Posted by TDot on Mar 13, 2013 in Randomness
Most of y’all have probably read by now that, in what was likely one of the most widely-covered trial court decisions issued by any court in years, a judge on the New York “Supreme” Court earlier this week struck down the absurdly overbroad “soda ban” enacted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Some snippets from this article in the Wall Street Journal:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was dealt a stinging blow on Monday when a state Supreme Court Judge quashed his plan to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants and other venues…
…New York state Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling declared invalid Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to prohibit restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums or arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The ban was set to begin Tuesday.
New York state Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling declared invalid Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to prohibit restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums or arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The ban was set to begin Tuesday…
…The judge ruled the regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” noting how there would be uneven enforcement within a single city block. The regulations didn’t affect the Big Gulp at 7-11 because supermarkets and convenience stores are regulated by the state, not the city.
He wrote that regulations exclude other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and calories on “suspect grounds.” The regulations don’t limit patrons from getting refills; that provision, the judge said, appears to “gut the purpose of the rule.”
Even though I read through the whole 37-page opinion and agree with nearly every word, normally I wouldn’t care enough to make a blog entry out of it.
But in this case the judge’s name looked familiar, and I figured out why — Judge Tingling is actually a 1982 graduate of my alma mater, the North Carolina Central University School of Law, and was our guest speaker at our annual Law Week Banquet my 3L year
Just wanted to share And tell you I’m still alive, still not bankrupt, and still keeping this blog on something at least vaguely resembling life support!
Have a good night y’all!
Posted by TDot on Feb 17, 2013 in The After-3L Life
For those of y’all who kindly reminded me that I wrote in the last entry there was “more to come this week,” kindly re-familiarize yourselves with the disclaimer starting one of our very first posts here at law:/dev/null:
[A]ny time I write that I’m going to do/say/explain something “tomorrow” or “soon” or “shortly” or any other chronologically-oriented word that would indicate a time horizon in the relatively near future, add at least a week or two to it.
(I still y’all though )
Anyhow, so back in early January I was doing the daily web-run for NC SPICE and saw a tweet that looked like it would have some good info:
I hopped over to read through the article… and came away a smidge disappointed. Sure the information was perfectly valid (at least in my limited experience), and the folks interviewed are well-known as “experts” in the “how do I start a solo practice” arena. I see their names everywhere and have no reason to doubt the wisdom of what they’ve written.
But, like I’ve mentioned before in this old entry on when to attend law school, lawyers just love giving über-balanced, taking-into-account-every-conceivable-variable, “it depends” answers to even the most-straightforward of questions.
So balanced, so all-accounting, so “it depends”-ish, that the answer is practically pointless.
In any event, we’re all smart people: if we’re looking at opening a solo practice, it means all of us (i) graduated from college, (ii) graduated from law school, and (iii) passed a bar exam somewhere. We already know the most accurate answer will always be “it depends.”
I mean no disrespect when I say this, but it’s not like this is an audition for hiring a starting-a-law-firm consultant; we’re not expecting what worked for any-given-expert to work for us, or for any-given-expert’s finances to look just like ours. We are looking for snippets of info to give us a mental ballpark to play in — something to set the outer bounds on our internal debate, so we can then drill down into our own particular circumstances and make a well-reasoned decision.
Bearing that reality in mind, I decided to pen my own entry with some actual numbers in it
So how much does it cost to open your own solo firm?…
Expenses for TGD Law from opening to 01/31/13
It depends (KIDDING!)
If you’re anything like me — setting up a “traditional” brick-and-mortar law firm in an urban area in the Southeast — my guess is you’ll be looking at somewhere around $15Kish in non-payroll expenses for Year 1, with ~$750 of that coming out-of-pocket in the beginning.
The graph I put together on the right is the running tally I’ve been keeping for my own law firm, from the day I set up my LLC back in September 2012 through the end of last month. At the moment I’m averaging around $1,400/mo in cash flowing out of the business (though with several of those chunks coming from items unique to my practice).
My main recurring expenses each month are the types of things you’d expect for most law firms:
- Office Rent: $500.00/mo at the moment, going up to $600/mo beginning May 1st
- Phone+mobile+fax service: ~$135.00/mo
- Malpractice Insurance: $598.00/year
Everything else is widely variable: office supplies got stockpiled early but have been tapering off, billable client costs swing based on who comes through the door, and all the CLEs I’ve paid for thus far aren’t even required until February 2014.
Expense breakdown by category
One thing I thankfully don’t have are IT-related expenses, something you can take care of before graduating law school.
I tried breaking the expense data down into categories — the graph is a bit of a mess, but some of the data is still viewable enough to be useful.
Now how much of this will you likely be parting with up-front?
If you start your firm as a PLLC, you’re looking at $225 in filing costs just to get the business entity established: a $50 PLLC fee to the State Bar, $125 to file your Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State, and $50 to the Department of Revenue for your privilege “license” / tax.
Malpractice insurance costs will vary based on where you focus your practice, but the $600 ballpark seems pretty common based on the handful of first-year solos who’ve shared their info with me. The upside is that most malpractice providers have some kind of installment plan so you’re not shelling out the full balance on Day 1.
Add in another $250ish for the first 3 things you’ll want starting out, and you’re out-of-pocket no more than $750ish before you’re able to start generating revenue and getting things off the ground.
Income and expenses for TGD Law, with invoice data
That “getting things off the ground” part is the biggest challenge you’ll have starting out, since that’s how you’re going to generate whatever volume of profit you need to keep food on the table at home.
I haven’t had as much success in that arena as I’d like, due largely to (what I’m told at least) are two common “sucker” mistakes made by new attorneys — undervaluing time, and letting clients use any payment arrangement other than “cash up front.”
I’ve tried my best to make up for both problems with a higher volume of clients, but just take my word for it: the advice you read about requiring cash up front is legit, and you’ll have a much easier time paying your bills if you don’t deviate from it!
Once the revenue starts coming in, it’s then on you to have the discipline to not spend it.
The second-biggest challenge facing every new business is undercapitalization — not having enough money in the bank to cover the inevitable month-to-month fluctuations in what comes through the door. As tempting as it will be to just pocket every dollar not devoted to the business expenses, you’ll need to pad your operating account to cover things like filing fees, office supplies, and other stuff you need to keep doing your job as a lawyer.
One way to help with that is to scale back your personal expenses where possible. I got rid of my cable TV service back before the bar exam, and haven’t gone back. I upped the deductibles on my health insurance since I’m fairly healthy and keep an unused credit card to cover the deductible in case of a medical emergency.
I also consolidated my student loans and submitted my app for the Income-Based Repayment plan before I even started my firm. With no income at the time, I’ve got $0 in loan payments for the first year. It hurts to look at the accruing interest each month, but it buys some time to get the law firm reliably afloat.
In a nutshell: put yourself on a fixed salary, and keep it as low as you can until you’re not worried about having a steady stream of clients
So there you go I’m not an expert of course (meaning take all of this with the usual caveats) but hopefully this data provides some insight to those of y’all thinking about starting your own law firm.
It’s something I highly recommend, so if you’ve got any business-related questions I can answer let me know!
Posted by TDot on Jan 27, 2013 in Randomness
Good evening y’all!
Last year’s resolutions turned out pretty well at 3-for-3, so against my better judgment I decided to keep the practice going for one more year.
I’m a few weeks behind in committing them to writing, but here’s what I’ve got as my top objectives for 2013:
- Wrap up the weight loss. I know, I know: cliché alert. After being one of those people who (gently) teased the folks who chronically make “I’m really going to get in shape this year! Really!” resolutions they never try to follow for more than a week, I’m now one of the folks making said resolutions In my case I’m serious though! I’d already put in a consistent effort, dropping -27lbs in 4.5 months, but “fell off the wagon” back in late November because I thoroughly despise exercising in the cold. Once it warms back up I’d like to finally get down to my target of 175lbs so I can lighten up a smidge on the low-calorie lifestyle.
- Open the first SPICE Center. Forward momentum on NC SPICE was building pretty well at the end of last year… until things with the law firm started picking up and I had to scale back splitting my time between the two. I certainly don’t want the law firm business to slow down (especially since it’s my only avenue for paying bills!) but I’m pushing to get the doors opened on our first SPICE Center so the ball will start rolling on that too.
- Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue. This one’s the least likely of the group — not least of which because 1/12th of the year is already over and we’re not even close to that rate — but I figure it never hurts to dream, right?
Any of y’all have resolutions you’re trying to keep? If so, here’s hoping 2013 is a successful year for all of us!
More to come this week, have a great night y’all!
From the New Year’s Resolutions archives:
- 2013: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition) -
- “Wrap up the weight loss”
- “Open the first SPICE Center”
- “Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue”
- 2012: Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”) -
- “Graduate with honors” (Done!)
- “Don’t f*ck up my commencement speech” (Done!)
- “Pass the North Carolina bar exam on the first try” (Done!)
- 2011: [combined with 2012 post] -
- “Push my GPA above a 3.0″ (Done!… then Failed)
- “Get back in some semblance of shape” (Failed)
- “Win something” (Done!)
- 2010: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” -
- “Finish 1L year with at least a 3.0 GPA” (Failed)
- “Make it to, and through, Marine Corps OCS” (Failed)
- “Finish [UNCASG] strong” (Done!)
- 2009: [combined with 2010 post] -
- “Graduate from N.C. State” (Done!)
- “Win reelection as UNCASG President” (Done!)
- “Get into law school” (Done!)
Posted by TDot on Jan 20, 2013 in NotFail
No offense intended to Matt Hollowell, but this officially trumps getting an @mention by LexisNexis…
In the latest print edition of the ABA Law Student Division‘s Student Lawyer magazine, law:/dev/null got plugged in the “In Brief” section!
If you don’t get the magazine anymore, you can also access it online here (though in my case I politely hounded a 2L for her copy).
The snippet talks about this TDot’s Tips entry on bootstrapping your first law office, and specifically the Department of Education program on financing a computer purchase.
And I’m also pretty sure it’s the first time my name has ever appeared in a print magazine for something other than donating money somewhere. Which is just plain cool
Just had to share Good night y’all!
Posted by TDot on Jan 18, 2013 in Mail
I just want to start out this post by noting it’s the first time I’ve had two pieces done in a 7-day period since… August
Back on Wednesday, EIC and I went out to lunch with a former classmate who’s now a soon-to-graduate 3L. He wanted to make sure he does everything he needs to do in his final semester of law school to set him up for success after graduation, and asked us both about how we got where we are, the things we did that helped, what we would do differently, and so on.
It was a fun conversation, not least of which because it fed into my pre-existing love of dispensing (rarely sought) advice
Plus it made a great topic for a blog entry, so voilà! 2nd post in 7 days
Here are some of the questions that got asked, along with my thoughts…
Q: So why did you decide to go solo?
A: I had forgotten I wrote a pair of blog entries on the prospect of going solo way back in November 2011 (here and here). After re-reading through those while writing up this entry, I’d say I was pretty spot-on with my assessment — the priorities just changed a little bit.
I’d say my top 3 reasons for becoming a solo practitioner were:
- Freedom: By the time I got near graduation, I had long-since made up my mind that I was going to try running my own business one way or the other (my attention was focused on NC SPICE at the time). The mere thought of getting up in the morning to go work for someone else was enough to put me in a salty mood, and long-time law:/dev/null readers know being a subordinate doesn’t really mesh with my personality anyway So now I set my own hours, take or reject cases as I see fit, and can do things like take a soon-to-graduate 3L to lunch or randomly show up to mid-day events without having to clear it with a supervisor first. It’s low-paying at the moment but I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.
- Friends: I’ve been beyond blessed to meet thousands of amazing people over the 14.5 years I’ve been in North Carolina, from classmates during my first time at NC State, coworkers during my years as a college dropout, folks I met my second time in school through student media, Student Senate, UNCASG, NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association and trial teams — the list goes on and on. I’m still connected to 1,900 of those folks on Facebook, and 1,200 of them on LinkedIn. That’s a huge pool of folks I can ask for advice, hire for projects, send clients who I can’t help, or represent if they need me.
- Fear: Even though it’s been 12 years at this point, the whole “homeless college dropout” phase of my life still haunts me pretty regularly; I’m reminded of it every time I go against a lawyer who’s been practicing the same length of time as me, but is in his mid-20s while I’m a couple months away from hitting 32 (and bald ). I remember having job applications denied because I didn’t have a college degree, and times I got laid off because the people I worked for couldn’t make payroll. Being at the mercy of others sucks — but I also know from experience that a steady paycheck is a powerful impediment to making overdue life changes. There was simply no better time for me to do my own thing than now, and I was afraid if I started working for someone else I’d become complacent with that.
There are a whole flotilla of other reasons for going solo and odds are high yours will be completely different than mine. The key point is that, if you feel something in your gut urging you to try venturing out on your own, do it now while you still have the flexibility to change your mind if you decide you don’t like it
Q: What was your backup plan if things didn’t work out?
A: Going solo
I knew I was going to start my own business, but the glaring need for affordable office support and mentorship services for solo practitioners prompted me to invest a lot more energy and money than I should have into getting NC SPICE launched. I just knew I’d have everything operational and in place before the bar exam, so once the exam was over I could get to work helping other folks while I waited on my exam results.
Needless to say that was more than a smidge naïve on my part. I’d have been better off conserving the cash and putting the time toward business development for the law firm.
Q: What helped you the most your 3L year in terms of preparing for life after graduation?
A: Talking to as many folks as I could. By an order of magnitude.
Out of those 2,500ish folks I’m connected to on social media, there’s maybe 100 or so I talk to weekly. But I’ve got a fairly good memory when it comes to remembering bits and pieces about most of those other 2,400 in terms of what they do, where they’re at, and what experiences they’ve had.
That makes it easier for me to connect folks who have complementary interests, whether it’s something simple like helping a friend get better rates on their auto insurance (NC Farm Bureau Insurance if you’re in North Carolina) or combing through my NCSU contact list to help someone find someone else who knew someone else who raised a certain breed of horse (seriously!).
That keeps me in more-frequent contact with folks I wouldn’t get to talk to that often otherwise, and it’s a great way for meeting even more people I’ve never met before. Ultimately that’s how I ended up in my current office and also how I got my very first client.
The law is a people-centric profession. If you want to excel at it, you need to meet people, take an interest in their lives as people (rather than walking dollar signs), and respect them accordingly
Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
More than a few of my classmates were pissed when I graduated from NCCU Law with honors and they didn’t. The prevailing assumption (continuing to this day) is that I got all sorts of special privileges because I was SBA President, and that I would have been honors-less alongside them had I just been treated like everyone else. The most-cited example has been my ConLaw II class and how I didn’t turn in the final paper — 80% of the final grade — by the deadline.
The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA
Few (if any) of those folks realize I got an F in that class as a result, so whatever “special privileges” I supposedly got certainly weren’t much help.
The 2.333 GPA I had during my 3L Fall semester was my very worst in all of law school, and because of it I had to spend more time than I wanted focusing on academics during 3L Spring. When I could have been creating my future law firm’s website, or designing my business cards or letterhead, or attending local CLEs for free as a student, or any of a million other business development activities I could have done while I was still in school, I was instead cutting out my social life and studying non-stop to get the 3.630 GPA I needed to counteract that 2.333.
And of course those small snippets of free time I had toward the end of the semester got plowed into the NC SPICE business plan, articles, bylaws, 501(c)(3) app, etc etc etc
If there’s something in particular you want to do after graduation, be it going solo or working for a firm or something else entirely, focus on it with every spare ounce of time and energy you have. Don’t split your time if you can help it because your ability to excel at any one thing is going to drop as you add on more of those “one things” to your plate. Trust me.
So those are my thoughts on going solo. But it’s just my $.02, and I could be wrong
Have a great night y’all!
From the Mailbag archives:
- TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition (01/18/13) [this entry] -
- Why did you become a solo practitioner?
- What was your “Plan B” job-wise?
- What helped you the most 3L year in preparing for post-grad life?
- If you had to do 3L year over again, what would you differently?
- TDot’s Mailbag v8.0: Post-Bar Exam Edition (08/11/12) -
- What materials did you use for bar prep?
- Are you bailing on law:/dev/null for Twitter?
- What are your plans for law:/dev/null post-graduation?
- Where do things stand with NC SPICE?
- How does it feel being done with everything?
- What’s your secret to not being stressed about the bar exam?
- Do you have any bar exam study materials?
- TDot’s Mailbag v7.0: Legal Eagle Grading Edition (06/22/11) -
- You made Dean’s List… but grades don’t matter?
- Why is NCCU Law’s curve so low?
- What is the rationale for NCCU Law’s dismissal policy?
- How does the dismissal policy work?
- What are NCCU Law’s GPA cutoffs for Dean’s List and academic honors?
- Do you get notified if you made Dean’s List?
- TDot’s Mailbag v6.0: 1L Questions Edition (08/23/10) -
- Do we really need to study 60 hours a week?
- My study partners study all day; am I missing something?
- How time-consuming is being an SBA Representative?
- Should I use “canned” briefs or create my own?
- Is law school really just a big head game?
- What’s the biggest difference between 1L year and 2L year?
- What made you pursue law after having done computer science?
- TDot’s Mailbag v5.0: What Law School’s Really Like (04/14/10) -
- Bar Exam?
- The Work?
- What would you do differently?
- TDot’s Mailbag v4.0 (01/21/10) -
- What really made you dislike BigLaw?
- Why were 2 of the top 4 teams in the K-S competition from T4s?
- What happened to Tweet-sized Tuesdays and the Friday Drive-by?
- How did your CivPro I final exam turn out?
- TDot’s Mailbag v3.0 (10/04/09) -
- What’s your email address?
- Do you really send/receive thousands of text messages in a month?
- How are you adjusting to a historically black university?
- Are you really a Republican?
- TDot’s Mailbag v2.0 (09/07/09) -
- Did you have a bunch of study materials for the LSAT?
- How well did you do on the LSAT?
- How did you do in your election for 1L SBA Rep?
- Who is in the Gang of Eight?
- TDot’s Mailbag v1.0 (08/20/09) -
- What does law:/dev/null mean?
- Did your entry about That Guy really happen?
- Did you really count the lights from your apartment to school?
Posted by TDot on Jan 14, 2013 in TDot's Tips
OK so the whole “hour a day for the business” thing has worked out better for the business than the blawg
But there are now two (2!) entries posted within the past 30 days, so in a way the activity here has actually increased +100%
My still-sorta-hiatus has been the byproduct of the solo practice, which has somewhat-bizarrely produced more (paying!) work than I thought I’d have at this point.
And that whole “Hey! T. hasn’t been evicted yet!” has in turn prompted some former classmates and law:/dev/null readers to ask for any insights I may or may not have on how they can get started themselves. Since I’ve been telling them all to follow the same first few steps — after paying your taxes of course — I’m throwing it into another one of these entries.
So are you a new or aspiring n00b solo like me? Here are the first 3 things you need to get started:
Your own domain name: It’s 2013; the internet stopped being new years ago. There is now -0- excuse for you still using firstname.lastname@example.org as your professional email address.
Domain names typically cost less than $1-per-month. GoDaddy in particular always has dozens of coupons you can find with a quick Google search, often letting you buy a domain name for $3 or less. I’ve got dozens of domains registered for my law firm that aren’t even being used yet, just because they’re cheap and I might find a use for them later.
Finding a hosting provider (a company that gives you some hard drive space on a computer somewhere in the cloud, to which your personalized domain name will point) is cheap too. I’m currently paying $9.95 a month at DreamHost, which hosts all of my domains — including lawdevnull.com — and comes with an email server preconfigured.
So for a $11 a month and less than 10 minutes of startup time, you can have a much fancier email@example.com. Clients expect a custom name over an Gmail / Yahoo / Hotmail email account, so don’t disappoint them.
Dedicated contact information: For clients to hire you, they first have to know you’re a lawyer. And for them to know you’re a lawyer, someone somewhere (probably you) has to tell them how to contact you.
And the odds are good you don’t want to give them a home address or your mobile phone number, especially when they start referring others to you and those referrals refer other referrals. Before long you’ve got people from all walks of life knowing where you live, even if their legal needs and your practice areas don’t match up.
Fix that problem before it starts by getting dedicated contact information for your law office. Lots of new attorneys use Google Voice for free and swear by it; I was one of the unlucky ones — folks who called my Google Voice number would sporadically get a message that my number was disconnected, which I discovered is a not-uncommon problem — but ported my Google Voice number over to Verizon Wireless and pay ~$20 a month for unlimited minutes using their Home Phone Connect service. Either way, a dedicated phone line is fairly cheap.
Then you need an address. A Post Office box is fine starting out, and costs as little as $2 a month depending on where you’re located and what size you get. If you feel the need to get a physical office that works too, but until you get a stream of clients you’re usually fine meeting folks in a municipal library or a Starbucks or your client’s place of business (many clients love not having to go anywhere). The key point is not giving out your home address.
Business cards: I don’t care what anyone else tells you about those .vcf files, QR codes, or whatever fancy new-fangled foolishness gets advocated as the latest “most awesome thing… ever!” for distributing contact information — nothing will ever beat the sheer versatility of business cards in your pocket.Keep a stack on you at all times, no matter where you are. Walking the dog? Have cards in your pocket. Going through drive-thru to get dinner? Have cards in your pocket. Filling up your car at a gas station? Have cards in your pocket.
On any given day you will visually cross paths with dozens of people, even if you don’t realize it. 20-30 people a day at least (unless you lead a very boring life). That translates to thousands of people you don’t know and have never met, somewhere within handshake-distance in any given year.
Now those folks might not even need a lawyer themselves; many of my cards get handed out to folks who just want to connect to talk about my alma mater or sports or my law school. But if just 1 of those thousands of people becomes a paying client, or sends a paying client your way, you’ve paid for your cards for the entire year.
500 of these two-color raised-ink cards set me back $30 at T-Rex Cards
And they’re inexpensive too: you can get fancy raised-ink cards like mine from T-Rex Cards for as little as $10, or also-fancy full-color cards from Moo for a bit more.
Get these three things knocked out, and you’ll have everything you need to effectively market your nascent law practice
That’s it for this entry y’all — enjoy the rest of the week!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by TDot on Dec 26, 2012 in The After-3L Life
Merry (belated) Christmas y’all
I know, I know — law:/dev/null‘s been dormant for over a month now. It’s gotten so bad the spammers don’t even care anymore, leaving me only 1 spam message to clean out over the past month
But I’m working on getting that turned around (seriously!)
A couple weeks ago EIC and I had lunch with one of my attorney mentors, and I got ribbed a bit because my law practice is still in about as much disarray as it was last month.
We’ve moved up to around 23 clients since opening and advanced to 11-0 in the adversarial stuff.
Finally got my office decorated a smidge :)
But the TGD Law website hasn’t had any work done on it since I played around with it during my Thanksgiving trip to visit Nan and Pops, I still haven’t ordered envelopes or letterhead, and my QuickBooks accounting is a work-in-progress.
At least I got the office spruced up a bit?
Anyhow, so while I’m being teased at this lunch for the by-the-seat-of-my-pants operation of my law firm — and me arguing in rebuttal that my neglect of the business side of things is fine so long as I stay organized on the law side of things (which I seem to do quite well) — my mentor dropped one of those questions you just know someone’s going to ask because there’s really no rebuttal to it:
“Are you telling me you can’t even set aside one hour a day for the business?”
Aaaannndd after me failing to come up with something witty in response I of course had to concede that I could. Hence, resurrecting law:/dev/null.
[And yes, I fully realize you might have done a ::facepalm:: right then because my personal blog is not law firm business. I know. I'm setting aside an hour for the law firm too, plus time for NC SPICE. I just figured since I'm going to make an effort to better-regiment my time, I might as well try to resume the enterprise I spent the better part of 4 years now creating ]
Now I’m not sure yet how often law:/dev/null will be updated going forward. Daily is probably unrealistic, but at-least-weekly sounds doable. So take this entry as a heads up, cross your fingers with me, and hopefully I’ll talk with y’all more soon.
Until then, have a great night!
Posted by TDot on Nov 11, 2012 in The After-3L Life
I’m still here!
It seems like at least once a week I say to myself “I really need to start updating law:/dev/null regularly again”… I log in to the WordPress admin interface… clean out the spam comments and update outdated plugins…
…then promptly get sidetracked by something and never actually write anything down
Life over the past month has been crazy. Certifiably nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many things going on simultaneously in my life. Ever.
The law firm’s been up-and-running for a smidge under two months, and I’ve had around 13 clients in that timespan. The crazy part is that I’ve represented those clients despite having no business cards, no website, no letterhead or envelopes or advertising — just my LinkedIn profile, an unpublicized Facebook page, and the Twitter account I barely use.
I’m also 6-0 in adversarial proceedings, which is just downright surreal. Had you told me back when I got my license that I’d go my first two months without losing a case, I’d have called you crazy. But I’m now 3 foreclosures, 2 misdemeanors, and 1 breach of contract down without a losing client. I know the first loss comes to everyone eventually but I’m over-preparing in the hope I can delay the inevitable as long as possible
Panorama of the new place right after moving in
Speaking of the law firm, I also migrated out of my apartment into a bona fide office. Trying to work from home was cheaper but incredibly inefficient between the dog and the lack of dedicated space for office-related work. The office is huge (~223 square feet), half a block to the Durham Courthouse, and cheaper than damn near everything in downtown Raleigh or Durham — and a testament to the utility of both networking and poker.
How so? Well one of my friends from Student Senate connected me to a Raleigh attorney to talk about NC SPICE. I had lunch with him, and he recommended I talk with a particular Durham DWI attorney. I had lunch with him, and he invited me to join his friends at a weekly poker night they have on Mondays. After losing my entire buy-in one week and half my buy-in the next week, I randomly asked him if he knew any attorneys with spare offices they wanted to sublease.
Turns out he had two, including the one I’m in now
So I’ve got an office, conference room, full kitchen, lobby with receptionist, free parking, all right next to the courthouse! Plus the place is huge enough that I’m now splitting it with EIC, who’s getting ready to start her own practice as well.
And speaking of NC SPICE and splitting things, there’s been some developments on that end as well. I got a response from the Internal Revenue Service that it would take them 9 months just to assign our 501(c)(3) application to somebody for review, then that person would have 90 days to make a decision — meaning we’ll get no update at all whatsoever until June 2013
So at our most recent Board of Directors meeting last week, the Board authorized me to cleave the group into two: the education-related components will stay in the nonprofit, and the office support services will get rolled into a new corporation. Since then I’ve lined up 4 investors interested in getting the program off the ground, and we’ve got our first in-person interest meeting and focus group slated for 12/12/12 at 6:00pm.
We’ve also got around 216 people following the NC SPICE Facebook page, and a hair’s breadth over 200 followers on the NC SPICE Twitter feed.
The only downside is that I’ve now gone from running one nonprofit 6 months ago to running a nonprofit, a corporation, and a law firm all at the same time
A long overdue lifestyle change. Just 18lbs to go!
On the personal side, my quest to get back in shape is still on target with me down -27lbs since June 30th. I don’t think I ever wrote the original entry I meant to write on that, but during bar prep my good friend Tim Lipka (Mr. QC) from NCSU’s Student Government passed away from a heart attack at age 25. I’d just had drinks with him when I was in DC for the Howard Moot Court Competition back in February, and we’d talked on Facebook about grabbing lunch when he came to town before the DNC convention in Charlotte. His passing was coupled with an unexpectedly high blood pressure reading I got during a regular checkup the day before, so the two of those things combined freaked me out enough to get my life in order.
More exercise and less food has been the lifestyle change for the past few months, and I’m slowly making progress. My target weight is 175lbs so I’ve got a bit more to go but it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I imagined thus far — and my blood pressure is coming back down slightly, hopefully meaning I’ll be able to avoid medication.
Aside from my personal health, life is good. I’m still contributing semi-regularly over at JD Oasis. Samson is still happy and healthy. And even though I’m broke financially I know things are going to pick up as time goes on.
That’s all I’ve got for this entry, but hope to (seriously) have more some time soon. I hope all of you have had an amazing weekend, and enjoy the week ahead!
Posted by TDot on Oct 10, 2012 in TDot's Tips
I meant to post this entry back on Saturday night, but I got side-tracked by watching one of the 3 most-amazing NC State football games I can remember — as my alma mater came back from a 0-16 halftime deficit to beat the #3 Florida State Seminoles 17-16, scoring the game-winning touchdown with a mere 0:16 left on the clock (the first time we had the lead all game!)
Then of course life and the whole “needing to pay rent” thing got in the way, so you’re getting this entry 4 days later
Since we’re now more than a full week into the new fiscal quarter, I wanted to share a few equipment-gathering tips for the entrepreneurial crowd in solo and small practice. If you’re like me just starting out — or a 3L heading that way soon — you’ve probably realized the practice of law is awfully damn expensive. And unfortunately you need to make certain expenses now so you don’t risk derailing your practice from the beginning.
Luckily there are a few things you can do to create a functioning law office without breaking the bank in your first year. Here are four suggestions that can help:
- Get a high-end laptop as a 3L: It’s not a widely advertised program, but the US Department of Education permits students to get an increase in financial aid once as an undergraduate and once as a graduate/professional student solely for the purchase of a computer and related accessories. If you’re still a 3L reading this, your financial aid office will have the details; to see how my N.C. State does it, check out the bottom of this Scholarships & Financial Aid webpage. Use your last year of law school to get something on the high end that will last you through your first few years of practice. Now realistically this means you’ll end up taking out more student loans, and I fully realize no rational person normally takes out a loan on a depreciating asset, but (i) when you start your practice preserving cash will be vital (landlords don’t like credit cards), and (ii) the terms of a student loan are almost always going to be better than the terms of financing the laptop on a credit card or some other form of credit.
- Use a scanner + laser printer as your copy machine: The costs of a copy machine lease vary depending on where you are in the country, but dropping around $200-$250 per month is a typical expense — around $3,000 a year. The problem is that, in the start of your practice when you have comparatively fewer clients, you’re essentially paying for the machine to go unused. A less expensive combination is to combine a solid laser printer with a standalone scanner, ideally one with an automatic document feeder (ADF) attachment. It will be a slower option than the copy machine but the cost savings are worth it early on until you’re making a lot of copies. Consider this: a Brother 2270DW (wireless+duplex) costs around $99, an Epson v500 scanner is currently $150, and the ADF costs another $200. That all comes out to $449 — one-sixth the cost of the copy machine lease, with no contracts or other hidden expenses after that initial purchase aside from toner and paper.
- Government surplus == cheap furniture: I guarantee every single person reading this is within a 30-mile radius of a municipal, state, or federal government agency of some kind. Governments routinely upgrade equipment and furniture with each budget cycle (universities especially), and when the old stuff has to go it typically ends up at a government surplus department somewhere. Find the ones in your state and go do some shopping. Most of the items getting replaced aren’t in mint condition, but they’re still more than adequate. For example, I bought an ugly-but-comfortable office chair that had a broken left arm. Price from government surplus due to the defect? $3. Once I got it home all I had to do was break out my drill and screw it into a slightly different place on the frame to make it as good as new. In addition to chairs the surplus folks will also have fleets of desks, file cabinets, and just about anything else you’ll need for an office.
- Negotiate for free office space: With the economy still in the doldrums, many landlords are sitting on space that hasn’t been leased in a very very long time. Take advantage of that opportunity by pushing the landlord to consider giving you 3-6 months rent-free while you get your practice off the ground. In exchange, you can even offer to help them out with any legal needs they might have. You’re not going to end up with the penthouse suite, but you’d be amazed the quality of office space you can get for pennies with just a little negotiation — and politely reminding them that unoccupied space doesn’t make anyone any money.
Hope those suggestions are useful to at least one of you out there! More to come later this week, including another entry in my “I’m a magnet for government incompetence” series
Have a great night y’all!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by TDot on Oct 1, 2012 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening y’all!
One of the things I try to do every morning (before venturing out into the world with my bow and arrow) is running through the mini-feed of the NC SPICE Twitter account and looking for any useful or interesting stories that might be helpful to the solo and small practitioners we serve. It helps them out, and has the side benefit of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the world.
And every now and then I come across stories that just kinda make me scratch my head…
The good folks over at Solo Practice University had one of those tweets this morning:
Seemed like an innocuous-enough tweet so I clicked the link, and was taken to this press release from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. It outlines the planned testimony earlier today of “Legal Trailblazer Gillian Hadfield,” a professor at the law school, who insists “the legal system’s regulatory approach needs to dramatically shift with less-expensive alternatives to attorneys[.]”
As part of her prepared remarks, the release claims:
“My main message for the Court is one rarely heard from the legal profession,” Hadfield said. “There is no way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need without fundamental change in the way the judiciary regulates the practice of law… We cannot possibly solve the access to justice problem without changes in our regulatory approach.”
Now I don’t know who Gillian Hadfield is; I’m sure she’s a great lady and a sage scholar of the law. And I’ll even go a step further and accept at face value the claim that her “message” of needed regulatory reform “is one rarely heard from the legal profession.”
But she teaches at USC Law.
A school with annual tuition and fee rates of $51,490.00 in 2012-2013.
The 6th most-expensive law school in the nation.
Take a minute to juxtapose Hadfield’s view promoting non-lawyer lawyers with the long-standing lamentation law schools flooded the market with too many graduates. I think those complaints are wrong — the problem isn’t too many lawyers, it’s too many lawyers trying to bill out $250+ an hour so they can repay student loan debts in excess of a quarter-million dollars apiece — but the contrast highlights how completely backwards the discussion over the legal market has gotten.
If you want to promote deregulation of the legal industry, say on the notion that more competition would induce more innovation and produce a better product, then go for it. At least that’s a plausible argument and frankly one I’d support.
But to promote deregulation on the mind-numbing theory there’s an undersupply of legal help available, all while enriching yourself via (and thus contributing to) one of the top drivers behind inflated legal rates, is beyond farcical.
The press release closes by noting Professor Hadfield’s valiant efforts to tame her employer:
She is part of a growing movement to reform legal education. Her mission is to teach law students to be problem solvers.
“Many law professors come to law school thinking that our job is to be the expert at the front of the class imparting information,” she said. “But one of the most important things we can do for our students is to get them actively engaged in problem-solving together to generate workable solutions to client problems. As I see it, my job as a professor is to design the materials and opportunities for them to do that and then to take myself out of center stage as much as possible.”
With due respect to the esteemed Professor Hadfield, if you really want to “take [yourself] out of center stage as much as possible” I’d suggest you encourage USC Law to lead by example and slash its tuition and fee rates.
Approach that objective with even a fraction of the zeal you’ve devoted to deregulating the entire legal profession, and I suspect you’d discover there is a “way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need”: producing lawyers ordinary Americans can actually afford to hire.