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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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The Lingering Bitterness of Undercharging…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 25, 2014 in The After-3L Life

I’ve written before about the need for lawyers to be able to charge less while still making a living.

But every now and then I regret practicing what I preach…

Without going into too much detail, yesterday I resolved a case involving one of my business clients. When they hired me awhile back I thought they had a horrible case — on the hook for $51,000+ with an unconvincing defense. So I quoted a low flat fee rather than charging by the hour or some other arrangement.

Well a month or so in, I discovered a key piece of evidence for the Plaintiff wasn’t what the Plaintiff thought it was. And yesterday (after more than a year of working on it) everything got settled.

Final price tag: $3,000

Client savings: $48,000

My fee: $750 :beatup:

I’m thrilled for my client’s 6,300% return on their investment, but I really wish I had charged more now…

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TDot’s Tips: 5 Things I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Lawyer

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 26, 2013 in TDot's Tips

Belated merry Christmas y’all :)

I’ve been out of commission with the flu since last Friday, which has translated to a lot of time spent reading even more news / Facebook feeds / tweets than I do normally. And earlier today on Twitter I came across a tweet linked to an entry on Cordell Parvin’s blog titled “15 Additional Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer.” That entry in turn linked to an earlier post on the same topic, “25 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer.”

They’re both solid lists, and 40 things a well-seasoned attorney wished he’d known sooner in his career are things worth mulling over by anyone recently licensed.

But they also seem a bit… incomplete I guess would be the word. For example, there’s no why behind Parvin wishing he’d known these things sooner; sure most are self-evident to some degree or another, but some added detail would have helped it sink in.1

Several of them also seem tailored to folks in multi-attorney firms, which of course doesn’t include me ;)

I still like both lists so I won’t critique beyond those minor points and commend them to you for reading. I do, however, have 5 things I’d add now that my first year as a lawyer recently wrapped up:

1. “It takes money to make money” is an efficient way to go broke.

Call it lingering bitterness over my foibles with advertising, but I’ve truly come to hate that phrase.

Way back in April of this year, activity at my firm cratered. I’d been on a steady and sharply upward trajectory since opening my doors in September, started “drinking the Kool-Aid” and took several stupid risks… then had my hopes dashed across the cold, jagged rocks of reality :beatup:

So I decided to take a dive into direct mail. A ton of attorneys I knew were using different companies to contact people who got traffic citations and other criminal charges, and I figured “hey, it takes money to make money!” Surely this would be an investment that generated clients and cash flow.

I thought the bulk of these calls were from direct mail. I was wrong.

I thought the bulk of these calls were from direct mail. I was wrong.

At the time it seemed like it “worked.” I started getting more calls and more clients.

Then I discovered two big problems. First, I was in court during the time a lot of folks called. So I signed up for Ruby Receptionists so callers wouldn’t just be getting my voicemail, to the tune of nearly $300.00/month2

The bigger problem, though, didn’t get discovered until the Thanksgiving break when I wrote the Mailbag entry following up on my first-year finances: after running a report on every client I had, and marking how each one found me, I discovered only 11 of the new clients were from direct mail :surprised:

That’s not a typo. 11. As in barely-double-digits. As in less than a dozen. Out of 165ish clients.

So when I compared how much I had spent on direct mail itself relative to the amount I’d made on those 11 clients, I discovered I’d lost close to $2,000 over those 7 months.3

While it may indeed “take money to make money” in some areas of law, I’d argue for most solo/small firm practitioners it shouldn’t take much if you do it right. Bootstrap your office — see here and here and here — then just make yourself accessible to people and do good work. Your reputation will bring you business from there.

***

2. Trust no one (at first anyway).

None of you are going to be shocked to hear that people lie. But, if you haven’t yet, after starting your practice you will quickly discover the sheer volume of whoppers that get told by prospective clients, actual clients, and even occasionally other attorneys. :crack:

The examples I’ve picked up over the past year are borderline absurd. There was the guy facing a half-dozen minor criminal offenses who “discovered” he’d stolen a felonious volume of stuff while the first 6 charges were pending and for which he got indicted the day after he was sentenced on them, torpedoing any leverage I may have had on the 7th charge now that the first 6 were disposed. There was an attorney with two decades of practice experience who insisted to me he had done certain things on a case, that he had already admitted in emails I’d be given by his former client were never done. There were an untold volume of people who swore they had clean traffic records, only to discover past DWIs and other offenses.

The most humorous for me was probably a woman referred to me by a classmate. She started off with a trio of the red flags that my malpractice insurance carrier Lawyers Mutual warned about in one of their CLEs: I was the third lawyer she had talked to, I was the only one who could help her, and she knew God sent her to me for a reason.4

In a nutshell, she wanted me to sue her (enormous) former employer, immediately, based on nothing more than her word that certain not-that-bad things had happened.

  • When I said I wanted to meet with her first to review her documents, she told me all her documents were actually at her former worksite.
  • When I said I still wanted to meet with her anyway and would review whatever she had, she started crying and said I wasn’t listening to her.
  • When I repeated back to her everything she had told me, then reiterated I still wanted to meet, the tears stopped immediately and I was told the documents that a minute ago were at the former worksite were actually in a storage unit, but she couldn’t get them out because she couldn’t pay the rent on the unit.
  • Having once written a Facebook note on the cost-saving virtues of moving into a storage unit, I figured she was full of sh*t and stood firm, politely explaining that I’d still be around whenever she was able to get her things and stop in for a meeting…
  • …so then I got called an *sshole and she hung up :beatup:

Thankfully most of the folks I’ve dealt with haven’t been that ridiculous. If you haven’t had any experience or training in figuring out when someone’s being deceptive, I’d suggest trying one of the CLEs put on by the good folks over at QVerity (the authors of Spy the Lie) — they let me attend two of their programs back during my 2L year, and the material’s been quite useful in practice.

***

3. There are a lot of bad cases out there, but not all bad ones are losers.

There’s not really much to say on this one: a lot of the people who will come to you for legal help, especially of the litigation variety, simply don’t have a case. People wanting to sue for being offended, or “knowing” someone is up to no good based on nothing more than a hunch, or knowing they don’t have a case but wanting to sue anyway hoping they can extort a settlement — there’s a laundry list of problems with the cases people bring to lawyers.

That doesn’t mean every bad case is a loser though. ;)

For example, I once had a guy come to me as the Defendant in a deed reformation suit; the bank had filed a Deed of Trust without a required attachment, so they filed a Complaint in Superior Court to have it fixed on the grounds that it’s what both parties intended when the mortgage contract was made. Very straightforward, and my guy had no legitimate defense. Case closed.

Well after some talking with him, I realized he had fallen behind in his mortgage a year prior after a divorce, and was trying to get his loan modified to basically shuffle the missed payments to the end of the loan term. And having dealt with plenty of delinquent homeowners this past year, that meant to me the bank discovered the deed defect because they were preparing to foreclose.

So I took his case, slowed down the proceedings a little bit, and eventually my client got his loan modification even while the bank ultimately “won” the deed reformation on a motion for summary judgment.5 A bad litigation case ended up being beneficial for everyone involved.

***

4. Even new lawyers can run with the big dogs.

Luckily for my practice, this is one of the first lessons I learned — but not until after a lot of sweating and almost a month’s worth of kicking myself.

In my first heavily contested business litigation case, I’d totally outhustled the (non-NCCU Law grad) junior associate at the opposing firm, and was as certain as anyone can be in litigation that I had things sewn up just from the briefs.

Fast forward to the hearing on our dueling motions, and I walk into the courtroom to discover the junior associate had been yanked from the case and replaced by the magna cum laude graduate / law review editor-in-chief / practicing-for-three-decades partner whose name was on the door…

…who then proceeded to beat me like a rented mule in oral arguments :crack:

I was totally flummoxed by how things were going. I’d done the research, knew the law and the facts, and had a better-than-solid case. But here was this short old guy6 making arguments I’d never anticipated, handing up case after case after case and the judge was buying it! It was a small miracle when the judge announced he’d just gotten sworn in the preceding Monday and wasn’t comfortable deciding the issue himself, so he continued the matter a month to set it in front of a different judge.

During the reprieve the case nagged at me; I couldn’t figure out how I had f*cked up so royally, and with my client sitting next to me the whole time to boot. I let myself be convinced I was losing because opposing counsel had been practicing so long, he was a distinguished practitioner in this particular field, and he surely was just better than me because of it.

Then one day I randomly went back through all the case law he handed up, to figure out why it didn’t show up in any of my searches. And I made a discovery: none of it applied.

At all. :surprised:

I hadn’t anticipated the arguments because the arguments were totally irrelevant, related to completely different rules and completely different standards. The other side apparently hadn’t read the motions or the briefs; they’d just printed some totally random sh*t out, and then handed it up in court.

After briefly kicking myself some more — because that meant in the “fog of war” in court I’d never actually entertained the possibility that this decades-long practitioner had just screwed up — I realized all the experience and accolades only count for so much. So I prepared for the second hearing the same way I did the first one, and stood toe-to-toe with him for the better part of three hours.7 Then we won.

Some attorneys, even ones with oodles of experience and awards, aren’t all that good. Don’t let yourself get intimidated by being the new kid.

***

5. Pedigree != victory.

This one’s a corollary to #4: even very good attorneys can end up with bad law, bad facts, or both. Don’t assume a high-priced degree or this or that award means they’re going to win.

In the summer I had a trademark / trade dress case against one of my small business clients brought by NC counsel for a mega-firm out of Chicago. A double-Harvard grad, repeatedly named to Super Lawyers and the North Carolina Legal Elite list for intellectual property, several journal and industry publications to his credit, the list goes on. The guy was intimidating.

But his case was a joke. The facts were on our side, the law was on our side, and there was a 0.0% chance we were going to lose (and if somehow we did, we’d already decided we would appeal as far up as we needed). It would have been a prime candidate for anti-SLAPP treatment if NC had a statute for those sort of things in trademark/trade dress cases. I still don’t know what their goal was in going down that path, but after exchanging increasingly-lengthy letters back and forth, we got the case dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion.

I haven’t had any interaction with that particular attorney before or since, so I’ve got no way of knowing if he really is as good as his CV says; I’ll go ahead and assume he is. Even so, he’s just a lawyer — not a miracle worker. Great pedigrees can’t necessarily win every bad case that crosses their desk.

***

Sorry for such a ridiculously long post folks, chalk it up to cabin fever. But now if you’re a first-year attorney you’ve got 45 things to keep in mind, and these 5 have context with them ;)

Have a great rest of the week everybody! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. For example, “[s]pend 80% of your time with your top 20% of your contacts”? To what extent does the Pareto Principle really apply to law? []
  2. Ruby is a great service by the way. A bit expensive, but truly indispensable until I can hire someone full-time. []
  3. I’m not factoring in the money I started paying to Ruby, since in retrospect I would have likely started using them at that point anyway. []
  4. There’s a pretty long list of red flags, but invoking religion in particular has (sadly) been a surefire sign that someone’s lying to me… :beatup: []
  5. We were also lucky to have good opposing counsel, Gary Whaley of Morris Manning & Martin LLP. I can’t say enough good things about him: he knew we had no defense, knew he was going to win, but still went out of his way to help us get a loan modification approved. Also hands down the nicest attorney I’ve worked with so far. []
  6. Who was also a total d*ck by the way. I’m assuming he had a Napoleon Complex. []
  7. His response to me pointing out to the judge every single thing he was arguing was irrelevant: “Well, we didn’t know what opposing counsel was going to argue.” :crack: To which I politely pointed out to the Court that I was arguing what was in the motion, and in the corresponding brief, both filed two months prior. This judge, thankfully, wasn’t buying his argument. []

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

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

Greetings from Virginia Beach y’all :)

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

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

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

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

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

***

Q:1 Dude what are you doing!! 2

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

Q: Have you done any advertising?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

A: Track everything.

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

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

***

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

A: That’s easy –

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

***

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

—===—

From the Mailbag archives:

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

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2

TGD Law: Year 1 Recap

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 12, 2013 in The After-3L Life

For better or worse, it’s a sign of my near-terminal inability to get back into the blogging routine that it took more than a month since my last entry. :beatup:

Several folks reminded me of the extended absence this week so I thought I’d cobble something together. :D

A couple weeks ago, back on September 21st, I officially hit the 1-year anniversary of starting my own law firm right out of law school. And with that milestone came the attendant benchmark-assessing / income-calculating / win-loss-recording administrivia.

The results were not what I’d have guessed they would be when I started: my workload has been absurd, my time management skills suck, and if my tax return is to be believed I’m financially more destitute now than when I was a homeless college dropout.1

I’m also apparently a much better lawyer than I am a businessman :crack:

A peek into the TGD Law bank account after Year 1

A peek into the TGD Law financials after Year 1

On the right is a chart I put together with some of the details from the year running from 21 September 2012 to 20 September 2013, with the percent of my practice areas based on gross income.

On the lawyer side of things, in the one year since I started practicing (and the not-quite-200 clients I’ve had in that time) I’ve only lost 1 case.2 I stopped keeping tracking of the wins entirely because it started sounding absurd when folks would ask how the year had gone; needless to say, I’ve been very fortunate on the trial front.

But I’ve also made some very boneheaded decisions in the money-making department. :beatup:

Key example #1: burning several hundred dollars’ worth of gas helping a guy I met at NC State with a dozen criminal charges (pro bono).

Key example #2: taking a personal check from an attorney I represented in a foreclosure case… whose check promptly bounced after I saved her home (and who still hasn’t paid me several months later).3 :mad:

As much as I love piling up good karma, I’m doing this to make a living — so (also needless to say) I’m a bit disappointed with how the first year has turned out.

The one bright spot in the data, aside from the win-loss record, is that more than half my practice is already in my preferred focus area helping small businesses. I have absolutely no clue how that’s happened given the still-not-completed status of the TGD Law website but on that I’m not going to complain. :)

"Did I hear you say 'food'??"

“Did I hear you say ‘dinner’??”

Things are also improving (thank goodness): the first 11 days of October 2013 have brought in more than my first two full months of practice from 09/21/12 to 11/20/12.

I just hope/pray it continues, because Samson isn’t as big a fan of ramen noodles for dinner as I am. ;)

So there’s a glimpse into the life of one particular starting-from-scratch solo practitioner! I’m still a strong supporter of the whole going solo option — I’d venture that nearly 100% of y’all could easily outperform these financial metrics — I’m just maybe a smidge more cynical than when I began.

Hope all of you have been doing well, and enjoy the rest of your weekends! :D

  1. Back then I might have been homeless, but at least I wasn’t sporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt… []
  2. It was a foreclosure defense case on an investment property that I had no business trying to defend: my clients lived in California and refused to come to court, and none of North Carolina’s foreclosure statutes protect investment homes like they do primary residences. And I still somehow got things delayed by 6 months… B-) []
  3. An attorney! :crack: []

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TDot’s Tips: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.” (or, “I passed the bar! Now what??”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 4, 2013 in TDot's Tips

No, your eyes don’t deceive you — you’re seeing two entries in a one-week period for the first time since I went on a three-posts-in-a-week writing spree way back in January. :D

[Yes, I’m proud of myself. Told y’all I was serious about getting back in the habit of blogging :P ]

Admittedly I’m cheating a smidge on this one (I forewarned you Friday!) since it’s a mostly-copy/paste job of this old TDot’s Tips entry from just after I passed the bar. But I figure it’s a timely rehash since folks got their bar results over the Labor Day weekend, so hopefully you’ll forgive me ;)

So you’ve gone from being a doe-eyed proto-lawyer nurtured in the ivy-covered walls of legal academia for the past three years, and grown into a bona fide at-least-minimally-competent attorney-at-law.1 Now what do you do?

====================
STEP 1: GET SWORN IN
====================

Oaths are what us lawyerfolk call Serious Business™. For srs. Meaning you need to take one before we’ll allow a non-lawyer to put their life in your at-least-minimally-competent hands.2

To get that done:

  • Grab your ID card and your pass letter from the NCBLE. You don’t actually need your law license to practice law, you just have to meet the qualifications for doing so: passing the bar exam, passing the MPRE, and passing the character and fitness review.3 So as a threshold issue all you’ll need to get sworn in is your letter from the NCBLE showing you passed, and an ID card proving you are who you say you are. Those, and…
  • Grab -3- copies of your oath. You can find the standard oath at this link hosted by the NCBLE; if you’re not comfortable with the “so help me God” part, they’ve also got an alternative oath available here. Why have three copies you ask? Well one of them is going to get time-stamped and filed with the court wherever you get sworn in, and the second is going to get time-stamped and returned to you so you have a copy for your records. The third is optional — but as a stylistic choice I recommend printing that one on nice paper, signing it in blue ink, framing it, and putting it up somewhere in your office as an ever-present reminder of how amazing you are :angel:
  • Pick your county. Now that you’re certifiably at-least-minimally-competent, you can take the oath in any courthouse in the State. Lots of folks pick the county where they’re from so it’s easily accessible for family friends; others pick the county where they’re planning to practice; others like me go where there’s a friendly judge (see below). Some counties will try to push you into participating in their mass swearing-in ceremonies — for example, Cumberland County had theirs today, Mecklenburg has one on September 26th, and Wake has one on September 23rd — but you’re not obligated to do so if you’ve got folks willing to be flexible. Which brings me to…
  • Pick your judge. You can have any judge you want swear you in (as long as he/she agrees of course). In my case, EIC and I got sworn in together in Wake County by our former 2L AAJ trial team coach, the Honorable Judge Vince Rozier. You can go with a District Court Judge, a Superior Court Judge, or if you’ve got high-end connections you can even get someone from the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. And if you don’t have someone in mind, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a judge you’ve never met to see if they’d be open to it.
  • Pick your sponsor. Finally, as a matter of local custom, you’ll want an existing member of the bar to introduce you to the court. This is the person who tells everyone how amazing you are4 and how you’re going to use your law license to fight for truth, justice, the American Way, apple pie, mega-corporations, or whatever else suits your fancy. As an example, EIC and I both picked our 3L TYLA trial team coach (the guy in the bottom picture in this entry from the competition in Memphis).
  • Take the oath. You’ll get introduced to the court by your sponsor, given the oath by the judge, then you and the judge will both sign all the copies of your oath document (ideally in blue ink for the framable copy). Take those oaths to the Clerk of Superior Court’s Civil Division, have them file one and return the other two to you, and you’re officially official!

====================
STEP 2: PAY YOUR TAXES
====================

Being officially official, of course, means you get to pay even more money to various organs of government than you would if you were just some random schmoe trying to start a career.

Specifically, you’ve got a trio to taxes to worry about:

  • Dues to the State Bar. Here in North Carolina, this is a $375.00 fee you have to pay annually to continue practicing law. It’s officially “due” on January 1st each year, but it’s not “late” until July 1st — so basically few first-year lawyers pay it until the summer time.
  • Dues to the District Bar. In addition to your required membership in the State Bar, you’re also required to join a Judicial District Bar here in NC; you can pick from either the District where you live or the one where you work. This is usually $75.00 and whether you get a reprieve before having to pay varies by District. Here in Durham we’re in the 14th Judicial District which, aside from being utterly useless so far as I’ve been able to tell to-date, requires you to pay your District dues before the calendar year is over.
  • My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my "privilege" license/tax

    My interactions with the Department of Revenue on my “privilege” license/tax (click for the full-size version)

    Your privilege license. You’ll generally only need this if you’re practicing law outside of a preexisting firm — basically if you’re going solo, or doing doc review with the inevitable “I’ll only give legal advice to Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving” (otherwise, your employer usually picks up the tab).

    This is a $50-per-year tax levied by the NC Department of Revenue for the “privilege” of being part of certain licensed professions.5 You’ll have to apply and pay for it before you start practicing, otherwise you’ll get hit with a penalty and interest for paying late.

    And honestly you might even get hit with a penalty and interest anyway, just because: that’s the situation I had back in October as part of my long-running “I’m a magnet for every form of government incompetence imaginable” series :crack: Here’s the picture I created for an entry I never wrote. Make sure to appeal in a timely fashion!

There are a few other tax-related items to worry about if you’re planning to open your own firm, but that’s beyond the scope of this entry — for this one I only care about making sure you can practice law without getting thrown in jail for being a tax delinquent.6

I do however, totally coincidentally, have this entry on the cost of going solo where I mention some of that stuff ;)

====================
STEP 3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL
====================

You didn’t think you were done with classes just because you finished law school, did you?

Now that you’re a lawyer, you’ll have the joy of getting at least 12 hours’ worth of Continuing Legal Education classes every single year for the rest of your practicing life, starting January 1st.

And, just for you as a newbie, there’s a special epically-long CLE called the “New Admittee Professionalism Program” (NAPP) that you’ll need to complete within the first 18 months of practice. Expect to spend $200.00 and two days of your life on that one.

Luckily a good chunk of the material is actually quite useful ( :surprised: ), so I’d recommend knocking it out sooner rather than later. You can find more information about NAPP on the North Carolina Bar Association’s CLE website, and information on CLE obligations in general at the State Bar’s CLE website.

*****

And that’s it! There’s a bunch of other stuff you should do of course — buy malpractice insurance, join some of the voluntary bar associations, sit and observe other lawyers as time permits — but that’s for another blog entry :)

So in the words of one of my mentors after hearing I passed the bar exam: “Congratulations. Good luck. Don’t f*ck up.”

Good night y’all!

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. *CONGRATULATIONS* by the way! :D []
  2. Random aside: I have no doubt you’re better than minimally competent. At the same time though, isn’t it a little bit scary that minimal competence is all we’re expected by law to provide? More importantly: makes you wonder if the AMA and state licensing boards for physicians use the same minimal competence view of things… :beatup: []
  3. As crazy as it sounds, the NCBLE is the fastest in the nation on delivering bar results but slower than a herd of disabled geriatric snails crawling through peanut butter when it comes to sending out licenses. :crack: You’ll likely get your bar card from the State Bar before your license arrives. The license will be worth the wait though. []
  4. Because no one believes you when you say it yourself. Trust me. ;) []
  5. It’s analogous to City/County-level privilege licenses charged for every other business. []
  6. Just kidding, we don’t have debtor prisons anymore thank goodness. Otherwise I’d have been rotting away in one for a loooooong time… :beatup: []

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3

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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TDot’s Tips: Bootstrapping your first law office

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 10, 2012 in TDot's Tips

I meant to post this entry back on Saturday night, but I got side-tracked by watching one of the 3 most-amazing NC State football games I can remember1 — as my alma mater came back from a 0-16 halftime deficit to beat the #3 Florida State Seminoles 17-16, scoring the game-winning touchdown with a mere 0:16 left on the clock (the first time we had the lead all game!) :spin:

Then of course life and the whole “needing to pay rent” thing got in the way, so you’re getting this entry 4 days later :beatup:

Since we’re now more than a full week into the new fiscal quarter, I wanted to share a few equipment-gathering tips for the entrepreneurial crowd in solo and small practice. If you’re like me just starting out — or a 3L heading that way soon — you’ve probably realized the practice of law is awfully damn expensive. And unfortunately you need to make certain expenses now so you don’t risk derailing your practice from the beginning.2

Luckily there are a few things you can do to create a functioning law office without breaking the bank in your first year. Here are four suggestions that can help:

  • Get a high-end laptop as a 3L: It’s not a widely advertised program, but the US Department of Education permits students to get an increase in financial aid once as an undergraduate and once as a graduate/professional student solely for the purchase of a computer and related accessories. If you’re still a 3L reading this, your financial aid office will have the details; to see how my N.C. State does it, check out the bottom of this Scholarships & Financial Aid webpage.3 Use your last year of law school to get something on the high end that will last you through your first few years of practice. Now realistically this means you’ll end up taking out more student loans, and I fully realize no rational person normally takes out a loan on a depreciating asset, but (i) when you start your practice preserving cash will be vital (landlords don’t like credit cards), and (ii) the terms of a student loan are almost always going to be better than the terms of financing the laptop on a credit card or some other form of credit.
  • Use a scanner + laser printer as your copy machine: The costs of a copy machine lease vary depending on where you are in the country, but dropping around $200-$250 per month is a typical expense — around $3,000 a year. The problem is that, in the start of your practice when you have comparatively fewer clients, you’re essentially paying for the machine to go unused.  A less expensive combination is to combine a solid laser printer with a standalone scanner, ideally one with an automatic document feeder (ADF) attachment. It will be a slower option than the copy machine but the cost savings are worth it early on until you’re making a lot of copies. Consider this: a Brother 2270DW (wireless+duplex) costs around $99, an Epson v500 scanner is currently $150, and the ADF costs another $200. That all comes out to $449 — one-sixth the cost of the copy machine lease, with no contracts or other hidden expenses after that initial purchase aside from toner and paper.
  • Government surplus == cheap furniture: I guarantee every single person reading this is within a 30-mile radius of a municipal, state, or federal government agency of some kind. Governments routinely upgrade equipment and furniture with each budget cycle (universities especially), and when the old stuff has to go it typically ends up at a government surplus department somewhere. Find the ones in your state and go do some shopping. Most of the items getting replaced aren’t in mint condition, but they’re still more than adequate. For example, I bought an ugly-but-comfortable office chair that had a broken left arm. Price from government surplus due to the defect? $3. Once I got it home all I had to do was break out my drill and screw it into a slightly different place on the frame to make it as good as new.4 In addition to chairs the surplus folks will also have fleets of desks, file cabinets, and just about anything else you’ll need for an office.
  • Negotiate for free office space: With the economy still in the doldrums, many landlords are sitting on space that hasn’t been leased in a very very long time. Take advantage of that opportunity by pushing the landlord to consider giving you 3-6 months rent-free while you get your practice off the ground. In exchange, you can even offer to help them out with any legal needs they might have. You’re not going to end up with the penthouse suite, but you’d be amazed the quality of office space you can get for pennies with just a little negotiation — and politely reminding them that unoccupied space doesn’t make anyone any money.

Hope those suggestions are useful to at least one of you out there! :) More to come later this week, including another entry in my “I’m a magnet for government incompetence” series ;)

Have a great night y’all! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. The others being the miraculous 27-point comeback over the University of Maryland last season, and the highlight-reel-worthy plays to beat the University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven the year before :D []
  2. CLEs are a key example: if you passed the bar in July, you have until Dec. 31, 2013 to log your hours — but some of the law practice management stuff is essential for new solos. []
  3. I couldn’t find comparable information online for North Carolina Central University, but I used the program myself just by talking to the financial aid folks in person and then providing them a receipt for the purchase. []
  4. I still haven’t actually done that of course, but that’s mostly because I grew accustomed to armless office chairs doing computer science work in undergrad :beatup: []

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2

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

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 9, 2012 in TDot's Tips

Well now I’m officially official: I got sworn in as a North Carolina attorney Friday afternoon! :D

Taking the oath of office. From left: Judge Vince Rozier, Me (with Eagle lapel pin and Wolfpack Red shirt + silk + socks), Nan, and Hahvahd

The ceremony was put together on short notice (about 20 minutes of text messages exchanged on my way to Charlotte on Wednesday1) but it turned out great, with EIC getting sworn in at the same event, the two of us being presented to the court by our TYLA trial team coach, and our AAJ trial team coach presiding.

Even my grandparents managed to make it down with just a day’s notice :spin:

Amid getting all that set up and executed, I’ve gotten questions from classmates on a few issues and had to find answers to some questions of my own — so I thought it might be helpful to throw it all in this entry in case anyone else needs it.

====================
APPEALING YOUR BAR EXAM
====================

As some background, last week I noted that NCCU Law’s bar pass rate dropped unexpectedly for first-time test takers to the lowest rate we’ve had in decades. Professors have cited a variety of factors for the drop, some of which are unique to our school2 and others that affect every school to some degree or another.3

One issue I suspect hurt our students more than most was the lack of electricity due to egregiously poor contingency planning by the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners. Here’s why: so far as I know, NCCU Law is the only law school in North Carolina to have a “loaner laptop” program where everyone is issued a laptop as a 1L that they can use until after the bar exam. It’s a great program for a law school whose students skew toward a lower socioeconomic status than, say, our friends over at UNCCH Law.

But after 3 years the laptop batteries can’t hold a charge for more than a few minutes :beatup:

So when the lights went out and laptops started dropping like flies, Legal Eagles were disproportionately affected. The addition of more time helped to mitigate the damage but it’s hard to undo the psychological impact of seeing your electronic work disappear and then having to switch to hand-writing.4

Anyhow, there’s a procedure in place for appealing one’s bar exam results (though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the NCBLE website). If there were ever a set of circumstances warranting an appeal, I think what we went through would qualify. Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Get your scoresheet from the NCBLE. Those are available now, and can be obtained either by calling them at (919) 828-4886 or emailing info [at] ncble.org;
  2. Prepare a letter addressed to Fred P. Parker III, North Carolina Board of Law Examiners, PO BOX 2946, Raleigh, NC, 27602;
  3. Outline the grounds for your appeal, noting for example the impact of the lack of electricity;
  4. Get the letter notarized; and,
  5. Mail it to the NCBLE by September 14th, 2012.5

Bear  in mind, like most appeals, that the odds of success on appeal are very slim. The best appeals will be folks who are at most 1-2 points away from passing and did better comparatively on the MBE than the essays. If they re-review your essays as a result of the appeal there’s an ever-so-small chance you’ll be able to get that last point or two.

If you’re dissatisfied with whatever procedure NCBLE uses for the appeal, your last resort is filing suit in Wake County Superior Court; that process is outlined in the Rules section of the NCBLE website.

***

====================
GETTING SWORN IN
====================

Information contained on the NCBLE and North Carolina State Bar websites notwithstanding, you don’t actually need your license in order to get sworn in and begin practicing. Judges have judicial discretion to administer the oath if you have met all the requirements for licensure, which will be reflected in your letter from the NCBLE if you passed the bar exam, the MPRE, and the character & fitness check.

If you don’t believe me, consider that Alamance County had a mass swearing-in for their attorneys this past Friday (and you’d have a great as-applied challenge if anyone tried to stop you from doing the same).

Once you’ve got a judge ready to conduct the oath, as a matter of custom you’ll want to find a current member of the bar to present you to the court. Typically your presenter offers a few words about how amazing you are and how you’ll be a great addition to the legal profession. I went with my 2L/3L TYLA coach (who ad-libbed his remarks, noting “I’ve seen the progress in him, from knowing everything, to still knowing everything but being able to work within his limitations to be a successful attorney” :beatup: ).

In addition to having your NCBLE letter on-hand, you’ll also need at least 2 copies of the Oath of Office available from the NCBLE website. And if you’re like me, with a penchant for framing and hanging things, you’ll want at least one (or more) copies of the oath signed in blue ink on nice cardstock for display ;)

After getting the oaths signed by you and the judge, take two copies to the Civil Division of the Clerk of Court’s Office for filing. The clerk should timestamp and file one copy, then timestamp the other copy and hand it back to you for your records.

Once you’ve got that done you’re officially a lawyer! :D

***

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

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

Turns out being a lawyer is a “privilege” — and the North Carolina Department of Revenue wants their cut. You’ll need to visit the Privilege License / Tax section of the Department of Revenue website, download the form, fill it out, and mail it off to NCDOR with your $50.00 tax payment. You’ll need to renew that license every year before July 1st.

Not to be outdone, you’ve also got a special professionalism CLE you have to complete within your first year of practice. Called the “New Admittee Professionalism Program” (NAPP6), that’ll set you back about $200.00 plus two days of your life.

You’ll also want malpractice insurance, but (thankfully?) I have no clue how much that will cost to include it in this blog entry…

***

====================
WAIVING IN TO WASHINGTON DC
====================

One last addition for this entry, which is actually one of the few useful snippets of information I retained from the Law Student Division’s “Super Circuit” meeting in Charleston last October: you might be able to get into the District of Columbia Bar without having to take their exam ;)

So far as I know, Washington DC is the only jurisdiction that will let a newly licensed attorney waive in based solely on whether or not he or she scored high enough on the MPRE and the MBE.  You won’t be able to get your actual MBE scores from the NCBLE of course, but you can give them a call and they’ll tell you whether or not you qualify for admission in the other jurisdiction.

First, you’ll have to wait until you get both your physical license from the NCBLE (which should be 4-6 weeks after they mailed your passage letter) as well as your State Bar Identification Number (1-2 weeks after getting your license). Then give the NCBLE a call to see if you qualify for DC admission.

If you qualify, you’ll need to send a written request addressed to Jody Rollins at the NCBLE asking for your score information be transmitted to the DC Bar — along with a $25.00 check for processing :beatup:  You’ll also need to get a Certificate of Good Standing from the North Carolina Supreme Court (which will set you back another $5.00) that you’ll include with your admission packet for DC.

Once you’ve got all that together, go to the DC Bar’s Committee on Admissions website, fill out the application, fire it off and wait a few months for things to get approved.

What’s the point of getting licensed in DC (aside from the cool points for having a multijurisdictional practice)?  Since it’s the nation’s capital, it has reciprocity with more jurisdictions than any other state. So after having an active license in DC for 5 years, you can pretty much waive in to just about anywhere in the country — giving you tremendous mobility for later on in your career. :D

***

That’s it from me for tonight y’all — hopefully at least some of it was useful! Have a great night! :)

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

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

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3

“Where did all these people come from?”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 9, 2011 in Site Stats

Hey y’all! :)

It’s been half a year since our last Site Stats entry back in June, not for lack of time or interest but mostly because traffic tended to stagnate with my random disappearances all the time. Even with us passing 1,000,000+ pageviews back in September, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy to merit another entry.

November '11 now holds the all-time attendance record :surprised:

Then a whole bunch of y’all appeared out of nowhere! :crack:

November 2011 was officially the single busiest month law:/dev/null has had since we launched back in August 2009!

And I have absolutely no clue why :beatup:

We had a +6.7% bump in daily readership to 2,041,1 likely resulting from my somewhat-less-sporadic posting over the month.

But the real craziness is the sudden +57.4% explosion in unique people coming to the site (8,144)2 — leapfrogging our previous record back in October 2010 of 6,716, and for reasons totally unknown to me.

There wasn’t a sudden bump in Google searches, no random spike in RSS readership,3 no particularly controversial posts that I’m aware of, and yet somehow we still had a whole bunch ‘o newcomers stop by this little piece of internet real estate. :surprised:

The war on spammers continues...

And what makes the unique IP number particularly odd is that it came alongside us blocking an unprecedented number of spammers that would otherwise be distorting the traffic figures.

In what has become my WordPress equivalent of the government’s War on Drugs, on a regular basis I go through our logs line-by-line and wall off this space from an ever-growing number of bots and spamdexers via our .htaccess file. It’s virtually eliminated comment spam (0.00479 spam comments per IP last month) but has the side effect of holding down the traffic figures.

Which is just as good since I don’t really count spammers as “real” visitors, but it’s still weird seeing such a jump in readership knowing there are about 2,000 URLs blocked from sending people here.

Anyhow, to the new folks: *WELCOME*, and thank you for visiting! :D  Hopefully you’ll enjoy it and keep coming back. :)

Doubt we’ll hit this level of traffic again any time soon but we’ll see what happens…

***

The main reason I started putting these entries together ages ago was to go through some of the search queries that send people to the site. So here’s a random selection of 20 out of the 580+ unique search terms that brought folks here in November 2011:4

  • can a footnote go under the signature on a legal doc: Depends on the document, and depends on the rule of construction the courts in that jurisdiction use; some courts allow it, others consider anything past the signature (including footnotes) as “surplusage” that has no legal effect.
  • nccu law bad neighborhood: Aside from a drug bust at the local Burger King and the occasional stuff that happen on every sizable college campus, it’s really not that bad.
  • can you petition your gpa if you are within less than 2 tenths away from cum laude: In the words of MDG, “LOL. no.” (at least not here at NCCU Law)
  • lawyers in state legislatures: Are a surprising rarity :surprised:
  • i’m panicking wording: Freaking out. Melting down. Losing your nerve. Having a psychotic episode. Taking a law school exam. Let me know if I should continue…
  • how often do people get kicked out for 2l grades: Not often compared to 1L year because people can self-select their classes, but it does happen. The frequency doesn’t matter, all that matters is whether or not your GPA is above a 2.0 ;)
  • how to get a job with bad grades in law: (1) Develop a personality, then (2) network. If you exclude me tutoring CrimLaw (where the grade for that single class was a smidge important), I’ve had exactly -0- employers care about my GPA for the various law jobs/internships I’ve had. Particularly in smaller firms, people care more about whether or not they can tolerate working with you every day than whether or not you were Top 10% academically. Make sure you have a solid LinkedIn profile, go to various law-related events, attend CLEs, get to know your professors and career services personnel, and so on — that way when openings pop up, people are willing to recommend you or at least clue you in to the vacancy.
  • american travel blog first impression toronto: I loved loved loved it! Awesome place. :D
  • dueces fingers with white background: You’d probably have more success spelling it correctly (“deuces”), but until then you can use the pic from this old UNCASG-related entry.
  • college students taking classes unrelated to their major: Yep, that’s how I made my way through N.C. State :beatup:
  • why do you want to go to nc central law?: Ummm… if you don’t know the answer to that question already, you probably don’t want to go here :P  If you want my reasons, you can read my “Why NCCU Law?” entry linked at the top of this page.
  • is law school still worth it: Nothing has happened to change my perspective (Part I and Part II) so I’d say “yes.”
  • can you fail duke law?: On a B+ curve? And risk the school losing $51K+ a year in tuition in fees per student? It might be theoretically possible, but I doubt it happens :roll:
  • 1l grades most important: I certainly hope not or I’m screwed. I prefer my own $.02: your 1L grades don’t matter.
  • va beach snowmageddon: Terrifying at the time, but pretty effing cool in retrospect B-)
  • sulc has too many white students: With budget cuts going on and minimum bar passage rates slated to rise, my guess is SULC has bigger things to worry about ;)
  • november mpre 2011 thoughts: It sucked. But I passed.
  • “closing argument” “let me try that again” good morning: Assuming you’re planning to try something similar to the Chief’s greeting back at 1L Orientation: please don’t. I’ve yet to find a single person who thinks this tactic is humorous or anything but annoying.
  • how to get caught up law school: When you figure it out, please let me know :beatup:
  • young lawyers division ridiculous: That’s actually not the first time I’ve heard this. Aside from the YLD’s incomplete approach to transparency in law school statistics, a number of them were downright rude during the ABA Annual Meeting this past summer. I guess being esquires entitles them to be pricks? Hopefully that won’t be me this time next year.

Nothing particularly risqué in this month’s batch of queries, but I still enjoyed digging through them :)

***

To wrap things up, here are the Top 5 posts from November 2011:5

  1. On NCCU Law’s strict-C curve: In support of the strict C: a year later (11/12/11)
  2. On thinking about going solo: Should I just go solo after graduation? (Part I) (11/27/11)
  3. On pros/cons for going solo: Should I just go solo after graduation? (Part II) (11/29/11)
  4. On the irrelevance of 1L grades: Your 1L Grades Don’t Matter (05/29/11)
  5. On the November ’11 MPRE: That was remarkably unpleasant (11/05/11)

And that’s it for this entry! *THANK YOU* as always for your continued support of law:/dev/null, it’s greatly appreciated! :spin:

—===—

From the Site Stats archives:

  1. +23.4% year-over-year since November 2010, for those who like analytics :) []
  2. +57.1% year-over-year []
  3. We’re actually back down to 116 RSS readers, which is more in line with our historical average. Looks like the previous spike was an aberration. []
  4. Down -18.4% compared to last month, but up +81.25% year-over-year []
  5. An odd collection considering #2 and #3 were only up for a couple days before the month ended, and #3 was posted half a year ago :surprised: []

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