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 Dec 26, 2013 in TDot's Tips
Belated merry Christmas y’all
I’ve been out of commission with the flu since last Friday, which has translated to a lot of time spent reading even more news / Facebook feeds / tweets than I do normally. And earlier today on Twitter I came across a tweet linked to an entry on Cordell Parvin’s blog titled “15 Additional Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer.” That entry in turn linked to an earlier post on the same topic, “25 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer.”
They’re both solid lists, and 40 things a well-seasoned attorney wished he’d known sooner in his career are things worth mulling over by anyone recently licensed.
But they also seem a bit… incomplete I guess would be the word. For example, there’s no why behind Parvin wishing he’d known these things sooner; sure most are self-evident to some degree or another, but some added detail would have helped it sink in.
Several of them also seem tailored to folks in multi-attorney firms, which of course doesn’t include me
I still like both lists so I won’t critique beyond those minor points and commend them to you for reading. I do, however, have 5 things I’d add now that my first year as a lawyer recently wrapped up:
1. “It takes money to make money” is an efficient way to go broke.
Call it lingering bitterness over my foibles with advertising, but I’ve truly come to hate that phrase.
Way back in April of this year, activity at my firm cratered. I’d been on a steady and sharply upward trajectory since opening my doors in September, started “drinking the Kool-Aid” and took several stupid risks… then had my hopes dashed across the cold, jagged rocks of reality
So I decided to take a dive into direct mail. A ton of attorneys I knew were using different companies to contact people who got traffic citations and other criminal charges, and I figured “hey, it takes money to make money!” Surely this would be an investment that generated clients and cash flow.
I thought the bulk of these calls were from direct mail. I was wrong.
At the time it seemed like it “worked.” I started getting more calls and more clients.
Then I discovered two big problems. First, I was in court during the time a lot of folks called. So I signed up for Ruby Receptionists so callers wouldn’t just be getting my voicemail, to the tune of nearly $300.00/month
The bigger problem, though, didn’t get discovered until the Thanksgiving break when I wrote the Mailbag entry following up on my first-year finances: after running a report on every client I had, and marking how each one found me, I discovered only 11 of the new clients were from direct mail
That’s not a typo. 11. As in barely-double-digits. As in less than a dozen. Out of 165ish clients.
So when I compared how much I had spent on direct mail itself relative to the amount I’d made on those 11 clients, I discovered I’d lost close to $2,000 over those 7 months.
While it may indeed “take money to make money” in some areas of law, I’d argue for most solo/small firm practitioners it shouldn’t take much if you do it right. Bootstrap your office — see here and here and here — then just make yourself accessible to people and do good work. Your reputation will bring you business from there.
2. Trust no one (at first anyway).
None of you are going to be shocked to hear that people lie. But, if you haven’t yet, after starting your practice you will quickly discover the sheer volume of whoppers that get told by prospective clients, actual clients, and even occasionally other attorneys.
The examples I’ve picked up over the past year are borderline absurd. There was the guy facing a half-dozen minor criminal offenses who “discovered” he’d stolen a felonious volume of stuff while the first 6 charges were pending and for which he got indicted the day after he was sentenced on them, torpedoing any leverage I may have had on the 7th charge now that the first 6 were disposed. There was an attorney with two decades of practice experience who insisted to me he had done certain things on a case, that he had already admitted in emails I’d be given by his former client were never done. There were an untold volume of people who swore they had clean traffic records, only to discover past DWIs and other offenses.
The most humorous for me was probably a woman referred to me by a classmate. She started off with a trio of the red flags that my malpractice insurance carrier Lawyers Mutual warned about in one of their CLEs: I was the third lawyer she had talked to, I was the only one who could help her, and she knew God sent her to me for a reason.
In a nutshell, she wanted me to sue her (enormous) former employer, immediately, based on nothing more than her word that certain not-that-bad things had happened.
- When I said I wanted to meet with her first to review her documents, she told me all her documents were actually at her former worksite.
- When I said I still wanted to meet with her anyway and would review whatever she had, she started crying and said I wasn’t listening to her.
- When I repeated back to her everything she had told me, then reiterated I still wanted to meet, the tears stopped immediately and I was told the documents that a minute ago were at the former worksite were actually in a storage unit, but she couldn’t get them out because she couldn’t pay the rent on the unit.
- Having once written a Facebook note on the cost-saving virtues of moving into a storage unit, I figured she was full of sh*t and stood firm, politely explaining that I’d still be around whenever she was able to get her things and stop in for a meeting…
- …so then I got called an *sshole and she hung up
Thankfully most of the folks I’ve dealt with haven’t been that ridiculous. If you haven’t had any experience or training in figuring out when someone’s being deceptive, I’d suggest trying one of the CLEs put on by the good folks over at QVerity (the authors of Spy the Lie) — they let me attend two of their programs back during my 2L year, and the material’s been quite useful in practice.
3. There are a lot of bad cases out there, but not all bad ones are losers.
There’s not really much to say on this one: a lot of the people who will come to you for legal help, especially of the litigation variety, simply don’t have a case. People wanting to sue for being offended, or “knowing” someone is up to no good based on nothing more than a hunch, or knowing they don’t have a case but wanting to sue anyway hoping they can extort a settlement — there’s a laundry list of problems with the cases people bring to lawyers.
That doesn’t mean every bad case is a loser though.
For example, I once had a guy come to me as the Defendant in a deed reformation suit; the bank had filed a Deed of Trust without a required attachment, so they filed a Complaint in Superior Court to have it fixed on the grounds that it’s what both parties intended when the mortgage contract was made. Very straightforward, and my guy had no legitimate defense. Case closed.
Well after some talking with him, I realized he had fallen behind in his mortgage a year prior after a divorce, and was trying to get his loan modified to basically shuffle the missed payments to the end of the loan term. And having dealt with plenty of delinquent homeowners this past year, that meant to me the bank discovered the deed defect because they were preparing to foreclose.
So I took his case, slowed down the proceedings a little bit, and eventually my client got his loan modification even while the bank ultimately “won” the deed reformation on a motion for summary judgment. A bad litigation case ended up being beneficial for everyone involved.
4. Even new lawyers can run with the big dogs.
Luckily for my practice, this is one of the first lessons I learned — but not until after a lot of sweating and almost a month’s worth of kicking myself.
In my first heavily contested business litigation case, I’d totally outhustled the (non-NCCU Law grad) junior associate at the opposing firm, and was as certain as anyone can be in litigation that I had things sewn up just from the briefs.
Fast forward to the hearing on our dueling motions, and I walk into the courtroom to discover the junior associate had been yanked from the case and replaced by the magna cum laude graduate / law review editor-in-chief / practicing-for-three-decades partner whose name was on the door…
…who then proceeded to beat me like a rented mule in oral arguments
I was totally flummoxed by how things were going. I’d done the research, knew the law and the facts, and had a better-than-solid case. But here was this short old guy making arguments I’d never anticipated, handing up case after case after case and the judge was buying it! It was a small miracle when the judge announced he’d just gotten sworn in the preceding Monday and wasn’t comfortable deciding the issue himself, so he continued the matter a month to set it in front of a different judge.
During the reprieve the case nagged at me; I couldn’t figure out how I had f*cked up so royally, and with my client sitting next to me the whole time to boot. I let myself be convinced I was losing because opposing counsel had been practicing so long, he was a distinguished practitioner in this particular field, and he surely was just better than me because of it.
Then one day I randomly went back through all the case law he handed up, to figure out why it didn’t show up in any of my searches. And I made a discovery: none of it applied.
I hadn’t anticipated the arguments because the arguments were totally irrelevant, related to completely different rules and completely different standards. The other side apparently hadn’t read the motions or the briefs; they’d just printed some totally random sh*t out, and then handed it up in court.
After briefly kicking myself some more — because that meant in the “fog of war” in court I’d never actually entertained the possibility that this decades-long practitioner had just screwed up — I realized all the experience and accolades only count for so much. So I prepared for the second hearing the same way I did the first one, and stood toe-to-toe with him for the better part of three hours. Then we won.
Some attorneys, even ones with oodles of experience and awards, aren’t all that good. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by being the new kid.
5. Pedigree != victory.
This one’s a corollary to #4: even very good attorneys can end up with bad law, bad facts, or both. Don’t assume a high-priced degree or this or that award means they’re going to win.
In the summer I had a trademark / trade dress case against one of my small business clients brought by NC counsel for a mega-firm out of Chicago. A double-Harvard grad, repeatedly named to Super Lawyers and the North Carolina Legal Elite list for intellectual property, several journal and industry publications to his credit, the list goes on. The guy was intimidating.
But his case was a joke. The facts were on our side, the law was on our side, and there was a 0.0% chance we were going to lose (and if somehow we did, we’d already decided we would appeal as far up as we needed). It would have been a prime candidate for anti-SLAPP treatment if NC had a statute for those sort of things in trademark/trade dress cases. I still don’t know what their goal was in going down that path, but after exchanging increasingly-lengthy letters back and forth, we got the case dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion.
I haven’t had any interaction with that particular attorney before or since, so I’ve got no way of knowing if he really is as good as his CV says; I’ll go ahead and assume he is. Even so, he’s just a lawyer — not a miracle worker. Great pedigrees can’t necessarily win every bad case that crosses their desk.
Sorry for such a ridiculously long post folks, chalk it up to cabin fever. But now if you’re a first-year attorney you’ve got 45 things to keep in mind, and these 5 have context with them
Have a great rest of the week everybody!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
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.
[Yes, I’m proud of myself. Told y’all I was serious about getting back in the habit of blogging ]
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. Now what do you do?
STEP 1: GET SWORN IN
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.
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. 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
- 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 are 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!
STEP 2: PAY YOUR TAXES
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 (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. 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 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.
I do however, totally coincidentally, have this entry on the cost of going solo where I mention some of that stuff
STEP 3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL
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 ( ), 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.
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!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette 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 T. Greg Doucette 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 T. Greg Doucette on Sep 9, 2012 in TDot's Tips
Well now I’m officially official: I got sworn in as a North Carolina attorney Friday afternoon!
Taking the oath of office. From left: Judge Vince Rozier, Me (with Eagle lapel pin and Wolfpack Red shirt + silk + socks), Nan, and Hahvahd
The ceremony was put together on short notice (about 20 minutes of text messages exchanged on my way to Charlotte on Wednesday) but it turned out great, with EIC getting sworn in at the same event, the two of us being presented to the court by our TYLA trial team coach, and our AAJ trial team coach presiding.
Even my grandparents managed to make it down with just a day’s notice
Amid getting all that set up and executed, I’ve gotten questions from classmates on a few issues and had to find answers to some questions of my own — so I thought it might be helpful to throw it all in this entry in case anyone else needs it.
APPEALING YOUR BAR EXAM
As some background, last week I noted that NCCU Law’s bar pass rate dropped unexpectedly for first-time test takers to the lowest rate we’ve had in decades. Professors have cited a variety of factors for the drop, some of which are unique to our school and others that affect every school to some degree or another.
One issue I suspect hurt our students more than most was the lack of electricity due to egregiously poor contingency planning by the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners. Here’s why: so far as I know, NCCU Law is the only law school in North Carolina to have a “loaner laptop” program where everyone is issued a laptop as a 1L that they can use until after the bar exam. It’s a great program for a law school whose students skew toward a lower socioeconomic status than, say, our friends over at UNCCH Law.
But after 3 years the laptop batteries can’t hold a charge for more than a few minutes
So when the lights went out and laptops started dropping like flies, Legal Eagles were disproportionately affected. The addition of more time helped to mitigate the damage but it’s hard to undo the psychological impact of seeing your electronic work disappear and then having to switch to hand-writing.
Anyhow, there’s a procedure in place for appealing one’s bar exam results (though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the NCBLE website). If there were ever a set of circumstances warranting an appeal, I think what we went through would qualify. Here’s what you have to do:
- Get your scoresheet from the NCBLE. Those are available now, and can be obtained either by calling them at (919) 828-4886 or emailing info [at] ncble.org;
- Prepare a letter addressed to Fred P. Parker III, North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, PO BOX 2946, Raleigh, NC, 27602;
- Outline the grounds for your appeal, noting for example the impact of the lack of electricity;
- Get the letter notarized; and,
- Mail it to the NCBLE by September 14th, 2012.
Bear in mind, like most appeals, that the odds of success on appeal are very slim. The best appeals will be folks who are at most 1-2 points away from passing and did better comparatively on the MBE than the essays. If they re-review your essays as a result of the appeal there’s an ever-so-small chance you’ll be able to get that last point or two.
If you’re dissatisfied with whatever procedure NCBLE uses for the appeal, your last resort is filing suit in Wake County Superior Court; that process is outlined in the Rules section of the NCBLE website.
GETTING SWORN IN
Information contained on the NCBLE and North Carolina State Bar websites notwithstanding, you don’t actually need your license in order to get sworn in and begin practicing. Judges have judicial discretion to administer the oath if you have met all the requirements for licensure, which will be reflected in your letter from the NCBLE if you passed the bar exam, the MPRE, and the character & fitness check.
If you don’t believe me, consider that Alamance County had a mass swearing-in for their attorneys this past Friday (and you’d have a great as-applied challenge if anyone tried to stop you from doing the same).
Once you’ve got a judge ready to conduct the oath, as a matter of custom you’ll want to find a current member of the bar to present you to the court. Typically your presenter offers a few words about how amazing you are and how you’ll be a great addition to the legal profession. I went with my 2L/3L TYLA coach (who ad-libbed his remarks, noting “I’ve seen the progress in him, from knowing everything, to still knowing everything but being able to work within his limitations to be a successful attorney” ).
In addition to having your NCBLE letter on-hand, you’ll also need at least 2 copies of the Oath of Office available from the NCBLE website. And if you’re like me, with a penchant for framing and hanging things, you’ll want at least one (or more) copies of the oath signed in blue ink on nice cardstock for display
After getting the oaths signed by you and the judge, take two copies to the Civil Division of the Clerk of Court’s Office for filing. The clerk should timestamp and file one copy, then timestamp the other copy and hand it back to you for your records.
Once you’ve got that done you’re officially a lawyer!
“PRIVILEGE LICENSE” / TAX, MANDATORY CLE, AND INSURANCE
Officially being a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re officially able to practice yet though
Turns out being a lawyer is a “privilege” — and the North Carolina Department of Revenue wants their cut. You’ll need to visit the Privilege License / Tax section of the Department of Revenue website, download the form, fill it out, and mail it off to NCDOR with your $50.00 tax payment. You’ll need to renew that license every year before July 1st.
Not to be outdone, you’ve also got a special professionalism CLE you have to complete within your first year of practice. Called the “New Admittee Professionalism Program” (NAPP), that’ll set you back about $200.00 plus two days of your life.
You’ll also want malpractice insurance, but (thankfully?) I have no clue how much that will cost to include it in this blog entry…
WAIVING IN TO WASHINGTON DC
One last addition for this entry, which is actually one of the few useful snippets of information I retained from the Law Student Division’s “Super Circuit” meeting in Charleston last October: you might be able to get into the District of Columbia Bar without having to take their exam
So far as I know, Washington DC is the only jurisdiction that will let a newly licensed attorney waive in based solely on whether or not he or she scored high enough on the MPRE and the MBE. You won’t be able to get your actual MBE scores from the NCBLE of course, but you can give them a call and they’ll tell you whether or not you qualify for admission in the other jurisdiction.
First, you’ll have to wait until you get both your physical license from the NCBLE (which should be 4-6 weeks after they mailed your passage letter) as well as your State Bar Identification Number (1-2 weeks after getting your license). Then give the NCBLE a call to see if you qualify for DC admission.
If you qualify, you’ll need to send a written request addressed to Jody Rollins at the NCBLE asking for your score information be transmitted to the DC Bar — along with a $25.00 check for processing You’ll also need to get a Certificate of Good Standing from the North Carolina Supreme Court (which will set you back another $5.00) that you’ll include with your admission packet for DC.
Once you’ve got all that together, go to the DC Bar’s Committee on Admissions website, fill out the application, fire it off and wait a few months for things to get approved.
What’s the point of getting licensed in DC (aside from the cool points for having a multijurisdictional practice)? Since it’s the nation’s capital, it has reciprocity with more jurisdictions than any other state. So after having an active license in DC for 5 years, you can pretty much waive in to just about anywhere in the country — giving you tremendous mobility for later on in your career.
That’s it from me for tonight y’all — hopefully at least some of it was useful! Have a great night!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 30, 2011 in TDot's Tips
For the past couple semesters I’ve been throwing together exam-related advice for new 1Ls (and now 2Ls) who had newly discovered law:/dev/null since the last exam entry…
…and have realized that at this point anything I could write tonight would be redundant
So rather than re-repeat everything for the new batch of folks, here are some quick links to the old entries:
- The browsewrap contract you’re agreeing to for the ZIP files below
- The first set of exam tips I wrote way back when I was a 1L after Fall 2009 finals
- The second batch of exam tips after surviving 1L year, with an addition based on my performance in CivPro II
- And finally the last final exam tips entry, including a more-detailed explanation of why the multiples matter (written a year ago today )
As for those ZIP files containing the 1L / 2L / 3L stuff, the links are in the picture below. I didn’t embed them due to spammers in Russia, China and a few other countries who seem to enjoy hotlinking my files and trying to kill my bandwidth, so you’ll have to type the URLs in by hand. Sorry.
The URLs and subjects for the "#L Stuff" archives
Remember these are pretty hefty files, so the downloads are going to take awhile.
And when exams are all over, make sure to keep things in perspective and remember: your 1L grades don’t matter
Have a great night and *GOOD LUCK* on final exams!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 15, 2011 in TDot's Tips
In addition to law school Orientation — if you’re a NCCU Law 1L, make sure to read yesterday’s Orientation entry — this is the time of year where the 2Ls and 3Ls start hitting up everyone they can to accumulate outlines for the upcoming year
Starting last year I’ve tried to compile as many of those as I can and bundle them into a ZIP file hosted here on law:/dev/null. If you’re looking for outlines, follow these steps:
- In your browser’s address bar, type in the base URL for this blog; if you came to this specific entry’s page and don’t know the base URL, just click this link to go to the law:/dev/null main page
- After the “.com/”, if you’re a 1L you’re going to type in “docs/1LStuff.zip” (without the quotation marks), or “docs/2Land3LStuff.zip” (also without the quotes) if you’re a 2L or 3L.
If you have any trouble with that, send me an email (address at the bottom of our About page) or contact me on Twitter.
Now for some obligatory caveats and 1 contractual obligation on your part:
- On the contractual obligation side: in exchange for downloading this file, you’re agreeing to help spread the word to your colleagues at the law school about its existence; I want everyone to have access to the outlines, even if they don’t necessarily take advantage of the opportunity to download them.
- These files are large, and they come from a lot of different sources so there are some duplicates. If you’re on a Mac, the easiest way to find what you need is to use Spotlight; if you’re on a PC… well… I don’t know how to help you on that one
- Many of these outlines will need updating. The 1L classes introduce new cases, and many of the 2L and 3L classes have either new cases (CrimPro) or new statutes (ZombieLaw) or both.
- These outlines are for NCCU Law classes, so if you’re one of my non-Legal Eagle readers and download them you probably won’t get much utility from them.
- Most importantly: the benefit to briefs and outlines is in creating/editing them, not in getting them from someone else. You’ll still need to read for class, and you’ll still need to study. Don’t come back to me in December crying because you have all these outlines, did no work on your own, and then failed your classes.
Hope that helps! I’m heading to bed so I can go help with the first day of 1L Orientation for the Day Program in the morning. Have a great night y’all!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 23, 2011 in TDot's Tips
Obligatory hat tip to the folks over at Google for providing the alternate title for tonight’s entry
Back in February, my first guest post over at Kaplan’s Beyond Hearsay blawg went live offering my $.02 on how to succeed at life. And for reasons that I still have yet to fully understand…
…they asked me to write for them again
My new entry went live earlier today Here’s a sample:
At some point in our lives most of us have heard the cliché “it’s not what you know but who you know that matters.” While etymologists might not know its origins, they know this particular saying has been around for nearly a century — and, depending on your perspective, embodies either (a) an uncontroversial realization that our networks influence what we can obtain, or (b) a jaundiced worldview that individual merit is meritless.”
So for those of us still in law school, which approach [“what you know” or “who you know”] will matter more when it’s time to find a job? Which perspective should we be focusing on before we graduate?
Hopefully your curiosity is at least piqued a smidge — if you want the explanation, you’ll have to check out the full entry at Beyond Hearsay
And remember, there are no emoticons over there so you’ll have to imagine the ones I’d throw in as you read
Hope you enjoy it, and have a great night y’all!
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 15, 2011 in TDot's Tips
Yes, I realize the post title is pretentious — I had to get your attention somehow.
Last week I mentioned that I’d have a column going live over at Kaplan’s Beyond Hearsay blawg. It got posted today, and you can check it out at this URL.
Here’s a snippet from the opening:
Do you remember that person in undergrad who always declined going out to dinner because they had homework to do? Who always walked around with a venti nonfat organic quintuple shot caffè macchiato frapp-o-death because they needed the caffeine to balance out repeated all-nighters? The one who had a nervous breakdown when grades were released because the lone A- they got in Über-Advanced Multivariable Calculus IV hurt their otherwise flawless GPA?
Most of us had at least one classmate in that category, likely several (and if you don’t remember anyone like that, he or she might have been you).
But think about where those people are today. Do you think they’re successful? Do *they* think they’re successful? And more importantly, are they enjoying their lives, successful or otherwise? Odds are good that the answer to at least one of these questions is “no.”
Be forewarned: Beyond Hearsay is an almost-emoticon-free zone. And they like proper grammar and syntax
So I tried to make up for my lack of graphics and contractions and run-on sentences by coming up with at least moderately-compelling content I promise you there’s good stuff in the rest of that post, but you’ll have to head over to Beyond Hearsay to read it
Have a great night y’all!
Past TDot’s Tips entries: