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A Hands-On Approach to Attorney Referrals

A Successful Strategy for this Southern California Family Attorney

There’s no better recognition of a firm’s commitment to taking care of clients than the referral by one’s friends, associates and even competitors in that field. The hands-on approach of Richard Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Law & Associates, has significantly helped increase his firm’s business through referrals from other attorneys and firms. The firm’s family law practice areas include adoption, divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, post-divorce modifications, and guardianship. Typically, individuals and sometimes even families come to Sullivan Law because they are undergoing traumatic and emotional changes and they need help. Referring attorneys want to know that the law firm taking over the case has the knowledge and experience necessary, but also understands the emotionally charged situations involved.
Attorneys continue to send clients to Sullivan Law not only because they get results, but because they also have excellent skills regarding client management. They know that managing expectations from the beginning elicits the best response from the client to the referring attorney.

Knowing how important these clients and relationships are, Sullivan has tirelessly trained his staff to handle referrals with the right balance of empathy and honesty. Before taking a case, they get to know what is most important to the client and what their goals are. After learning that vital information, they let them know what can be done to obtain their goals. In Sullivan’s experience, often, the client’s goals and what is legally available do not match and an explanation needs to be made as to why. “The rub,” Sullivan states, “is getting the client to actually gain that full understanding of all their options and expectations, and it’s the ability of the attorney to navigate this crucial conversation for that to really set in. It’s often this very conversation that either leads to the success or failure of the referral relationship and this is the type of conversation our attorneys have been trained very well at.”
Sullivan continues to say, “Referring someone to an inexperienced family law attorney to go through the family law process is like going into a room with all the lights off. We’ve all been there, if you don’t know the lay of the land and you are without light, you’ll likely stub your toe more than once and you’ll be in some agony. Hiring an experienced attorney to walk your referral through the family law process is like walking through that dark room with someone who both knows the lay of the land and has a flashlight. It’ll save you, the referral attorney and the client a lot of toe stubs and agony to go with someone that can show the client where to go and know what to expect.” The firm is experienced enough with these relationships to pay special attention to the clients’ finances, as they know, if this aspect goes sour, so does your relationship and reputation with that client. Although goal-oriented at all times, the firm’s attorneys are careful to avoid the trap of spending a client’s money for the sake of building up earnings. Sullivan says, “We want the client to spend their money on things that matter. It is our practice to let the client know at each step how much each phase is likely to cost. We are sure to communicate far in advance, so they are not surprised by anything, financially or otherwise. For example, if a hearing is approaching, we work with our clients months in advance to let them know how much that portion will cost. If they are behind or need to work up to that amount we work with them on building their retainer up incrementally, at a pace that is comfortable to them. It’s our goal to ease as much stress as we can on their behalf and we’ve had a great response being as transparent as possible with them on all levels but most especially, finance. At the end of the day, it is our job to put our client and your referral in the best situation possible post-divorce, which many attorneys don’t consider.”
This is the extra service referral clients have come to expect from Sullivan Law. Sullivan says, “Attorneys want to know that their client is being taken care of. If you’re going to give me a case, you want to know that I’m going to take care of that case. That lawyer should get a ‘Thank you for referring me to Sullivan because they took care of me’ note. That’s what I want. And that’s what we strive for.”

Chickens and Firewood Fire Up a Career
Sullivan’s love of the law comes from his father, who was a small-town attorney in O’Fallon, Missouri. He first became aware of a desire to become an attorney back in the mid-sixties when he watched his father defend a black man who was charged with murder. The man was found not guilty, but his family didn’t have the money to pay attorney’s fees. The family instead paid in firewood and chickens. “They were the nicest people and I was struck by what an impact you can have by having a key to ‘the system’ and that’s when it set in on me. It was a very emotional day. Those were traumatic days. They made an impact on me and still today it helps me have a greater impact on our clients’ lives,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan earned his B.A. from Southeast Missouri State in 1973 where he lettered in tennis and earned a lifetime teaching certificate and a BS in secondary education. After graduation, he taught high school and worked the summers in the construction trade for three years. He was accepted to Western State School of Law, working his way through as a 7/11 clerk, short order cook, and loading and unloading trucks at a grocery store.
His first job after graduating was working Criminal Defense trying misdemeanors and eventually felonies, just like his father. The reality of practice did not match the vision of his younger days. He found himself dealing with a lot of drug dealers, felons and people who had committed heinous crimes.
He examined his career choice and realized he no longer wanted to practice criminal defense. “I didn’t want to keep having my lunches while meeting with clients in their prison cells and also the bad guys were getting pretty bad. I now had a family to protect and raise.”
Sullivan knew he was good in the courtroom and that he enjoyed the experience. The work was rewarding and interesting. “A lawyer is a salesman. He sells his client’s case to a judge. You’re telling a story and trying to get a good result for your client. I found that very rewarding,” he says.
Clients today agree with his approach. One client recently, wrote, “Richard has that unique combination of an attorney who both cares for his clients and fights hard for them. Richard represented me in my divorce. My husband made all kinds of false accusations about me and got a restraining order that kept me from my child. I then hired Richard Sullivan. After speaking with him, I knew that Richard felt my pain about being separated from my child. In court Richard’s skill was amazing and, as an aside, he seemed to know everyone in the courthouse in Orange County. I now have custody of my child because of Richard. He gives the legal profession a good name.”

Back to the Basics
Sullivan reexamined the direction of his career yet again and made a bold choice to get back to the basics and get out of the big firm mentality where he had partnerships previously. In Sullivan’s mind, it was time to scale things back and work with the people he enjoyed and simplify the process.
Sullivan Law & Associates was born 11 months ago and is in good hands for a long time to come. Sullivan has been wise in building a stable of talented attorneys around him; with a mix of youth and experience this firm’s trajectory is sky high. Sullivan, with 40 years of experience, has partnered with Carrie Foglesong (15 years) and Wendy Fountain (20 years) to combine their years of experience and wealth of knowledge to create a premiere Family Law firm in Orange County. The firm in total has seven full-time attorneys, three paralegals and nine support staff. The firm’s focus is Family Law. They practice mostly out of Orange County but also serves Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego in some instances. Their typical client is two-fold: One, they service your ordinary Orange County Family. Second, they service high net worth individuals which Sullivan and his partners focus on exclusively. These cases are generally complex where lots of assets are at stake, financial matters are complex, and the issues are hard to understand. However, the firm is specifically staffed to handle any array of family law matters. Sullivan boasts, “With the number of attorneys and collective talent, knowledge and experience we have in our office there isn’t anything family law related that we cannot handle and handle it well.”
Unique challenges are not new to the firm and they are not something the attorneys avoid. For example, a former client wrote, “Richard represented me in obtaining child support for my three children. I had a rather unique support arrangement and haven’t received support for the past nine years. Support is usually derived from a formula based upon declared income. In my case, my ex is a con man and provided meager support to back up his stated paltry income. Richard was able to lead the judge with inquiries causing the defendant to look ridiculous. As a result, the judge ruled outside of the norm and based his support amount not upon income but expenses. Subsequent to the ruling, my ex has refused to pay and Richard is proactively obtaining a writ to freeze monies declared in the court proceeding. Richard has been there every step of the way. He truly is compassionate.”
Of all his tasks as founding partner, Sullivan most enjoys the courtroom experience – the preparation, presentation of evidence, the interplay among attorneys and judges, and interacting with the court staff. Although he always maintains a thoroughly professional demeanor, he does showcase a sense of humor. “If there was something unique that I often hear about myself in a professional setting, it’s my ability to have a sense of humor while practicing. It doesn’t matter if I am on the phone with opposing counsel, in chambers with the Judge or litigating in the Courtroom. A sense of levity during these difficult times eases tensions and in my opinion creates better results.” As you can see, Sullivan Law has a very specific formula by which they create success. It’s no wonder after 40 years of practice, partnering at three previous firms, that he has running a firm down to a science and he’ll tell you this is by far his best iteration.


  • Southeast Missouri State University, 1973
  • Western State College of Law, 1978


  • State Bar of California
  • California Supreme Court
  • U.S. District Court, Central District
  • U.S. Federal Tax Court


  • Orange County Bar Association
  • Orange County Family Law Section of the State Bar of California
  • Appointed by the Orange County Superior Court to represent minors
  • Served as Special Master to the Court to address litigation in domestic relation actions
  • Served as a lecturer, instructor, and panelist for the State Bar of California, Orange County Bar Association, Western State School of Law, and Chapman School of Law
  • Executive committee member of the Orange County Bar Association, Family Law Section
  • Board member of the Orange County Community Service Program – CSP Victim Assistance
  • Executive committee member of the Orange County Bar Association, Family Law Section

Richard Sullivan
Sullivan Law & Associates
1920 Main Street, Suite 250
Irvine, CA 92614

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