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How Much Does It Cost to Go Solo? My $0.02

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 17, 2013 in The After-3L Life

For those of y’all who kindly reminded me that I wrote in the last entry there was “more to come this week,” kindly re-familiarize yourselves with the disclaimer starting one of our very first posts here at law:/dev/null:

[A]ny time I write that I’m going to do/say/explain something “tomorrow” or “soon” or “shortly” or any other chronologically-oriented word that would indicate a time horizon in the relatively near future, add at least a week or two to it.

Thanks :P

(I still :heart: y’all though :* )

Anyhow, so back in early January I was doing the daily web-run for NC SPICE and saw a tweet that looked like it would have some good info:

I hopped over to read through the article… and came away a smidge disappointed. Sure the information was perfectly valid (at least in my limited experience), and the folks interviewed are well-known as “experts” in the “how do I start a solo practice” arena. I see their names everywhere and have no reason to doubt the wisdom of what they’ve written.

But, like I’ve mentioned before in this old entry on when to attend law school, lawyers just love giving über-balanced, taking-into-account-every-conceivable-variable, “it depends” answers to even the most-straightforward of questions.

So balanced, so all-accounting, so “it depends”-ish, that the answer is practically pointless.1

In any event, we’re all smart people: if we’re looking at opening a solo practice, it means all of us (i) graduated from college, (ii) graduated from law school, and (iii) passed a bar exam somewhere. We already know the most accurate answer will always be “it depends.”

I mean no disrespect when I say this, but it’s not like this is an audition for hiring a starting-a-law-firm consultant; we’re not expecting what worked for any-given-expert to work for us, or for any-given-expert’s finances to look just like ours. We are looking for snippets of info to give us a mental ballpark to play in — something to set the outer bounds on our internal debate, so we can then drill down into our own particular circumstances and make a well-reasoned decision.

Bearing that reality in mind, I decided to pen my own entry with some actual numbers in it :D

***

So how much does it cost to open your own solo firm?…

::drumroll::

Expenses for TGD Law from opening to 01/31/13

Expenses for TGD Law from opening to 01/31/13

It depends ;)  (KIDDING!)

If you’re anything like me — setting up a “traditional” brick-and-mortar law firm in an urban area in the Southeast — my guess is you’ll be looking at somewhere around $15Kish in non-payroll expenses for Year 1, with ~$750 of that coming out-of-pocket in the beginning.

The graph I put together on the right is the running tally I’ve been keeping for my own law firm, from the day I set up my LLC back in September 2012 through the end of last month.  At the moment I’m averaging around $1,400/mo in cash flowing out of the business (though with several of those chunks coming from items unique to my practice).

My main recurring expenses each month are the types of things you’d expect for most law firms:

  • Office Rent: $500.00/mo at the moment, going up to $600/mo beginning May 1st
  • Phone+mobile+fax service: ~$135.00/mo
  • Malpractice Insurance:  $598.00/year

Everything else is widely variable: office supplies got stockpiled early but have been tapering off, billable client costs swing based on who comes through the door, and all the CLEs I’ve paid for thus far aren’t even required until February 2014.

Expense breakdown by category

Expense breakdown by category

One thing I thankfully don’t have are IT-related expenses, something you can take care of before graduating law school. :)

I tried breaking the expense data down into categories — the graph is a bit of a mess, but some of the data is still viewable enough to be useful.

Now how much of this will you likely be parting with up-front?

If you start your firm as a PLLC,2 you’re looking at $225 in filing costs just to get the business entity established: a $50 PLLC fee to the State Bar, $125 to file your Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State, and $50 to the Department of Revenue for your privilege “license” / tax.

Malpractice insurance costs will vary based on where you focus your practice, but the $600 ballpark seems pretty common based on the handful of first-year solos who’ve shared their info with me. The upside is that most malpractice providers have some kind of installment plan so you’re not shelling out the full balance on Day 1.

Add in another $250ish for the first 3 things you’ll want starting out, and you’re out-of-pocket no more than $750ish before you’re able to start generating revenue and getting things off the ground.

Income and expenses for TGD Law, with invoice data

Income and expenses for TGD Law, with invoice data

That “getting things off the ground” part is the biggest challenge you’ll have starting out, since that’s how you’re going to generate whatever volume of profit you need to keep food on the table at home.

I haven’t had as much success in that arena as I’d like, due largely to (what I’m told at least) are two common “sucker” mistakes made by new attorneys — undervaluing time, and letting clients use any payment arrangement other than “cash up front.” :beatup:

I’ve tried my best to make up for both problems with a higher volume of clients, but just take my word for it: the advice you read about requiring cash up front is legit, and you’ll have a much easier time paying your bills if you don’t deviate from it!

***

Once the revenue starts coming in, it’s then on you to have the discipline to not spend it.

The second-biggest challenge facing every new business is undercapitalization — not having enough money in the bank to cover the inevitable month-to-month fluctuations in what comes through the door. As tempting as it will be to just pocket every dollar not devoted to the business expenses, you’ll need to pad your operating account to cover things like filing fees, office supplies, and other stuff you need to keep doing your job as a lawyer.3

One way to help with that is to scale back your personal expenses where possible. I got rid of my cable TV service back before the bar exam, and haven’t gone back. I upped the deductibles on my health insurance since I’m fairly healthy and keep an unused credit card to cover the deductible in case of a medical emergency.

I also consolidated my student loans and submitted my app for the Income-Based Repayment plan before I even started my firm. With no income at the time, I’ve got $0 in loan payments for the first year. It hurts to look at the accruing interest each month, but it buys some time to get the law firm reliably afloat.

In a nutshell: put yourself on a fixed salary, and keep it as low as you can until you’re not worried about having a steady stream of clients ;)

—===—

So there you go :) I’m not an expert of course (meaning take all of this with the usual caveats) but hopefully this data provides some insight to those of y’all thinking about starting your own law firm.

It’s something I highly recommend, so if you’ve got any business-related questions I can answer let me know! :D

  1. Better to be “right” than be useful I guess? ::shrug:: []
  2. The most common corporate form for solos nowadays, at least in North Carolina. []
  3. Or a client accidentally bouncing a check, something I’ve already dealt with once :beatup: []

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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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First case == win!

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

Hey everybody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”)

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

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

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

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

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

Unbelievable — I PASSED!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NCCU Law 1L/1LE Orientation starts this week!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 12, 2012 in The After-3L Life

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again already :crack:

Yesterday was the 3-year anniversary of law:/dev/null starting up, meaning this week is officially Orientation Week for all the new 1Ls and 1LEs1 at the North Carolina Central University School of Law! :D

This will also be the first time since then that I’m not taking part in Orientation in some capacity — as a 1L I was part of it of course, then as a 2L I was a tour guide and part of the SBA panel, then as a 3L folks decided they were sick of me talking so they had me moderate the SBA panel instead :beatup:

But the school tends to leave us alone during this limbo period waiting on bar results, I’m assuming because few of us would be willing to be around the school when we have no clue yet how we’re going to repay our student loans.

So in my absence, I’ll follow my tradition from year’s past and link to some (hopefully) useful entries for those of y’all heading in to Orientation :D

 

ORIENTATION ITSELF:

For our past entries on Orientation, you’ve got two options:

  1. My 2L post on what to expect at Orientation; or
  2. My three-part summary I wrote as a 1L of what I went through (Part I, Part II, Part III)

 

OUTLINES:

You’ll hear lots of folks talking about outlines and stuff they got from other people. Some of it will be new and potentially useful — so make friends ;) — but a good chunk of it is recycled and passed down from generation to generation.

For 1L, 2L, and 3L outlines,2 go to this TDot’s Tips outlines entry so you can read the directions and mandatory disclaimer.

Also, for the 3Ls who happen across this entry, I’ve uploaded bar prep materials to “/docs/BarPrepStuff.zip” as promised yesterday :*

 

TIPS and QUESTIONS:

Over the years I’ve compiled tips on a handful of topics. To read through those entries, click the TDot’s Tips category link on the side.

I’ve also answered a couple dozen questions folks have sent since I started law:/dev/null. To see those, go to the very bottom of the most recent Mailbag entry and they’re all listed there (including an entry just on 1L questions :) ).

 

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS? EMAIL / FACEBOOK / LINKEDIN / TWEET ME!

If you can’t get something answered during the year, feel free to shoot me an email (the address is at the bottom of our About page). You can also reach out to me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter using the icons over on the right-hand side of this page.

Hope that helps, GOOD LUCK with law school, and welcome to the Legal Eagle family! :D

  1. Evening students — NCCU Law is one of the few law schools in the country with a 4-year part-time evening program :) []
  2. Yes, I have documents to get you through your entire law school experience. You’ll still have to study and update this stuff as you go though! :P []

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NC Bar Exam 2012 Postmortem

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 25, 2012 in The After-3L Life

[CORRECTION (07/28/12): Madame Prosecutor informed me that the +$125 extra that computer users get charged is actually the ExamSoft licensing fee, and not extra cash going to the NCBLE as I surmised near the end of the Day 1 rundown. I’ve left the original blog entry as-is for posterity but wanted to ensure the wrong info was corrected. :) ]

***

And that’s a wrap: after 3 years of law school — including extra summer sessions both summers, plus bar prep every day since graduation — I’m officially done with the 2012 North Carolina Bar Examination! :D

It was also apparently an unprecedented clusterf*ck :beatup:

 

DAY 1: “Electricity? You mean, that’s important?”
Things started out pretty well on Tuesday morning. I had taken Samson down to a pet-sitter in Raleigh on Monday night, checked in to a hotel a few minutes away from the test site, and took the evening to relax.1 As I left my room the next morning2 I saw a guy all the way down at the opposite end of the hall getting ready to leave as well.  I hate waiting for the elevator myself, so I decided to hold the elevator for him. He got on, asked if I had any exciting plans for the day, and when I told him I was taking the bar exam he goes “Just remember, there is no failure. The only failure is not doing it.”

It was a random encounter, but good vibes heading over to the test site. :D

When I got to the NC State Fairgrounds around 7:15am there were already hundreds of other test-takers already lined up at various entrances to the Jim Graham Building, sorted by starting letter of everyone’s last name. I wandered around until I saw some NCCU Law classmates and we waited in line for an hour or so as folks eventually got checked in. Most of our professors were there talking with Legal Eagles in the different lines, including The Chief and our new Dean,3 encouraging all of us not to stress out and to do well. :)

After checking in — and getting fussed at because I had inadvertently kept my NCCU Alumni hat on4 — I found my seat near the back side of the Jim Graham Building and waited through nearly an hour of instructions on the documents we were being given, what needed to get filled in where, and all the other oodles of stuff the NCBLE is required to announce to ensure everything is done fairly (even though most of it was in printed material sent to us before we showed up). Then we got to open our essay packets and get to typing.

The essays were split into four parts, with two parts per session (AM and PM). For the morning session we were tested on:5

  • Civil Procedure:  π files a wrongful death suit against a company on the day the SOL expires, then later amends to add that he’s suing as representative of the estate and names two additional ∆s; lawyer for ∆ company opposes arguing they’re futile due to SOL lapse. Which, if any, of the 3 amendments should be allowed?
  • Contracts:  Underage ∆ (claiming he’s 19) enters into referral agreement with temp employment agency π, who gets ∆ a job as a photographer for a child porn syndicate. Can π recover the referral fee ∆ was due to pay?
  • Evidence (2-part):  ∆ charged with second-degree murder following accident while intoxicated says during interrogation “I’m not drunk”; ∆’s lawyer tries to get the statement in during cross-examination of the police officer, and prosecutor follows up by trying to introduce ∆’s prior DWI to prove malice. Which, if either, of these two items should be excluded?
  • Family Law (3-part):  ∆ and wife separate; wife has 1 child not adopted by ∆ from prior marriage, 2 more children with ∆, and doesn’t work because she and ∆ agreed at time 3rd child was born that she’d be a housewife until child starts kindergarten.  Does ∆ owe support for unadopted child, can he force wife to go back to work to support kids, and what of ∆’s various items of income will be used by the court in determining child support?
  • Professional Responsibility (2-part):  Prosecutor loses bond hearing against defense counsel; within minutes he finds a state statute (partially quoted) after returning to his office, then approaches judge ex parte to ask for new hearing under the statute, and gets original bond reinstated. Did he violate the RPC in asking for the new hearing and/or getting the bond reinstated?
  • Property: Easement on parcel of land recorded 75 years ago; BFP acquired parcel with no mention of easement in deed. Can successors in interest of owner of the dominant tenement enforce the easement?

I finished the first set of essays about 45 minutes ahead of time, then we had a break for lunch until 1:45pm. The law school had a particularly tasty selection of deli sandwiches, sweets, fruits, drinks, and so on. It was unexpectedly good, and filling — I’d been expecting something low-budget in light of the state’s budget cuts but was pleasantly surprised. :spin:

After lunch we all filed back into the warehouse for the afternoon session. In that one we were tested on:

  • Criminal Procedure: DV victim consents to search of apartment for abuser boyfriend; officer discovers marijuana in cigar box under the bed and charges DV victim with possession. Should the cigar box contents be suppressed?
  • Torts: π loses medical malpractice case against doctor. What does he need to prove to succeed in a legal malpractice claim against ∆ lawyer?
  • Constitutional Law: Kelo v. City of New London question; city condemns π’s property under eminent domain as part of economic development project getting turned over to private developer. What are π’s odds of successfully enjoining the condemnation?
  • Agency: President of ∆ corporation enters into contract to buy expensive equipment from π, even though bylaws prevented her from doing so, π knew of bylaws restriction, and Board voted to defer all equipment purchases until next year. Is the contract enforceable?
  • ZombieLaw: Pastor owns rental properties as tenants by the entireties with mentally incompetent wife, joint checking account with right of survivorship with one son, life insurance policy naming both sons as beneficiaries, and modest home; son holding durable power of attorney changes life insurance policy to name himself as sole beneficiary; pastor’s will splits estate between both sons; pastor dies with mountains of debt. Who gets what?
  • Secured Transactions: Creditor 1 finances ∆ company in exchange for security interest in all of ∆’s after-acquired personal property; Creditor 2 finances piece of equipment in exchange for Purchase-Money Security Interest, but doesn’t file a UCC-1 until months later; ∆ defaults on both loans. Who has priority over the piece of equipment?

It was in the middle of this second session when things went to hell in a handbasket testing-wise.

You see, this part of North Carolina has a long-standing history of late afternoon summer thunderstorms — even confirmed scientifically by my alma mater NC State and the State Climate Office back in 2001.6 The day starts out great, then around 4pm the clouds form, you have 20 minutes of the worst rain, wind, and lightning that you’ve ever seen, and then the sun’s out again.

Well in the middle of my ZombieLaw essay the power went out the first time. It lasted for about 7 minutes before things came back on, and the proctor announced that everyone would get an extra 7 minutes of time. I’d ensured my MacBook Pro battery was fully charged the night before the exam so I wasn’t phased by the outage and just kept on working.

Then, as I’m a paragraph away from finishing my Secured Transactions essay around 3:30pm, the power goes out again. And stayed off this time :beatup:

I finished my essay and turned in my forms about 5 minutes later, but found out that night that power stayed out for nearly an hour and folks were given an extra 45 minutes to finish; the essay portion that was supposed to end at 5:11pm stretched out until just before 6 o’clock. Bear in mind no electricity also meant no air conditioning — on a summer day, in 90º+ heat, housed in what is essentially the livestock barn for the State Fair each year. :crack:

Maybe it’s just because I was a computer scientist before I was a law student… but contingency plans for a loss of electricity seems like something you’d have for an event like this. I can only imagine the number of threatened lawsuits that are going to crop up when results are released and people who failed the test argue it was/is because of the stressful testing environment.

Did I mention that the NCBLE makes us pay an extra +$125 to use our laptops? Multiplied by the number of laptop users, that’s well over $100K going to the NCBLE just from laptop users alone. Surely they could drop $5K (or more) on a durable industrial generator. :roll:

After leaving the building I continued my non-diet indulgences by getting Zaxby’s for the first time in ages, went back to the hotel and swam for a bit, then did a hundred practice MBE questions while watching television.

 

DAY 2: “What the hell is that sound? And did that rat just piss on your foot?”
Wednesday was the Multistate Bar Exam multiple choice questions, covering ConLaw, CrimLaw/CrimPro, Evidence, Ks, Property, and Torts in two 100-question chunks. Things started around 8:15am and it was as dull and mundane as 100 multiple-choice questions sounds.

I’d been averaging around a minute per question practicing all summer, and did about the same on the exam wrapping up a couple minutes after 10am. The lunch break was absolutely dreadful the second time around because it was so… @#$%ing… long. It was already slated to last two hours, and me finishing an hour early added to it. Most of the time I was debating whether or not I should do more practice multiples, and didn’t eat lunch until the tail end of the break because I was still full from breakfast.

Oh and I forgot to point out there was a rat running around a quadrant of the testing area in the morning session, that staff captured on the lunch break by throwing a trash can over it :beatup: One of my classmates had the misfortune of it running across (and peeing on) her foot.

Things got back under way just after 2pm for the next batch of questions. Throughout most of the afternoon I kept hearing a loud noise outside, wondering if there was another thunderstorm going on — and turns out there was a wood chipper running full blast for hours. :surprised:

I tuned out the noise and kept grinding on the questions, finished about 3:55pm, then picked up the dog and headed home.7

 

So how did it go?
I have no clue :(

On the essays, I thought they were a lot “easier” than I expected. That word’s in quotes because I have -0- clue if I actually got the answers right; it just wasn’t nearly as difficult coming up with words to put on the paper as it had been during bar prep. I know for sure that I railed the Agency, ConLaw, and CrimPro questions, had only a partial clue on the CivPro and Prof Resp questions, and was somewhere in the middle on all the rest. NCCU Law has a supplemental bar prep program called “Invest in Success” that exclusively focuses on the essay portion of the exam and I’m thinking that was instrumental in getting me prepared.

The MBE, on the other hand, was inordinately difficult across the board.

My practice scores jumped, but the MBE was still far more difficult

My scores had improved dramatically on the practice multiples I’d been taking from BarBri so I went into Wednesday expecting it to be a piece of cake. But wow. I could narrow most questions down to two choices fairly quickly but would have no idea which of the two was correct.

Taking everything overall, and the 60-40 split NC uses on the essays-vs-MBE, if I were a gambling man I’d put my odds of passing somewhere around the mid-60% range. I feel OK but not comfortable. And now I have to find a way to put the test out of my mind for five weeks until we get the results…

That’s it from me for tonight y’all! Now that I don’t have class or studying I’m going to try to get law:/dev/null up-to-date (seriously!) and work on getting NC SPICE off the ground. Thanks to all of you for your support the past couple months, and have a great night! :D

  1. Dropped my diet for a 72-hour window by eating McDonalds, then sitting in the bathtub for an hour reading through some essays and collecting my thoughts, then sleeping. []
  2. After indulging on a delicious breakfast from room service :spin: []
  3. I’ll come up with an adequate nickname for her at some time down the road :) []
  4. Trying to make sure my bald scalp didn’t get sunburned! :beatup: []
  5. I’m using the delta symbol and pi symbol for defendant and plaintiff respectively; these should show up regardless of your browser and operating system, but if they don’t let me know and I’ll revert to D and P. []
  6. They suspect it’s because of the geological makeup of the region. []
  7. Didn’t get to celebrate being done though, because Samson puked shortly after dinner which prompted me to take him to the 24-hour emergency vet. :cry: Instead I got home just after 11pm, ate Bojangle’s for dinner, and working on this blog entry. []

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Musings on Bar Prep

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 23, 2012 in The After-3L Life

Good afternoon y’all :)

If you couldn’t tell, my efforts at getting law:/dev/null back up to date during the summer have been a categorical and abject failure — I still have that May backlog to finish, and now have a June and July backlog tacked on to it :beatup:

But now that bar prep is winding down and the North Carolina exam kicks off early tomorrow morning1 I figured I can unwind a little bit with this brief entry on the summer. Yes, I realize up-front that griping about the bar exam triggers roughly -0- sympathy from the legal profession; after all, just about every single lawyer in the country had to study for and take a bar exam somewhere at some point.

But I also don’t care: bar prep is a miserable, tedious, stultifying experience… :crack:

True, it’s not difficult per se. After spending 3-4 years of learning to “think like a lawyer” — and hopefully remembering at least a smidge of the courses you’d already taken — very little of bar prep is “new” and most of the new stuff can get picked up fairly quickly. The lack of cognitive difficulty doesn’t make it any easier though.

There are 3 things about bar prep that have been driving me nuts all summer:

  • Breadth trumps depth: In nearly every single class since kindergarten, we’ve been conditioned to take a subject and master it thoroughly before moving on. You focus on one thing; you master all the nuances of that one thing; you take a test. Your Social Studies tests didn’t include Algebra questions, and you didn’t take Algebra tests before getting through pre-Algebra.

    That’s all completely and totally upended when it comes to the bar exam. You have well over a dozen substantive subjects to learn (18 here in North Carolina) but will only be tested on small parts of a small number of them (12 essays in NC). This puts a premium on knowing a little bit of every subject rather than everything about any subject. You’ll also be looking at all the subjects concurrently so that the knowledge of any given subject doesn’t get too stale. And even if you don’t grasp parts of a subject — the Rule Against Perpetuities being the cliché example — you’ll still need to learn all the rest of that subject just in case you get tested on it.

  • Daily time management: If there was one piece of advice I heard over and over before and during bar prep, it was the importance of having a daily study schedule. I’ve completely failed at doing that, so if I end up having to retake the exam in February we’ll all know why ;)

    Separate and apart from scheduling your day-to-day studying though, it’s difficult trying to keep life in order with bar prep going on. The bar review lectures are mind-numbingly slow2 and occupy your entire morning and mid-afternoon. Then you review notes, read outlines, do practice multiples and essays, make sure to eat breakfast / lunch / dinner somewhere in there, and then it’s time for bed. For most of the past two months I haven’t done laundry until the lack of undergarments reminded me it needed to be done. I completely forgot to pay my July rent until nearly 2 weeks after it was due. And I’m pretty sure my kitchen could have been declared an EPA Superfund site had I not finally gotten it cleaned up yesterday.

    I suspect the only reason my dog still wags his tail when I get home is because we both tend to eat at the same time… :beatup:

  • Life goes on: We all have daily routines, and we all have things that occasionally upend those daily routines. Supposedly we’re supposed to ignore them during bar prep — but I think that’s kind of silly.

    I’ve spent however many hours this summer working on stuff for NC SPICE, simply because if it didn’t get started now I’d be broke in a few months waiting for it to get off the ground; better to be sheltered without a law license than homeless with one. In late June I learned my blood pressure had skyrocketed from all the weight I’ve packed on these past 3 years, so I had to watch what I eat and start working out more than 1x every couple weeks.3 I missed a day of bar prep for a good friend’s memorial service; I missed another day for another friend’s birthday; I’ve probably missed more in between that I don’t remember for things that were important at the time, and that doesn’t even include the hundreds of text messages sent back and forth with dozens of folks I should have stopped talking to a couple months ago to study.

    Simply put: there are dozens (and dozens) of things in life that are more important than the bar exam, but we’re supposed to pretend otherwise until this process is all done.4

Sorry for the rant, just had to get that off my chest…

There are of course some bright sides to it all. It’s kind of cool “knowing” multiple areas of multiple subjects, and reflexively envisioning your outline contents when reading basic news stories like this absurdity out of Kentucky.5

It’s also given me the occasion to reconnect with old friends from undergrad who I discovered are about to take the exam too. :beatup:  And I can never overstate how privileged we all are to spend the day studying and learning things without having to juggle a full-time job on the side.

But in general… I’d rather not do this again, and in any event I’m glad this particular piece of it is all coming to an end one way or the other by this time Wednesday ;)

So GOOD LUCK to everyone taking the bar exam in your respective jurisdictions, especially my NCCU Law Legal Eagles!6 See y’all in a few days! :D

  1. We’re supposed to arrive at 7:15am :eek: []
  2. I routinely fell asleep in BarBri lectures and didn’t start really learning the substantive material until I ditched class, used VMWare Fusion to rip the lectures to my laptop, and used the Mac version of VLC to play them back at 2x speed. I think BarBri is doing a huge disservice to its students by not having this option built into their web software… []
  3. Down 12.4lbs since June 30 :spin: []
  4. And folks are surprised when surveys show most attorneys aren’t happy? :roll: []
  5. The judge’s gag order would be an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment, since the compelling government interest in a fair trial that could justify it is extinguished after the plea bargains are entered. Plus, the guys’ names will end up on the sex offender registry anyway… []
  6. And all my other friends who haven’t had the privilege of attending my law school ;) []

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1

NC SPICE 501(c)(3) app: DONE!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 13, 2012 in The After-3L Life

It’s been a pretty awesome day :D

I’m now only 1.5 lectures behind the bar prep schedule, and finally feeling like I’m at least making some progress.

Before today I’d been doing horribly on the MBE practice questions except for two subjects:  ConLaw (which I’ve been “studying” since high school), and CrimLaw (which I’ve taught to 1Ls as a TA the past 3 semesters).

My BarBri MBE performance from 05/19/12 through yesterday 06/12/12

Torts in particular had been horrible, followed closely by Evidence.

But after doing a couple hundred multiples and trying to absorb the rationales for the answers, I’ve managed to bring up my percentages into the mid-50s or higher (except Torts :beatup: ) and should be able to boost that a bit more before the MBE part of the exam on July 25th.

Speaking of the bar exam, my character and fitness interview for the State Bar was earlier this morning and wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I expected: two attorneys went through every page of my bar application, asked me a couple questions about some of my previous jobs,1 and then talked a bit about the North Carolina Small Practice Incubator & Collaboration Environment I’m working to pull together.

The whole thing took maybe 15 minutes in all, and they seemed to like the NC SPICE concept. Hopefully other attorneys will too…

On the NC SPICE side, the first meeting of its Board of Directors is officially set for July 20th, 2012.

And, most importantly, the 501(c)(3) app to the IRS is DONE! :spin:

If you’re not familiar with the nonprofit world, the IRS’s Form 1023 is a (very) thorough document helping them scrutinize whether or not a group can qualify as a charitable organization. The final version of ours came out to 56 pages and outlines what’s planned as we get off the ground. We’re required to make it available for public inspection so I’ll likely upload a copy here once I get caught up on bar prep stuff — if you want to take a look before then, just let me know :)

I’m off to go resume watching this Property lecture then heading to bed. Good night y’all!

  1. It amazes me how my work at the State Bar all the way back in 2002 (!) actually came in handy as a conversation starter, because several of the folks I worked with are still there a decade later :surprised: []

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1

Bar prep sucks… so here’s some humor for you

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 12, 2012 in The After-3L Life

Hey y’all! :D

Bar prep has been underway for a couple weeks now at NCCU Law, and is sufficiently voluminous — not difficult per se, just voluminous — that I’ve had to put off working on the May blog backlog because evidently I remember just about nothing from my first year of law school. :beatup:

(I actually have an entry in the backlog on that very topic, including my first BarBri “assessment” quiz a couple weeks ago where I successfully missed 9 of 10 negligence questions… :crack: )

But I am determined not to let this stuff run my life all summer, so I switched gears and spent today working on the IRS 501(c)(3) app to for NC SPICE and going through some entries in the blogroll1 — and came upon this entry at The Human Lorax linking to this list about bar prep over at Legally Noted.

And it’s hilarious :)

The list is a bit profanity-laden, but anyone studying for the bar has probably thought most of these at least once. Check it out when you have time!

Legally Noted: Studying for the bar?! This will make you laugh [h/t The Human Lorax]

  1. Which itself desperately needs an update; I’ll hopefully get to that by the end of the week! []

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