When Donald Schweitzer worked for the Santa Ana Police Department as a gang homicide detective, he saw plenty of attorneys in action.
“I enjoyed the energy and the drama of the courtroom,” Schweitzer says.
In the early 1990s, he decided to join the ranks of great attorneys and entered law school, leaving the PD behind. Eighteen years ago, he founded the Pasadena family law practice of Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, soon to be renamed Schweitzer Law Partners.
“I graduated and went to the DA’s office,” he recalls. “In law school, my favorite topic was family law. I took all the specialized classes. When I went to the DA’s office after graduating law school, I prosecuted deadbeat dads and paternity cases. In seven years, I worked my way to the top as a senior trial attorney. I left the DA’s office to start my own family law firm.”
His goal was to put together a team of “really good people.” He didn’t want to be a solo practitioner, because he realized he needed colleagues next to him who could help handle complex cases.
“I needed excellent folks and a team behind me who could handle intense litigated cases,” he says. “Family law cases involve a lot of paperwork, planning and negotiation. My dream has been to pursue excellence in that way. We recruit the very best people we can.”
Changing the firm’s name is an organic move for Schweitzer.
“The name needs to match the firm,” he says. “This was not just built by me. Good, quality people have contributed. It’s a partnership. I don’t manage from the top down. Nobody here calls me ‘Mr. Schweitzer.’
“I purposely spent a lot of years grooming people and putting together the best team I could. We’re partners without a doubt.”
Education and development are key
Schweitzer Law Partners boasts an extensive law clerk program. As a matter of fact, most of the attorneys in its office started as clerks for the practice.
Schweitzer says the office is certified to provide licensed, mandatory continuing education. There’s training every Friday, and the attorneys take full advantage of it.
Partner Casey Marticorena, who also started with the firm as a law clerk in 2007, says the team is passionate about education and promoting from within.
“Don is someone who focuses on developing the people he has on his team,” Marticorena says. “This is a place where you walk in the door and start as a filing clerk and end up being an office manager, which is a true story. Or, you can start as a receptionist and end up being a senior managing paralegal, also a true story. He develops people. He’s not ego driven.”
The highlight of her career was becoming a certified family law specialist, as she’s on the younger side of her colleagues.
“I’m passionate about the art of negotiation and efficacy, which means I’m very successful in settling cases. I have a strong presence in the courtroom.”
Partner Alexandra Smyser lost both of her parents within two days when she was 30. She poured over bank statements and related paperwork to settle her parents’ estates. She parlayed that knowledge into her career as a certified trust and estates attorney with Schweitzer.
“One of these things is not like the other,” she says with a laugh about her role within the firm. “I handle the trust and estates practice. We do planning for people and anything that’s in probate court. This means conservatorships, guardianships and trust administrations. It’s definitely different from the family law side.”
This is a second career for Smyser. After graduating college, she entered the entertainment industry. When her parents passed away—her mom of breast cancer and her father of a heart attack two days later—she decided to leave her field of 10 years.
“You don’t go through that without a big reexamination of your life,” says Smyser, who graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern Law School.
“I started to get interested in estates, and I wanted to bring that experience to help other people. I entered law school at 34 with two little kids and graduated when I was 38. I love what I do and helping people through the things I went through. I get to know their families really in-depth. It’s a crisis when somebody dies or somebody’s very ill. I do feel like I’m helping people.”
Her experiences have made her more empathetic and a better attorney. She experienced probate court from the other side and knows what happens.
“When you’re grieving and you’re trying to figure out things, that makes the grief 10 times worse,” she says. “When my mom died, she hadn’t done anything. She had bank accounts everywhere. I spent a year at my dining room table covered with her statements. I just waited for the mail to come. It wasn’t a good way to go through that.”
With a team that includes Smyser and Marticorena, Schweitzer says his firm is a “good, fun place to work.”
“It sounds very cliché, but I want this to be a place I’d want to work,” he adds. “I would love to work for our practice. Everyone here has a career opportunity. You feel like you’re helping others and growing individually in this profession.”
The new name reflects this upward trajectory and a genuine commitment to excellence. Schweitzer Law Partners boasts four certified specialists and five rising attorneys; the firm financially supports its attorneys during the certification program and offers time off to study for the test. Each attorney is encouraged to become a certified specialist.
Schweitzer says his office is filled with great leaders who are innovative and trustworthy.
“I’m thrilled I get to work next to them,” he says. “I get a kick out of working here. The spirits in the office are very high. It took time to cultivate. I had a lot of learning to do along the way. People have come and gone, but I stayed focused on excellence. The people who didn’t like that would eventually leave. I’m very, very proud of my awesome partners, office manager, paralegals and staff. Everyone in this office is cherished.”