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TDot’s Tips: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.” (or, “I passed the bar! Now what??”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 4, 2013 in TDot's Tips

No, your eyes don’t deceive you — you’re seeing two entries in a one-week period for the first time since I went on a three-posts-in-a-week writing spree way back in January. :D

[Yes, I’m proud of myself. Told y’all I was serious about getting back in the habit of blogging :P ]

Admittedly I’m cheating a smidge on this one (I forewarned you Friday!) since it’s a mostly-copy/paste job of this old TDot’s Tips entry from just after I passed the bar. But I figure it’s a timely rehash since folks got their bar results over the Labor Day weekend, so hopefully you’ll forgive me ;)

So you’ve gone from being a doe-eyed proto-lawyer nurtured in the ivy-covered walls of legal academia for the past three years, and grown into a bona fide at-least-minimally-competent attorney-at-law.1 Now what do you do?

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STEP 1: GET SWORN IN
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Oaths are what us lawyerfolk call Serious Business™. For srs. Meaning you need to take one before we’ll allow a non-lawyer to put their life in your at-least-minimally-competent hands.2

To get that done:

  • Grab your ID card and your pass letter from the NCBLE. You don’t actually need your law license to practice law, you just have to meet the qualifications for doing so: passing the bar exam, passing the MPRE, and passing the character and fitness review.3 So as a threshold issue all you’ll need to get sworn in is your letter from the NCBLE showing you passed, and an ID card proving you are who you say you are. Those, and…
  • Grab -3- copies of your oath. You can find the standard oath at this link hosted by the NCBLE; if you’re not comfortable with the “so help me God” part, they’ve also got an alternative oath available here. Why have three copies you ask? Well one of them is going to get time-stamped and filed with the court wherever you get sworn in, and the second is going to get time-stamped and returned to you so you have a copy for your records. The third is optional — but as a stylistic choice I recommend printing that one on nice paper, signing it in blue ink, framing it, and putting it up somewhere in your office as an ever-present reminder of how amazing you are :angel:
  • Pick your county. Now that you’re certifiably at-least-minimally-competent, you can take the oath in any courthouse in the State. Lots of folks pick the county where they’re from so it’s easily accessible for family friends; others pick the county where they’re planning to practice; others like me go where there’s a friendly judge (see below). Some counties will try to push you into participating in their mass swearing-in ceremonies — for example, Cumberland County had theirs today, Mecklenburg has one on September 26th, and Wake has one on September 23rd — but you’re not obligated to do so if you’ve got folks willing to be flexible. Which brings me to…
  • Pick your judge. You can have any judge you want swear you in (as long as he/she agrees of course). In my case, EIC and I got sworn in together in Wake County by our former 2L AAJ trial team coach, the Honorable Judge Vince Rozier. You can go with a District Court Judge, a Superior Court Judge, or if you’ve got high-end connections you can even get someone from the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. And if you don’t have someone in mind, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a judge you’ve never met to see if they’d be open to it.
  • Pick your sponsor. Finally, as a matter of local custom, you’ll want an existing member of the bar to introduce you to the court. This is the person who tells everyone how amazing you are4 and how you’re going to use your law license to fight for truth, justice, the American Way, apple pie, mega-corporations, or whatever else suits your fancy. As an example, EIC and I both picked our 3L TYLA trial team coach (the guy in the bottom picture in this entry from the competition in Memphis).
  • Take the oath. You’ll get introduced to the court by your sponsor, given the oath by the judge, then you and the judge will both sign all the copies of your oath document (ideally in blue ink for the framable copy). Take those oaths to the Clerk of Superior Court’s Civil Division, have them file one and return the other two to you, and you’re officially official!

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STEP 2: PAY YOUR TAXES
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Being officially official, of course, means you get to pay even more money to various organs of government than you would if you were just some random schmoe trying to start a career.

Specifically, you’ve got a trio to taxes to worry about:

  • Dues to the State Bar. Here in North Carolina, this is a $375.00 fee you have to pay annually to continue practicing law. It’s officially “due” on January 1st each year, but it’s not “late” until July 1st — so basically few first-year lawyers pay it until the summer time.
  • Dues to the District Bar. In addition to your required membership in the State Bar, you’re also required to join a Judicial District Bar here in NC; you can pick from either the District where you live or the one where you work. This is usually $75.00 and whether you get a reprieve before having to pay varies by District. Here in Durham we’re in the 14th Judicial District which, aside from being utterly useless so far as I’ve been able to tell to-date, requires you to pay your District dues before the calendar year is over.
  • My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my "privilege" license/tax

    My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my “privilege” license/tax (click for the full-size version)

    Your privilege license. You’ll generally only need this if you’re practicing law outside of a preexisting firm — basically if you’re going solo, or doing doc review with the inevitable “I’ll only give legal advice to Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving” (otherwise, your employer usually picks up the tab).

    This is a $50-per-year tax levied by the NC Department of Revenue for the “privilege” of being part of certain licensed professions.5 You’ll have to apply and pay for it before you start practicing, otherwise you’ll get hit with a penalty and interest for paying late.

    And honestly you might even get hit with a penalty and interest anyway, just because: that’s the situation I had back in October as part of my long-running “I’m a magnet for every form of government incompetence imaginable” series :crack: Here’s the picture I created for an entry I never wrote. Make sure to appeal in a timely fashion!

There are a few other tax-related items to worry about if you’re planning to open your own firm, but that’s beyond the scope of this entry — for this one I only care about making sure you can practice law without getting thrown in jail for being a tax delinquent.6

I do however, totally coincidentally, have this entry on the cost of going solo where I mention some of that stuff ;)

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STEP 3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL
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You didn’t think you were done with classes just because you finished law school, did you?

Now that you’re a lawyer, you’ll have the joy of getting at least 12 hours’ worth of Continuing Legal Education classes every single year for the rest of your practicing life, starting January 1st.

And, just for you as a newbie, there’s a special epically-long CLE called the “New Admittee Professionalism Program” (NAPP) that you’ll need to complete within the first 18 months of practice. Expect to spend $200.00 and two days of your life on that one.

Luckily a good chunk of the material is actually quite useful ( :surprised: ), so I’d recommend knocking it out sooner rather than later. You can find more information about NAPP on the North Carolina Bar Association’s CLE website, and information on CLE obligations in general at the State Bar’s CLE website.

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And that’s it! There’s a bunch of other stuff you should do of course — buy malpractice insurance, join some of the voluntary bar associations, sit and observe other lawyers as time permits — but that’s for another blog entry :)

So in the words of one of my mentors after hearing I passed the bar exam: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.”

Good night y’all!

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. *CONGRATULATIONS* by the way! :D []
  2. Random aside: I have no doubt you’re better than minimally competent. At the same time though, isn’t it a little bit scary that minimal competence is all we’re expected by law to provide? More importantly: makes you wonder if the AMA and state licensing boards for physicians use the same minimal competence view of things… :beatup: []
  3. As crazy as it sounds, the NCBLE is the fastest in the nation on delivering bar results but slower than a herd of disabled geriatric snails crawling through peanut butter when it comes to sending out licenses. :crack: You’ll likely get your bar card from the State Bar before your license arrives. The license will be worth the wait though. []
  4. Because no one believes you when you say it yourself. Trust me. ;) []
  5. It’s analogous to City/County-level privilege licenses charged for every other business. []
  6. Just kidding, we don’t have debtor prisons anymore thank goodness. Otherwise I’d have been rotting away in one for a loooooong time… :beatup: []

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