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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?

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STEP 1: GET SWORN IN
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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!

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STEP 2: PAY YOUR TAXES
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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 ;)

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STEP 3: GO BACK TO SCHOOL
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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.

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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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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.

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APPEALING YOUR BAR EXAM
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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.

***

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GETTING SWORN IN
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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

***

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

***

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WAIVING IN TO WASHINGTON DC
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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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