and seeing it. A lot of it had to do with watching my wife. She had her own business. She had her own clients. She kind of made her own schedule and I kind of liked that. I kind of liked the concept that if I starve, it’s my fault and if I’m successful, it’s also my fault, right? I mean, you kill what you eat. That’s kind of what I learned by watching her.
David: So we use to meet up for lunch and hang out every once in a while. One day, you just come up on me and go, “Hey Dave, I’m going be a lawyer”. That hit me like a bolt of lightning. I’m like, all right, John’s not someone who is just going to say something out of the blue. Because, I hear people all the time go, “I’m going to do this with my life”. And no one ever makes it happen, right? So when you told me that you’re going to be a lawyer, it’s like, okay, does he understand that he has to study, take the LSAT, then get into law school, go through law school, take another test, and then actually become an attorney? That’s a long arduous process, right?
John: It absolutely is.
David: The fact that you just told me, out of the blue, you were going do this and then you ended up doing it. I was incredibly fascinated and I think it’s admirable. So just tell us how you…like, how did you do it?
John: Well, you know, I mean, I just think a lot of it was me being fed up.
David: Plus, you had no background in law.
John: I had no background in it. But, you know, you really don’t need it. I’m gonna tell you. You know, law school is grueling. So even if, tomorrow, I wasn’t a lawyer, I would still have my law degree. And that’s probably one of the things I’m most proud of because, man, it was a grind! But the actual pursuit of it was very rewarding because I kind of felt like, in law school, they actually they teach you how to think. I didn’t really learn how to think in college. So I kind of went through the college and I did the assignments and got a degree. But in law school, it’s like not like that at all.
David: What do you mean when you say, “It taught you how to think”?
John: Well, it’s a lot of analysis, you know. You read cases. You have to give analysis. You have to write your own arguments. You will see a case and they will ask what your side of it is. Then, they ask you to argue the opposite side of it. So you’re arguing against your beliefs. And that’s kind of what being a lawyer is. Because, there’s going to be times when I have clients and I have to argue for them and, you know, sometimes I just don’t think very highly of them. But I’m advocating for them. So I have to be able to argue their side even if I’m not on board with their side, if that makes sense. But back to what you were asking about what made me want to do this. I mean, I thought about doing it earlier and I think I kind of hung around and life just kind of happened. So you know the old John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”? So that’s exactly what happened to me. I kind of took the LSAT and didn’t really execute on the application to get into law school. Then life kind of happened to us. We ended up back in Dallas and then I get a job. I’m making money and it’s hard to leave a job when you’re making money, right? It’s hard to leave that and go take on a whole bunch of debt to go to law school and just take that leap of faith. Basically, you know, I have to say, I’m kind of happy I got laid off at Protection One. Because, had that not happened, I don’t know where I’d be. I watched my wife and she had already been a lawyer for probably about ten years up to that point. I watched her do it and I was like, okay so now it’s all on me. I’m gonna do this. So I did it and when I got accepted and I was like…she’s sitting over there looking at me…”Haha”.
David: So were you scared at all?
John: Yes. You know, I applied and I wasn’t, I would say a shoe-in. I’m gonna tell you right now. I was not anywhere near the smartest person in law school but I certainly was nowhere near the dumbest either. So I was middle of the road. I wasn’t, I wouldn’t say a shoe in. Based on my, you know, my entry or LSAT scores, I thought I had a pretty good chance. But, you know, you still have that unknown. You’re middle of the road, so you don’t know. They might take you, they might not. And then, of course, at that time, I had a family. I had two boys.
David: And you’re not working during law school?
John: No I wasn’t working. I left Protection One and got picked up by Multiview maybe a month or two later. I stayed there maybe eight nine months. So I left there in 2012. I got a story about this. So I left Multiview. And look, I left on not-so-good terms, okay. We’ll put it that way, all right. Like I said, I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I was basically just told that I don’t fit in. And I was okay with it. So we just parted ways. Then, I’m not kidding, the next day or a couple days later, I get an email from the Texas A&M School of Law, because I had expressed interest previously in them. And it said, we’re still accepting applications for the fall. I had my LSAT done but I didn’t have my application done. So I just kind of threw something together and sent it in. And this was in the fall of 2012. So I would like to tell my old boss at Multiview, “Thanks for letting me go”. Because I’m in law school because he let me go.
John: Right? And so, you know, I applied real late for law school. Then, I get a letter from them and they say, well thanks for applying but you’re not accepted. And here’s the thing too, you know. I didn’t have the opportunity to apply to lots of different schools because I couldn’t just pick up and move. I had a family, she had her career here, and so I was kind of just stuck with you know SMU or, at that time, Texas A&M. Well, it was Texas Wesleyan at the time. So I had those two choices in the Dallas area. So I applied to Texas Wesleyan at the time. I applied and they said thanks but no thanks. Try again next year. So I was like, okay, I knew it was a long shot because when you’re applying in the summer for that fall. Usually they’re looking for the top notch because they’ve already filled most of their seats. So they’ve only got a couple of seats left. Whereas, when you apply at the very beginning of the cycle, they’re just trying to get people to fill seats. I’ll say, they’re a little more loose with who they accept and they generally accept more people than they actually have seats because not everyone they accept is going to come to their school. They know this. So it’s a little bit of a game. So anyway, I got turned down. I remember kind of being mad about that because, I was like, you know, I wasn’t terrible. I know I’m not going to be their star. Hey, let’s give this guy a full ride scholarship. But I was like, look I’m older and I’m more mature than probably some 20 year just out of college. So I said I’m going to go down there and I’m going to ask them why they didn’t accept me. So I did. I went down there and I met with the Dean of Admissions and I just said, “Hey, tell me what’s wrong with my application?” And, they gave me tips. They said, okay, do this, apply earlier, write better. Write a better personal statement. I’m trying to think what they gave. They gave me a bunch of tips. I don’t remember exactly because it’s been a long time. But part of my thinking was, “I’m gonna get my face in front of them so they, at least, know who I am, so I’m just not a name on a piece of paper”. That was probably June or July of that year. They turned me down. So I just said to myself, “Well, you know, the cycle is going to start back up in October. In the meantime, I just ended up hanging out with my wife going to courthouses and driving her around between June and October.
David: You weren’t working.
John: I wasn’t working.
David: You weren’t doing anything? But you’re preparing to get in?
John: I was preparing. I was preparing because I decided, okay, I’m gonna do this! I’m gonna reapply to Wesleyan and I’m going. That was that. I really wasn’t looking for work.
David: And how’s your wife feeling at this time?
John: She backed me 100 percent.
David: Oh, that’s awesome.
John: I mean, I wouldn’t be a lawyer without my wife, for sure.
David: I ask that because you hear a lot of entrepreneurs who want to do stuff but they can’t because they don’t get that support. That’s a big deal but, obviously, you did.
John: Yeah, I had a lot of support from my wife. So she was my biggest cheerleader through all this. Because you have the doubts. I got turned down. And you say to yourself, “Maybe this isn’t for me?” You got family support, yeah, and you know she’s been through it. She knows law school. She’s was like, “Nah, just apply again, don’t let that get you down”. So I went and I read a bunch of books on how to get into law school. I actually hired a consultant to get into law school.
David: Wow. So you’re all in?
John: I spent a couple hundred bucks on a consultant. I mean, I probably spent close to a grand. I just said to her, “Just tell me what I need to do to get into law school”. And that was, believe it or not, a good move. I think, for me, this person gave me a lot of coaching on what to do. They helped me with my personal statement. They helped me how to dress up my application, to make it look better. I can’t remember her name but she did it for a lot of people. So I figured it was worth the money. I can’t remember who it was now, but anyway, I had a couple of sessions with her and she helped me out. When October or November rolled around, I submitted my completed application for the fall of 2013. And then it’s just the wait. Because you, know, the law schools, they’re gonna wait and basically finish out that year. Then, sometime In January, this is gonna sound bad, I’m literally sitting on the couch, in the middle of the day, doing nothing. I’m playing Call of Duty, not working, being a completely worthless human being…you know, with two mouths to feed. I mean, at this point, I’m not sure where my life’s going. So I’m waiting to hear results. If they say no, then I’m just gonna go get a job and get back out in the workforce. So I’m playing Call of Duty and I get an email and it tells you to log into an account to see your results. So right there on my iPhone, you click and log in, and then, boom!, I was accepted. So this was in January of 2012.
David: I think I remember you telling me.
John: So now I’m accepted in. Then the realization was like, “I got to do this, oh no, what have I gotten myself into”. So, it was, like, yeah, I guess I got to do this now. Because I’ve put a lot of effort behind this and I’m in. I immediately got to pay a seat deposit. So I immediately sent my check for the seat deposit. I’m going to, at the time what was Texas Wesleyan. I had all spring and summer to wait until the fall and get ready. So basically, I hung out with my wife just doing court runs and hanging out with her. I was also Mister Mom a little bit during that time, and there you go. School started in August. I turned forty that week too.
David: And were you the oldest student in the class?
John: I was not the oldest, thank god. I was not the oldest. I did have, I still have a good friend from law school who was older than me.
David: What’s the average age though?
John: The kids, gosh, I would probably say the average age is late 20’s.
John: Yeah, 28 if you take the average. I mean, there were a couple of us, older folks, who had, you know, a little bit of a career. But I was not the oldest in it. Let’s put it this way, I think having had life experience was a good thing for me.
David: So how long did it take you for the whole process?
John: Well, law school is three years. I got done in, well technically, no, it took me three years. But I went to summer school the whole time and my last semester, when it usually would be about 12 or 15 hours, I only had one class. I had like a two hour class. So my last semester was pretty easy. I was basically done with law school in two and a half years. I was done with the majority of it at two and a half years. I just had one class and it was a writing class. I had to write a paper, that’s all. And the beautiful thing about having done most of it is, I was able to take the Bar Exam before I even graduated from law school.
David: Oh wow.
John: Yeah. Okay, there’s a rule that if you’re within, I think it’s three or four hours of graduating from law school, you can actually sit for the Bar Exam. So I went and took the Bar my last semester of law school. I went to my professor for that one class, because when to go to law school, they take role. They take a role and you have to be there. It’s not like college where you can just show up at the end and go through the review and pass the test, you know. So you have to be there. So I went to my professor and I told him, I said, “Look, I’m gonna be taking the Bar”. They have the Bar in February. Things may have changed with Covid, but it used to be February, June or July. I went to my professor and told him, “Hey, I’m gonna be in class”, and this is like a class of 10 people, okay, 10 law students. And I said, “Look, I’m taking the bar in February and I’m going to be in class but I’m not going to be in class, you know what I mean”? My body will be here, but I am checked out. So please do not hold that against me. “And I promise you, as soon as I get past that date in February, I will be 110 percent involved in this class and getting my paper done and working towards it”. And he was really a good guy about it. He goes, “Just focus on the Bar, get it done, and we’ll see”. He saw me and I was there, but, you know, he’s basically saying, “Well, I understand, go pass the Bar”. So in January to middle of February, I can’t remember when the Bar if it’s in February. It’s maybe the last week of February. So from January to the last week of February, I just spent every day studying about eight hours a day. I studied for the Bar. It was a regimen. Get up and eat breakfast. I had an office where I went and studied. I had all my materials and literally studied for eight hours a day. I would do that. And it was tough the first two weeks. But after that, it’s amazing what you can do. Because then it’s just automatic. So I studied, went to the Bar, and got that out of the way. I wrote my paper and then I was done with law school. I was just waiting for results. I actually got my results prior to graduating law school. So I did that along with another friend of mine. Maybe in my class, three or four of us actually took the Bar early. We were the lucky ones at graduation. We all had a big smile on our faces because we’re done. As soon as I walk the stage, they hand me my piece of paper, I’m done. I’m done with the whole process. Now I’m just waiting to get a grade in a class and get my JD and they’re gonna give me a license to practice law. Whereas, all my other classmates have to go study for the Bar and they’re not gonna get their results until November before they can even start practicing.
David: So you passed the bar?
John: I passed the bar.
David: That is awesome because not everybody passes the first time, right?
John: I mean, no. Not everybody. I mean, I’ve had friends in law school that did not pass the first time because it’s a grueling test. It really is.
David: You mentioned this whole process of going to law school and studying was grueling. What advice can you give to people who are trying to get into this?
John: What advice would I give? First of all, it’s a huge…well, first thing I’m gonna say is, I hear a lot of people say, “Oh I can’t do it because I’ve got this, this, and that.” And I’m like, yeah, but I had two boys. I had a family. I had commitments and I made it happen. The advice I’m gonna give to people is law school is doable. You just have to put the work in. It really is doable. You need to get some friends real quick, okay. I mean, I have probably four guys from law school who I still speak to today. And I’ve never served in the military or served in combat and I won’t compare this to that. But I feel like I was in the trenches with those guys. Because law school is a lot of mind games. Your first year, they do a lot of weeding out. They want to make it difficult. They do. So those are the people you hung on to. And when you have a bad grade or something happens, and you’re just like, “Why am I even doing this”, those are the people you lean on and vice versa. So first thing I would say is, if you’re thinking about doing this, and you actually get into law school, I would certainly say, find some people that are going to have the grit that you have to do it. Because, it’s a lot of work. My day consisted of…I’d get up. I would take my kids to school. I had to be in class at 10:00am in the morning. I’d be at the law school from 9:30am to probably 4:00 or 4:30pm. I’d come home, play with my kids, feed them, and put them in bed. They were young then, so they’d go to bed about seven, okay. And then, I would head up to my wife’s office because it’s quiet in the middle of the night. So from eight to midnight, maybe one, depending on what’s going on, I would study. That was my study time and I had a quiet office, you know. It’s the middle of the night. So there’s no one to bother me. But you know, of course, you’re tired because you’ve been up all day. But yeah, that was kind of my first year. Your first year in law school, you don’t get to pick what time you’re there or anything. They say when you’re going to be there. And so the advice is, get some friends, quick, that you are going to study with. Have a study group and try to find people with different strengths in your study group. The guys that I studied with, they all had their qualities. For some of them, it was easy for them because they’re very intellectual. There was one guy I called a genius. He was a machine. I mean, he just would memorize stuff. His memory was just awesome. So he would memorize elements, you know, of all the rules and elements like, what makes a criminal law, what makes it a crime, well, it has to be these elements and blah, blah. And so, he was just a master at that. So he was good at that and then, you know, I had another part of my group and there was the really smart guy. He’s real cocky but he was great. He was great because, I mean, he was the one who was like the leader. Some classes there were exams during the semester but most of them were at the end. So you’re going into finals and you’re like, man, either you hit or you just lost a lot.
David: When you came in with a group of people, how many actually finished would you say?
John: I don’t know.
David: Did you see people disappear?
John: Absolutely. There were people who failed out. There were some that failed out even in their second year. Some people just quit for various reasons. Maybe not for grades. Maybe, just, hey, that’s not for me. So, yeah, you see those people. They either fell out or they just move on. This ain’t for me. I’m moving on. But, I would say, you know, at least the majority of people stayed and they got through it. Most people, I think, could get through law school, most people. If you have the grit and at least the willingness. If you think it’s going to be a cakewalk, you’re probably one of those people that doesn’t make it. Because, it’s not a cakewalk. Now, it’s easier for some because they’re good at it. They are really good at reading books and they can absorb that stuff. That wasn’t me. I had to read stuff many of times over just to get it right. Some people can just look at things and they pick it up.
David: So here you are. You’ve graduated. You passed the Bar. And I guess you join Setzer Law Firm, right?
David: Okay, tell me about Setzer Law Firm. What do you guys do? What is your average day like, your regular day?
John: So my wife started Setzer Law Firm probably in 2009.
John: We moved up to Kansas City because she went there for a job, a lawyer job. We were up there for four so years. We came back. I was working. She had our first child. Then, she kind of worked for other lawyers. Then she stayed home for a while but she didn’t like being a stay-at-home mom. So she worked again for other lawyers, as needed, kind of on a contract basis. Finally, it just got to the point where she’s like, you know, I’m gonna start a business. She had actually had her own law firm up in Kansas City but we closed it down. So Setzer Law Firm was started in 2009.
John: She basically ran the law firm out of the house. She met with clients at an executive office and she would rent the conference room to meet with clients. But actually, all the work was done at home. We had a home office. So she did it all at the house and did that for years. She was doing that all the way when I was in law school.
David: So tell everyone what kind of law firm are you?
John: Oh, yeah. So Setzer Law Firm is a boutique family law firm. We specialize in family law, divorces, child custody, and child support modifications. I kid with my wife. I tell her, you say divorce attorney, I like to just tell people I’m a licensed asset division specialist. I joke around but because when you say divorce attorney, people are like, “Oh, divorce attorney”. Then they go into their story about how they lost their shirt. And that’s the thing about divorce, nobody gets out of it whole. It’s a division. That’s what we do. We do family law. We pick up some criminal here and there, and we’ve done a little bit of some other things but usually it’s for clients that we’ve either had or they’ve have a criminal issues along with a divorce issue, which happens from time to time.
David: So what’s your average typical day like, now?
John: So my average, typical day is I get up, take the kids to school, and then come straight to the office. Then, depending on what day of the week it is, sometimes I got to be in court. With Covid, things changed. I mean, I really hadn’t been in court. We started ramping back up going back to court but prior to Covid, I’d be in court three days out of the week sometimes. You have to go down to the courthouse three, four times a week.
David: How was your first time in court? What was that like?
John: Oh my gosh, it was nerve-wracking for sure.
David: Is there anything that prepares you for that?
John: Nope. No. My wife, she didn’t do me a favor for my first time and I was mad at the time. So we were going down there and she’s been handling the hearings. There were two hearings that were booked on top of each other. The goal here is, maybe we get a settlement. If we do, we don’t have to go in front of the judge. But if no one can agree, well, then we have to have a hearing. Well, it turned out that I’m having to have a hearing on a case that I don’t know much about. And the other case that she thought was settled didn’t happen. So she’s stuck in that hearing and she just comes out and goes, “You’re gonna have to handle that other hearing”. And, I mean, I was like, well, I know the case, I know what’s going on but I don’t think I’m prepared but let’s do it. And, I mean, it was it was definitely a thrill ride. And you know the thing about that case is, you know sometimes us lawyers just have bad facts. I mean, we have bad facts. And when you got bad facts, they say you pound the table a lot. I had bad facts that day and I had the bad client. So I went in there and did my best. But you know, given the facts, it wasn’t a winner. So the whole time, I can’t hear anything because my heart’s beating so hard. This is racing. But I actually think I did a pretty good job.
David: Were you going up against an experienced attorney at this time?
John: Yeah. I mean, this person had been around the block a few times. They’ve been licensed a long time. I imagine they’ve probably been licensed at least as long as a decade. So they knew what they were doing. But, you know, I always remember that. I just remember sitting there and I’m trying to focus on what the other council is doing as he’s asking questions. So I’m trying to and, the whole time, my client is just in my ear. I’m like, come on, at some point I have to be able to concentrate. It’s just difficult because when the other attorney is asking questions to their client on the stand, my client is telling me, “That’s a lie, that’s not true”. I’m trying just to keep focus here and she’s talking in my ear. But, anyway, I just remember that case, you know. Neither party was pristine but my mine had a little bit more of bad marks. We’ll just put it that way. At the end of it, I remember the bailiff. I think the bailiff knew this was my first hearing and he’s like, “Man you did really good, you did a really good job”. That was cool. And, you know, the bailiffs, they’re the probably some of the best people to go get critiques from because they see everything. They see it all. Heck, they could probably practice law because they’re just there every day and they see how it all works. So he came over and he goes, “You know, you just can’t win them all”. So it made me feel a little better.
David: How long does it take before you get really comfortable?
John: To be honest with you, never. My wife seems to think that it’s going to happen someday. But I’m more of the type…I like to be very prepared. But sometimes, you just don’t have that opportunity. You get someone that hires you the day or the night before. I get a hearing tomorrow and we go down there and get the continuance. But it might not happen that way, right? So it’s just about getting comfortable, I guess. I’m more comfortable now than before. My wife thinks it takes seven years to be comfortable. I’m more comfortable, definitely, than I was. But, you just gotta get out there and do it.
David: So you guys also run the business side of this?
David: How’s that like, the entrepreneur’s side of it?
John: It’s challenging for sure. Hiring employees has been a lesson for me. It’s made realize just how bad of an employee I was for all my corporate bosses. The hard part is finding good people that want to work. We’re a small firm. When I worked for ATT, let’s face it, their revenues are in the billions, right. If I do just enough to keep from getting fired, well, they’re still going to make some money. And they’re gonna still pay me. Maybe I don’t get the big raises that I think I deserve. But here, there’s not an endless supply of money. The hard part is finding people that care about watching our backs as much as we have to watch their backs. I certainly don’t hire people unless I can make a long-term commitment for them, give them a job for a long time. I hate to have to let people go. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do. And I’ve been in those shoes. Now I will say, I’ve had one or two employees where it didn’t bother me as much as it did others. But it’s still hard to do because you’ve been in those shoes. You’ve been laid off and you’re like, “Wow the siphon just turns off, what are you gonna do”? Yeah, you can go get unemployment, I guess. But, that’s not enough to pay the bills.
David: So do you enjoy the lawyer part of this more than let’s say running the business part of this or is it the same?
John: I’d say more of the business. I like the business side of it more than the lawyer side. That’s the trade-off between me and my wife. She likes the lawyer side of it. I mean, it depends on the day, David. It really does. I feel like a day depends on the client. So, you know, but that’s just like any job though. There’s pros and cons to every job, right. But I like the business side of it because I’m always trying to think how can I cut my expenses, how can I make this more profitable, is my advertising right, what can I do to put more money in my pocket, and if I can put more money in my pocket, then, can I pay my employees more to keep them around. So it’s just those challenges every day. So it’s pretty difficult because you’re always tweaking and there’s never a time where you can just put it on cruise control.
David: So let’s get to the nitty-gritty because I think people might want to hear this. As a family law attorney, if you’re in trouble with your marriage, what kind of advice do you give to people? How should they proceed?
John: I come from divorced parents. My parents never got along. I’ve been those kids. I’ve been that kid. I’ve seen what divorce can do to people. If people come in and they kind of seem like they’re on the fence about divorce, I don’t push them. That’s not my role here. I’m here when you’re ready to be divorced. And if they seem like they’re on the fence then I say, “Have you been to counseling”? If they have, okay, maybe you need more. If they haven’t, I’ll give them some counselor names. I say to them, “Maybe you should go talk to him even if your spouse won’t go, go talk to someone else”. And if they’re here and they’re done and they’re ready then, basically, I’ll do a consult with them. We’ll do an hour consult. If they decide to hire me, then we just do the paperwork for him. If it’s a divorce, basically, I’ll kind of lay it out. Here’s the 10,000 foot view of the process of divorce. We’re going to file a petition, we got to get your spouse served, they are either going to hire an attorney and file an answer back, and then we just go from there. We also have to go through all your assets. If you have children, we have to decide what we’re going to do with the children. Are you going to be primary or do you want the other spouse to be primary? What’s the visitation look like? What are we looking at for child support? We just kind of go fill everyone in on that and kind of give them an idea of the process of divorce and how long I think it will take. I don’t like committing on time because sometimes it can be real quick and sometimes it can be a long time to get divorced. It just depends on how much fighting there is and how much people drag and kick and scream during the process.
David: So any tips on what to look for in an attorney when you’re trying to select one?
John: Well, I wouldn’t go to a foot doctor for a brain issue. So I would say, if you’re looking for a divorce attorney, find someone who has had substantial practice in divorce law. You’ll see, out there, you click on some websites and that attorney might have 10 lines of practice. Well, do they have an attorney for each one of the practices or are there only two or three attorneys in the office handling all of those different things? Because, you only get good at something if that’s what you’re doing. I would say, find someone who does a majority of their businesses in family law or they have an attorney where that’s all they do. Then, make sure that the attorney that you get, if they have multiple attorneys, is a family law lawyer. Also, get a lawyer who practices regularly in the county you’re going to be filing in. Don’t hire a Dallas attorney if you’re going to file out in Parker County. So for our firm, we do Denton, Tarrant, Dallas, and Wise counties. That’s the only counties we do. And the reason for that is, you can’t spread yourself out too much. So I would always suggest that you be find an attorney that’s a regular in a particular area.
David: So what are some common mistakes you’ve seen people make when they’re trying to get a divorce?
John: Well, the big one is the do-it-yourself to save money route. I get it that divorce lawyers are expensive. Lawyers, in general, are expensive but if you have any type of assets, retirements, house, or any of those things, be careful. I’ve seen some train wrecks where they try to do it themselves and, sometimes, no amount of money can fix what they did. It just comes down to the old saying, “You get what you pay for”. You know, Google makes everyone think that they’re an expert. So yeah, you can file a petition and, yeah, you can do all that yourself. And, I would say, if you have no assets and you have no children then, yeah, do it yourself because you probably don’t have any money anyway for a lawyer. So go ahead and file yourself. It’s hard to screw that up. But, if you have children or you have assets, you need to understand the differences between them and you can really could screw it up. We spend more on the back side fixing things for clients than if they would have hired a lawyer on the front side to begin with. So that’s the first thing I would say. The difference between family and criminal law is, criminal law is bad people acting good in court and family law is good people acting bad in court. Family law is very emotional, obviously. You’re going through divorce. Your family’s breaking up. Your world’s being torn apart for whatever reason. I mean, just know that you’re not going to walk out of this with everything you had before. Your life’s changing. It is the goal, for me as a divorce attorney, to get you through it as quick as possible and with the least amount of damage as possible. So my goal is to get you through it and let’s mitigate your damages here. And the quicker I can get you through it, probably, the less you’re having to pay me. The other thing is, and I’m not talking just the assets like money. I’m talking about your mental state, your well-being. Because it’s draining on you. So if I have a client come in here who has assets and they’re making well into the six figures, part of what I might tell them is, look, you’re gonna pay now but the shorter we make this, the sooner you can get on with your life and you’re walking out of here still making a great salary. You’re going to be back on your feet. It really sucks to either cut a big check to your spouse, to pay to buy them out of their equity of a home or something like that, or you might have to hand over a portion of your retirement. But if you’re making great money, then you’re going to be back on your feet before you know it. It’s harder with the folks where their combined income is like $40,000 a year and they got a couple kids and they’re already kind of living paycheck to paycheck. I feel for them because you’re splitting that household up and you’re probably going into an apartment and you probably can’t afford your car. So the advice is, you just need to know that your life’s changing and it’s not going to be the same and the sooner you accept that the better off you will be. Even if you’re on the higher end of income or the lower end, you can spend a lot of time getting caught up in the emotion of it and your emotional well-being is pretty important. So I would say, you need to get that counseling. I recommend it all the time.
David: All right. Well, John, I think we’ll stop there. Thank you for…it’s already been an hour. I think it’s been over an hour. Thank you for all the good advice and I think your story is admirable. I’ve known you for a long time and you’re one of the guys, that I know, that said they’re going to do something and they did it. So I think that’s awesome. So I appreciate it. Thank you again. This is awesome.
John: Absolutely, Dave. Good seeing you. All right, thanks.
For more information about the Setzer Law Firm, go to:
300 Morrison Park Dr #110, Southlake, TX 76092
Phone: (817) 424-5050