Things TDot Likes: Ruby Receptionists

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

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 line1 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 clients2 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 :D

My praises notwithstanding, don’t misunderstand: the service is expensive. I’m using their lowest tier of service at $239.00/mo.3 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.

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 :surprised:

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.4

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:

  1. (919) 998-6993 in the case of TGD Law B-) []
  2. Example: when I got my first batch of Moral Mondays clients, I was out of town in New Bern. From my phone I forwarded Ruby the spreadsheet of the contact numbers, and by the time I got back to the Bull City they’d already called everyone with the info I asked them to share :crack: []
  3. And pay for quite a few overage charges on top of that because I’m in this midrange where I go over the amount of their lowest tier but don’t use the service enough to upgrade to the next tier up :beatup: []
  4. If you don’t, that’s perfectly OK too. I’m not really concerned about whatever swag I’m supposed to get sent for referrals — I’d rather you just have a service you’re happy using, think I’m brilliant for showing it to you, and then you tell all your friends how brilliant I am ;) []

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Things TDot Likes: Flattery (Redux)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 30, 2012 in Things TDot Likes

Back during 2L Fall I mentioned in this ConLaw-centric Things TDot Likes entry that I like knowing when the stuff I do helps someone else.

It’s one of the reasons I’ve kept law:/dev/null going, why I host outlines on the blog and post how-to videos on YouTube, and that sort of thing — contrary to popular belief, it’s less about being an attention whore and more about (i) representing my law school and (ii) hoping to improve the law school experience for the folks coming after me.

I don’t expect that of course, but that’s the goal :) And hearing that it’s worked always brightens up my day.

Today was one of those days:

Nicest. Message. Evah.

Hey dude…just wanted to say thanks for all the videos you’ve uploaded on Youtube. I’m on the mock trial team at [redacted] University in [redacted], and our school is mostly transactional so we don’t have a lot of coaching/budget /trial resources. I thought you’d like to know that your videos have helped me enormously in preparation for the TYLA regional competition and the [redacted] Mock Trial Comp as well as in becoming a semi-finalist in the [redacted] Closing Argument Competition hosted annually by our school. My friends and I have been studying your movement, inflections, introduction of the burden, use of themes, use of jury instructions, and your acting skills for our trial ad classes. You’ve become kind of a legend down here lol. Anyway, just wanted to reach out, say thanks, and wish you luck in the future. And of course, looking forward to any more entertaining and educational videos you may post in the future.Best Regards, [redacted]

:eek: :D :spin:

That has to be one of the very best messages I’ve ever gotten on Facebook. It not only put me in a great mood, but validated why I do what I do — and gave me extra motivation to keep things going and (hopefully) get the blog updated sooner rather than later.

I don’t expect that either of course, but that’s the goal ;)

Good night y’all!


From the Things TDot Likes archives:

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Things TDot Likes: Young Leadership

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 8, 2011 in Things TDot Likes

Good evening y’all! :D

This will be another abbreviated entry as I continue trying to climb out of the monstrously @#$%ing huge academic hole I’ve dug myself, but I wanted to highlight some of the election results from today’s municipal elections in North Carolina.

In particular, there are now at least 3 folks under 30 years old who got themselves elected to Town Councils across the state :surprised:

Out west in Boone (home of Appalachian State University), incumbent 29-year-old Councilman Andy Ball got himself reelected to a second 2-year term.  At the bottom of the group age-wise, the voters up the street in Chapel Hill (home of UNCCH) elected 22-year-old Lee Storrow to a spot on their Town Council. And down in Apex (20ish minutes from NCSU), 24-year-old fellow Wolfpack alum Scott Lassiter will be joining the ranks of that town’s government as well.

All three of these guys were active in the Student Governments of their respective campuses — I met Ball and Storrow in my role as UNCASG President, and served with Scott in the N.C. State Student Senate — and ran polished, idea-oriented campaigns. And although their respective political philosophies differ from my own, it’s pretty doggone cool to know they’ll now be making decisions that have a big impact on taxpayers in their respective towns.

Congratulations to the victors, and good luck for the next 2 years ahead! :)


From the Things TDot Likes archives:

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Things TDot Likes: Exceptionalism

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 4, 2011 in Things TDot Likes

Not sure when that bullet-pointed update I mentioned is going to get posted, but this is one of the items I was going to add — and it really merits its own entry instead :)

From the “Ways to Feel Like an Underachieving Underachiever” file, check out this awesome story from the Raleigh News & Observer:1

Motivated 16-year-old enters NCCU law school
BY LANA DOUGLAS – ldouglas@newsobserver.com
Tags: University of Baltimore | Durham | eduation | Ty Hobson-Powell

One look at Ty Hobson-Powell and you may think that he is an average teenager.

N.C. Central University law student Ty Hobson-Powell, 16, with his trademark Washington Redskins hat, waits to see one of his law professors. HARRY LYNCH - hlynch@newsobserver.com

He likes to play basketball and video games; he even occasionally wastes time on Facebook and Twitter.

But Ty isn’t the average 16-year-old.

He began classes at N.C. Central University Law School in August after he became the youngest person to graduate from the University of Baltimore at age 15, finishing a four-year degree in two.

The average age of a daytime student at NCCU is 24, according to Linda Sims, associate dean for student services at NCCU school of law.

“I wouldn’t say that I always knew that I wanted to get finished early,” Ty said. “I can say that from a young age I was driven.”

When he was 3 years old, he learned how to read, write and speak Chinese.

“He’s always been a very above-average kid, but normal,” said Edwin Powell, Ty’s father. “The word ‘why’ was always in his vocabulary.”

His mother, Liz Hobson-Powell, describes him as always being “very inquisitive.”

Ty credits his success to motivation and having a semi-photographic memory.

“If I study very intensely for a week, I can remember some things word for word. For example, I remembered all of the elements of adverse possession in a week,” he said.

Ty’s three siblings also are accomplished.

His older sister graduated from high school at age 17 and college at age 19.

His two younger siblings, Quinn and Reid, also show promise in their areas of interest.

“(There was) no pushing force from our parents,” Ty said. “They just reinforced our passions and did everything in their power to help us achieve our goals.”

‘We’ve encouraged them’

Ty’s father is a professor at Howard University, and his mother is a commander with the U.S. Public Health Service.

“I would have to say that we’ve encouraged them and with all the strengths that they have and given them the tools to go out and do what it is they feel they would like to do,” Hobson-Powell said.

“I’ve always said to my kids, putting letters behind your name does not define success, but leaving behind a legacy and looking behind saying, ‘I’ve helped somebody,’ that’s how you define success,” Powell said.

Ty chose to go to school to become a defense attorney after he met someone from the Innocence Project, which works with people it believes have been wrongfully convicted.

“I want to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves,” he said.

“I chose NCCU Law School because it is rooted in the tradition of breeding lawyers that go out and help the community,” Ty said.

He also has a passion for public speaking. His message encourages students to capitalize on every opportunity they get and parents to help their children achieve success in whatever path they choose.

“I think it’s reasonable to believe that a lot more people could be where I am right now,” Ty said. “Hopefully, I can instill values in youth and even adults to go out and strive to be as good as they can.”

“In a non-cocky way, I want to make sure that there are more stories like mine, because there’s a lot of people like me and a lot of people with potential to be like me, but for whatever reason, be it lack of support at home or lack of drive from within, are not where I am currently,” he said.

After he graduates from NCCU, Ty says he may attend medical school or get into politics.

You can follow Ty Hobson-Powell on Twitter @TyTheOriginator.

Douglas: 919-932-2008

And I thought I was hot stuff when I started at N.C. State at 172:beatup:

Assuming this guy makes it through law school — and if you can master Mandarin at 3, I’m assuming NCCU Law‘s strict-C curve is a relative cakewalk — he’s going to have his education knocked out early enough to do pretty much whatever he wants and still make an absolute killing financially.

Remember the chart I put together on gauging whether law school was worth the expense if I worked the rest of my life as an ADA? Where I intentionally overstated the expenses and understated the revenues?

Mr. Hobson-Powell can start in that far right column at Year 1 instead of Year 7 if he chooses :crack:

I realize there are a ton of other factors at play of course: law is as much about life experience as raw knowledge, it’s a clique-ish profession based on relationships he still has to build, etc etc etc.  But the inescapable reality is this young man has some pretty amazing talent and a golden opportunity to chart whatever path he wants when he graduates.3

Hats off to him — I’m looking forward to counting him as a fellow Legal Eagle alum! :D


From the Things TDot Likes archives:

  1. I’ll ignore that the N&O somehow overlooked tagging this story with either their “N.C. Central University” or “NCCU Law School” tags, while it ensures using them to adorn every negative story relating to NCCU from a commencement speech to missing money to the Durham DA’s office… []
  2. To add even more contrast: he’s going to have his second degree finished by 19; I hadn’t even dropped out from earning my first one at that age :crack: []
  3. Not to mention a level of dedication I certainly didn’t have at his age about anything other than basketball and girls :beatup: []

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Things TDot Likes: The Wolf Web

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 30, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Not only did Tuesday include one of the most awesome-est football games I’ve ever seen in my life, it also marked 10 years ( :eek: ) since I first became a member of the online message board community called The Wolf Web :D

Partial Screenshot of the TWW homepage

TWW was started back in April 2000, at the tail end of what turned out to be the dot.com bubble. Even though it wasn’t officially affiliated with N.C. State University it quickly turned into the de facto social network for the Wolfpack nation.

So on that December 28, as I was sitting in the offices of the McKinney & Silver ad agency trying to find ways to kill time (I was working as their under-utilized courier back then), someone suggested I check out the site as a way for me to stay connected to NCSU while I wasn’t enrolled in school… and I signed up :)

I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours of my life got spent talking with folks on that site since then :beatup:

There’s little I can write in this entry to adequately describe what TWW was like back then. There were all sorts of people. All sorts of debates. All sorts of controversies. If anything of interest was happening on or near the N.C. State campus, odds were good you could get real-time and accurate information from TWW — something local news stations actually did on multiple occasions (I’m looking at you WRAL) well before stuff like Facebook and Twitter were even invented.

Some of News14's hacked closing reports

Students went to TWW for the news and gossip, like when a faculty member’s online nude photos of herself got discovered and she went to the press claiming they were photoshop’d instead.  But there were also plenty of times when the TWW membership created the news themselves.

For example, when the NCSU Campus Police made their blotter publicly available on the web without taking the appropriate steps to secure it — they included the username and password in the source code :crack: — folks on TWW exploited the lax security and started posting fake entries (typically including derogatory remarks toward the police).

Similar hilarity had ensued a couple months earlier in February 2004 when the Triangle was crippled by a massive snowstorm and News14 Carolina made a poorly-moderated web app for reporting (and later editing) event closings. TWW found out, and I’ve got about a dozen screenshots like the ones on the left from some of the entries that were added :mrgreen:

The also played a decisive role in 2007 when a certain non-traditional student decided to run a campaign for Student Senate President against a guy who happened to like our University’s arch-rival :angel:

I spent the next 2 years regularly recruiting student leaders from them, hitting the boards for info and suggestions, and putting the concept of “netroots” activism into practice — not only proving it could be done, but getting to thumb my nose at people who said it couldn’t ;)

Awesome photo courtesy of TWWer ambrosia1231

There were a fair share of somber moments too, as you’d probably expect from a massive community of people spanning ten years. I found out not too long ago that a friend I had met through the site — and who took what is probably the single best photo of 雅雅 and I ever — passed away in October :(

But she and her husband, perhaps not surprisingly, met through TWW too (cue the “awwwww”). For every sad moment in the past decade, there seems to be a counterbalance by at least a dozen or more happy ones :)

Even though The Wolf Web’s heyday in the mid-2000s has long past, and it’s been fighting the “this place seems like it’s on the decline” perception since at least 2004, I’ve been blessed to meet dozens of really cool and interesting people since I signed up on that dreary December day ten years ago.

TWW kept me tied to N.C. State when I seriously thought I was never coming back. It provided a forum for me to develop my debating skills. Its members got me elected to office. And it kept me occupied and out of trouble for God-knows-how-many hours of my life ;)

Not to mention giving me a topic for a blog entry :beatup:

So to the creators and members of The Wolf Web: thanks :*

Have a great night everybody!

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Things TDot Likes: Flattery

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 24, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Just kidding!

Sort of :beatup:

OK let me at least try to explain with a quick prefatory note before continuing: despite assiduously projecting an ego more-than-once described as “outrageously oversized,” underneath the cocksure exterior I’m essentially the total opposite. And because of that I never really learned how to take a compliment gracefully; most of the time I just get embarrassed, my face turns red, and I quickly change the subject.

Yes, I’m socially awkward. </surprise>

But like a well-trained puppy, I still like knowing when I’ve done something good / positive / cool / etc. I’m not talking about the gratuitous puffery over trivial stuff that passes for complimenting folks nowadays — “You color-coordinated your attire today! Here’s a cookie!” — but the comments made when folks genuinely appreciate something for whatever reason.

For example, back during 1L Orientation two weeks ago I was selling NCCU Law paraphernalia for the SBA and met a 1L student in the evening program who was browsing the merchandise. We talked for a bit about what SBA did, what 1L year was going to be like, and so on… and then she asks “Do you happen to know who it is who does the blog? He did computer science or something like that before law school? I love reading it, it’s so funny!”

Absolutely nothing could have erased the smile I had on my face for days after that remark :spin:

That’s the type of stuff I’m talking about. So now that that’s clear, </prefatory note>. Moving on…

We’re in ConLaw today, which as of Week 1.5 is still my favorite class. We’ve finished the core basics on judicial review, including a quick discussion on Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264 (1821) and a corresponding mention that only a government/state actor can violate someone’s constitutionally-enumerated rights.

So Prof ConLaw pitches an open question to the class: if one person can’t violate another person’s constitutional rights, how is the federal government able to regulate such huge swaths of private conduct?

For folks who follow politics — or who just happen to enjoy ConLaw :beatup:  — answers that jump out might include Congressional authority under the “necessary and proper” clause. Or maybe Congress’s taxing and spending powers. Or the 800-lb gorilla in the Constitution, the power to regulate interstate commerce.

But instead we had like 5-6 folks in a row who offered up answers that… well… weren’t correct, let’s put it that way. So I raise my hand and bring up the Commerce clause, then go back to surfing the web. I check out my Facebook wall and see this from a classmate:

Totally made my day :D And definitely a better specialty than being Mr. Tech Support ;)

Have a great night y’all! :)

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Things TDot Likes: Apple, Inc.

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 28, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Hey everybody! :D

I took the weekend off so I could focus on the presentation I told y’all about Friday along with wrapping up my final exam for ADR Practices & Process. In between I went through the laptop to free up space, including shrinking my Bootcamp partition that contains Windows Vista.

Each of those experiences in some way reminded me how appreciative I am to have access to Apple products.

Some of Apple's Products

Yes folks: appreciative ;)

And I’m not talking about the new-fangled iStuff either. I can’t get an iPhone unless/until they come to Verizon Wireless,1 and although the iPads are flying off the shelves they’re not really my thing. I’m talking about good ol’-fashioned Macs running MacOS X.

I’ve been an Apple fan most of my life. Back when I was in elementary school, Apple IIs were all over the place. Then the Mac line came out and they were everywhere too — I still remember going to the library in middle school to type my papers on a Macintosh LC II, because I preferred ClarisWorks and seeing when I bolded or italicized or underlined my text rather than having to decipher what different highlighting meant in WordPerfect on a PC :beatup:

But by the time I hit high school Windows 95 was out and school systems were deploying PCs everywhere to save money. My parents bought a PC and that’s what I had to use at home, where BSoDs2 became a part of life and I screwed up the Registry on more than one occasion trying to use the uninstall scripts that came with most programs (Macs, by contrast, use packages that you can just drag to the trash bin). Apple was in its own death spiral back then, as CEO after CEO found ever more innovative ways to piss away millions of dollars.

Then Steve Jobs came back and knocked some sense into folks ;)

I didn’t have a computer when I started college at NC State, and one day in the spring I flipped through the Classifieds in the Technician (our school newspaper) looking for someone selling a PC that I could buy. It turned out that was the only day Apple ran an advertisement looking to hire a campus representative as part of a new Jobs-approved outreach program. I applied on a whim, got an interview, and for reasons I still don’t understand I was given the job. In exchange for being a general Apple enthusiast, salesperson, and IT support guy for the campus, I was loaned a 333MHz G3 iMac (Bondi Blue), was paid $200/week, flown out to California each summer for “Campus Rep Boot Camp”, and hooked up with all the latest software.

And I haven’t looked back :spin:

I had to quit being a Campus Rep when I dropped out, but since then QuietStorm and I bought another Rev. D iMac, then upgraded to an eMac, then when I came back to NC State I snagged a Mac mini and then got my trusty MacBook Pro. I’m now running MacOS X “Snow Leopard”3 and looking forward to upgrading my laptop to the latest technology.4

I’ve got a lot of experience with Windows and various Linux distributions as well, so I’ll sidestep the quasi-religious war some Comp Sci folks believe in. But for anyone planning on going to law school, I strongly recommend getting a Mac. Here’s why:

  • High-quality hardware. It took 4 years for the circuit board on my MacBook Pro to die, and that was after using it a solid 8+ hours/day nearly every day for that entire time. Most of my colleagues had to buy 2 (or even 3) laptops during that same timespan due to failing parts. Apple’s computers are solidly built and include a ton of high-end technology, making them cost-competitive to a similarly-configured PC.
  • It just works. I’ve got a partition on my laptop running Windows Vista that I use solely for taking law school exams with ExamSoft. When I loaded up Vista last night, it began downloading the dozens upon dozens of software updates that Microsoft spews out on a near-daily basis… and during the installation of some of those updates I got a Blue Screen of Death and had to restart the computer :crack: Something is awry when the total system failures I learned to accept in 1995 are still happening in 2010. I haven’t had a “kernel panic” — the Mac/Linux equivalent of a BSoD — on any machine since MacOS X Panther came out 6 years ago. MacOS X is built on top of crash-resistant Unix (dubbed “Darwin”), which also gives you the perk of virus resistance as well. Plus its Quartz graphic engine uses PDF internally, so it not only looks amazing but you can print anything to a PDF file — great for sharing papers, essays, projects and so on. With MacOS X you don’t get a feeling like the operating system is standing in between you and your productivity; it’s more like a partner helping you get things done.
  • The iApps are amazing. Apple has an expansive slate of software products, including its iCal calendar program, its Mail app, its Safari web browser, its iLife suite (iTunes / iPhoto / iMovie), its iWork suite (Keynote / Pages / Numbers), and on and on and on.5 These are some of the slickest and most user-friendly applications on the market, and for many of them there simply is nothing comparable on Windows or Linux. I’m a particularly huge huge huge fan of Keynote, Apple’s competitor to PowerPoint. Keynote was in-house software Apple developed for Steve Jobs’s use in preparing his keynote presentations at MacWorld Expo (hence the name). The features built into this thing make it trivially simple to put together excellent presentations. I’ve been using it regularly since 2006 — for English class, my Senior Design project in Computer Science, UNCASG presentations, the list goes on — and the hours of time it saved me between Saturday’s plea bargaining piece and my group’s two presentations for Race & the Law make it more than worth the price.
  • The other apps are amazing too. Run a website? Panic’s Transmit is one of the best FTP programs I’ve used on any platform. How about instant messaging protocols? Adium combines over a dozen chat protocols into one refined interface. And although you might not be able to tell from this post, I’m actually a big Microsoft fan: their 2008 Office for Mac is far more intuitive than the Windows counterpart, and makes using Microsoft Word and Excel a lot less tedious. There are thousands of other really cool apps out there, far more than I can highlight in this already lengthy post. There’s a website dedicated to tracking these applications over at versiontracker.com — head over there and poke around :)
  • And, for the switchers, Windows is only a few clicks away. I mentioned up at the top that I’ve got a partition for Windows Vista. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve also got Windows XP, Windows 7, and Ubuntu Linux on here as well — a side effect of the Computer Science education :beatup:

    Windows running inside MacOS X with VMWare Fusion

    If you’re a PC user switching to a Mac, you can ease into it by having Windows only a click away. Apple includes a program called Bootcamp that helps you add a full Windows installation alongside MacOS X, enabling you to boot your computer directly into Windows.

    But the really cool stuff happens when you use virtualization. A company called VMWare has a product called VMWare Fusion that let’s you run “virtual OSs” at native speed inside MacOS X. I’ve included a screenshot of my Windows XP installation running (along with my terminal running the Unix top program). You can share files between the operating systems, connecting to the internet “just works”, the list goes on. Although virtualization has long been the refuge of technophiles like me, it’s great to ease the transition from one OS to another.

I could go on even more about some of the other features, applications and perks6 but you get the idea ;)

Thanks for letting me preach a bit :) If any pre-Ls out there have technology questions, let me know! Until then have a great night!!

  1. Soon, I hope :D []
  2. The Blue Screen of Death, basically what happens when Windows crashes. []
  3. Also known as MacOS X 10.6.4… roughly 7 full OS revisions from MacOS 8.5.1 that was released the day after I started as a Campus Rep :beatup: []
  4. Which currently includes multi-core chips clocking well over 3GHz+… well over 10x faster than my first iMac :crack: []
  5. As a highlight of how long ago it was when I worked for Apple, iTunes v1.0 was really just a reengineered SoundJam MP — a program that I’ve still got on an installation CD! []
  6. Like using IPP to successfully print for free on a Windows-centric network :angel: []

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Things TDot Likes: Persistence

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 15, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Good evening everybody! :)

Unfortunately I won’t be able to compose anything lengthy tonight — the applause from the peanut gallery is duly noted :P — because my network connection is going crazy with 30-90% packet loss and horrible latency :beatup:

So instead you get a story of persistence in the face of adversity from a recent graduate of both my alma mater and NCCU Law, featured in this article in the Raleigh News & Observer a couple weeks back. Enjoy in my absence ;)

Ex-con mom beats odds, gets law degree
BY RUTH SHEEHAN – Staff Writer
Tags: news

In February 1990, Lynn Burke arrived at her public housing unit, escorted by a parole officer, to find her four young children living in squalor. Her crackhead husband had left pipes and needles in a back room. The kitchen sink was so clogged with grease, he did dishes in the tub.

Lynn Burke, 47, got out of prison and hit the books

Broken and broke after two years in prison, Burke had little reason to be optimistic about her future. Then her 7-year-old son held out something in his hand.

“I was thinking you might need this,” he said. For two years, he’d slept with Burke’s driver’s license under his pillow.

Burke realized in that moment that her children and others in her life believed in her against all odds.

Their faith – and Burke’s own drive – led her on a odyssey from a felony fraud conviction to representing clients for the Orange County Public Defender’s Office.

Burke, 47, graduated last month from N.C. Central University Law School and is studying for the bar exam in July; she hopes to begin criminal defense work in the fall. Burke knows her story is rare; she wishes it weren’t so.

“Cons are like everyone else. We want to contribute. We want our children to be proud of us,” she said. “My story shouldn’t be miraculous. I’m a regular person who screwed up royally. If I can do this, anyone can.”

Burke didn’t grow up in poverty. Her father was a corporate lawyer, her mother, a nurse. It was an upper middle-class upbringing in upstate New York, then Tennessee. Still, Burke said, she never learned key lessons about how much things cost, about education, about personal responsibility.

At 18, she got pregnant and couldn’t bring herself to give her son up for adoption.

One night his father dropped off checks he’d stolen and told Burke if she ever needed anything for their son, she should just write a check. She did – until she got caught.

She was put on probation at 19 while pregnant, by another man, with twin girls. Within a year she had her fourth baby and was sentenced for the first time. She persuaded the father of her three younger kids to marry her so they wouldn’t be sent to foster care.

Burke was still on probation when she moved to North Carolina to be closer to her ailing mother. In 1986, she registered at N.C. State.

But when her mother died that fall , Burke fell into a deep depression. Overwhelmed by caring for four preschoolers, she called her husband’s mother in Tennessee to send his younger sister to help.

Instead, he and his drug habit arrived. Before long, Burke reverted to her old habits, kiting checks, returning stolen items for cash. Anything to make ends meet. Until, in the end, she got busted but good.

Superior Judge Donald Stephens sentenced her to prison for nine counts of felony fraud.

Coping with her past

On Feb. 9, 1990, Burke was released. She quickly learned how few employers are interested in ex-offenders.

To dodge criminal record checks, she used her maiden name on job applications. Eventually, she was always found out.

She started a floral delivery business in Raleigh. It thrived, then foundered. Finally, she persuaded her father to hire her as his legal assistant. She took to the paperwork and the lingo.

In 2006, 20 years after she first registered, Burke graduated from N.C. State with a degree in social work.

She began to wonder if she couldn’t take her experience with the legal system – both inside and out, as a de facto paralegal for her dad – and become a lawyer herself. She applied to N.C.Central’s law school twice and finally got in. Through sheer determination, she got through.

Judge Kristin Ruth, who sees lots of ex-cons in her child support court, knows how unusual Burke’s success is.

“She’s one who never gave up,” Ruth said. “You see her talking to the clients and there is an instant connection. She can honestly say ‘I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been in that jail cell. And now I’m here.'”

Dennis Gaddy, executive director of the Community Success Initiative, which assists ex-offenders, noted that 70 percent of children whose parents have been in prison end up in prison themselves. But “there is a way to turn setbacks into a comeback,” he said, calling Burke one of his program’s stars.

Passing on life lessons

Burke said she tried to teach her kids the lessons she never learned. All four worked jobs through high school, helping her pay bills, buying their own clothes.

All four graduated from college. Her son’s a Raleigh cop. The twins got degrees in public health. And her youngest daughter graduated from NCCU.

One day last spring, while interning for the Wake County Public Defender’s Office, Burke decided to stop by to see someone she first met in court in 1988.

Judge Stephens didn’t recognize her.

“You sentenced me to 10 years in prison,” Burke said.

Ah, yes.

“I told him, ‘Judge, I just wanted to let you know that I understand what a difficult job you have and that you were just doing what you had to do,’ ” she said. ” ‘I also wanted to let you know that all four of my kids graduated from college.’ ”

“And what are you doing these days, Ms. Burke?” the judge asked.

“I’m going to law school,” she replied.

The usually unflappable judge did a double take. “You’re what?”

“I was happy to hear it,” Stephens said. “We don’t hear many success stories. Ms. Burke had the tenacity to climb her way out.”

Burke plans to practice criminal defense, representing people like her who have “screwed up royally.” She wants to be one of their believers.

“I want to be that benefit of the doubt that someone can change,” she said.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

Have a great night y’all! :D

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Things TDot Likes: Men’s Wearhouse

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 12, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

“You’re going to like the way you look.  I guarantee it.”

That’s the corporate tagline for Men’s Wearhouse, the clothing store where I’ve gotten most of my professional attire over the past few years. But when I pulled my BlackBerry from its holster this morning, I got a message that could work almost as well:

“U have to have big [cojones] to wear a pink tie and a pocket square lol.”

A little color never killed anyone :D

That was from one of my colleagues during today’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, where we adopted tuition/fee rates for the 2010-11 academic year.  Those rates included a long-sought fee to fund a football team for UNC Charlotte, as well as a fee to finally build a new student center at N.C. State

…but the topic of discussion for several Board members kept shifting back to my hot pink tie and matching pocket silk :beatup:

I actually started the draft for this post a couple weeks ago after a not-quite-but-somewhat similar occurrence. A fellow 1L from the N.C. Central University School of Law stopped by to hang out for a bit, saw me putting my tie racks in order, and remarked about how much I’d “grown up” compared to my earlier wardrobe.

Now I’ve never been a fan of the stereotypical “corporate” look — black or navy suit, white or light blue shirts, earth tone ties, no pocket silks, etc. But I confess it’s what I used to wear back when I wasn’t in school, since it’s what everyone else wore too.

Then one day I went into a local S&K Menswear1 looking for a French blue pocket silk. The staff looked at me like I was crazy, and one of them even tried to talk me into getting a navy blue silk instead (a color I already had, and didn’t need even if I hadn’t). I left disappointed and figured I’d try the Men’s Wearhouse shop next door.

I not only found the French blue silk I was looking for, the ties/silks area was like a color pinwheel with all sorts of vibrant choices. Not sure what the salesperson was pulling down in commission, but I happily parted with a tidy sum of $$ to get a few ties, matching silks, and shirts.

It was love :lovestruck:

I’ve been shopping there ever since. Suits, shirts, ties, silks, even the occasional tuxedo rental. They’ve even helped me put together a slightly-exotic outfit every now and then, like when I had to find a suitable shirt / tie / silk combo to match these colors for UNCSA.

So if you’re a guy looking to add a little visual pizazz to your attire, Men’s Wearhouse just might be the place for you ;)


I’m taking the weekend off from blogging to (hopefully) get caught up in CivPro and Legal Research. See y’all on Monday, have a great night! :D

  1. Later acquired by Men’s Wearhouse, ironically enough []

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Things TDot Likes: Scalia’s writing

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 18, 2010 in Things TDot Likes

Say what you want about the man and his views on American jurisprudence, but the further I get in CivPro the more I consider Antonin Scalia a damn good author.

We’re currently going through the whole Erie lineage of cases, and I just finished reading Scalia’s dissent in Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415 (1996).  I’ll stipulate that I’m not yet competent enough in the law to have an opinion on whether I think his reasoning is persuasive.  But his writing style? The words practically jump off the page.

Compare the majority opinion to the dissent.  The former is bland and matter-of-fact-ish, but for the dissent I can practically envision Justice Scalia saying it aloud as I read.1 It’s not quite as incendiary as the Burnham v. Superior Court case that amused me last semester, but it’s still good stuff :)

Off to read about concurrent estates in Property before heading to bed. Have a great night folks!

  1. It’s actually kind of like one of those badly-dubbed kung fu movies, where the voice is based off snippets of interviews he’s given and the text itself is a subtitle on the screen :beatup: []

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