Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 13, 2017 in The After-3L Life
If any of my older readers are still checking this blog occasionally, (1) I love you but (2) you probably need to seek therapy 😉
It’s been over a year since I wrote anything here at law:/dev/null. Officially the longest hiatus from blogging I’d had since I started way back in the halcyon days of my 1L year.
A metric f*ckload of life has happened since then. I ran for office (and got blown out). One of my criminal defense cases went viral. And then it went viral again, and again, and again, and again.
My Twitter followers over time, a 1,599% increase since my last post
So basically Twitter became my home instead of the blogging world 😂
We also did a lot of philanthropy work, raising money for the American Heart Association, SHIFT NC, Crayons2Calculators, and two separate “foodraisers” for the kids at a local elementary school (that looks like it will be an annual thing!).
The intern I hired as my paralegal back in March 2015 passed the July 2015 bar exam and started working for me as an attorney in October 2015, so she’s now been with the firm for more than a year. The attorney in Charlotte I brought on board back in August 2015 still works with us too.
Not everything has been lollipops and rainbows, of course. The catch to being a candidate is that running the campaign nearly bankrupted the law firm. 😞 You might remember from this old post that we opened a Charlotte office in September 2015; well we decided to close it in August 2016 due to the costs, and in the months since I’ve been scrambling to get the law firm back on the upward trajectory it was on before I foolishly opted to jump into the ring.
Oh and I nearly died of pneumonia back in December 2015. But I’m still here!
Getting back into blogging was one of my 3 New Year’s Resolutions this year, so I figured it was time to log back in to the WordPress Dashboard and see how many e-cobwebs had built up in my absence. I’ll clean out the blogroll some time soon, and may or may not change the theme to something more modern — we’ll see.
Until then, thanks for checking in!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 2, 2014 in The After-3L Life
…self-employment taxes suck.
Even after tracking every single penny spent by the business, every mile driven, every conceivable deduction — and not even making that much to begin with — I still somehow owe $1,300 in taxes to the federal government
(North Carolina, by contrast, is giving me a $12 refund.)
I see why small business owners learn to hate the government…
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 31, 2014 in The After-3L Life
I hit a point a couple months ago where I had more work at TGD Law than I could handle on my own. Like cleaning out flagged email from my inbox, I had a sense of accomplishment when my active caseload shrunk from 100+ down to a more manageable 75ish.
More work than I can handle also meant money-making cases were sitting idle, so I started making plans to bring in more personnel. That in turn prompted me to look at things like my firm’s balance sheet statement and my profit & loss statement — things I knew existed from my 2L Business Associations class, but that I never had much actual reason to review while I was busy chasing new clients.
And that, in turn, led me to spend the past 4 hours dabbling in QuickBooks as I discovered I’d done a few things totally wrong since I started 20 months ago
I’ve been a QuickBooks user since 2005 when I was hired to be a lobbyist for a small firm in downtown Raleigh. While my boss originally hired me for my political acumen (and the ability to break bread with the then-minority Republicans as he schmoozed the Democrats), I offered to also use my financial skills on the company’s behalf in exchange for an early pay raise. QuickBooks became my go-to app for managing my own checkbook from there.
So when I started TGD Law, naturally QB was the only accounting software I considered. And having already run one company with it, getting things set up for the law firm was straightforward. But since I had requested an extension on my 2013 tax returns, and didn’t have that much activity to go through for my 2012 taxes last year, I never noticed before now that my books weren’t quite as clean as they should be
For example: an accountant told me that when I use my personal funds on behalf of the law firm, I should record it in QuickBooks as a loan to the firm — but subsequent accountants have told me that’s a no-no, and should instead be recorded as a capital contribution to the firm (to which I discovered I’ve somehow contributed $36K over not-quite-two years ).
Conversely, when I’d pay myself I would mark it down as a payroll expense; the same subsequent accountants tell me that too is a no-no, and that as a single-member LLC I should instead mark them down as capital distributions.
Then there were my insurance expenses (malpractice insurance and health insurance are treated differently for tax purposes) and a handful of other small items.
Hence spending what was going to be a productive Saturday instead cleaning up several dozen accounting entries
There’s no real overarching “moral of the story” to this post (except maybe to hire a competent accountant early in your practice). Just consider yourself forewarned if you decide to go the solo/small practice route that you’ll want to get your accounting stuff squared away sooner rather than later
Have a great night y’all!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 19, 2014 in Fail
I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Superior Court for a solo who’s only been licensed for about a year and 9 months now. While most of that has been on the civil side of the courthouse, it encompasses a handful or two of criminal cases as well.
But in one of those weird coincidences of life, all of those clients have had last names falling in the first few letters of the alphabet — all “A”s and “C”s before today.
So I’m down in Wake County for Superior Court calendar call today, on behalf of three folks convicted as part of the misguided prosecutions of last year’s Moral Monday protestors.
One of them has a last name starting with H, so about thirty minutes or so into calendar call I note my appearance on his behalf and get a new court date.
Another hour or so goes by, and we’re only to L. I look at my watch and realize I need to go add time to the parking meter so I don’t end up with yet another parking ticket. My next client’s last name is Smith, so I figure I’ve got time.
I go downstairs, throw a couple more quarters in the meter, come back to the courtroom… and see everyone streaming out
Panicked that I just missed calendar call for two of my clients, I rush up to the ADA and apologize and quickly explain that I had to go add time to the meter…
…before thinking that maybe there was still more to calendar call to go. Sure enough, she replies “oh that was just the first half. We’ve got a 10-minute break before we do N through Z.”
Some days I truly question whether I have the competence to do this for a living…
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 15, 2014 in The After-3L Life
Samson and I get a lot of law-related magazines each month at the TDot Household.
From the American Bar Association there’s the ABA Journal, GPSolo, and The Young Lawyer (now restyled “tyl”). The Federal Bar Association sends me The Federal Lawyer. With the NC Bar Association there’s the quarterly NC Lawyer and the NCBA YLD’s The Advocate. The State Bar itself sends the quarterly State Bar Journal. Then of course there’s the must-read NC Lawyers Weekly that comes every Monday.
(And that’s just the stuff that arrives in the mailbox. There are a half-dozen more e-newsletters I get in my inbox, whether I’ve signed up for them or not )
So with all that stuff to read — stuff that takes time away from reading case law and client-focused things — it’s not unusual for me to be a few days/weeks/months behind. Then one day over breakfast or lunch or dinner I’ll randomly decide I’m actually going to try and read something from the backlog.
Yesterday was one of those days. I’m eating a sausage biscuit for breakfast, open up the latest copy of the ABA Journal, get to the Letters to the Editor section, and notice one of the letters is about an attorney “Hunoval” touting Lean Six Sigma as a way to run a law firm.
He just happened to share the last name of a firm I’ve got a case against in US District Court for the Middle District of NC. And, given how uncommon the name is, I say aloud to myself “I wonder if this is the same firm?”, go digging for my March edition of the ABA Journal, and find this multi-page firm profile confirming it’s the same firm and going into detail on their process.
Now there’s nothing I can really say about the Hunoval Law Firm itself that wouldn’t get misconstrued. So this post isn’t about them per se, but rather about the ABA Journal’s fawning coverage of using Lean Six Sigma in a litigation-heavy law firm.
Is this really the recipe we want for running future firms, especially ones who regularly use the courts?
The thing about statistical processing is that, by definition, it ignores the individual in favor of the group. Cases get transformed from individual people with individual problems to cookie cutter file batches subjected to cookie cutter solutions.
And while I have -0- doubt that certainly does improve speed and efficiency, I’m not convinced it necessarily also yields quality or ethical litigation.
Take my client’s case as an example. Without getting into too much detail about the merits, it’s self-evident from the exhibits attached to our injunction request (and our reply to the Defendants’ response to that request) that something is very clearly “off” with the mortgagee’s accounting. The same mortgagee likely handles hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts; this one account happens to have a problem.
In a situation like that, one would hope an individual person could recognize the individual account has an individual problem and then tailor an individual solution.
Instead — no doubt from using the same principles of statistics-driven efficiency touted by the ABA Journal’s fluff piece — the mortgagee still can’t get things right years later, the account has been the subject of litigation since 2010 across multiple state and federal courts, and it will continue at least until we get to trial in April 2015.
The individual has been lost in the shuffle, even though “the individual” is ultimately what any given lawsuit revolves around.
Look, I’m all for saving my clients money and being more efficient.
But I’m also in favor of being an excellent lawyer. And that comes first on my hierarchy of career-related aspirations.
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 28, 2014 in Things TDot Likes
You might have noticed in a couple of my old entries here and here that I’ve posted a graphic of how many phone calls have come in to my firm during the previous month.
The Activity screen from Ruby’s iPhone App
You may not have noticed that graphic is from the iPhone app for my receptionist
Ruby Receptionists is a virtual reception service based out of Portland, Oregon. Using VOIP technology, phone calls to your business line get routed to them, the caller talks to a live receptionist on the other end, and then if you’re available the receptionist can patch the call through to any line you choose (mine comes to my mobile phone).
If you’re not available — something you can update easily with the iPhone app or through their website — they can inform clients where you are, when you’ll be back, take a message, or forward them to your voicemail.
They send you a handy email letting you know who called and the details, and if someone left a voicemail you’ll get a separate email with a .wav audio file of the message attached.
They can also assist you by making outbound phone calls to clients and can also take detailed instructions on what kind of information you want collected from incoming callers (including whether or not they’re existing clients or potential new ones).
I’ve been using Ruby for almost a year now and have nothing but the highest praises for what they do. It lets me focus on my cases when I’m in court without worrying that I’m missing important calls.
Plus getting the emails with caller details and voicemail messages make it easy for me to work remotely, so if I have multiple hearings in another county — usually in Wake, 30 minutes south — I can just camp out and work in between hearings instead of burning gas and an hour of time traveling back and forth
My praises notwithstanding, don’t misunderstand: the service is expensive. I’m using their lowest tier of service at $239.00/mo. Next to office rent, that’s far and away my biggest expense.
But it’s also much much cheaper than hiring an actual person, who would likely cost me at least $2,000.00/mo plus benefits and regulatory compliance.
I’ve also found it makes clients more inclined to hire me; in terms of “conversion” (salesspeak for the proportion of folks who hire me out of all the ones who call), there was a bump when I shifted from meeting people in the library to having a dedicated office, and a bump again when I shifted from answering my own calls to having a receptionist.
This is officially the first hand-signed birthday card I have ever received from a vendor. Ever.
Folks just naturally expect that in order to be a competent lawyer you need a receptionist too. So Ruby ultimately pays for itself in my case.
Plus they sent me this birthday card signed by all of their staff, which totally blew my mind
If you’re thinking about using Ruby, you do get 14 days free so you can test out the service and see if you like it.
And I don’t typically shill referral links and such, but they also offer to waive the $95 setup fee for people who sign up through a referral — so if you want to give them a try, feel free to use this link.
That’s my rundown on Ruby If you’re a new solo or hitting a point where you think you need a receptionist, I strongly suggest you give them a try before you hire an actual person!
From the Things TDot Likes archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 25, 2014 in The After-3L Life
I’ve written before about the need for lawyers to be able to charge less while still making a living.
But every now and then I regret practicing what I preach…
Without going into too much detail, yesterday I resolved a case involving one of my business clients. When they hired me awhile back I thought they had a horrible case — on the hook for $51,000+ with an unconvincing defense. So I quoted a low flat fee rather than charging by the hour or some other arrangement.
Well a month or so in, I discovered a key piece of evidence for the Plaintiff wasn’t what the Plaintiff thought it was. And yesterday (after more than a year of working on it) everything got settled.
Final price tag: $3,000
Client savings: $48,000
My fee: $750
I’m thrilled for my client’s 6,300% return on their investment, but I really wish I had charged more now…
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 22, 2014 in TDot's Tips
Yesterday I mentioned The Walking Dead had become one of the shows I watch regularly when I really should be working or writing here at law:/dev/null.
Well today I discovered it’s possible to do both
Over at Solo Practice University, Suzanne Meehle has a piece entitled “Everything I Need to Know About Solo Practice I Learned From ‘The Walking Dead'”. Be forewarned, it’s a bit heavy on spoilers from the Season 4 finale. But overall it’s a good column.
Here’s a snippet –
Lesson 5: Protect your people, especially those more vulnerable than yourself.
We see Michone befriending Carl, telling him about her life before and after the Apocalypse. We see her being motherly toward him: letting him sleep with his head in her lap after he was nearly raped, hugging him after he confesses to being a “monster.” She is a bit of a super hero, defending the defenseless. She will take on a hundred hungry zombies before she will let anything happen to Carl.
That is our job: defending the defenseless. At our very best, lawyers serve others who otherwise will be abused. We take on lost-cause cases, do our best to get the best outcomes for our clients no matter what. We can’t all be bad asses like Michone. We can all be bad ass lawyers.
They all seem to be good and accurate points to me, based on my (admittedly brief) 1.5 years as a solo practitioner and 0.75 years binging on episodes of The Walking Dead.
I’d also append five more points of my own, though, focusing on the mid-season finale from Season 4 instead:
Don’t take half measures: When the Governor is standing outside the prison fence with a tank and a dozen armed clowns at his side, he gives Rick Grimes and crew an ultimatum to leave by sunset before the Governor’s group takes the prison by force. Rick first tries to talk the Governor down, then tries to convince the Governor’s minions, then offers a compromise where everyone can stay in the prison together. The Governor promptly proceeds to chop off Hershel Greene’s head, they storm the prison, and a bunch of people from both sides die.
Rick’s problem was that he couldn’t decide what to do. In Hamlet-esque fashion he quickly went from fearless bravado to witless speechifying to practically begging his adversaries to please be nice (because children!). He was negotiating against himself and doing it poorly. We all kinda knew how that scenario would inevitably end.
As lawyers, we’re trained to be risk averse; we learn to love half measures and call them “risk mitigation” to make ourselves feel better. But I’d argue they’re just an effective way at being ineffective. Spending your day doing doc review and running your solo practice “on the side.” Paying exorbitant amounts for a virtual office instead of a real one or none at all. Treading lightly in litigation hoping the other side will reciprocate. The list goes on.
To quote Mick Jagger, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Try going full tilt on something and see how your results turn out. Focus on your practice full time; try a brick-and-mortar office; carpet bomb the other side with a multi-count Complaint and a full array of discovery requests served with it.
You’ll still need to be observant and willing to reverse course if it looks like something is starting to go catastrophically wrong, but I suspect in nearly every situation you’ll end up being a better and more successful lawyer than you thought possible. To borrow another quote, this one from former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George: “Don’t be afraid to take a big step[.] You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”
Some losses are inevitable: In reading the post-episode reviews around the web after The Wallking Dead’s mid-season finale aired, a lot of commentators seemed downright shocked that Hershel got killed off (and in a paticularly brutal fashion too). Personally I was shocked they were shocked — I hated seeing him taken out, but I figured that was always going to happen once he and Michonne were captured by the Governor. We all knew the Governor was a crazy sumb*tch; anyone who could gun down his Woodbury followers last season can chop off an old guy’s head without a second thought.
While hopefully you won’t have clients die or get killed on you (or turn into zombies), you’re going to have losses as a solo practitioner. You’re going to lose some cases, you’re going to lose some clients, and you’re going to lose money even on some of the cases you keep. It sucks. Sometimes it’s downright painful. But the world keeps moving on and you need to do the same. Dust yourself off, recuperate from your wounds if needed, and get back to the battleground of the courtroom.
A fortress is only as strong as its perimeter: Anyone else watch that episode and think at one point “I sure hope they’re not expecting the fence to stop that tank!”?
It’s true, a fence can’t stop a tank. And once the fence is knocked down, things that a fence normally could stop don’t get stopped anymore. Soon your prison is overrun with zombies.
Treat your law practice the same way. The cliché “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” seems particularly apt here since we’re talking about a fence — if you’re weak at returning clients’ phone calls, or calendaring deadlines, or managing staff, your practice is only going to be as good as the thing you do worst. And if you don’t fix what you do worst, more things at more points will go bad as your time is constantly diverted trying to prop up the fence.
Focus on improving every single aspect of your practice, be it through learning more, being more disciplined, or bringing in outside help.
Even tanks have weaknesses: With the prison getting destroyed around them, folks getting blown away left and right, and survivors scattering to the four winds, Daryl Dixon somehow had the sense to take a grenade and shove it down the tank’s turret. In seconds the most fearsome weapon in the Governor’s arsenal was neutralized, and the momentum of the fight shifted (as much as it could at that point anyway).
If you’re doing meaningful work as a lawyer, you’re going to go up against tanks on a regular basis. Your opposing counsel will probably come from a big firm and make more in a month than you’ll bring in all year. The party you’re up against will likely be bigger still (especially if you do criminal defense; they don’t get much bigger than The Government!). Even a tank has a weakness though, and if you can ferret out what that weakness is you can win even unwinnable cases and causes.
Justice will (eventually) prevail: I don’t know about any of you, but I let out a duly satisfied “Yessssss!” when the Governor finally got killed. I was disappointed Rick didn’t beat him down, and I thought a bullet to the brain was an awfully humane end compared to the evil he wrought (writhing in agony for awhile after his getting skewered by Michonne would have been more fitting).
But damn if I wasn’t glad he finally reaped at least some of what he had sewn.
With implaccable foes around us, tanks in every courtroom, and inevitable losses that range from infrequent to more-common-than-we-care-to-admit over any given period of time, it’s easy to forget that we still live in a country with a judicial system where justice still prevails. It might not be obvious when it happens, it might not even happen until years or decades have gone by, but it will eventually happen. Justice will prevail. So keep your head up and know that you’re doing meaningful work for your clients
That’s my take on how The Walking Dead relates to life as a solo practitioner, along with the other great points Suzanne made. If you disagree — with my analysis of solo life or the show — feel free to let me know
Past TDot’s Tips entries:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 21, 2014 in The After-3L Life
Happy Monday y’all
It’s become a bit of a habit with these posts to note it’s been ages since I last wrote one, I’m not keeping up with my New Year’s resolution to write more, “zomg life is soooo busy!” and so on.
The underlying premise, of course, being that I really really really want to write something but I just haven’t had the time.
That’s still true — there’s been a bunch of cool stuff going on in life over the past 2 months that I wanted to write about — but a big chunk of the reason for my absence is that life overall has… well… kinda sucked
If you’re one of our long-time law:/dev/null readers, you might remember how I’d stress out as we got near the end of the semester, building up to the don’t-sleep-for-a-few-days exam week followed by a reprieve for a few weeks before things started all over again.
6.5 calls per business day: good! Turning cases away: not so much
Well running your own law firm is a bit like that. Except you never really get the reprieve (unless you’re slowly going out of business).
Things at TGD Law have been beyond busy; we’ve been averaging 6-7 calls every single day each month, there are over 1,300+ fans of the TGD Law Facebook page, and a growing number of those incoming phone calls / emails / etc have been from folks who’ve heard I kick @ss in a courtroom.
But I’ve also got more work than I can handle, and I’ve been turning away cases left and right because I refuse to let my work product slip for the folks who have already hired me.
The catch to turning away cases, of course, is that there’s very little money coming in. That, in turn, means no staff. Which in turn means I’m stuck spending time on menial work that I’d really like to farm out to a paralegal or file clerk. Which in turn means no matter how much I work, I feel like nothing gets done.
The sense of complete and utter futility I’ve had the past few weeks is actually pretty well encapsulated in a graph of my weight loss efforts: past progress has been undone, and now I’m treading water until I can out-think my problems.
That 27lb drop? Bar prep
It’s led to me sleeping an awful lot, watching TV when I’d probably be better off working or blogging, and finding it beyond difficult to focus on things instead of my usual unproductively-trying-to-multitask-across-a-dozen-things-at-once.
So rather than blog about being blah, I figured I’d spare y’all the bellyaching until I got my sh*t together
I can’t guarantee that’s happened yet of course, but fingers are firmly crossed! This past Easter weekend I brought some work home with me when I went up to visit my grandparents, and made some headway on several cases. I’ve started doing a list of a few high-priority items a day that simply must get done, and that’s helped me wrap my mind around things a smidge better.
Anyhow, I don’t have much more to write about at the moment — just wanted to let y’all know I’m not dead and I haven’t forgotten about you!
More blog posts sooner than later (certainly in less than 60 days).
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
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, 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:
- Blog more. Across all of 2013, I only updated law:/dev/null a mere 14 times — 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. So I’m going to try and do better than once a month on the blog front.
- 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 year without a single page really detailing the stuff I actually do. I need to get on it before Thanksgiving #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!).
Have a great week y’all!
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!)