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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 9 of 9)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 11, 2014 in Background

I’ve learned after writing this blog for almost 5 years now that I have -0- clue what the future is going to hold.

See, e.g., me thinking I might make it to Marine Corps OCS (nope), or me thinking I might become a prosecutor (negative), or my in-retrospect-absurdly-ambitious plans for NC SPICE (LOL).

So I made sure to eschew making any predictions when I got asked the inevitable question of what I looked forward to in my undergraduate alma mater’s future.1 :beatup:

Here’s the last snippet from the interview, followed by some stuff on my history with traffic tickets:2

Questions in this Clip:

00:00 – What do you look forward to for the future at NC State?

01:46 – Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

03:03 – Outtake: Traffic Tickets

And that’s it! Hopefully over these past 9 entries you’ve got a slightly more detailed view of the man-behind-the-blog.3 :)

Back to law-related stuff in the weeks ahead :D Hope all of you have had a great weekend, and enjoy the upcoming week!

—===—

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

  1. Though I did make one small quip about our football team around the 1:31 mark… :angel: []
  2. Mentioned after inadvertently learning the camera hadn’t been cut off yet :beatup: []
  3. Also, I’ve now officially knocked out a third of my New Year’s resolutions ;) []

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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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“Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2014 Edition)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 27, 2014 in Randomness

Maybe it’s because 2012 turned out so well and a correction was due.

Maybe it’s because my goals for 2013 were too ambitious.

Maybe I’m just overly optimistic.

But I definitely went 0-for-3 on my New Year’s resolutions this past year :beatup:

For a quick recap on the resolutions themselves, you can read the entry from a year ago today. The reasons for the failures are numerous, but in a nutshell: NC SPICE wasn’t approved for 501(c)(3) status until late in the year and is (temporarily) dead in the water, I stopped exercising and regained every. single. pound. I lost the year before,1 and the number I picked as a revenue target for my law firm in Year 1 was a wild guess with no relation to anything even vaguely resembling reality.

Now normally I’d take all that as a signal to stop with the resolutions entirely. Not worrying about something certainly trumps failing at it.

But I also hate going out on a loss (something you might have noticed from past entries).

Soooo once again throwing caution and impulse control to the wind, here are my three resolutions for 2014:

  1. Blog more. Across all of 2013, I only updated law:/dev/null a mere 14 times :surprised: — barely over once a month (and 4 of those entries were last January alone). Granted, I like to think most of those 14 entries have really good stuff in them; I’ve gotten several comments on the tips for first-year solos, and a barrage of emails on the entries detailing my first-year finances and then responding to questions about those finances. But at the same time, as great as those entries were, there’s a bunch of other stuff I wanted to rant about and just never got around to it.2 So I’m going to try and do better than once a month on the blog front.
  2. Fix the TGD Law website. My law firm’s website has suffered from the same neglect as the blog. I set up the basic framework two Thanksgivings ago now, and other than finally adding a bio and a contact page I haven’t really done much of anything with it. I’ve somehow gotten to nearly 200 clients in a year3 without a single page really detailing the stuff I actually do. I need to get on it before Thanksgiving #3.
  3. Finish TGD Law’s 2nd fiscal year with $140K+ in revenue. I had just picked a random number when I threw out $70K last year as a revenue target, and then promptly missed it by 37%. I don’t actually expect to reach $140K this time around, but I figure if I miss it by 37% too I’ll have actually had a pretty good year ;)

And now that they’re committed to writing, that means I’ll actually have to work on them (ha!).4

Have a great week y’all! :D

—===—

From the New Year’s Resolutions archives:

  • 2014: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2014 Edition)
    • “Blog more”
    • “Fix the TGD Law website”
    • “Finish TGD Law’s 2nd fiscal year with $140K+ in revenue”
  • 2013: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition)
    • “Wrap up the weight loss” (Failed)
    • “Open the first SPICE Center” (Failed)
    • “Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue” (Failed)
  • 2012: Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”)
    • “Graduate with honors” (Done!)
    • “Don’t f*ck up my commencement speech” (Done!)
    • “Pass the North Carolina bar exam on the first try” (Done!)
  • 2011: [combined with 2012 post] –
    • “Push my GPA above a 3.0” (Done!… then Failed)
    • “Get back in some semblance of shape” (Failed)
    • “Win something” (Done!)
  • 2010: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…”
    • “Finish 1L year with at least a 3.0 GPA” (Failed)
    • “Make it to, and through, Marine Corps OCS” (Failed)
    • “Finish [UNCASG] strong” (Done!)
  • 2009: [combined with 2010 post] –
    • “Graduate from N.C. State” (Done!)
    • “Win reelection as UNCASG President” (Done!)
    • “Get into law school” (Done!)
  1. Which has made wearing my suits an experience (and not in a good way) — I got them all tailored midway through the weight loss, and now they’re all insanely tight around the waist and I can’t afford to buy new ones :beatup: []
  2. Ranting is a great stress reliever, and spares folks from having to listen to me do it in person ;) []
  3. And only lost 3 cases! []
  4. Post #1 of at-least-15 down btw :D []

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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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Yep, I’m still here

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 30, 2013 in The After-3L Life

Hey y’all :)

At least a couple folks felt “punk’d” by my last entry, where I mentioned there’d be more “tomorrow” (as in June 21st) and then disappeared for two months.

I had an actual defense this time though! I did have a plan for a “tomorrow” post, but life decided to intervene, put me in an eminently crabby mood, and I figured y’all wouldn’t want to read me ranting and raving about any of it until I had a chance to reflect ;)

Quite a bit has happened over the past two months:

  • More W’s: The law practice has been proceeding apace, with court appearances on a fairly regular basis and -0- new losses. In particular I thoroughly obliterated opposing counsel and saved a woman’s home from a wrongful foreclosure out in Wilson County back in June.1 For more details, see the second-from-last entry in this list. :D

  • The Chicago trip itself: We’ve all heard the word “clusterf*ck”.2 Well my Chicago trip was like a cluster*ck club, with several slices of awesome sandwiched between two pieces of near-unmitigated disaster — including yet another run-in with the TSA. I did get to catch up with several old classmates though, including one of my best friends from my UNCASG days during my layover in Atlanta, so overall it was a pretty great experience. I’ve got some notes and will (hopefully) work on an entry about it at some point down the road.

  • Church: A few weeks back I went to a Sunday service for the first time since 1999. Back over the summer I had a conversation with a former classmate who was studying for the bar and struggling with the daily grind of studying. Somehow the topic shifted to the more general issue of doing things we need but don’t necessarily like, which in turn shifted to a question asking when had been the last time I set foot into a church. So I agreed that I’d join him after he got past the bar exam, and that’s where I went the first Sunday after the exam.

    My odometer, as I sat in the parking lot of the first church I attended in 14 years (08/04/13)

    My odometer, as I sat in the parking lot of the first church I attended in 14 years (08/04/13)

    It must have been a day when folks were concerned for my soul, because as I was walking out the door that morning I got an email from a client inviting me to join her family at church too.

    Then a few minutes later, while I was sitting in the church parking lot waiting on my classmate and texting away on my phone, I looked up and saw my odometer had tripped over to exactly 170,000 miles. Which is also the first time I’ve ever noticed when it flipped over in the 11 years that I’ve had the car. :crack:

    I’m not saying it’s a burning bush or anything, but it was definitely an odd coincidence. So I went to my client’s church the week after, then went to one of the churches near NCCU the week after that. I still haven’t figured out where my church “home” is going to be yet, or even if I’m going to find one at all, but I’m thinking of making it a regular part of my weekly routine again.

  • Moral Monday defense: From my “This Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” files, I agreed to take on the defense of 20 folks arrested as part of civil disobedience in North Carolina’s Moral Monday protests led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. While I agree with all of about 0% of what the protestors are protesting about,3 I thought the arrests were egregiously over the top and reflected the very worst of government abuses.

    And frankly I have a long-standing distaste and dislike of government, even if my “side” is in power.4 Especially when it comes to protests.5

    So I signed up to be part of the group of volunteer attorneys, and when asked “Can you take 20?” I replied with “sure”… without really thinking about the logistical implications of expanding my client base by 25% overnight without a commensurate increase in revenue or staff :beatup:

    A judicious use of technology picked up during my computer science years has helped me stay on top of things so far, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out when I’m trying to juggle 20 different trials on different days in October / November / December while still serving my pre-existing clients.

  • NC SPICE is official: 14 months after submitting the Form 1023 application, the IRS finally sent me a letter granting 501(c)(3) status to the North Carolina Small Practice Incubator and Collaboration Environment :spin: I have to figure out how to recover from the momentum lost by the year+ delay, but it feels damn good having all that work actually result in something.

  • Joined Class of 2016/17 Orientation: Way back in the halcyon days of 2009, back when law:/dev/null was in its infancy and people were still struggling to figure out what the blog’s name even meant,6 I mentioned in Part 3 of the Orientation Retrospective that we had a reception with the Day+Evening Programs and local alumni followed by a session on professionalism.

    Well now that I’m one of those local alumni I got invited to participate :D I knew the event was going to be fun anyway (there are few things I enjoy more than going back to the school and talking with the students), and it got even more fun when I discovered several of my friends from N.C. State are now part of the Legal Eagle family.

    But then it got downright surreal.7 One of the 1Ls came up to me and goes “You’re T.! My wife is gonna get such a kick out of me meeting you, we read your blog over the summer before I came here!” And then a young lady came up to tell me how she appreciated the entries from 1L year. Then two more came up to say hi and that they had read every entry here. And so on it went for the rest of the night, even until just before everyone had left when a guy walked up and shook my hand, saying “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.”

    You want to turn me from a borderline-arrogant litigator par excellence to a near-blubbering bundle of emotion, just let me find out something I did actually helped someone else.8 Had to wipe away a tear or two when I got back to the car… but only after struggling to fit my now-even-more-overinflated ego inside :spin:

  • “I have to renew already??”: With 1L Orientation happening, that means I’ve actually been a player in this lawyer game for almost a year now — meaning it’s time to renew (and pay more for) my legal malpractice insurance :beatup:

    I’ve gotta pull some statistics together for the renewal app declaring what practices areas accounted for what percentage of my law firm’s income. It should make for an interesting look back, so I’ll post a pie chart or something when I hit the one year mark.

  • Collating 28 exhibits took forever...

    Collating 28 exhibits took forever…

  • New mega-suit filed: Speaking of practice areas, it’s no secret that I love litigation regardless of topic.

    And after saving a lady’s home from downright crooked mortgage practices, on her behalf I spent the better part of two months gathering info, doing research, interviewing folks, and typing up what is by far the biggest lawsuit I’ve ever played a role in drafting/filing. :angel:

    If you’re interested in reading the details, check out this PDF hosted on the TGD Law website: Hayes v. Self-Help Credit Union et al.

    I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out!

  • 2013 Bar results released: And this past Thursday the NC Board of Law Examiners mailed out the results for the July 2013 bar exam. Just like last year, some very close friends didn’t quite make it. But several of my mentees are now officially lawyers, and I’m told by folks who know that NCCU Law‘s overall pass rate went up this go-round — putting us ahead of both (far more expensive) Charlotte Law and Elon Law.9 :D

    I’ll have a new post up rehashing some of this entry to help walk the folks who passed through the process of getting sworn in and such :)

I realize this entry has gotten well past verbose, so I’ll wrap it up here. *THANK YOU* as always for reading and have a great night y’all! :D

  1. Beat him so bad that his last line of argument was, essentially, that I “must be” lying to the Court (no reference to the 100+ pages of unedited documentation in the trial binders I distributed). I ever-so-briefly thought about jumping over the counsel table and beating him down, but then the Judge ruled in our favor and I instead took solace in knowing he had a 3.5-hour trip back to Charlotte to marinate on his loss :angel: []
  2. If you haven’t, check Urban Dictionary. ;) []
  3. Politically they’re almost like an older, upscale version of the unwashed aspiring hippies who did Occupy Wall Street []
  4. See here and here and here, plus a new entry for the NC Department of Commerce and my “privilege license” last year that I never got around to writing about []
  5. See this entry from law school for insight into my views on governments restricting speech in so-called “protected areas” []
  6. If you’re still wondering, go to the first question in this Mailbag entry :) []
  7. And by “surreal” I mean awesome :D []
  8. Coincidentally the subject of a pair of old entries here and here []
  9. The official stats should be publicly released next week []

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“Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 27, 2013 in Randomness

Good evening y’all! :)

Last year’s resolutions turned out pretty well at 3-for-3, so against my better judgment I decided to keep the practice going for one more year.

I’m a few weeks behind in committing them to writing, but here’s what I’ve got as my top objectives for 2013:

  1. Wrap up the weight loss. I know, I know: cliché alert. After being one of those people who (gently) teased the folks who chronically make “I’m really going to get in shape this year! Really!” resolutions they never try to follow for more than a week, I’m now one of the folks making said resolutions :beatup: In my case I’m serious though! I’d already put in a consistent effort, dropping -27lbs in 4.5 months, but “fell off the wagon” back in late November because I thoroughly despise exercising in the cold. Once it warms back up I’d like to finally get down to my target of 175lbs so I can lighten up a smidge on the low-calorie lifestyle.
  2. Open the first SPICE Center. Forward momentum on NC SPICE was building pretty well at the end of last year… until things with the law firm started picking up and I had to scale back splitting my time between the two. I certainly don’t want the law firm business to slow down (especially since it’s my only avenue for paying bills!) but I’m pushing to get the doors opened on our first SPICE Center so the ball will start rolling on that too.
  3. Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue. This one’s the least likely of the group — not least of which because 1/12th of the year is already over and we’re not even close to that rate — but I figure it never hurts to dream, right? :D

Any of y’all have resolutions you’re trying to keep? If so, here’s hoping 2013 is a successful year for all of us! :)

More to come this week, have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the New Year’s Resolutions archives:

  • 2013: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition)
    • “Wrap up the weight loss”
    • “Open the first SPICE Center”
    • “Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue”
  • 2012: Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”)
    • “Graduate with honors” (Done!)
    • “Don’t f*ck up my commencement speech” (Done!)
    • “Pass the North Carolina bar exam on the first try” (Done!)
  • 2011: [combined with 2012 post] –
    • “Push my GPA above a 3.0” (Done!… then Failed)
    • “Get back in some semblance of shape” (Failed)
    • “Win something” (Done!)
  • 2010: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…”
    • “Finish 1L year with at least a 3.0 GPA” (Failed)
    • “Make it to, and through, Marine Corps OCS” (Failed)
    • “Finish [UNCASG] strong” (Done!)
  • 2009: [combined with 2010 post] –
    • “Graduate from N.C. State” (Done!)
    • “Win reelection as UNCASG President” (Done!)
    • “Get into law school” (Done!)

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TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 18, 2013 in Mail

I just want to start out this post by noting it’s the first time I’ve had two pieces done in a 7-day period since… August1 :surprised:

Back on Wednesday, EIC and I went out to lunch with a former classmate who’s now a soon-to-graduate 3L. He wanted to make sure he does everything he needs to do in his final semester of law school to set him up for success after graduation, and asked us both about how we got where we are, the things we did that helped, what we would do differently, and so on.

It was a fun conversation, not least of which because it fed into my pre-existing love of dispensing (rarely sought) advice :beatup:

Plus it made a great topic for a blog entry, so voilà! 2nd post in 7 days ;)

Here are some of the questions that got asked, along with my thoughts…

***

Q: So why did you decide to go solo?

A: I had forgotten I wrote a pair of blog entries on the prospect of going solo way back in November 2011 (here and here). After re-reading through those while writing up this entry, I’d say I was pretty spot-on with my assessment — the priorities just changed a little bit.

I’d say my top 3 reasons for becoming a solo practitioner were:

  1. Freedom: By the time I got near graduation, I had long-since made up my mind that I was going to try running my own business one way or the other (my attention was focused on NC SPICE at the time). The mere thought of getting up in the morning to go work for someone else was enough to put me in a salty mood, and long-time law:/dev/null readers know being a subordinate doesn’t really mesh with my personality anyway :angel:  So now I set my own hours, take or reject cases as I see fit, and can do things like take a soon-to-graduate 3L to lunch or randomly show up to mid-day events without having to clear it with a supervisor first. It’s low-paying at the moment but I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.
  2. Friends: I’ve been beyond blessed to meet thousands of amazing people over the 14.5 years I’ve been in North Carolina, from classmates during my first time at NC State, coworkers during my years as a college dropout, folks I met my second time in school through student media, Student Senate, UNCASG, NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association and trial teams — the list goes on and on. I’m still connected to 1,900 of those folks on Facebook, and 1,200 of them on LinkedIn. That’s a huge pool of folks I can ask for advice, hire for projects, send clients who I can’t help, or represent if they need me.
  3. Fear: Even though it’s been 12 years at this point, the whole “homeless college dropout” phase of my life still haunts me pretty regularly; I’m reminded of it every time I go against a lawyer who’s been practicing the same length of time as me, but is in his mid-20s while I’m a couple months away from hitting 32 (and bald :mad: ). I remember having job applications denied because I didn’t have a college degree, and times I got laid off because the people I worked for couldn’t make payroll. Being at the mercy of others sucks — but I also know from experience that a steady paycheck is a powerful impediment to making overdue life changes. There was simply no better time for me to do my own thing than now, and I was afraid if I started working for someone else I’d become complacent with that.

There are a whole flotilla of other reasons for going solo and odds are high yours will be completely different than mine. The key point is that, if you feel something in your gut urging you to try venturing out on your own, do it now while you still have the flexibility to change your mind if you decide you don’t like it ;)

***

Q: What was your backup plan if things didn’t work out?

A: Going solo :beatup:

I knew I was going to start my own business, but the glaring need for affordable office support and mentorship services for solo practitioners prompted me to invest a lot more energy and money than I should have into getting NC SPICE launched. I just knew I’d have everything operational and in place before the bar exam, so once the exam was over I could get to work helping other folks while I waited on my exam results.

Needless to say that was more than a smidge naïve on my part. I’d have been better off conserving the cash and putting the time toward business development for the law firm.

***

Q: What helped you the most your 3L year in terms of preparing for life after graduation?

A: Talking to as many folks as I could. By an order of magnitude.

Out of those 2,500ish folks I’m connected to on social media, there’s maybe 100 or so I talk to weekly.2 But I’ve got a fairly good memory when it comes to remembering bits and pieces about most of those other 2,400 in terms of what they do, where they’re at, and what experiences they’ve had.

That makes it easier for me to connect folks who have complementary interests, whether it’s something simple like helping a friend get better rates on their auto insurance (NC Farm Bureau Insurance if you’re in North Carolina) or combing through my NCSU contact list to help someone find someone else who knew someone else who raised a certain breed of horse (seriously!).

That keeps me in more-frequent contact with folks I wouldn’t get to talk to that often otherwise, and it’s a great way for meeting even more people I’ve never met before. Ultimately that’s how I ended up in my current office and also how I got my very first client.

The law is a people-centric profession. If you want to excel at it, you need to meet people, take an interest in their lives as people (rather than walking dollar signs), and respect them accordingly :)

***

Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

A: Focus ;)

More than a few of my classmates were pissed when I graduated from NCCU Law with honors and they didn’t. The prevailing assumption (continuing to this day) is that I got all sorts of special privileges because I was SBA President, and that I would have been honors-less alongside them had I just been treated like everyone else.3 The most-cited example has been my ConLaw II class and how I didn’t turn in the final paper — 80% of the final grade — by the deadline.

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

Few (if any) of those folks realize I got an F in that class as a result,4 so whatever “special privileges” I supposedly got certainly weren’t much help.

The 2.333 GPA I had during my 3L Fall semester was my very worst in all of law school, and because of it I had to spend more time than I wanted focusing on academics during 3L Spring. When I could have been creating my future law firm’s website, or designing my business cards or letterhead, or attending local CLEs for free as a student, or any of a million other business development activities I could have done while I was still in school, I was instead cutting out my social life and studying non-stop to get the 3.630 GPA I needed to counteract that 2.333.5

And of course those small snippets of free time I had toward the end of the semester got plowed into the NC SPICE business plan, articles, bylaws, 501(c)(3) app, etc etc etc :beatup:

If there’s something in particular you want to do after graduation, be it going solo or working for a firm or something else entirely, focus on it with every spare ounce of time and energy you have. Don’t split your time if you can help it because your ability to excel at any one thing is going to drop as you add on more of those “one things” to your plate. Trust me.

***

So those are my thoughts on going solo. But it’s just my $.02, and I could be wrong :)

Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the Mailbag archives:

  • TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition (01/18/13) [this entry] –
    • 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. Hopefully you’re less surprised than I am. Maybe? No? Yyyeeeaaahhh I didn’t think so… :beatup: []
  2. I wish it was more, but until there’s more money in the bank Facebook is a luxury I can only use sparingly :( []
  3. I’ve never really understood the compulsion of wishing ill on someone else when things don’t go your way, but that’s a topic for another blog post. :roll: []
  4. Knocking me below a 3.0 and blocking me from finishing the law school’s concentration in Civil Rights & Constitutional Law :cry: []
  5. Waiting on those last grades to post… biggest. nailbiter. ever. But I yelped out loud when I finally saw them all. :D []

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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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The Hectic Life of a Low-Wealth Entrepreneur

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 11, 2012 in The After-3L Life

I’m still here!

It seems like at least once a week I say to myself “I really need to start updating law:/dev/null regularly again”… I log in to the WordPress admin interface… clean out the spam comments and update outdated plugins…

…then promptly get sidetracked by something and never actually write anything down :beatup:

Life over the past month has been crazy. Certifiably nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many things going on simultaneously in my life. Ever.

The law firm’s been up-and-running for a smidge under two months, and I’ve had around 13 clients in that timespan. The crazy part is that I’ve represented those clients despite having no business cards, no website, no letterhead or envelopes or advertising — just my LinkedIn profile, an unpublicized Facebook page, and the Twitter account I barely use.1

I’m also 6-0 in adversarial proceedings, which is just downright surreal. Had you told me back when I got my license that I’d go my first two months without losing a case, I’d have called you crazy. But I’m now 3 foreclosures, 2 misdemeanors, and 1 breach of contract down without a losing client. I know the first loss comes to everyone eventually but I’m over-preparing in the hope I can delay the inevitable as long as possible ;)

Panorama of the new place right after moving in

Speaking of the law firm, I also migrated out of my apartment into a bona fide office. Trying to work from home was cheaper but incredibly inefficient between the dog and the lack of dedicated space for office-related work. The office is huge (~223 square feet), half a block to the Durham Courthouse, and cheaper than damn near everything in downtown Raleigh or Durham — and a testament to the utility of both networking and poker. :surprised:

How so? Well one of my friends from Student Senate connected me to a Raleigh attorney to talk about NC SPICE. I had lunch with him, and he recommended I talk with a particular Durham DWI attorney. I had lunch with him, and he invited me to join his friends at a weekly poker night they have on Mondays. After losing my entire buy-in one week and half my buy-in the next week, I randomly asked him if he knew any attorneys with spare offices they wanted to sublease.

Turns out he had two, including the one I’m in now :spin:

So I’ve got an office, conference room, full kitchen, lobby with receptionist, free parking, all right next to the courthouse! Plus the place is huge enough that I’m now splitting it with EIC, who’s getting ready to start her own practice as well.

And speaking of NC SPICE and splitting things, there’s been some developments on that end as well. I got a response from the Internal Revenue Service that it would take them 9 months just to assign our 501(c)(3) application to somebody for review, then that person would have 90 days to make a decision — meaning we’ll get no update at all whatsoever until June 20132 :crack:

So at our most recent Board of Directors meeting last week, the Board authorized me to cleave the group into two: the education-related components will stay in the nonprofit, and the office support services will get rolled into a new corporation. Since then I’ve lined up 4 investors interested in getting the program off the ground, and we’ve got our first in-person interest meeting and focus group slated for 12/12/12 at 6:00pm.

We’ve also got around 216 people following the NC SPICE Facebook page, and a hair’s breadth over 200 followers on the NC SPICE Twitter feed.

The only downside is that I’ve now gone from running one nonprofit 6 months ago to running a nonprofit, a corporation, and a law firm all at the same time :beatup:

A long overdue lifestyle change. Just 18lbs to go!

On the personal side, my quest to get back in shape is still on target with me down -27lbs since June 30th. I don’t think I ever wrote the original entry I meant to write on that, but during bar prep my good friend Tim Lipka (Mr. QC) from NCSU’s Student Government passed away from a heart attack at age 25. I’d just had drinks with him when I was in DC for the Howard Moot Court Competition back in February, and we’d talked on Facebook about grabbing lunch when he came to town before the DNC convention in Charlotte. His passing was coupled with an unexpectedly high blood pressure reading I got during a regular checkup the day before, so the two of those things combined freaked me out enough to get my life in order.

More exercise and less food has been the lifestyle change for the past few months, and I’m slowly making progress. My target weight is 175lbs so I’ve got a bit more to go but it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I imagined thus far — and my blood pressure is coming back down slightly, hopefully meaning I’ll be able to avoid medication.

Aside from my personal health, life is good. I’m still contributing semi-regularly over at JD Oasis. Samson is still happy and healthy. And even though I’m broke financially I know things are going to pick up as time goes on.

That’s all I’ve got for this entry, but hope to (seriously) have more some time soon. I hope all of you have had an amazing weekend, and enjoy the week ahead! :D

  1. Turns out my “no frills and no bullsh*t” reputation from years of overexposure in N.C. State‘s Student Senate, the UNC Association of Student Governments, and NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association has helped with client development — which is odd considering those groups each had plenty of people in them who are now lawyers :crack: []
  2. I thought the purpose of us having to pay $850 just to apply was to ensure the IRS had adequate reviewers to look at these things in a timely fashion, but apparently I was wrong… []

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