Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 30, 2014 in The After-3L Life
I thought about making this another “Things TDot Likes” entry, but after just posting one of those on Monday I figured it would be a little repetitive.
(And it would also have been the third flattery-related entry in the series )
I’ve mentioned in a trio of older entries (here and here and here) that I’m representing a few dozen folks arrested as part of the left-wing Moral Mondays protests down at the North Carolina General Assembly.
The group effort trying to defend these taxpayers took a downhill turn about a month ago, when it became apparent that the single judge responsible for hearing all 900+ of these cases at the District Court level was totally unconvinced of the Constitution-based arguments being advanced.
I was particularly annoyed because, out of all the trials I’d sat in on, the various Assistant District Attorneys misstated the relevant case law.
Every. single. time.
So when my next batch of folks were up for trial — two ministers from the mountains, and a retired schoolteacher from the coast — my preparation focused on rejiggering my closing arguments to cut through the bullsh*t and get right to the core of the First Amendment issues.
And then we lost anyway.
Well yesterday I got this note from one of them despite the conviction
I’ve included the text for those of you who can’t read the image (chunks redacted to avoid any issues with attorney-client confidentiality):
The highlight of my Tuesday
April 21, 2014
[Redacted] and I cannot thank you enough for the generous gift of your time, your positive and upbeat spirit, and your outstanding efforts on our behalf [redacted] as you defended us in court!
Even though it was pretty much a foregone conclusion before we ever got started that the judge would find us guilty, that did not deter you from giving us your best efforts; and Indeed, in our minds, we thought your closing arguments were worthy of presentation to the Supreme Court!
In short, [redacted] (and [redacted], too!) felt extremely well cared for and extremely well represented. And I felt especially grateful to you for your role in helping us say why we chose to do what we did — which, after all, was the point of doing it in the first place.
So the bottom line is this: THANKS! Thanks for volunteering to do all this at no charge. Thanks for your good lawyering and brilliant closing arguments. And thanks for leading us through this strange (to us) process with patience, kindness and respect. It was a joy working with you and getting to know you, not just as a competent lawyer but as a real person!
[Redacted]. We hope our paths cross again in the future (not necessarily in the courtroom!), and we wish you all the best in every way.
Gratefully and sincerely,
I may or may not have gotten a smidge misty-eyed for an ever-so-brief moment. But mostly just smiled like a goober
I hate losing. Hate it. Haaaaaaate it. And I know the odds are good my win-loss record is going to get blown to smithereens with these cases.
But these are still good folks (even if I totally disagree with their politics). I’m honored to represent them. And I’m going to continue working my ass off to try and rack up some Ws for them.
Just in case I ever find myself needing to argue to the Supreme Court
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 28, 2014 in Things TDot Likes
You might have noticed in a couple of my old entries here and here that I’ve posted a graphic of how many phone calls have come in to my firm during the previous month.
The Activity screen from Ruby’s iPhone App
You may not have noticed that graphic is from the iPhone app for my receptionist
Ruby Receptionists is a virtual reception service based out of Portland, Oregon. Using VOIP technology, phone calls to your business line get routed to them, the caller talks to a live receptionist on the other end, and then if you’re available the receptionist can patch the call through to any line you choose (mine comes to my mobile phone).
If you’re not available — something you can update easily with the iPhone app or through their website — they can inform clients where you are, when you’ll be back, take a message, or forward them to your voicemail.
They send you a handy email letting you know who called and the details, and if someone left a voicemail you’ll get a separate email with a .wav audio file of the message attached.
They can also assist you by making outbound phone calls to clients and can also take detailed instructions on what kind of information you want collected from incoming callers (including whether or not they’re existing clients or potential new ones).
I’ve been using Ruby for almost a year now and have nothing but the highest praises for what they do. It lets me focus on my cases when I’m in court without worrying that I’m missing important calls.
Plus getting the emails with caller details and voicemail messages make it easy for me to work remotely, so if I have multiple hearings in another county — usually in Wake, 30 minutes south — I can just camp out and work in between hearings instead of burning gas and an hour of time traveling back and forth
My praises notwithstanding, don’t misunderstand: the service is expensive. I’m using their lowest tier of service at $239.00/mo. Next to office rent, that’s far and away my biggest expense.
But it’s also much much cheaper than hiring an actual person, who would likely cost me at least $2,000.00/mo plus benefits and regulatory compliance.
I’ve also found it makes clients more inclined to hire me; in terms of “conversion” (salesspeak for the proportion of folks who hire me out of all the ones who call), there was a bump when I shifted from meeting people in the library to having a dedicated office, and a bump again when I shifted from answering my own calls to having a receptionist.
This is officially the first hand-signed birthday card I have ever received from a vendor. Ever.
Folks just naturally expect that in order to be a competent lawyer you need a receptionist too. So Ruby ultimately pays for itself in my case.
Plus they sent me this birthday card signed by all of their staff, which totally blew my mind
If you’re thinking about using Ruby, you do get 14 days free so you can test out the service and see if you like it.
And I don’t typically shill referral links and such, but they also offer to waive the $95 setup fee for people who sign up through a referral — so if you want to give them a try, feel free to use this link.
That’s my rundown on Ruby If you’re a new solo or hitting a point where you think you need a receptionist, I strongly suggest you give them a try before you hire an actual person!
From the Things TDot Likes archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 27, 2014 in NotFail
(I know the Twitter thing is to post pictures on Throwback Thursday, but I’m trying to get back in the blogging habit and needed something to write about tonight )
Back on Friday I had the high honor of presenting one of my good friends to the Court for her attorney oath of office.
Madame President made the smart play and had spent her post-graduation time making real money in the immigration department of a local corporate behemoth. Obscene wealth notwithstanding, she decided now was the time to get sworn in and dive into bona fide lawyer stuff.
Me introducing Madame President to the Court (Photo courtesy of Shutterbug)
As part of the process here in North Carolina, anyone wanting to take the oath of office that enables him or her to practice law first has to be introduced in open court by a member of the bar who can attest to the person’s good character (including uttering magic words like “has passed the bar exam”).
It’s also appropriate to highlight some of the applicant’s achievements, so I noted she had distinguished herself as a senior member of our Moot Court Board, the Articles Editor for our Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Law Review, and of course was elected by her peers to serve as the Class of 2012 President.
I also mentioned our shared alma maters and mutual love for all things North Carolina State University, which reminded me of a story the NCSU Alumni Association did on us (and our two valedictorians) back during graduation time.
I went through the law:/dev/null archives and realized I never actually mentioned it here, so I’m doing it now
From the the N.C. State University Alumni Association:
NC State alums make mark at N.C. Central’s School of Law
05.22.2012 | Posted by Bill Krueger | Filed under Alumni News, NC State People | Tags: Jeremy Adams, N.C. Central University, N.C. Small Practice Incubator & Collaboration Environment, Sharika Robinson, Shauna Guyton, T. Greg Doucette
When the School of Law at N.C. Central University held its commencement earlier this month, four students were given seats on the platform and a chance to speak in recognition of their leadership and scholarship.
But they had more in common than their good work in law school — all of them are proud alumni of NC State.
Doucette, Guyton, Robinson, Adams
None of the students knew each other when they studied at NC State, but they became friends during their time in law school.
“N.C. Central’s law school has a small, tight-knit student body, so all of us became friends over the past three years through our different activities,” said T. Greg Doucette, a 2009 NC State graduate who was president of the Student Bar Association at N.C. Central.
The others in the group are:
- Shauna Guyton, a 2008 NC State graduate who was president of the senior class at the law school.
- Sharika Robinson, a 2005 NC State graduate who was valedictorian of the three-year day program at the law school.
- Jeremy Adams, a 2005 NC State graduate who was valedictorian of the four-year evening program at the law school.
All four of them will be busy for the next several weeks getting ready for the North Carolina bar exam in late July. But Doucette says everyone in the group already has plans beyond taking the bar exam.
- Doucette is executive director of the N.C. Small Practice Incubator & Collaboration Environment (NC SPICE), a nonprofit that provides mentorship, education and office support to new attorneys in exchange for pro bono legal service for those who can’t afford legal representation.
- Guyton is hoping to be a law clerk at the N.C. Supreme Court, but is also considering becoming an assistant district attorney.
- Robinson is moving to Michigan to become a law clerk for a federal judge.
- Adams plans to start his own law firm in the Triangle, with a focus on employment law.
Some of the new law school graduates made it a point to include a touch of the Wolfpack in the commencement exercises at N.C. Central. Doucette wore a Wolfpack red dress shirt and an NC State tie under his robe, while Guyton wore her NC State class ring. “I never take it off!,” she said in a text message.
“State is just the best school in this state!!!” Robinson wrote in a text message. She said that NC State’s homegrown students are “the best talent, and it is evident in us.”
The whole NC SPICE thing has had a bumpier start than I expected back at graduation of course, but I still think this was a pretty cool story. And I’m honored to share it with some pretty cool people too
Hope all of y’all had a great weekend, and a great week ahead!
From the law:/dev/null graduation-related archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 25, 2014 in The After-3L Life
I’ve written before about the need for lawyers to be able to charge less while still making a living.
But every now and then I regret practicing what I preach…
Without going into too much detail, yesterday I resolved a case involving one of my business clients. When they hired me awhile back I thought they had a horrible case — on the hook for $51,000+ with an unconvincing defense. So I quoted a low flat fee rather than charging by the hour or some other arrangement.
Well a month or so in, I discovered a key piece of evidence for the Plaintiff wasn’t what the Plaintiff thought it was. And yesterday (after more than a year of working on it) everything got settled.
Final price tag: $3,000
Client savings: $48,000
My fee: $750
I’m thrilled for my client’s 6,300% return on their investment, but I really wish I had charged more now…
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 24, 2014 in Unsolicited Commentary
Earlier this week one of my good friends and occasional law:/dev/null commenter VA forwarded me a story out of Florida Coastal School of Law, which is apparently in the process of searching for a new dean.
The entry comes from Richard Gershon over at the “Law Deans on Legal Education Blog” in an entry titled “Florida Coastal Dean Search Raises Deeper Issues”. From the story it sounds like the faculty got to see presentations from the 7 finalists for the dean job, but cut one of those presentations short when their sensibilities got offended.
Here’s a snippet:
The disturbing part of the report involves a candidate who raised concerns about the school’s declining student credentials and bar pass rates. That candidate was asked to leave in the middle of the lunch presentation. The candidate resisted, but was told that security would be called to remove the candidate from campus. This all happened in the view of about 40 faculty and staff present at this presentation, which was being recorded so others who were teaching class could see it later.
Th concerns raised by the dean candidate are supported by publicly available information showing that the 2013 entering class at Coastal had the following 75/50/25 LSAT profile: (148/144/141). Reports indicate that the students who have placed seat deposits in 2014 have a virtually identical profile as the 2013 entering class.
The LSAT in 2008 and 2009 was (153/150/147). In 2010 the numbers were (152/149/146). The decline continued in the succeeding years (151/147/145) in 2011 and (151/146/143) in 2012.
As might have been predicted, the weaker entering class of 2010 had a low bar pass rate, 67% for first time takers on the July 2013 Florida bar. This was the first time in several years that Florida Coastal had dropped below 70%.
At first I thought there was no possible way the story could be accurate. To borrow VA’s words, “And it was to the FACULTY… it wasn’t like ‘Hey, students, you go to a crap school!'” — but after seeing the first comment on the blog entry, from a FCSL professor who doesn’t dispute the account of events but simply notes “The entire Florida Coastal Community works hard to help our students do well on the bar,” now I’m inclined to believe it.
I don’t know how that story reads to the folks in academia, but as a lawyer on the outside all I see is “We don’t want to be held accountable!” If FCSL’s student profile climbed, and bar passage rates didn’t climb accordingly, it would be painfully obvious the faculty are at least partly responsible for the failure; now though, by accepting students with “declining credentials,” the faculty can blame any shortcoming in the pass rate on the caliber of student they’re letting in.
Then to make it worse, after throwing a temper tantrum about now wanting to be held accountable, they threaten to have the person offending them escorted from the premises by security? Wow.
Evidently legal education is in more trouble than I thought…
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 22, 2014 in TDot's Tips
Yesterday I mentioned The Walking Dead had become one of the shows I watch regularly when I really should be working or writing here at law:/dev/null.
Well today I discovered it’s possible to do both
Over at Solo Practice University, Suzanne Meehle has a piece entitled “Everything I Need to Know About Solo Practice I Learned From ‘The Walking Dead'”. Be forewarned, it’s a bit heavy on spoilers from the Season 4 finale. But overall it’s a good column.
Here’s a snippet –
Lesson 5: Protect your people, especially those more vulnerable than yourself.
We see Michone befriending Carl, telling him about her life before and after the Apocalypse. We see her being motherly toward him: letting him sleep with his head in her lap after he was nearly raped, hugging him after he confesses to being a “monster.” She is a bit of a super hero, defending the defenseless. She will take on a hundred hungry zombies before she will let anything happen to Carl.
That is our job: defending the defenseless. At our very best, lawyers serve others who otherwise will be abused. We take on lost-cause cases, do our best to get the best outcomes for our clients no matter what. We can’t all be bad asses like Michone. We can all be bad ass lawyers.
They all seem to be good and accurate points to me, based on my (admittedly brief) 1.5 years as a solo practitioner and 0.75 years binging on episodes of The Walking Dead.
I’d also append five more points of my own, though, focusing on the mid-season finale from Season 4 instead:
Don’t take half measures: When the Governor is standing outside the prison fence with a tank and a dozen armed clowns at his side, he gives Rick Grimes and crew an ultimatum to leave by sunset before the Governor’s group takes the prison by force. Rick first tries to talk the Governor down, then tries to convince the Governor’s minions, then offers a compromise where everyone can stay in the prison together. The Governor promptly proceeds to chop off Hershel Greene’s head, they storm the prison, and a bunch of people from both sides die.
Rick’s problem was that he couldn’t decide what to do. In Hamlet-esque fashion he quickly went from fearless bravado to witless speechifying to practically begging his adversaries to please be nice (because children!). He was negotiating against himself and doing it poorly. We all kinda knew how that scenario would inevitably end.
As lawyers, we’re trained to be risk averse; we learn to love half measures and call them “risk mitigation” to make ourselves feel better. But I’d argue they’re just an effective way at being ineffective. Spending your day doing doc review and running your solo practice “on the side.” Paying exorbitant amounts for a virtual office instead of a real one or none at all. Treading lightly in litigation hoping the other side will reciprocate. The list goes on.
To quote Mick Jagger, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Try going full tilt on something and see how your results turn out. Focus on your practice full time; try a brick-and-mortar office; carpet bomb the other side with a multi-count Complaint and a full array of discovery requests served with it.
You’ll still need to be observant and willing to reverse course if it looks like something is starting to go catastrophically wrong, but I suspect in nearly every situation you’ll end up being a better and more successful lawyer than you thought possible. To borrow another quote, this one from former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step[.] You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”
Some losses are inevitable: In reading the post-episode reviews around the web after The Wallking Dead’s mid-season finale aired, a lot of commentators seemed downright shocked that Hershel got killed off (and in a paticularly brutal fashion too). Personally I was shocked they were shocked — I hated seeing him taken out, but I figured that was always going to happen once he and Michonne were captured by the Governor. We all knew the Governor was a crazy sumb*tch; anyone who could gun down his Woodbury followers last season can chop off an old guy’s head without a second thought.
While hopefully you won’t have clients die or get killed on you (or turn into zombies), you’re going to have losses as a solo practitioner. You’re going to lose some cases, you’re going to lose some clients, and you’re going to lose money even on some of the cases you keep. It sucks. Sometimes it’s downright painful. But the world keeps moving on and you need to do the same. Dust yourself off, recuperate from your wounds if needed, and get back to the battleground of the courtroom.
A fortress is only as strong as its perimeter: Anyone else watch that episode and think at one point “I sure hope they’re not expecting the fence to stop that tank!”?
It’s true, a fence can’t stop a tank. And once the fence is knocked down, things that a fence normally could stop don’t get stopped anymore. Soon your prison is overrun with zombies.
Treat your law practice the same way. The cliché “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” seems particularly apt here since we’re talking about a fence — if you’re weak at returning clients’ phone calls, or calendaring deadlines, or managing staff, your practice is only going to be as good as the thing you do worst. And if you don’t fix what you do worst, more things at more points will go bad as your time is constantly diverted trying to prop up the fence.
Focus on improving every single aspect of your practice, be it through learning more, being more disciplined, or bringing in outside help.
Even tanks have weaknesses: With the prison getting destroyed around them, folks getting blown away left and right, and survivors scattering to the four winds, Daryl Dixon somehow had the sense to take a grenade and shove it down the tank’s turret. In seconds the most fearsome weapon in the Governor’s arsenal was neutralized, and the momentum of the fight shifted (as much as it could at that point anyway).
If you’re doing meaningful work as a lawyer, you’re going to go up against tanks on a regular basis. Your opposing counsel will probably come from a big firm and make more in a month than you’ll bring in all year. The party you’re up against will likely be bigger still (especially if you do criminal defense; they don’t get much bigger than The Government!). Even a tank has a weakness though, and if you can ferret out what that weakness is you can win even unwinnable cases and causes.
Justice will (eventually) prevail: I don’t know about any of you, but I let out a duly satisfied “Yessssss!” when the Governor finally got killed. I was disappointed Rick didn’t beat him down, and I thought a bullet to the brain was an awfully humane end compared to the evil he wrought (writhing in agony for awhile after his getting skewered by Michonne would have been more fitting).
But damn if I wasn’t glad he finally reaped at least some of what he had sewn.
With implaccable foes around us, tanks in every courtroom, and inevitable losses that range from infrequent to more-common-than-we-care-to-admit over any given period of time, it’s easy to forget that we still live in a country with a judicial system where justice still prevails. It might not be obvious when it happens, it might not even happen until years or decades have gone by, but it will eventually happen. Justice will prevail. So keep your head up and know that you’re doing meaningful work for your clients
That’s my take on how The Walking Dead relates to life as a solo practitioner, along with the other great points Suzanne made. If you disagree — with my analysis of solo life or the show — feel free to let me know
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 21, 2014 in The After-3L Life
Happy Monday y’all
It’s become a bit of a habit with these posts to note it’s been ages since I last wrote one, I’m not keeping up with my New Year’s resolution to write more, “zomg life is soooo busy!” and so on.
The underlying premise, of course, being that I really really really want to write something but I just haven’t had the time.
That’s still true — there’s been a bunch of cool stuff going on in life over the past 2 months that I wanted to write about — but a big chunk of the reason for my absence is that life overall has… well… kinda sucked
If you’re one of our long-time law:/dev/null readers, you might remember how I’d stress out as we got near the end of the semester, building up to the don’t-sleep-for-a-few-days exam week followed by a reprieve for a few weeks before things started all over again.
6.5 calls per business day: good! Turning cases away: not so much
Well running your own law firm is a bit like that. Except you never really get the reprieve (unless you’re slowly going out of business).
Things at TGD Law have been beyond busy; we’ve been averaging 6-7 calls every single day each month, there are over 1,300+ fans of the TGD Law Facebook page, and a growing number of those incoming phone calls / emails / etc have been from folks who’ve heard I kick @ss in a courtroom.
But I’ve also got more work than I can handle, and I’ve been turning away cases left and right because I refuse to let my work product slip for the folks who have already hired me.
The catch to turning away cases, of course, is that there’s very little money coming in. That, in turn, means no staff. Which in turn means I’m stuck spending time on menial work that I’d really like to farm out to a paralegal or file clerk. Which in turn means no matter how much I work, I feel like nothing gets done.
The sense of complete and utter futility I’ve had the past few weeks is actually pretty well encapsulated in a graph of my weight loss efforts: past progress has been undone, and now I’m treading water until I can out-think my problems.
That 27lb drop? Bar prep
It’s led to me sleeping an awful lot, watching TV when I’d probably be better off working or blogging, and finding it beyond difficult to focus on things instead of my usual unproductively-trying-to-multitask-across-a-dozen-things-at-once.
So rather than blog about being blah, I figured I’d spare y’all the bellyaching until I got my sh*t together
I can’t guarantee that’s happened yet of course, but fingers are firmly crossed! This past Easter weekend I brought some work home with me when I went up to visit my grandparents, and made some headway on several cases. I’ve started doing a list of a few high-priority items a day that simply must get done, and that’s helped me wrap my mind around things a smidge better.
Anyhow, I don’t have much more to write about at the moment — just wanted to let y’all know I’m not dead and I haven’t forgotten about you!
More blog posts sooner than later (certainly in less than 60 days).