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Giving Thanks, 2015 Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 26, 2015 in Randomness

Greetings from Virginia Beach! 😃

It’s been 6 years (!) since I posted a Thanksgiving entry, reflecting on the things I’m thankful for and where I was in life 1 / 5 / 10 years ago. Taking the time to reflect is something I started doing back when I had dropped out of college, trying to keep my spirits up when it felt like I was never going to amount to anything.1

Whether I’ve actually amounted to anything is up for debate — but at least now my spirit is doing OK 😊

A year ago today, I was here in Virginia Beach with my family. Survived my second full year as a solo practitioner. Excited about an uptick in the practice and recently joining the speakers circuit with a quasi-CLE on starting your own law firm.

I sacrificed Thanksgiving cooking for that 3.333

I sacrificed Thanksgiving cooking for that 3.333

Five years ago, I learned that I was actually capable of cooking my own Thanksgiving dinner 😂

It was my 2L year at NCCU Law and I decided to stay home for the holiday so I could study for final exams — even though I stood by my belief that grades don’t matter (reaffirmed in this Mailbag entry), I was close enough to a 3.0 that I’d regret not trying to make it.2

So I cooked my own turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and croissant rolls… and a few weeks later made the Dean’s List for the first time since 2005.

And ten years ago, to be honest I don’t remember where I was 😶 I’d just returned to NC State, terrified by Calculus III,3 and focused on not bombing academically. That was the semester I made Dean’s List. 😄

I’d go through and give you the full list of the things I’m grateful for like I did back in 2009, but the main one is my grandparents. The Thanksgiving meal this year was so different from everything I had growing up — Nan can’t physically cook, so Pops and my Aunt Diane prepared a few things while I handled getting the table prepared (and I’m on deck to mow the lawn and rake the leaves before I leave). It was just the 4 of us. A smaller meal, smaller group of family members. Everything just felt… off. Smaller. Like twilight. It’s tough to accept.

I’m grateful to have the ability to travel up here to be with them. Grateful for a team at TGD Law willing to put up with my idiosyncrasies and family drama. Grateful for friends who’ve texted throughout the day to wish me a happy Thanksgiving.

And grateful for each of you, still stopping by even though I’ve done a terrible job of keeping things up to date.

Thank you. And I hope you’ve had a happy Thanksgiving! ❤️

  1. I’d never wish the experience on anyone, but you really start to understand how important a college degree is to people when you feel like you’ll never get one yourself. []
  2. A story for another post! []
  3. Where I actually learned more than in 3 different attempts at Calculus II 😂 []

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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!

—===—

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 II)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 25, 2015 in The After-3L Life

You could probably guess from the “(Part I)” atop the last entry that the financial consequences of driving a 13-year-old car aren’t the only source of life-related drama over the past however-many months.

My family is also a mess.1

  • Sister of TDot is back in a mental institution. She apparently went voluntarily this time around, which is a switch from her past visits. I’m told schizoaffective disorder is the official diagnosis — basically a combination of schizophrenia and bipolarism — but the particular reasons for her commitment don’t really matter; she gets committed, gets medicated, convinces doctors to release her, immediately stops taking meds, and the cycle of violence and craziness repeats until she’s committed again.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know something needs to change or she needs to be cut loose from the rest of the family. Just because she’s not responsible for her mental illness doesn’t mean she’s not responsible for going off her meds knowing what the end result will be. But my family tolerates it because (this is the actual response I get) “what are we supposed to do, let her die?” Like the thousands upon thousands of Americans living reasonably normal lives despite mental health issues are incapable of surviving…

  • My mom is (theoretically at least) finally waking up. I’ve obliquely hinted in past entries that I’d had some personal experiences growing up when it came to domestic violence. Evidently things have gotten totally out of control as the situation with my sister has deteriorated.

    Mom has been talking about leaving since before I left for NC State — the first time — and I missed several events my 3L year while pacing the hallway listening to her on the phone as she gave me every excuse under the sun for why she just couldn’t get up and start over.2 And it’s been a once-every-couple-months conversation in the years since I graduated. But she started a GoFundMe page seeking help, which at least means she’s more-seriously thinking about dealing with things than before.3

    I love both of my parents, but their current environment is toxic as f*ck and they both need to start acting like adults. For better or worse, that likely means splitting up.

  • Nan is not doing well :( As callous as it probably sounds as you read it on screen, my heart hurts moreso from that than all the (avoidable) drama with my parents and sister. There have been various hints here and there over the years — her handwriting had gotten steadily worse when she sent birthday cards, for a brief period of time she’d lost a lot of her hair4 — but it didn’t really sink in until I went home to see Nan and Pops for Easter.

    Some of the handrails added to Nan's & Pops's house

    Some of the handrails added to Nan’s & Pops’s house

    I usually try to go up 3-4x a year and had just been there for Christmas a few months prior, but when I arrived this most-recent trip I noticed there was a handrail added to the step up from the garage. And another running the length of the hallway. And a quartet of them in the bathroom. Turns out she’s had progressive trouble walking without assistance, had fallen at least once, and needs these to make sure she can move around on her own. Pops also bought a pair of short-wave walkie talkies in case she needed him while he was out in the garage.

    The doctors say she needs her thyroid taken out. And then they had to scuttle the operation because of an anomaly in the pre-operation angiogram. A trip to the cardiologist revealed total blockage in one coronary artery and 60% blockage in another. So meds were prescribed for that and now we wait at some point for another trip to the original people to work on the thyroid. It’s a mess.

    Now trust me y’all, I do realize I have little real reason to be upset. Nan’s mentally still in good spirits. I think even she would agree that she’s lived a long life.5 Her mentality towards old age and death is where I largely picked up mine (e.g. she refuses to take the aforementioned medications because they make her feel “yucky” afterwards. “What’s the point of getting older if I’m going to be miserable?” and all). And plenty of friends at younger ages than me don’t have grandparents around anymore — while mine have seen me graduate high school, college, law school, and become more-or-less financially self-sufficient.

    But it still sucks. A lot.

The advantage to moving to North Carolina way back in 1998 — being able to escape my family — cuts the other direction when I’m reminded there’s inevitably going to come a day when I’m the only one here. I’m hoping that day is still many years off of course. And I try to deal with it by not thinking about it and pouring myself into my work. It’s just one of those things that weighs on you sometimes, you know?

Anyhow, Part III later this week. Good night y’all!

  1. Déjà vu 2L Spring… []
  2. Never mind that she was talking to someone (me) who had done it. Yeah, you might be broke. Yeah, you may even be homeless. But you’ve gotta start somewhere ffs. []
  3. She also sent me a text message apologizing for being a bad mother. Howtf is a kid supposed to respond to that?? []
  4. Although now it’s back oddly enough. She insists it’s from using coconut oil — and suggested I try it to help with the balding :beatup: []
  5. She turns 75 this year. []

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Time flies when you’re flying solo

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 30, 2014 in The After-3L Life

I knew it had been awhile since I’d written something here, but it didn’t really click that it had been sooo long until Thanksgiving this past week :beatup:

It also served as a reminder that an awful lot of stuff can happen in just three months.

Needless to say, things have been hectic. My associates both found (much) better paying jobs.1 I briefly brought in a trio of interns who didn’t pass the bar and needed to make ends meet for a little bit.2 Won a pair of awards.3 Lost a pair of trials I should have won. Then (when I was seriously questioning wtf I was doing with my life) won another pair of trials I should have lost. Fought with Samson.4 Fought with opposing counsel.5 Fought with my alma mater.6 Spent a much-needed Thanksgiving break with my grandparents. The list goes on.

The law firm has survived its second full year and was still somewhat profitable. Fees earned went up +37%, but expenses climbed +32% so that pretty much washed out the gain; net profit went up just over $1K.7 I’ll post a full finance breakdown at some point in the near-term(-ish) future.

The other cool thing that happened was making my debut on the law-related speaker circuit :surprised:

A room. Of lawyers. Listening to me.

A room. Of lawyers. Listening to me.

After helping a dozen or so folks start their own law firms, and keeping pretty thorough records on my own startup experience, a few months ago I was asked to put together a presentation for a North Carolina Bar Association group called Starting Out Solo that focuses on lawyers who have just started a solo practice or are thinking about going that direction.

The presentation was basically supposed to be a “how to” guide on starting up a law firm, with an added section glommed on about doing the monthly trust account reconciliations.

And a bunch of people showed up :crack:

Even though I’ve been doing presentations on leadership development and on Robert’s Rules of Order for years now, I was crazy nervous presenting to a room full of peers (you can tell my hands were shaking from how blurry the picture I took turned out). But it went very well — so much so that I was asked to do the same presentation for a CLE in October8 and another one coming up in a couple weeks.

Things have been hectic. But still good :)

Sorry for being MIA for months at a stretch y’all. Should have more soon. Have a great night!

  1. And also taught me that my managerial skills leave much to be desired at this point in my career. I learned a lot during the time they were here, including that I suck at delegation. []
  2. One each helping with NC SPICE, marketing, and getting me organized. It’s a sign of how chaotic things were that I still haven’t actually looked at what they produced on several projects yet… []
  3. The NCCU 40 Under 40 Award, and one that won’t be announced until January. []
  4. The little sh*t has somehow learned how to get into the refrigerator, and has raided it three times despite my efforts to stop him. []
  5. Including one, during discussion of a case, randomly goes “I notice you’re very into blogging.” It was weird. []
  6. I will once again be coaching the TYLA trial teams for UNCCH Law. The details are even more ridiculous than last year if you can believe that. []
  7. Needless to say that New Year’s Resolution won’t be coming to fruition :beatup: []
  8. The program for new lawyers. It was called NAPP back in my day, though now apparently they’re calling it PNA: Professionalism for New Admittees. []

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“Let me tell you a story…” (Part 3 of 9)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 5, 2014 in Background

Most folks I meet don’t believe it when they find out I was once a homeless college dropout.1 I’ve mentioned it occasionally here at law:/dev/null but I generally don’t talk about it in person — it’s not exactly an uplifting topic! :beatup:

Well of course that ended up being one of the topics of discussion during my interview with the N.C. State Libraries as part of their Student Leadership Initiative (links to Part 1 and Part 2 are below).

We also chat about me helping to shepherd a few items through the Student Senate on my return, including the creation of a campus LGBT Center.2

Enjoy :)

Questions in this Clip:

00:00 – You’ve spoken about the challenges you faced while you were a student, specifically your time as a self-described “college dropout.” Can you talk a little bit about why you dropped out and what factors influenced your decision to return?

08:21 – As a Student Senator, you authored many bills including the Student Media Independence Referendum and a bill that supported the establishment of a campus LGBT center. Can you talk about your decision to support these bills?

I’m off for a weekly poker night with one of my mentors and his friends :D Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the law:/dev/null Student Leadership Initiative-related archives:

  • Part 1 of 9: The Backstory (05/03/14)
  • Part 2 of 9: In the Beginning… (05/04/14)
  • Part 3 of 9: Dropping Out (05/05/14) [this post]
  • Part 4 of 9: Prelude to Revolution (05/06/14)
  • Part 5 of 9: Party Time in Witherspoon (05/07/14)
  • Part 6 of 9: “Collaboration” (05/08/14)
  • Part 7 of 9: SSP Round Two and UNCASG (05/09/14)
  • Part 8 of 9: Law School (05/10/14)
  • Part 9 of 9: Traffic Tickets (05/11/14)
  1. Case in point: back during law school graduation, after NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms offered some kind words about me to the crowd, Top Gun asked me when I got in line for my diploma “Is all that stuff he said true?” in total disbelief. []
  2. Apologies to my friends who just went into shock to discover I was supporting the LGBT community before it was trendy ;) []

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“Let me tell you a story…” (Part 2 of 9)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 4, 2014 in Background

Happy Star Wars Day everybody, and May the Fourth be with you :D

Yesterday I gave y’all the background behind a 1.5-hour long oral history project I did with the N.C. State Libraries — if you haven’t read that entry yet, you’ll want to do that before watching the video below so you understand why they ask the things they ask.

Go ahead. We’ll wait. :)

The interview is broken into 8 snippets of around 10 minutes or so apiece. Here’s the first one, on my background and deciding to come to NC State:

And for those who like knowing what they’re about to watch, here are the questions they ask me and the timestamps for them:

Questions in this Clip:

0:00:19 – Before we begin talking about your time at State, we’d like to talk to you about where you’re originally from?

0:00:48 – Do you have any siblings?

0:00:58 – What factors influenced your decision to attend NC State?

0:02:11 – Did you live on campus?

0:02:31 – Can you describe what it was like to live on campus?

0:03:45 – What campus events or clubs did you participate in?

0:06:37 – What did you hope to gain from your involvement in Student Government?

0:07:55 – Following your first year as a Student Senator, you campaigned for Student Senate President. Can you describe that?

Next video tomorrow — good night folks!

—===—

From the law:/dev/null Student Leadership Initiative-related archives:

  • Part 1 of 9: The Backstory (05/03/14)
  • Part 2 of 9: In the Beginning… (05/04/14) [this post]
  • Part 3 of 9: Dropping Out (05/05/14)
  • Part 4 of 9: Prelude to Revolution (05/06/14)
  • Part 5 of 9: Party Time in Witherspoon (05/07/14)
  • Part 6 of 9: “Collaboration” (05/08/14)
  • Part 7 of 9: SSP Round Two and UNCASG (05/09/14)
  • Part 8 of 9: Law School (05/10/14)
  • Part 9 of 9: Traffic Tickets (05/11/14)

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TDot’s Mailbag v10.0: First-Year Finance Figures Follow-up Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 27, 2013 in Mail

Greetings from Virginia Beach y’all :)

In what you all know is a familiar refrain at this point, “I really meant to write this awhile ago” blah blah blah. :beatup: This post has been tumbling around in the nether regions of my brain since just a day or two after posting my first-year finance figures last month, in part because the (occasionally vitriolic) responses I got started giving me flashbacks to posting my grades 1L year.

Then out of the blue I started getting tagged in a bunch of tweets mentioning the post:

Needless to say I was (1) flummoxed, (2) flattered, and (3) proud of what’s likely the closest we’ll ever get here at law:/dev/null to a viral post :D

And it also reminded me how long it’s been since I wrote the last entry :beatup:

So now that I’m out of town visiting my grandparents for Thanksgiving, I’ve got some free time to respond to the handful of questions I got sent — that can be reprinted on a family-friendly blog like this one — in response to my first-year finance figures…

***

Q:1 Dude what are you doing!! 2

A: I’m assuming this was intended as a question, so I’ll answer it as one: I’m doing the same thing I did when I posted my transcripts from both law school and undergrad.3

Like law students and their grades, people seem to be very protective of their financial info; I searched for this kind of stuff for weeks before getting started and never found anything useful. The most-common finance comment I found was along the lines of “You’ll lose money the first year, make less than what you’d make as a first-year associate your second year, and exceed what you’d make as a third-year associate in your third year.”4

I just don’t care that much ;) And if it would provide any useful data to someone else thinking about going solo, all the better.

***

Q: How are you defining [the terminology at the bottom of the graphic]?

A: These may or may not line up with “normal” usage of the same terminology, but here’s how I came up with the numbers I did:

  • Gross Revenue: Every single penny that ever crossed into the firm’s operating account, regardless of the reason for it (e.g. there’s no differentiation between someone paying me versus me merely being reimbursed for advancing expenses for a client). If you were to take the “Deposits” line from all my bank statements and add them up, this is the number you’d get.
  • Gross Income: This is the total amount I earned in fees doing stuff for people. If you were to take the Gross Revenue category and subtract out all the entries where I was just getting reimbursed, this is the number you’d get.
  • Net Income: This is the amount that actually went into my pocket for personal expenses. Take the Gross Income category, then take out everything I’ve spent on the business — office rent, the office phone line, office supplies, etc etc etc — and this is what you’d get. Meaning I spent a smidge over $30K in business-related items during the first year.
  • Median Invoice: At the time I created that graphic, I’d sent out 142 invoices. This number was the median.5
  • Average Invoice: The average of those same 142 invoices.6
  • Worst Case: On a per-client basis, after factoring in all the case-specific expenses (filing fees, printing, mileage, and so on), this was the amount I lost on the worst single case.
  • Best Case: Same as above, except the single best case instead (a business litigation case that, in light of the magnitude of the victory, I drastically undercharged :beatup: ).

***

Q: There’s no way you survived an entire year on $1700. How did you eat?

A: True, I didn’t survive on the net income alone; remember that business meals are partially tax-deductible :angel:

If you factor out the business meals for the year (as well as a dozen-ish charitable contributions I impetuously made at the end of 2012 when things were going surprisingly well), the net income number would jump up a bit to $7,405.36 — a smidge over $615 a month. To cover the rest of my personal bills, initially I was using personal credit cards7 and since then have had to repeatedly hit up my grandparents for loans until things turn the corner.8

It’s a miracle the doors are still open at this point, so I just keep trying to get smarter about expenses and keep winning cases on the figuring that everything will build on itself. We’ll see.

***

Q: Have you done any advertising?

A: It depends on how one defines “advertising.” If you’re talking about taking a bunch of money, throwing it into a pile on the floor, then setting it ablaze, yes I’ve done some of that :beatup:

After inviting all my Facebook friends to the TGD Law Facebook page, I started doing some modest Facebook advertising. I experimented with the Facebook sidebar ads before realizing they were a near-total waste of money, then switched over to the News Feed ads that got much better results. I still haven’t gotten a significant case from Facebook myself, but I’ve been messaged by a number of folks I had to refer out to other lawyers so hopefully social media engagement will lead to something.

I also started trying direct mail back in May, which was breaking even initially but has now hit a point where I’m likely to cancel it. The direct mail side of the legal industry is very cost-competitive — some lawyers in the Raleigh-Durham area are handling things like traffic tickets for as little as $25 a case — and I’m simply not willing to be a bargain basement lawyer charging dirt-cheap rates in the hopes of getting 20-30 cases a day.

And then a few months ago I started experimenting with ads in the monthly brochure of a well-trafficked local business. The most I’ve gotten out of that one so far has been a single tweet from someone who happened to see it and thought it was interesting — and who already knew me from NCCU Law. :beatup:

All told I’ve spent $4,260.90 on advertising over the year, and in terms of concrete results have only made back $1,379.96 of that amount. Needless to say there will be changes made in 2014.

***

Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned financially from Year 1 that you’d give as advice to a new solo?

A: Track everything.

When I first started out, I took a number of cases in far-flung areas like Greensboro and Smithfield just because I needed the money. While those cases were certainly more lucrative than me sitting at the office making nothing at all, after I factored in case-specific costs (office supplies, mileage, and so on) I realized they weren’t nearly as lucrative as I thought.

And tracking everything also taught me how profoundly expensive even local cases can be if you don’t get paid in full and up-front. As an example, the “Worst Case” from the graphic was a simple criminal defense issue in Wake County (adjacent to my home territory in Durham), but required so many trips back and forth to Raleigh trying to get the guy the best possible result that I burned a ton of gas in the process… and never got paid a dime :beatup:

***

Q: If you could start over, what 3 things would you do differently?

A: That’s easy –

  1. Invest in my website: I didn’t even put a page up at tgdlaw.com until last Thanksgiving — and now it’s almost a full Thanksgiving later and there’s still nothing there but the firm bio and a contact page. There’s no telling how many potential clients I’ve missed because I don’t show up on most Google searches and have no meaningful info there when people type in the URL from my business card.
  2. Get paid up front: When I read Jay Foonberg’s How to Start & Build a Law Practice, I was underwhelmed. It had plenty of good info but it simply didn’t match the hype,9 and several times felt painfully anachronistic (especially the tech stuff). But he’s 110% right on the money — pun intended — when it comes to what he calls Foonberg’s Rule: get paid in cash, and get it up front. I “played nice” with a number of clients, including some who were classmates and old friends, and got burned on more than a couple occasions. Rack up a few of those and you start freaking out over how to pay bills in addition to being annoyed that folks decide not to pay for a service you provided. It’s better for everyone involved if you go ahead and get paid in advance and then just work hard to deliver a quality result.
  3. Charge more: A couple weeks before I got my bar results, I saw a blog entry that recommended lawyers “work for full price or for free, but never for cheap.” Being (relatively) young and naïve, I completely disregarded that concept entirely — I started out charging just $75 an hour, did flat rate appearances for what ended up being even less, and even got a $420,000+ judgment wiped out for a nonprofit I only charged $2,500.10 After all, my whole premise underlying NC SPICE was that legal supply and demand were just mismatched because of pricing, and enabling new lawyers to keep their overhead low would in turn enable them to charge lower rates and lead to a flurry of business. But the problem with “working for cheap” is that you have to bring in a ton of clients to make ends meet, even at low overhead. And then you either end up with either (a) dissatisfied clients you can’t keep adequately up-to-date, or (b) working yourself like crazy trying to keep all the plates spinning. It seems counterintuitive, but you’ll be a better and happier lawyer — providing better service to a now-happier client — if you charge a healthy sum and provide a corresponding level of service.

***

So that’s my $.02 follow-up on the money stuff :) I hope all of you get to have an amazing Thanksgiving with family / friends / loved ones!

—===—

From the Mailbag archives:

  • TDot’s Mailbag v10.0: First-Year Finance Figures Follow-up Edition (11/27/13) [this entry] –
    • What are you doing?
    • How are you defining your terminology?
    • How did you survive financially?
    • Have you done any advertising?
    • What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
    • What 3 things would you do differently?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition (01/18/13) –
    • Why did you become a solo practitioner?
    • What was your “Plan B” job-wise?
    • What helped you the most 3L year in preparing for post-grad life?
    • If you had to do 3L year over again, what would you differently?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v8.0: Post-Bar Exam Edition (08/11/12) –
    • What materials did you use for bar prep?
    • Are you bailing on law:/dev/null for Twitter?
    • What are your plans for law:/dev/null post-graduation?
    • Where do things stand with NC SPICE?
    • How does it feel being done with everything?
    • What’s your secret to not being stressed about the bar exam?
    • Do you have any bar exam study materials?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v7.0: Legal Eagle Grading Edition (06/22/11) –
    • You made Dean’s List… but grades don’t matter?
    • Why is NCCU Law’s curve so low?
    • What is the rationale for NCCU Law’s dismissal policy?
    • How does the dismissal policy work?
    • What are NCCU Law’s GPA cutoffs for Dean’s List and academic honors?
    • Do you get notified if you made Dean’s List?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v6.0: 1L Questions Edition (08/23/10) –
    • Do we really need to study 60 hours a week?
    • My study partners study all day; am I missing something?
    • How time-consuming is being an SBA Representative?
    • Should I use “canned” briefs or create my own?
    • Is law school really just a big head game?
    • What’s the biggest difference between 1L year and 2L year?
    • What made you pursue law after having done computer science?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v5.0: What Law School’s Really Like (04/14/10) –
    • Admissions?
    • Bar Exam?
    • The Work?
    • Professors?
    • Electives?
    • Extracurriculars?
    • What would you do differently?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v4.0 (01/21/10) –
    • What really made you dislike BigLaw?
    • Why were 2 of the top 4 teams in the K-S competition from T4s?
    • What happened to Tweet-sized Tuesdays and the Friday Drive-by?
    • How did your CivPro I final exam turn out?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v3.0 (10/04/09) –
    • What’s your email address?
    • Do you really send/receive thousands of text messages in a month?
    • How are you adjusting to a historically black university?
    • Are you really a Republican?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v2.0 (09/07/09) –
    • Did you have a bunch of study materials for the LSAT?
    • How well did you do on the LSAT?
    • How did you do in your election for 1L SBA Rep?
    • Who is in the Gang of Eight?
  • TDot’s Mailbag v1.0 (08/20/09) –
    • What does law:/dev/null mean?
    • Did your entry about That Guy really happen?
    • Did you really count the lights from your apartment to school?
  1. Starting with the last mail entry, I’ve given up on trying to anonymize all the names by just eliminating the names entirely. So now if you send me something, don’t worry about you potentially being listed as the person who sent the question :) []
  2. Totally unrelated: I really have an adverse reaction to two exclamation points. I’m fine with one (!), or three (!!!), or an exorbitant number not worth counting (!!!!!!), but two just strikes me as… off. Unless it’s l33t-ized as in “!!1”. []
  3. Mostly unrelated: last winter several of you asked if I’d have the cajones to post my final law school transcript, since the one in that earlier entry was only through 2L year. Well here you go. :P []
  4. I’d need more than two hands to count the number of times I ran across that comment too. You’d think people just copy/pasted it without offering their own perspective… []
  5. I know lawyers aren’t renowned for the mathematical talents, so in case you’re not familiar with medians basically I sorted the invoices by dollar amount, and then took the amount from the middle invoice. []
  6. Adding up the dollar amounts of all the invoices, then dividing that sum by 142. []
  7. A horribly bad idea in retrospect. I know it’s commonplace and the only option a lot of entrepreneurs have, but avoid wrapping your personal life into your business as much as possible. []
  8. There are few things in life more emasculating than being a man in his early-30s with two degrees asking your retired non-degree-holding grandparents both in their mid-70s for a slice of their Social Security checks :( []
  9. Some attorneys commented that they slept with the book next to their bed, so they could read it over and over across the years. I question the sanity of those attorneys. :crack: []
  10. Let me tell you, they appreciated the return they got on that investment! []

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Swamped

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 21, 2013 in The After-3L Life

Good morning y’all! :)

No, your eyes don’t deceive you: not only is this the first bona fide entry on law:/dev/null in two months, but it’s also being written before 11pm :D

I know, I know. It’s been awhile since I wrote anything here. I kept meaning to get around to it, I just didn’t realize how long it had been until I went to update the .htaccess file for my law firm’s website, opened my .htaccess file for the blawg to use as a template… and noticed the last-modified date was exactly three months ago :crack:

As you can probably guess, the solo practice life has left me even less time for writing than 3L year of law school. The good news is that I’m swamped. The bad news is that… I’m swamped :beatup:

I hit the point a couple months ago where I probably need some support staff to keep things moving upward, but my revenue stream isn’t consistent enough to actually hire someone. Things had been going swimmingly from the day I opened my doors but then my hubris led me to make a classic rookie mistake — I started taking on more high-risk clients,1 didn’t insist on getting paid up front, then in April a good chunk of them skipped out on the bills.

So April became “Make-a-reluctant-phone-call-to-Nan-sheepishly-asking-for-a-loan-to-cover-May-bills” Month, May is now “Desperately-scramble-to-figure-out-what-to-do-for-June” Month, and as a result my long-flailing efforts to resume blogging with anything even vaguely resembling a degree of regularity has fallen short again :(

The only upside is that May is shaping up to be the best month financially since I started :surprised:

Aside from the money issues, on the lawyer-side of being a lawyer I’m still undefeated with my cases — extending the 6-0 record in November out to 19-0 today. I’ve had some pretty cool wins too: hitting a shady property management company with a $45K judgment (including treble damages) after an elderly lady’s apartment burned down from faulty wiring,2 getting a downright absurd settlement in a breach of contract case by letting the other side think something that was trivial to my client was actually vitally important, and saving a church from bankruptcy by having a $303K judgment against it vacated.3

Even the pre-verdict pleadings have gone well: I’ve only lost one solitary motion, and even that was part of a 1-and-1 (ours denied + theirs denied) that led to a favorable settlement. :crack:

I’ve gotten into some more-challenging litigation since then — including a case before the North Carolina Business Court against two of the largest law firms in the State — so we’ll see how long the win streak lasts. My long-term goal is to reach Harvey Specter-like proficiency before I hit 40 :)

In NC SPICE-related news, we’re still waiting on the IRS to get around to ruling on our nonprofit application. We’ve had a number of offices open up in the building I’m in, so I’ve been trying to find young lawyers to fill those spots and basically turn this building into our first SPICE Center. More developments to come on that hopefully.

On the extracurricular side of life, I was invited to spend some time at ECU’s LeaderShape program last week, as one of their “guest leaders” for a panel on leadership. It was both cool and weird at the same time — cool because I love mentoring / trying to help others (especially college students), weird because I haven’t really considered myself a “leader” outside of a Student Government-esque realm in… well… ever. It was definitely a fun experience though, and I got to meet several students potentially interested in legal careers.

I also accepted a spot on the Editorial Board of the ABA YLD’s The Young Lawyer newsletter :D  Not entirely sure what it’s going to entail yet, but hopefully it will involve creating something more than the chintzy 2-3 page newspaper-style “newsletter” we get every other month :beatup: I was supposed to be contacted by someone in mid-May about orientation / what’s going to happen when / etc etc etc but still haven’t heard from anyone — I guess technically “mid-May” is any day before May 31st, so we’ll see what happens.4

And Samson is still healthy and boisterous :spin:

I think that’s pretty much it for now. I won’t lie to you and claim there will be more on law:/dev/null this week, since it’s pretty obvious my efforts at blogging have now fallen somewhere between “grow a beard just because” and “get a root canal” on my List of Things To Do In Life. But hopefully I’ll be able to post again soon :) Hope all of you are well, and have a great Tuesday! :D

  1. Translation: folks with no money but good cases []
  2. They initially refused to compensate her for losing everything by claiming a liability disclaimer in the lease agreement would protect them and therefore “it’s not our problem” :roll: []
  3. The highlight of my career so far: my whole argument initially was focused on improper service of process, then as I was preparing bench books the night before I noticed a date discrepancy in two different verified pleadings filed by the Plaintiff some time apart — and as I dug, discovered the Plaintiff had basically fabricated the whole thing :crack: []
  4. And if I don’t get contacted at all, I’ll know going in that I’ve got more than one problem with the ABA YLD… []

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“[O]ne hour a day for the business”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 26, 2012 in The After-3L Life

Merry (belated) Christmas y’all :)

I know, I know — law:/dev/null‘s been dormant for over a month now. It’s gotten so bad the spammers don’t even care anymore, leaving me only 1 spam message to clean out over the past month :beatup:

But I’m working on getting that turned around (seriously!) ;)

A couple weeks ago EIC and I had lunch with one of my attorney mentors,1 and I got ribbed a bit because my law practice is still in about as much disarray as it was last month.

We’ve moved up to around 23 clients since opening and advanced to 11-0 in the adversarial stuff.2

Finally got my office decorated a smidge :)

Finally got my office decorated a smidge :)

But the TGD Law website hasn’t had any work done on it since I played around with it during my Thanksgiving trip to visit Nan and Pops, I still haven’t ordered envelopes or letterhead, and my QuickBooks accounting is a work-in-progress.

At least I got the office spruced up a bit?

Anyhow, so while I’m being teased at this lunch for the by-the-seat-of-my-pants operation of my law firm — and me arguing in rebuttal that my neglect of the business side of things is fine so long as I stay organized on the law side of things (which I seem to do quite well) — my mentor dropped one of those questions you just know someone’s going to ask because there’s really no rebuttal to it:

“Are you telling me you can’t even set aside one hour a day for the business?”

Aaaannndd after me failing to come up with something witty in response I of course had to concede that I could. Hence, resurrecting law:/dev/null. :D

[And yes, I fully realize you might have done a ::facepalm:: right then because my personal blog is not law firm business. I know. I’m setting aside an hour for the law firm too, plus time for NC SPICE.  I just figured since I’m going to make an effort to better-regiment my time, I might as well try to resume the enterprise I spent the better part of 4 years now creating ;) ]

Now I’m not sure yet how often law:/dev/null will be updated going forward. Daily is probably unrealistic, but at-least-weekly sounds doable. So take this entry as a heads up, cross your fingers with me, and hopefully I’ll talk with y’all more soon.

Until then, have a great night! :spin:

  1. I’ve been blessed to have a handful of these — in addition to my law school professors — and folks I tell you they are absolutely vital if you plan on going into solo/small practice. Vital. For srs. []
  2. Unofficially 12-0, but since the dismissal isn’t getting filed until January I won’t count it until then. God willing I’ll be 14-2 at worst by the time January is done… :surprised: []

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TDot’s Tips: NC Bar Exam 2012 Postscript (or “Appeals and Oaths and Taxes, oh my!”)

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! :D

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 Wednesday1) 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 :spin:

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 school2 and others that affect every school to some degree or another.3

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 :beatup:

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.4

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Prepare a letter addressed to Fred P. Parker III, North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, PO BOX 2946, Raleigh, NC, 27602;
  3. Outline the grounds for your appeal, noting for example the impact of the lack of electricity;
  4. Get the letter notarized; and,
  5. Mail it to the NCBLE by September 14th, 2012.5

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” :beatup: ).

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! :D

***

====================
“PRIVILEGE LICENSE” / TAX, MANDATORY CLE, AND INSURANCE
====================

Officially being a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re officially able to practice yet though :beatup:

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” (NAPP6), 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 :beatup:  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. :D

***

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:

  1. Yes I was texting while driving, it’s a very old habit I’m slowly breaking :beatup: []
  2. Efforts to recruit more out-of-state students have led to more of our high-performing students taking out-of-state bar exams not counted in the NC numbers. []
  3. People going in with a defeatist attitude, insisting they weren’t ready for the test, and then proving it to themselves. []
  4. The NCBLE’s dual-score solution — scrapping the afternoon scores and doubling the morning ones — was also of limited benefit when many considered the discarded afternoon topics to be the easier set. []
  5. I haven’t been able to get solid information on when/if there’s a deadline for appeals (the NCBLE got squirrelly when they found out I passed but was still asking questions), but the judicial review portion of the NCBLE’s rules mention twenty (20) calendar days as the timeline for appealing other adverse actions so I can’t envision an exam appeal having to be done any faster than that. Since the NCBLE mailed letters on August 24th, the earliest they could have been received was August 25th — making September 14th the last day to postmark the appeal. []
  6. Surely the homophone was coincidental?… :crack: []

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