When Bryan and Elizabeth Devolder decided to re-invent themselves at the ages of 35 and 37, respectively, they could have picked something easier, like a nice sales job, or buying a successful restaurant franchise, or maybe even starting their own business.
Instead, they both decided to become lawyers. “It’s crazy,” Bryan says.
But it worked.
At Devolder Law, located in the former Hunter’s Green Model & Visitor Center, Bryan and Elizabeth have found immediate success in their new profession. Since opening in August of 2016, Elizabeth says business has been brisk and is well ahead of their projections after just six months; Bryan adds that they have doubled the amount of clients they expected at this time.
Through various forms, including advertising in the Neighborhood News, the internet, word of mouth and a solid reputation in the community, the Devolders are growing.
The secret to their success might be the same thing that drew them into law in the first place — a desire to seek out answers and solve problems, while meeting people’s needs in an informal manner that makes them feel at ease.
“We’re not about us, were about the client,’’ says Bryan. “We recently had a consultation where we were the fifth attorney one client had visited. They decided they wanted to be with us, telling us other attorneys gave a 30-minute sales pitch on how cool the attorneys were. They told us we were the only ones who talked to them about what they wanted.”
The Devolders are graduates of the Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School satellite campus in Riverview, FL.
Bryan was working as a computer engineer for Verizon, and Elizabeth had been in sales for the Yellow Pages when they both decided to pursue a different path.
The seed for a change was planted when Bryan had a mortgage company, and during that time had worked almost daily with a title attorney friend. Bryan would teach him a little about the mortgage business, and his friend would teach him real estate and title law. When both of their businesses were knocked out by the 2008 housing market crash, his friend told Bryan “you need to go to law school. You’re smarter than me and I’m a lawyer, and you’d be great at it.”
Those words stuck with him. When the Devolders were dating, they made a list of 10 things they wanted to do, and taped them to the inside of their bathroom medicine cabinet mirror, where it remains today.
“Get a new car was on the list, get a boat was on the list, and get a J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree was on the list,” said Elizabeth, who was on the debate team in high school and had been told she’d make a great lawyer decades ago but never really thought much of it. “We had both had enough interest in the law that when we were dating, we said that would be a fun thing to do. Before we had kids. Before anything.”
“We talked about it,’’ says Bryan, “but it was more like, wouldn’t it be cool? Like, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we went skydiving?”
He married Elizabeth in 2009, and they had their first child in 2010. That put a hold on plans to become lawyers, because there are few choices for people who want to work during the day and become lawyers in their spare time. Stetson’s St. Petersburg campus was an option, but the driving back-and-forth would just add too much time to an already hectic schedule.
It wasn’t too long after that when WMU-Cooley Law School opened its campus in Riverview.
The Devolders visited before the campus was even built, in a little office, and were convinced the school’s schedule and mission, to make the law accessible to everyone, fit theirs. They studied for three months and both passed their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) — finishing within a point of each other, although they exercise a little lawyer-spouse privilege when asked who got the higher score.
In Jan. of 2013, they both started law school, even though Elizabeth knew her journey would also include adding to her family. “I had to commit to having babies in law school,’’ Bryan said, laughing.
The Devolders took afternoon classes, night classes, weekend classes, and they say they couldn’t have done it without family help. “We didn’t go on vacation for three years, I gained 30 pounds, I didn’t golf, no birthdays or anniversaries.”
“I spent my 40th birthday in Secure Transactions Class,’’ says Elizabeth, who also served as the editor-in-chief of the WMU-Cooley Law Review.
How busy was it? A pregnant Elizabeth took a law school exam one morning, and afterwards headed right for the hospital to be induced for the birth of the couple’s second child.
“She got the highest grade in the class,’’ says Bryan, proudly.
Your Team Of Lawyers
They discovered they had very different study habits. Elizabeth is more detail-oriented, and Bryan is more of the big picture guy. “He would get me out of the weeds, and I would get him attending more to the details that if I hadn’t been there, maybe he would have missed,’’ she says.
Elizabeth handles most of the estate planning, with Bryan taking on most of the litigation.
“I like to do the writing and he is very good at thinking on his feet, the litigating part,’’ Elizabeth says. “We use our strengths to help our clients.”
The Devolders have the hardware to show the extent of their success. In the spring of 2015, they competed, along with another student, at the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division Client Counseling Nationals, and beat out 66 other American Bar Association-approved law schools and 111 teams for the title, which Bryan likens to a small, unknown college winning the NCAA Final Four or College Football Playoff.
“It’s a little Cinderella story in terms of law school,’’ he says.
Bryan graduated in Jan. of 2016, and Elizabeth graduated in April of the same year, both finishing at the top of their class. Later in 2016, Elizabeth was among 25 future lawyers named in the National Jurist’s inaugural “Law Student of the Year” feature.
In August of 2016, they opened their firm in Hunter’s Green, the same community where they also live.
The Devolders say WMU-Cooley helped make the law accessible to them, and they now return the favor by making it accessible to their clients. And, while the task of meeting with an attorney can be stressful to many, the Devolders try to put every client at ease.
“We are very down to earth people,” Elizabeth says. “We weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths, we didn’t become Harvard lawyers at 25. We worked hard our whole lives, we understand the value of money and we understand the challenges that people have. And, we answer the phone.”
Bryan turns his cellphone over and reveals a Batman sticker. “This is the Bat Phone,’’ he says. “We give this number to our clients, we are available 24/7. Ask any other attorney if they will answer their phone at 2 a.m., or if they even give that number out.”
Rachel Hallford says she was blindsided when her husband asked for a divorce after 10 years and two children.
“From the first phone call I had with him, I knew Bryan was the attorney for me,” Rachel says. “He is such an amazing guy who is really there for his clients. He can be reached any time no matter whether the issue is big or small. I personally had a few freak outs and I didn’t want to bother him but I called anyway and he was so nice, patient, supportive and calmed me down every time.”
While many attorneys may focus solely on one aspect of the law, recommending other lawyers to handle related problems, Elizabeth says Devolder Law will take extra steps to make things easier for its clients. They have helped family law clients who have to sell their homes with lease agreements and sales contracts, reviewed various contracts and deeds and dealt with tax and bankruptcy issues.
“Problems don’t happen in a bubble,’’ she says. “We solve legal problems, and related problems. The concept of sending people away to go to another attorney only benefits the attorney by keeping their job nice and small and simple.”
The Devolders do not let conventional wisdom slow them down. When they set their minds to something, they say, they get it done, whether it’s going back to school to become lawyers, or guiding a client through a difficult process.
Devolder Family Law is located at 8709 Hunters Green Dr., at the front of Hunter’s Green before entering the community. right before It is open Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. For additional information, search “DevolderLaw” on Facebook, visit DevolderLaw.com or call (813) 724-3880.