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Life Comes at You Fast (Part V)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 22, 2015 in The After-3L Life

Surprise! It’s a blog post!

I’ve given up trying to preserve the smilies here at law:/dev/null. Not sure when I’ll have the time to go into the archives and replace them in old entries, but from hence forward I’ll do my best to embrace the emojis that are now built-in to WordPress.1 😱

Fees earned are still trending up

Fees earned are still trending up

TGD Law officially finished three years back on September 20th. I still owe y’all a breakdown of how things turned out from Year 2, so add the Year 3 breakdown to that list. Suffice to say fees are still trending upward but the struggle with costs remains… well… a struggle.

On that same note, we opened an office in Charlotte!

Kinda cuts against the whole “Hey we really should contain costs!” narrative from that last paragraph, but I figure I’ve learned enough about how not to run the Durham branch that I think we can make a second office work. 😂

“Wait, did you say ‘we’?”

I did — I’ve actually got two associates who are still able to put up with me! 😮

At some point I’ll have to come up with blog-suitable nicknames for both of them, but one has been my paralegal since March who recently passed the bar exam; I’m hoping she’ll be my #2, once we get her over the whole fear of having never been a lawyer before.

The other has actually been a friend on Twitter (true story!), who I met for the first time during one of my Startup 101 presentations in Charlotte.2 We had drinks in Raleigh the following Friday, and her skillset was uniquely suited for a multinational corporate fraud case I was working on; she started work sitting in on a deposition I had the next Monday. Hence the impetus for the Charlotte office.

Finances and associates aside, we had what I consider one of our marquee wins since the firm opened — torpedoing a baseless defamation case on summary judgment, after systematically dismantling an opposing counsel who was needlessly confrontational the entire time.

The Patton reference made me smile

The Patton reference made me smile

We’d represented a nudist group3 whose board members were sued after they removed another board member for inappropriately touching somebody; the ex-member actually found a lawyer willing to file suit, arguing that he was “defamed” by the removal. Lots of First Amendment issues, and then us discovering he actually had a pattern of groping multiple women over a number of years.

At the onset of the case I got some guidance from Ken White over at Popehat — I’ve been a shameless fanboy of both him and Patrick at the same site since just before I took the bar exam — and gave them a shout-out when the judgment order arrived in my inbox 😊

Of all the motion hearings and trials I’ve had since I started practicing law back in 2012, that one was my most-crisp and thorough. And the case helped me continue develop my knowledge of First Amendment law that I’d started building from representing the Moral Monday protestors in Raleigh (37 of 39 dismissed) and one of the Black Lives Matters protesters here in Durham (also dismissed).

In my personal world, Nan is doing worse 😞 She finally had the operation to take her thyroid out a week or so ago. Apparently at some point during that operation the doctor nicked her parathyroid which (news to me) regulates the body’s store of calcium — while she’s also on medication that hinders calcium absorption. So long story short I’m sitting at my desk yesterday and see my Aunt Diane calling, which I just knew meant Nan was in the hospital. She was taken to the ER where they discovered she had almost no calcium left in her system. She’ll be there for at least 4-5 days until there’s some improvement. I’m crossing my fingers that things will turn around but I’m not optimistic.

Samson is still a pain in the butt. We’ve reached a détente of sorts with him destroying the apartment, but he’s taken to scratching at the doors to the bathroom and my bedroom, and (when that didn’t do the job) chewing at the wood paneling around them. Needless to say I won’t be getting my security deposit back.

There’s been more since then — asked by MDG to volunteer with the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, creating a new endowment at the NCSU Libraries to focus on collections on student leadership, my frustration with both parties in the General Assembly when it comes to the economy and our court system, etc etc etc — but hopefully I’ll do a better job of updating things here and will have those as future topics.

Hope all of you are doing well!

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From the law:/dev/null archives:

  1. Seriously, these things are now industry standards! []
  2. Over 70 people came to hear that presentation! []
  3. We’ve truly had a colorful assortment of clients in just three years… []

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Life Comes at You Fast (Part III)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 28, 2015 in The After-3L Life

One of the other factors in my lengthy hiatus was seasonal: the annual ritual of trial advocacy competitions! :D

Some of you might remember back in February of last year I penned this bittersweet entry celebrating the accomplishments of some students I coached in the TYLA National Trial Competition, but sharing my disappointment that my talents were being used to benefit UNCCH Law rather than my own alma mater.

Well this year was… interesting.

The folks at UNCCH Law plan ahead, and had contacted me at the beginning of last August to ask if I’d come back for the 2015 competition. And me, being the naïve person I am, told them to give me some time so I could check with NCCU Law — just in case the whole “us kicking NCCU’s rears” would prompt them to let me come home.

(cue the “LOL!”s)

I hit up my old coach to ask for his advice. We met over lunch to talk that week, and he told me to hold off with the acceptance; he was going to step down as coach, and wanted to recommend me as his replacement. All I’d need to do is contact the advisor for the Trial Advocacy Board and let her know.

So I do. And get her voicemail.

A week goes by without a response. I call again. Voicemail.

A few more days go by, and I stop by the school in person. She’s teaching a class so I leave a note.

Another week goes by without a response.

It was around the third week in August when I learn that Prof CrimLaw had now been made the new Dean of our clinical programs (which also has responsibility for our competition teams), so I reached out to him. He suggested I contact a different professor who is now in charge of overseeing competition programs for everybody across both the Trial Advocacy Board and the Moot Court Board — and that, whatever she says, not to feel any shame or regret for working for a different law school. “That’s what we do as lawyers.”

So I call the other professor. She actually answers the phone ( :eek: ) and asks me to give her until that Friday. Then actually calls me back when she said she would!

Just to tell me that the first professor told her my old coach was coming back for another year…

(cue the “#dafuq?”s)

Now this call to me happened around 3pm-ish. Keep that in mind.

I email UNCCH my acceptance that afternoon and resign myself to going another year without helping my own alma mater.

The following Monday I text my old coach and say “Guess I’ll be seeing y’all in Charleston” — and almost immediately get a text back, even though it’s during work hours and he’s rarely that quick with a response. “Call me after lunch.”

We connect later that afternoon, and he’s just as confused as I am. Turns out no one from NCCU Law had contacted him until after they had told me he was coming back. But he hadn’t changed his mind: he still wasn’t coming back, so he asked if I still wanted to coach NCCU (duh). I’d already emailed my acceptance to UNCCH though and couldn’t break my commitment to them.

(cue the sad trombones)

Well fast forward to the end of January. I survive the car drama and make it down to Charleston. Both TYLA teams do admirably well under the circumstances but neither advance. I drive back feeling like I failed.

Then about two weeks later I get a call from NCCU. :crack:

Turns out the AAJ coaches had quit unexpectedly, and no one seemed to notice until a month after the problem packet had been released. The second professor asked if I’d be willing to step in (duh again). Given the short timing I bring in EIC as a co-coach, we get started about a month after everyone else…

NCCU Law's 2015 AAJ trial team. From left: me, Petal Munroe, Shelvia Dancy, Joshua Palmer, Jaimee Bullock, and EIC

NCCU Law’s 2015 AAJ trial team. From left: me, Petal Munroe, Shelvia Dancy, Joshua Palmer, Jaimee Bullock, and EIC

…and make it to the Regional Finals for the first time since 1998.

(cue the victory trumpets)

At various points during the month of February, EIC and I both had our doubts. Really right up until competition (the last practice did not go well at all).

But then when the first round happened, she and I were both totally blown away. So much so that we both did a look at each other like “Where did this come from??”

And then did it again in the 2nd round. And again in the 3rd. And again in the semifinals.1 When it was all said and done, a new plaque was getting added to the trophy case at the law school.

There’s a lot getting glossed over here simply because this entry is pushing 1,000 words and I realize many of you won’t actually read that far. But trust me when I say it was a busy-but-interesting Spring semester :)

So after two years of coaching, of two law schools, in two different competitions, I’ve had the privilege of helping a batch of proto-lawyers make the regional finals both years. I’m going to count that as a 100% success rate.

Now we’ll just see if NCCU Law finally lets me come back for 2016…

Good night y’all! :D

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From the law:/dev/null competition-related archives:

  1. We eventually lost to Wake Forest Law in the final round, whose team was actually quite good. []

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Warm fuzzies… despite losing a case

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 :beatup: )

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.1

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.2

I was particularly annoyed because, out of all the trials I’d sat in on,3 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.4

And then we lost anyway.5 :(

Well yesterday I got this note from one of them despite the conviction :surprised:

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

The highlight of my Tuesday

April 21, 2014

Dear Greg,

[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,

[Redacted]

I may or may not have gotten a smidge misty-eyed for an ever-so-brief moment. But mostly just smiled like a goober :spin:

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 :)

  1. A subject for which I’ve been frequently pilloried by friends and frenemies alike. I penned this letter to the Raleigh News & Observer for those folks as an FYI. :* []
  2. In a nutshell: (i) the so-called Legislative Building Rules used as the basis for the arrests are both vague and overbroad, and thus are not valid time/place/manner restrictions under First Amendment jurisprudence; (ii) there are reams of due process issues; and (iii) there’s the little problem of that whole entire section of the North Carolina Constitution that declares (in part) the people have “a right to assemble together… to instruct their representatives and to apply to the General Assembly for redress of grievances.” []
  3. I’ve been providing tech support to the other attorneys on a regular basis so I’d seen a lot of these cases. []
  4. First noting that nearly every significant First Amendment case started with some government agent on the ground floor making a mistake, well-meaning or otherwise (the judge’s sympathy for the Police Chief has influenced her decision-making I think). Then moving to the three “decision points” in First Amendment analysis: protected vs less-protected vs unprotected speech, traditional public vs traditional non-public vs designated public fora, and then the internal vs external standard applied. It went over very well… for all of 10 seconds. []
  5. I do take some solace in knowing the ADA was caught off guard by the argument and was looking for case law on Google Scholar before her closing because she was worried I’d finally gotten through to the judge. A moral victory I guess? (Pun intended. Yes I know it was a bad one. :beatup: ) []

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Throwback [Sunday]: Wolfpack takeover of NCCU Law Graduation 2012

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 :P )

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 President1 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)

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

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 :D

Hope all of y’all had a great weekend, and a great week ahead!

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From the law:/dev/null graduation-related archives:

  1. The elected leader of the Class of 2012, who I relied on frequently my 3L year to help ensure events went smoothly and were well-attended during my overlapping term as SBA President. Definitely one of my favorite people from law school. :) []

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The Lingering Bitterness of Undercharging…

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 :beatup:

I’m thrilled for my client’s 6,300% return on their investment, but I really wish I had charged more now…

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A Mercenary’s Lament

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 10, 2014 in NotFail

mer•ce•nar•y (pl. mercenaries) – noun. a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army.

Today’s my first day “back in the real world” after spending the past weekend at the annual TYLA NTC Regionals.1 And where I coached my very first TYLA trial team, comprised of two 2Ls and a 3L.

A team that ended the competition as finalists :surprised:

In turn making them the best trial team in both North Carolina and South Carolina.2 Not to mention going further in that competition than I ever made it myself.

From… the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That’s not a typo. It’s the same institution I’ve ridiculed on this very website as The University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven. The one whose students meme’d me in my NC State hat. The one with its very own “#gthc” tag here at law:/dev/null.3

And I was their coach :beatup:

So how did a guy with an eagle carving on his dining room table plus another on a bookshelf and a third on my bedroom wall — alongside a wolf painting, a wolf carving, even the comforter on my bed — end up in the finals of my favorite mock trial competition helping the one institution that happens to be a rival of both my undergrad and professional school alma maters?4

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams '15 (Defense), Michelle Markham '14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald '15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg '14 (Student Coach)

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams ’15 (Defense), Michelle Markham ’14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald ’15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg ’14 (Student Coach)

Well first we had an amazing team. I was a little nervous at the start because only one student was a 3L; the other two were 2Ls who’d never competed in anything before, and the 3L student coach assigned to work with me had experience but not in TYLA.

I also got the impression at a few points in practice that our goal was just to not embarrass ourselves — I don’t think anyone (admittedly, myself included) thought we had any shot at going anywhere.

But let me tell you: when it counted, they competed. All three of them turned in solid performances to nab the #6 seed after the first three rounds, setting up a semifinal match against the University of South Carolina for Sunday morning. They promptly slaughtered USC and pushed us on to the finals.5

“But TDot! But TDot!” I hear you saying, “WHY were you working for them?”

Aaanndd… that’s where the title for the blog post comes in. ;)

Last winter my 2L/3L TYLA coach6 and I had talked about the future of NCCU Law‘s team and whether there’d be a spot for me anywhere as an assistant coach. Nothing ever happened with it, so in the Spring I volunteered to be one of the guest judges for the TYLA Regionals when they were hosted by Campbell Law down in Raleigh.

For my round I watched an absolutely superb performance by a team from WFU Law — a team that ended up getting functionally disqualified when a meritless protest was filed over WFU’s cross-examination of the other side’s expert, and the “protest committee” voted to give them -0- points for the cross.7 I felt bad for them. And I also decided that I hated the idea of “just” being a judge if our ballots could be summarily disregarded by a 5-member committee of other competing coaches.

Fast forward to early October. The Monday before the 2L/3L trial team tryouts to be exact. I still stop by the NCCU Law building on a fairly regular basis, so during one of those trips while I’m down in our clinic area I make some inquiries about the process to become a trial team coach.

Now in retrospect I don’t know what response I expected. I figured, at the very least, it would be something along the lines of “All the coach spots are filled for every team at the moment, but when something opens up we’ll let you know.”8 Instead the response I got was as clear as it was unambiguous: “Coaches have to have 5 years of practice experience. That’s the rule.”

I was a smidge annoyed. But rules are rules, right?

So a couple days later, when I’m down in Wake County for a traffic case, I talked with one of my 2L AAJ trial coaches (a District Court Judge down there) about how he got involved. Apparently someone just called and asked him to do it. But he went on to tell me no one even asked him to return as a coach my 3L year or the year after. That in turn led me to express my frustration over how I felt the law school treated our competitions as afterthoughts, and how I really wanted to run one of these teams to show what could be done.

Well even though he’s an NCCU Law alum, he’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Tar Heel as well. He had heard the UNCCH trial team advisor was out for the semester due to a medical issue and suggested I consider looking there.

I then texted a friend of mine from my NC State days who had just graduated from UNCCH Law the prior year. She confirmed the story on the advisor and said it would be “awesome if [I] potentially think about maybe” being their coach (after confessing surprise that I like trial team :crack: ). And if I wanted her to make a call the spot would be mine.

Unpaid, but a shot nonetheless.

Not quite ready to go calling in favors, I had lunch with my other 2L TYLA coach the next week to get his advice on basically squaring off against my own school. And he said to go for it. I’m paraphrasing here, but his argument was something along the lines of “Think about what it says for Central if you do well, what it says if your alma mater’s graduates do a better job at this than their own.”

Still not fully comfortable with the thought of switching sides, I sent a text message to my 2L/3L TYLA coach to get his thoughts since he was still in charge. When he saw me at the Alumni Association meeting that Saturday, he said to take the spot as well.

So I did.

I Facebook-messaged a UNCCH 2L I knew from UNCASG, who in turn put me in touch with the Trial Advocacy Board chairman over there, who in turn connected me with the TYLA squad and a 3L student coach to assist. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

“But TDot! But TDot!” you interrupt again, “WHHYYY??”

Well… because my alma mater didn’t want me :(

Look, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who loves NCCU Law more than I do (or NC State for that matter). You’ll be equally hard pressed to find anyone who takes quite as much glee in disparaging UNC Chapel Hill as I do. The students on the NCCU teams that didn’t make it were real people, including two of my mentees

And I can’t even articulate for you in words how awkward it felt when I actually typed “#goheelsgoamerica” into my phone for a Facebook status. :beatup:

But the fact is it didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to sit on the sidelines getting rusty for another year waiting on my alma mater to let me help. And it most definitely didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to do that for 4 more years until I’d reach some arbitrary quantum of real world experience.

UNCCH needed someone. They offered me that opportunity. The folks I met turned out to be really cool people. And, having made a commitment to them, I wasn’t going to let them down.

So I didn’t. :)

Now the only issue at this point is really what other folks’ decide will happen next year. Because now that I know the finals are attainable, I’m not going away until nationals…

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From the law:/dev/null competition-related archives:

  1. I know I’m behind schedule on the “blog more” resolution, but it’s still early in the year and anything can happen :P []
  2. The regional winners were the University of Georgia — the same school that knocked out EIC, Shutterbug, and I back in Memphis two years ago :mad: — and Georgia State University. []
  3. “GTHC” means “Go to Hell, Carolina!” for the uninitiated ;) []
  4. No comments from UNCCH homers on “omg you’re not our rival!” I’ve enjoyed enough hostility while wearing my NCSU paraphernalia to sporting events and NCCU paraphernalia to law events to know better :* []
  5. Frankly I don’t fully understand how we lost the final round, and got the impression the judges were scoring based on the merits of the case rather than the advocacy. But I’m also biased. []
  6. Don’t have nicknames for most of the folks in this entry, so I’m going to titles. []
  7. The ruling was improper, and it was sufficiently improper that TYLA amended their Rules for this year’s competition to prevent situations like that from happening again. []
  8. It’s not like I swept both 3L competitions and was on the #1-seeded team in the 2012 TYLA Regional semis while serving as SBA President and graduating with honors and two concentrations or anything… :beatup: []

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TDot’s Tips: 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Lawyer

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.1

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 :beatup:

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.

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/month2

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 :surprised:

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.3

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. :crack:

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.4

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 :beatup:

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.5 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 :crack:

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 guy6 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.

At all. :surprised:

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.7 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! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. For example, “[s]pend 80% of your time with your top 20% of your contacts”? To what extent does the Pareto Principle really apply to law? []
  2. Ruby is a great service by the way. A bit expensive, but truly indispensable until I can hire someone full-time. []
  3. I’m not factoring in the money I started paying to Ruby, since in retrospect I would have likely started using them at that point anyway. []
  4. There’s a pretty long list of red flags, but invoking religion in particular has (sadly) been a surefire sign that someone’s lying to me… :beatup: []
  5. We were also lucky to have good opposing counsel, Gary Whaley of Morris Manning & Martin LLP. I can’t say enough good things about him: he knew we had no defense, knew he was going to win, but still went out of his way to help us get a loan modification approved. Also hands down the nicest attorney I’ve worked with so far. []
  6. Who was also a total d*ck by the way. I’m assuming he had a Napoleon Complex. []
  7. His response to me pointing out to the judge every single thing he was arguing was irrelevant: “Well, we didn’t know what opposing counsel was going to argue.” :crack: To which I politely pointed out to the Court that I was arguing what was in the motion, and in the corresponding brief, both filed two months prior. This judge, thankfully, wasn’t buying his argument. []

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2

First case == win!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 24, 2012 in The After-3L Life

Hey everybody!

I know it’s been ages since I last updated, and any hopes of getting through the May/June backlog have been dashed. I’ve got a lot to update y’all on but an 8am meeting tomorrow so not a lot of time to do it tonight :beatup:

But I WON MY FIRST REAL CASE!! :spin:

Some (duly anonymized) details are over at this entry on JD Oasis, a blog-ish/forum-y spot where I’ve been contributing pieces once a week.1 Here’s an excerpt:

When we were all in law school, each of us probably heard the century-old lawyer’s adage “When the law is on your side, hammer the law; and when the facts are on your side, hammer the facts” (typically followed by “and when neither is on your side, hammer the table”).

It’s a magical experience seeing it play out in person.

Earlier today I served as local counsel at a foreclosure hearing on behalf of a mortgagor. I’d had some trial experience under North Carolina’s 3L Practice Rule, but this was my first hearing since becoming a bona fide attorney as well as my first involving real estate law.

And, at least on the legal merits, it was a dog of a case.

I’ll let you head over to JD Oasis for the rest, but it was pretty unexpected and exciting and awesome all rolled together (and obviously not something likely to happen again any time soon).

More updates on life — including some positive NC SPICE-related news — some time in the next few days!2 Have a great night! :D

  1. Yes I realize I really should be updating law:/dev/null at least once a week too since it’s my own site — I promise I’m working on that! :beatup: []
  2. For now I’m just relishing the unblemished a 3-0 record ;) []

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2

Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 2, 2012 in The After-3L Life

It’s a testament to how poorly a job I’ve done updating law:/dev/null that I’m just now posting about something that happened a week ago :beatup:

But I’m officially a minimally-competent lawyer now! :spin:

The North Carolina Board of Law Examiners put folks’ letters in the mail back on Friday 08/24/12 so most people got them last weekend. While mine was in my mailbox, I was at East Carolina University for the August UNCASG meeting where I ran a leadership development workshop I put together a few years ago for student leaders…1 anything to keep myself preoccupied and not thinking about bar results.

I got to the post office on Sunday afternoon, stopped to say a prayer a couple paces before getting to the box, opened it up, and found the NCBLE letter sandwiched in between a fundraising solicitation and a bill. Then I took a deep breath, tore off the right edge of the envelope, pulled out the letter, took a deep breath again, and unfolded it to see…

Unbelievable — I PASSED!

“Congratulations! I am happy to inform you that you have passed the July 2012 North Carolina Bar Examination.”

Right then I had to stop and briefly drop to my knees in prayer, just before following that up with a fist pump and blurting out something that was supposed to sound like “Yeah!” but I’m pretty sure came out more like “yeworilfkjsaszahh!” — thankfully I was the only person in the post office to hear it :beatup:

This also makes it the first year since 2009 that I successfully accomplished all of my New Year’s resolutions. :D

If you happen to be a long-time reader, you might recall back during 1L year I posted this entry with my ’09 and ’10 resolutions — and only managed to accomplish 1 of the 3 for 2010, finishing my tenure as UNCASG President on a high note (while ending 1L year well below the 3.0 GPA I wanted and never even making it to OCS after failing my Physical Fitness Test for the Marine Corps).

I never posted a 2011 entry because I was preoccupied with school at the time, but I only ended up 1 for 3 then too:

  1. “Push my GPA above a 3.0” (which it was, very briefly, before taking an F in ConLaw II);
  2. “Get back in some semblance of shape” (HA! 10 more pounds later…); and,
  3. “Win something” (the only one I finally accomplished this Fall).

Not to be cowed into timidity by my 33% success rate two years in a row, for 2012 I went with the 3 things that were most important to me:

  1. “Graduate with honors” (final GPA: 3.0002);
  2. “Don’t f*ck up my commencement speech” (Yes, that’s actually how I wrote it down. And I think it turned out well.); and,
  3. “Pass the North Carolina bar exam on the first try” (hence this entry).

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I didn’t think I did bad enough to fail, but I also wasn’t sure I did well enough to pass (especially on the MBE). It’s a huge weight lifted off my shoulders — especially knowing I didn’t disappoint my grandparents.3

The whole occasion has been unexpectedly somber because a good chunk of my friends didn’t make it — NCCU Law‘s pass rate for NC first-time takers dropped to 60% this time :surprised: — but that just means I need to work harder on getting NC SPICE off the ground so I can help support them in February :)

At the very least they too can become big-time real estate lawyers while I toil away in the low-paid non-profit world :beatup:

More to come in the week ahead. Have a great night!

  1. The content and presentation both get good reviews, so if you happen to know anyone interested in hearing it let me know — I love that stuff! :) []
  2. Yes, I quite literally tied the cutoff for graduating cum laude. How incredibly epic is that?? :D []
  3. Nan’s brother’s son (my great uncle I guess?) is a big-time real estate lawyer, a point that apparently has been getting raised fairly regularly over the years as my side of the family has pursued far less lucrative occupations. But said big-time lawyer also failed the bar the first time, saying “Everyone fails North Carolina the first time they take it.” Needless to say Nan is quite tickled that she has a lawyer on her side of the family now and without hitting the “everyone fails” speed bump. ;) []

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2

Going out on a W

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 1, 2012 in NotFail

It’s been a great night!

This past week has been our annual Law Week activities at the North Carolina Central University School of Law,1  capped tonight with our annual Law Week Banquet where “The Big Five”2 announce the winners of their respective competitions and the SBA elections, praise their outgoing executive boards, listen to the outgoing President give his remarks, and so on.

The banquet this year was notable from the start for completely and totally shattering every single attendance record in existence at the law school over its 73-year history :D

Best-attended banquet in 73 years!

Last semester my Vice President and I came up with some new ideas for improving the event,3 she then put together a stellar agenda/program for the event then she and her planning committee made things happen. With over 210+ people in attendance, we had about 70 or so more people than the previous banquet attendance record.

We were charging folks $20 apiece for tickets ($35 for alumni/faculty/staff) and still had to turn people away! :crack:

The student speakers ran a bit long so a good chunk of those 210+ were gone by the time I gave my (abbreviated) farewell address at the end of the night, but it didn’t matter because my night was made earlier that night…

BECAUSE I FINALLY WON SOMETHING! :spin:

After 2.5 years, I finally got 1st place!

After coming in 3rd place my 1L year with my “Alice in Wonderland” closing, then clawing up to 2nd place last year despite a horrible ambulance-chaser-inspired fact pattern, I finally made it to the top of the dog pile in our 3L closing argument competition (even after screwing up a guy’s last name)! :D

And I didn’t just make it to the top in the trial advocacy stuff — I somehow also got the best oral advocate and best overall awards for our Fall moot court competition, named after Judge TP…

…yes, that’s the same guy who held me in contempt during my final trial in trial practice :beatup:

I’m probably one of the few people who has honestly enjoyed his entire law school career, but after my grades last semester I was bitterly disappointed that I probably won’t be able to graduate with honors. As shallow as it probably sounds, coming in 1st in both of these competitions coupled with having an incredibly successful year at the helm of the SBA helps to lessen the sting ;)

The dog’s pestering me to go outside so I’ll have to cut this entry here, but more to come at some point in the near-term future now that my SBA obligations are winding down. Have a great night y’all! :D

—===—

From the law:/dev/null competition-related archives:

  1. A crazy week indeed — my birthday on Monday, a rally that same day about the Trayvon Martin homicide attended by about 250 people from both the law school and undergrad, our annual 1L/2L/3L basketball tournament, nearly a dozen different student organization events including Speed Networking II and symposiums for both of our law reviews, our SBA and class elections on Thursday, and more stuff I’m probably forgetting… :crack: []
  2. The Student Bar Association and the 4 organizations who provide academic credit to their participants: our “regular” law review, our biotechnology and pharmaceutical law review, our Moot Court Board, and our Trial Advocacy Board. []
  3. Including bulk table sales for student organizations: selling 10 seats as a block to the organization itself, then letting the organization resell the tickets to their members at whatever price point they want and keeping whatever they can raise. Capitalism works y’all! []

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