For the past 25 years, Donna Smiedt has helmed one of the more significant legal entities in the city, The Family Law Firm of Donna J. Smiedt. Teaming experience, passion, persistence and legal and technological savvy, Smiedt has emerged as one of North Texas’ foremost authorities on complex family law litigation, which runs a gamut that includes divorce, property division, adoption, child support, paternity, and post-divorce modification.
From Day One to the present, she and her team have ardently – and successfully – represented thousands of clients during often-difficult times.
For Smiedt, Day One occurred in 1995 after marrying her husband of 25 years. It was then that she left a successful practice in Dallas to start a firm and pursue a new dream in what, appropriately enough, would come to be known as the American Dream City.
“I moved my practice because he lived here, and I was so impressed with Arlington,” she says. “I felt that it was a growing city and in the future would support a specialized boutique family law firm.”
When she arrived, there were only five board-certified family law attorneys supporting a large city. “From a business standpoint and as an entrepreneur,” Smiedt says, “I felt that I could build a family law firm in Arlington that operated at a very high-level so that Tarrant County and Arlington residents would not have to look to Dallas or Fort Worth firms when seeking the high-quality legal services I knew I could offer them.”
Additionally, she had become dissatisfied with the professional climate of practices in Dallas, where it was commonplace to find “Rambo type lawyers,” who treated family law just as any other civil suit. Her experience with Tarrant County colleagues revealed that several were, instead, at the forefront of offering alternate dispute resolution, such as mediation and, later, collaborative law, and she knew she wanted to be a part of the changing landscape of the practice of family law.
“I was well schooled as a very proficient litigation lawyer from my 10 years of experience as a board certified family lawyer in Dallas, so I knew that I could bring that expertise level to the practice in Arlington for the community, where these skills were needed,” she says. “But I was also interested for my own sanity, as well as that of my clients, in working with a community of lawyers that were cognizant of the great toll family law litigation takes on not only the lawyers, but the parties and especially their children.”
That triad is at the heart of what has emerged as one of Smiedt’s specialties, collaborative law, which enables couples who have decided to separate or end their marriage to work with their collaborative professionals including collaboratively trained lawyers, coaches and financial professionals, to avoid the uncertain outcome of court and to achieve a settlement that best meets the specific needs of both parties and their children without the underlying threat of litigation.
Early on, Smiedt planted her professional flag on that mountain – and in this city – and has been helping ease a heavy burden for her clients since.
However, she hasn’t had to go it alone. Her legal team also includes Non-Equity Partner Desaray Muma and Senior Litigation Lawyer Michael Muñoz, and Smiedt says they have been godsends since joining her in her quest to help families achieve the best and least painful legal results, regardless of the circumstance.
“Desaray and Michael have been such a blessing to the firm and bring their own unique styles and talents,” Smiedt says.
They also bring both passion and compassion to the office every day. Muma has been with the firm some six years, starting nearly a year out of law school. Smiedt says Muma has excellent litigation skills, as well as a true interest in providing collaborative and mediation services to her family law clients. When Smiedt experienced recent back and hip issues, Muma stepped in to take up the slack. As a result, Smiedt made her a non-equity partner.
Muñoz, meanwhile, has been stellar as the firm’s senior litigation lawyer with 15 years of experience. “He is a very intelligent and procedurally savvy lawyer who does not back down from a fight,” Smiedt says. “With his excellent litigation skills he has been an invaluable member of our team.”
In essence, the team of Smiedt, Muma and Muñoz can handle every aspect of family law, even – especially – those tied to a recent phenomenon: the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, an issue that has become prominent lately, Smiedt says, is representation of grandparents in termination cases filed by the state because of drug abuse and mental illness, two consequences tied to the pandemic.
And then, of course, there’s the biggest COVID-19 consequence: elderly deaths. To address that issue during the current health crisis, the firm began offering, at a greatly reduced rate, a Will Package containing a Simple Will, Medical Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney and Directive to Physicians.
“We hope people don’t have to utilize these important legal documents now,” Smiedt says. “But we are committed to expediting turnaround for clients in need.”
This kind of resourcefulness typifies Smiedt’s yearning to establish a comprehensive family law firm. And comprehensive, it is. For example, Smiedt has years of experience and skill in high-asset divorces, dealing with many members of Arlington who are not only pillars of the community but have complicated separate-property tracing cases or businesses that require valuation, etc. “We provide the whole gamut at our firm,” Smiedt says. “And that has always been my vision.”
The practice is located in a beautiful building at 3216 W. Arkansas Lane that she helped design, not only to express her eclectic design taste embodied by the bright colors and interesting art collection, but to be a place that was not intimidating to clients who may never have stepped foot in a business office before to retain an attorney.
Because many meetings for mediation and collaborative cases are held at the office, Smiedt wanted it to be bright and interesting so clients might not become more depressed during a mediation process that can leave them feeling like they’re losing their life, their family, their children and maybe their finances.
To further the idea of positivity, Smiedt, an animal lover who has served on the board of the Arlington Animal Shelter for four years, has divorce therapy dogs at the office.
Baxter was the first to join the team. He was saved from the Arlington shelter an hour before he was to be euthanize. Rex was rescued by Amanda Smith, the firm’s Office Manager. Ruffles, the newcomer, is Muma’s Goldendoodle puppy.
“I am always supporting the animal shelter and rescue dogs,” Smiedt says. “They tend to restore my soul after years of being on the forefront of people‘s misery. I certainly think they are very therapeutic for our clients that are going through the worst time of their lives. Obviously, if people are afraid of dogs, we will inquire, and we lock the pets up accordingly.”
Another area in which Smiedt and her team are at the forefront is technology. They spent 2018 diverting all their clients to an online cloud system managed by Thomson Reuters, a giant in the legal industry for safeguarding confidential client information.
“And, because of our technological expertise, we were able to continue our practice when Arlington residents needed us most during this COVID-19 crisis,” Smiedt says. “We were seamlessly able to work from home when necessary.”
Smiedt says that the aftermath of the shut down has caused the divorce rate to rise as much as 35% “Luckily, we were able to keep the doors open because of my forethought regarding technology,” she says. “I am kind of a nerd, so I was happy to invest in the software and hardware to be able to run the firm remotely. I am always ‘connected’ to the law firm. And I am very proud that I was able to keep our eight employees on salary during the entire shut down and able to continue providing services to Arlington residents when they needed it most.”
For more: arlingtondivorces.com.