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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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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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Yep, I’m still here

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 30, 2013 in The After-3L Life

Hey y’all :)

At least a couple folks felt “punk’d” by my last entry, where I mentioned there’d be more “tomorrow” (as in June 21st) and then disappeared for two months.

I had an actual defense this time though! I did have a plan for a “tomorrow” post, but life decided to intervene, put me in an eminently crabby mood, and I figured y’all wouldn’t want to read me ranting and raving about any of it until I had a chance to reflect ;)

Quite a bit has happened over the past two months:

  • More W’s: The law practice has been proceeding apace, with court appearances on a fairly regular basis and -0- new losses. In particular I thoroughly obliterated opposing counsel and saved a woman’s home from a wrongful foreclosure out in Wilson County back in June.1 For more details, see the second-from-last entry in this list. :D

  • The Chicago trip itself: We’ve all heard the word “clusterf*ck”.2 Well my Chicago trip was like a cluster*ck club, with several slices of awesome sandwiched between two pieces of near-unmitigated disaster — including yet another run-in with the TSA. I did get to catch up with several old classmates though, including one of my best friends from my UNCASG days during my layover in Atlanta, so overall it was a pretty great experience. I’ve got some notes and will (hopefully) work on an entry about it at some point down the road.

  • Church: A few weeks back I went to a Sunday service for the first time since 1999. Back over the summer I had a conversation with a former classmate who was studying for the bar and struggling with the daily grind of studying. Somehow the topic shifted to the more general issue of doing things we need but don’t necessarily like, which in turn shifted to a question asking when had been the last time I set foot into a church. So I agreed that I’d join him after he got past the bar exam, and that’s where I went the first Sunday after the exam.

    My odometer, as I sat in the parking lot of the first church I attended in 14 years (08/04/13)

    My odometer, as I sat in the parking lot of the first church I attended in 14 years (08/04/13)

    It must have been a day when folks were concerned for my soul, because as I was walking out the door that morning I got an email from a client inviting me to join her family at church too.

    Then a few minutes later, while I was sitting in the church parking lot waiting on my classmate and texting away on my phone, I looked up and saw my odometer had tripped over to exactly 170,000 miles. Which is also the first time I’ve ever noticed when it flipped over in the 11 years that I’ve had the car. :crack:

    I’m not saying it’s a burning bush or anything, but it was definitely an odd coincidence. So I went to my client’s church the week after, then went to one of the churches near NCCU the week after that. I still haven’t figured out where my church “home” is going to be yet, or even if I’m going to find one at all, but I’m thinking of making it a regular part of my weekly routine again.

  • Moral Monday defense: From my “This Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” files, I agreed to take on the defense of 20 folks arrested as part of civil disobedience in North Carolina’s Moral Monday protests led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. While I agree with all of about 0% of what the protestors are protesting about,3 I thought the arrests were egregiously over the top and reflected the very worst of government abuses.

    And frankly I have a long-standing distaste and dislike of government, even if my “side” is in power.4 Especially when it comes to protests.5

    So I signed up to be part of the group of volunteer attorneys, and when asked “Can you take 20?” I replied with “sure”… without really thinking about the logistical implications of expanding my client base by 25% overnight without a commensurate increase in revenue or staff :beatup:

    A judicious use of technology picked up during my computer science years has helped me stay on top of things so far, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out when I’m trying to juggle 20 different trials on different days in October / November / December while still serving my pre-existing clients.

  • NC SPICE is official: 14 months after submitting the Form 1023 application, the IRS finally sent me a letter granting 501(c)(3) status to the North Carolina Small Practice Incubator and Collaboration Environment :spin: I have to figure out how to recover from the momentum lost by the year+ delay, but it feels damn good having all that work actually result in something.

  • Joined Class of 2016/17 Orientation: Way back in the halcyon days of 2009, back when law:/dev/null was in its infancy and people were still struggling to figure out what the blog’s name even meant,6 I mentioned in Part 3 of the Orientation Retrospective that we had a reception with the Day+Evening Programs and local alumni followed by a session on professionalism.

    Well now that I’m one of those local alumni I got invited to participate :D I knew the event was going to be fun anyway (there are few things I enjoy more than going back to the school and talking with the students), and it got even more fun when I discovered several of my friends from N.C. State are now part of the Legal Eagle family.

    But then it got downright surreal.7 One of the 1Ls came up to me and goes “You’re T.! My wife is gonna get such a kick out of me meeting you, we read your blog over the summer before I came here!” And then a young lady came up to tell me how she appreciated the entries from 1L year. Then two more came up to say hi and that they had read every entry here. And so on it went for the rest of the night, even until just before everyone had left when a guy walked up and shook my hand, saying “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.”

    You want to turn me from a borderline-arrogant litigator par excellence to a near-blubbering bundle of emotion, just let me find out something I did actually helped someone else.8 Had to wipe away a tear or two when I got back to the car… but only after struggling to fit my now-even-more-overinflated ego inside :spin:

  • “I have to renew already??”: With 1L Orientation happening, that means I’ve actually been a player in this lawyer game for almost a year now — meaning it’s time to renew (and pay more for) my legal malpractice insurance :beatup:

    I’ve gotta pull some statistics together for the renewal app declaring what practices areas accounted for what percentage of my law firm’s income. It should make for an interesting look back, so I’ll post a pie chart or something when I hit the one year mark.

  • Collating 28 exhibits took forever...

    Collating 28 exhibits took forever…

  • New mega-suit filed: Speaking of practice areas, it’s no secret that I love litigation regardless of topic.

    And after saving a lady’s home from downright crooked mortgage practices, on her behalf I spent the better part of two months gathering info, doing research, interviewing folks, and typing up what is by far the biggest lawsuit I’ve ever played a role in drafting/filing. :angel:

    If you’re interested in reading the details, check out this PDF hosted on the TGD Law website: Hayes v. Self-Help Credit Union et al.

    I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out!

  • 2013 Bar results released: And this past Thursday the NC Board of Law Examiners mailed out the results for the July 2013 bar exam. Just like last year, some very close friends didn’t quite make it. But several of my mentees are now officially lawyers, and I’m told by folks who know that NCCU Law‘s overall pass rate went up this go-round — putting us ahead of both (far more expensive) Charlotte Law and Elon Law.9 :D

    I’ll have a new post up rehashing some of this entry to help walk the folks who passed through the process of getting sworn in and such :)

I realize this entry has gotten well past verbose, so I’ll wrap it up here. *THANK YOU* as always for reading and have a great night y’all! :D

  1. Beat him so bad that his last line of argument was, essentially, that I “must be” lying to the Court (no reference to the 100+ pages of unedited documentation in the trial binders I distributed). I ever-so-briefly thought about jumping over the counsel table and beating him down, but then the Judge ruled in our favor and I instead took solace in knowing he had a 3.5-hour trip back to Charlotte to marinate on his loss :angel: []
  2. If you haven’t, check Urban Dictionary. ;) []
  3. Politically they’re almost like an older, upscale version of the unwashed aspiring hippies who did Occupy Wall Street []
  4. See here and here and here, plus a new entry for the NC Department of Commerce and my “privilege license” last year that I never got around to writing about []
  5. See this entry from law school for insight into my views on governments restricting speech in so-called “protected areas” []
  6. If you’re still wondering, go to the first question in this Mailbag entry :) []
  7. And by “surreal” I mean awesome :D []
  8. Coincidentally the subject of a pair of old entries here and here []
  9. The official stats should be publicly released next week []

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About those 1L grades…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 20, 2013 in Randomness

I know it’s been a month (again), but I can’t write long tonight — flying out to Chicago in the early AM for an ABA shindig, which means I need to go to bed ASAP (pitfall of getting older :beatup: )

I’m cobbling together this quick post because I noticed while checking the law:/dev/null server logs1 that we’ve gotten about a dozen search queries on the NCCU Law academic dismissal policy.

Translation: 1L grades are out and folks are realizing whether or not they’re coming back.

For the folks who are looking, here’s a quartet of old entries I’d offer for your edification —

  1. How the dismissal policy works: TDot’s Mailbag v7.0: Legal Eagle Grading Edition (06/22/2011)
  2. The feeling of Armageddon knowing friends are gone: Spring ’10 Final Grades (or, “A 2L. For srs.”) (06/08/2010)
  3. Why the strict C is still A Good Thing™: In support of the strict C: a year later (11/12/2011)
  4. And why you will, in fact, survive: Your 1L Grades Don’t Matter (05/29/2011)

Hopefully at least some of that is worth reading :) New entry tomorrow from the Windy City! :D

  1. We had another random surge in spam, with 600+ spammers this go-round :crack: []

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NCCU Law alumnus blocks Bloomberg’s soda ban

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 13, 2013 in Randomness

Most of y’all have probably read by now that, in what was likely one of the most widely-covered trial court decisions issued by any court in years, a judge on the New York “Supreme” Court1 earlier this week struck down the absurdly overbroad “soda ban” enacted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Some snippets from this article in the Wall Street Journal:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was dealt a stinging blow on Monday when a state Supreme Court Judge quashed his plan to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in the city’s restaurants and other venues…

…New York state Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling declared invalid Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to prohibit restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums or arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The ban was set to begin Tuesday.

New York state Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling declared invalid Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to prohibit restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters, stadiums or arenas from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The ban was set to begin Tuesday…

…The judge ruled the regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” noting how there would be uneven enforcement within a single city block. The regulations didn’t affect the Big Gulp at 7-11 because supermarkets and convenience stores are regulated by the state, not the city.

He wrote that regulations exclude other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and calories on “suspect grounds.” The regulations don’t limit patrons from getting refills; that provision, the judge said, appears to “gut the purpose of the rule.”

Even though I read through the whole 37-page opinion and agree with nearly every word, normally I wouldn’t care enough to make a blog entry out of it.2

But in this case the judge’s name looked familiar, and I figured out why — Judge Tingling is actually a 1982 graduate of my alma mater, the North Carolina Central University School of Law, and was our guest speaker3 at our annual Law Week Banquet my 3L year :spin:

Just wanted to share :) And tell you I’m still alive, still not bankrupt, and still keeping this blog on something at least vaguely resembling life support!

Have a good night y’all! :D

  1. That’s actually what their trial-level courts are called in New York. I don’t get it either… []
  2. Clearly, in light of my near-month-long absence :beatup: []
  3. Along with Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who wasn’t a bad speaker himself! []

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TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 18, 2013 in Mail

I just want to start out this post by noting it’s the first time I’ve had two pieces done in a 7-day period since… August1 :surprised:

Back on Wednesday, EIC and I went out to lunch with a former classmate who’s now a soon-to-graduate 3L. He wanted to make sure he does everything he needs to do in his final semester of law school to set him up for success after graduation, and asked us both about how we got where we are, the things we did that helped, what we would do differently, and so on.

It was a fun conversation, not least of which because it fed into my pre-existing love of dispensing (rarely sought) advice :beatup:

Plus it made a great topic for a blog entry, so voilà! 2nd post in 7 days ;)

Here are some of the questions that got asked, along with my thoughts…

***

Q: So why did you decide to go solo?

A: I had forgotten I wrote a pair of blog entries on the prospect of going solo way back in November 2011 (here and here). After re-reading through those while writing up this entry, I’d say I was pretty spot-on with my assessment — the priorities just changed a little bit.

I’d say my top 3 reasons for becoming a solo practitioner were:

  1. Freedom: By the time I got near graduation, I had long-since made up my mind that I was going to try running my own business one way or the other (my attention was focused on NC SPICE at the time). The mere thought of getting up in the morning to go work for someone else was enough to put me in a salty mood, and long-time law:/dev/null readers know being a subordinate doesn’t really mesh with my personality anyway :angel:  So now I set my own hours, take or reject cases as I see fit, and can do things like take a soon-to-graduate 3L to lunch or randomly show up to mid-day events without having to clear it with a supervisor first. It’s low-paying at the moment but I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.
  2. Friends: I’ve been beyond blessed to meet thousands of amazing people over the 14.5 years I’ve been in North Carolina, from classmates during my first time at NC State, coworkers during my years as a college dropout, folks I met my second time in school through student media, Student Senate, UNCASG, NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association and trial teams — the list goes on and on. I’m still connected to 1,900 of those folks on Facebook, and 1,200 of them on LinkedIn. That’s a huge pool of folks I can ask for advice, hire for projects, send clients who I can’t help, or represent if they need me.
  3. Fear: Even though it’s been 12 years at this point, the whole “homeless college dropout” phase of my life still haunts me pretty regularly; I’m reminded of it every time I go against a lawyer who’s been practicing the same length of time as me, but is in his mid-20s while I’m a couple months away from hitting 32 (and bald :mad: ). I remember having job applications denied because I didn’t have a college degree, and times I got laid off because the people I worked for couldn’t make payroll. Being at the mercy of others sucks — but I also know from experience that a steady paycheck is a powerful impediment to making overdue life changes. There was simply no better time for me to do my own thing than now, and I was afraid if I started working for someone else I’d become complacent with that.

There are a whole flotilla of other reasons for going solo and odds are high yours will be completely different than mine. The key point is that, if you feel something in your gut urging you to try venturing out on your own, do it now while you still have the flexibility to change your mind if you decide you don’t like it ;)

***

Q: What was your backup plan if things didn’t work out?

A: Going solo :beatup:

I knew I was going to start my own business, but the glaring need for affordable office support and mentorship services for solo practitioners prompted me to invest a lot more energy and money than I should have into getting NC SPICE launched. I just knew I’d have everything operational and in place before the bar exam, so once the exam was over I could get to work helping other folks while I waited on my exam results.

Needless to say that was more than a smidge naïve on my part. I’d have been better off conserving the cash and putting the time toward business development for the law firm.

***

Q: What helped you the most your 3L year in terms of preparing for life after graduation?

A: Talking to as many folks as I could. By an order of magnitude.

Out of those 2,500ish folks I’m connected to on social media, there’s maybe 100 or so I talk to weekly.2 But I’ve got a fairly good memory when it comes to remembering bits and pieces about most of those other 2,400 in terms of what they do, where they’re at, and what experiences they’ve had.

That makes it easier for me to connect folks who have complementary interests, whether it’s something simple like helping a friend get better rates on their auto insurance (NC Farm Bureau Insurance if you’re in North Carolina) or combing through my NCSU contact list to help someone find someone else who knew someone else who raised a certain breed of horse (seriously!).

That keeps me in more-frequent contact with folks I wouldn’t get to talk to that often otherwise, and it’s a great way for meeting even more people I’ve never met before. Ultimately that’s how I ended up in my current office and also how I got my very first client.

The law is a people-centric profession. If you want to excel at it, you need to meet people, take an interest in their lives as people (rather than walking dollar signs), and respect them accordingly :)

***

Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?

A: Focus ;)

More than a few of my classmates were pissed when I graduated from NCCU Law with honors and they didn’t. The prevailing assumption (continuing to this day) is that I got all sorts of special privileges because I was SBA President, and that I would have been honors-less alongside them had I just been treated like everyone else.3 The most-cited example has been my ConLaw II class and how I didn’t turn in the final paper — 80% of the final grade — by the deadline.

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

The nasty byproduct of a lack of focus: a 2.333 GPA

Few (if any) of those folks realize I got an F in that class as a result,4 so whatever “special privileges” I supposedly got certainly weren’t much help.

The 2.333 GPA I had during my 3L Fall semester was my very worst in all of law school, and because of it I had to spend more time than I wanted focusing on academics during 3L Spring. When I could have been creating my future law firm’s website, or designing my business cards or letterhead, or attending local CLEs for free as a student, or any of a million other business development activities I could have done while I was still in school, I was instead cutting out my social life and studying non-stop to get the 3.630 GPA I needed to counteract that 2.333.5

And of course those small snippets of free time I had toward the end of the semester got plowed into the NC SPICE business plan, articles, bylaws, 501(c)(3) app, etc etc etc :beatup:

If there’s something in particular you want to do after graduation, be it going solo or working for a firm or something else entirely, focus on it with every spare ounce of time and energy you have. Don’t split your time if you can help it because your ability to excel at any one thing is going to drop as you add on more of those “one things” to your plate. Trust me.

***

So those are my thoughts on going solo. But it’s just my $.02, and I could be wrong :)

Have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the Mailbag archives:

  • TDot’s Mailbag v9.0: “So why did you go solo?” Edition (01/18/13) [this entry] –
    • 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. Hopefully you’re less surprised than I am. Maybe? No? Yyyeeeaaahhh I didn’t think so… :beatup: []
  2. I wish it was more, but until there’s more money in the bank Facebook is a luxury I can only use sparingly :( []
  3. I’ve never really understood the compulsion of wishing ill on someone else when things don’t go your way, but that’s a topic for another blog post. :roll: []
  4. Knocking me below a 3.0 and blocking me from finishing the law school’s concentration in Civil Rights & Constitutional Law :cry: []
  5. Waiting on those last grades to post… biggest. nailbiter. ever. But I yelped out loud when I finally saw them all. :D []

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TDot’s Tips: Your first 3 purchases as a n00b solo

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 14, 2013 in TDot's Tips

OK so the whole “hour a day for the business” thing has worked out better for the business than the blawg :beatup:

But there are now two (2!) entries posted within the past 30 days, so in a way the activity here has actually increased +100% :P

My still-sorta-hiatus has been the byproduct of the solo practice, which has somewhat-bizarrely produced more (paying!) work than I thought I’d have at this point.1

And that whole “Hey! T. hasn’t been evicted yet!” has in turn prompted some former classmates and law:/dev/null readers to ask for any insights I may or may not have on how they can get started themselves. Since I’ve been telling them all to follow the same first few steps — after paying your taxes of course — I’m throwing it into another one of these entries.

So are you a new or aspiring n00b solo like me?2 Here are the first 3 things you need to get started:

  1. Your own domain name:3 It’s 2013; the internet stopped being new years ago. There is now -0- excuse for you still using smartsexyesquire@gmail.com as your professional email address.4

    Domain names typically cost less than $1-per-month. GoDaddy in particular always has dozens of coupons you can find with a quick Google search, often letting you buy a domain name for $3 or less. I’ve got dozens of domains registered for my law firm that aren’t even being used yet, just because they’re cheap and I might find a use for them later.

    Finding a hosting provider (a company that gives you some hard drive space on a computer somewhere in the cloud, to which your personalized domain name will point) is cheap too. I’m currently paying $9.95 a month at DreamHost, which hosts all of my domains — including lawdevnull.com — and comes with an email server preconfigured.5

    So for a $11 a month and less than 10 minutes of startup time, you can have a much fancier smartsexyesquire@mylawfirmname.com. Clients expect a custom name over an Gmail / Yahoo / Hotmail email account, so don’t disappoint them. ;)

  2. Dedicated contact information: For clients to hire you, they first have to know you’re a lawyer. And for them to know you’re a lawyer, someone somewhere (probably you) has to tell them how to contact you.

    And the odds are good you don’t want to give them a home address or your mobile phone number, especially when they start referring others to you and those referrals refer other referrals. Before long you’ve got people from all walks of life knowing where you live, even if their legal needs and your practice areas don’t match up.

    Fix that problem before it starts by getting dedicated contact information for your law office. Lots of new attorneys use Google Voice for free and swear by it; I was one of the unlucky ones6 — folks who called my Google Voice number would sporadically get a message that my number was disconnected, which I discovered is a not-uncommon problem — but ported my Google Voice number over to Verizon Wireless and pay ~$20 a month for unlimited minutes using their Home Phone Connect service. Either way, a dedicated phone line is fairly cheap.

    Then you need an address. A Post Office box is fine starting out, and costs as little as $2 a month depending on where you’re located and what size you get. If you feel the need to get a physical office that works too, but until you get a stream of clients you’re usually fine meeting folks in a municipal library or a Starbucks or your client’s place of business (many clients love not having to go anywhere). The key point is not giving out your home address.

  3. Business cards: I don’t care what anyone else tells you about those .vcf files, QR codes, or whatever fancy new-fangled foolishness gets advocated as the latest “most awesome thing… ever!” for distributing contact information — nothing will ever beat the sheer versatility of business cards in your pocket.Keep a stack on you at all times, no matter where you are. Walking the dog? Have cards in your pocket. Going through drive-thru to get dinner? Have cards in your pocket. Filling up your car at a gas station? Have cards in your pocket.7

    On any given day you will visually cross paths with dozens of people, even if you don’t realize it. 20-30 people a day at least (unless you lead a very boring life). That translates to thousands of people you don’t know and have never met, somewhere within handshake-distance in any given year.

    500 of these raised-ink cards set me back $30 at T-Rex Cards

    500 of these two-color raised-ink cards set me back $30 at T-Rex Cards

    Now those folks might not even need a lawyer themselves; many of my cards get handed out to folks who just want to connect to talk about my alma mater or sports or my law school. But if just 1 of those thousands of people becomes a paying client, or sends a paying client your way, you’ve paid for your cards for the entire year.

    And they’re inexpensive too: you can get fancy raised-ink cards like mine from T-Rex Cards for as little as $10, or also-fancy full-color cards from Moo for a bit more.

Get these three things knocked out, and you’ll have everything you need to effectively market your nascent law practice :D

That’s it for this entry y’all — enjoy the rest of the week! :)

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. Don’t confuse “paying” with lucrative of course — I’m still broke, I’m just not getting evicted or going deeper into debt at the moment :beatup: []
  2. And yes I realize it’s no longer hip to use “n00b” but (1) I don’t care and (2) I don’t care ;) []
  3. You’ll notice I didn’t say “your own website” — since the TGD Law site still hasn’t been substantively updated since I opened the firm back in October, I’m not entirely sold that having a fancy website is necessary to do well. Time will tell I guess. []
  4. Amazingly, I’ve actually been handed a business card (from a real lawyer!) listing “smartsexyesquire@somerandomdomainthatwasntgmail.com” as their email address. And folks think *I* have a big ego… []
  5. I’ve also started offering other attorneys a hosting plan through my law firm in case they’re intimidated by the geek-speak, using DreamHost on the backend. []
  6. Sound familiar? See here or here or here. :mad: []
  7. True story: I got randomly asked by another refueling motorist if I was an attorney just last week :crack: He saw the back of my car (which, admittedly, is bedecked with both NC State and NCCU Law stickers and a corresponding license plate cover) and wanted to know what area of law I practiced, because he advised entrepreneurs on how to start their businesses and they often needed an attorney. It was crazy. []

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“[O]ne hour a day for the business”

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 26, 2012 in The After-3L Life

Merry (belated) Christmas y’all :)

I know, I know — law:/dev/null‘s been dormant for over a month now. It’s gotten so bad the spammers don’t even care anymore, leaving me only 1 spam message to clean out over the past month :beatup:

But I’m working on getting that turned around (seriously!) ;)

A couple weeks ago EIC and I had lunch with one of my attorney mentors,1 and I got ribbed a bit because my law practice is still in about as much disarray as it was last month.

We’ve moved up to around 23 clients since opening and advanced to 11-0 in the adversarial stuff.2

Finally got my office decorated a smidge :)

Finally got my office decorated a smidge :)

But the TGD Law website hasn’t had any work done on it since I played around with it during my Thanksgiving trip to visit Nan and Pops, I still haven’t ordered envelopes or letterhead, and my QuickBooks accounting is a work-in-progress.

At least I got the office spruced up a bit?

Anyhow, so while I’m being teased at this lunch for the by-the-seat-of-my-pants operation of my law firm — and me arguing in rebuttal that my neglect of the business side of things is fine so long as I stay organized on the law side of things (which I seem to do quite well) — my mentor dropped one of those questions you just know someone’s going to ask because there’s really no rebuttal to it:

“Are you telling me you can’t even set aside one hour a day for the business?”

Aaaannndd after me failing to come up with something witty in response I of course had to concede that I could. Hence, resurrecting law:/dev/null. :D

[And yes, I fully realize you might have done a ::facepalm:: right then because my personal blog is not law firm business. I know. I’m setting aside an hour for the law firm too, plus time for NC SPICE.  I just figured since I’m going to make an effort to better-regiment my time, I might as well try to resume the enterprise I spent the better part of 4 years now creating ;) ]

Now I’m not sure yet how often law:/dev/null will be updated going forward. Daily is probably unrealistic, but at-least-weekly sounds doable. So take this entry as a heads up, cross your fingers with me, and hopefully I’ll talk with y’all more soon.

Until then, have a great night! :spin:

  1. I’ve been blessed to have a handful of these — in addition to my law school professors — and folks I tell you they are absolutely vital if you plan on going into solo/small practice. Vital. For srs. []
  2. Unofficially 12-0, but since the dismissal isn’t getting filed until January I won’t count it until then. God willing I’ll be 14-2 at worst by the time January is done… :surprised: []

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The Hectic Life of a Low-Wealth Entrepreneur

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 11, 2012 in The After-3L Life

I’m still here!

It seems like at least once a week I say to myself “I really need to start updating law:/dev/null regularly again”… I log in to the WordPress admin interface… clean out the spam comments and update outdated plugins…

…then promptly get sidetracked by something and never actually write anything down :beatup:

Life over the past month has been crazy. Certifiably nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many things going on simultaneously in my life. Ever.

The law firm’s been up-and-running for a smidge under two months, and I’ve had around 13 clients in that timespan. The crazy part is that I’ve represented those clients despite having no business cards, no website, no letterhead or envelopes or advertising — just my LinkedIn profile, an unpublicized Facebook page, and the Twitter account I barely use.1

I’m also 6-0 in adversarial proceedings, which is just downright surreal. Had you told me back when I got my license that I’d go my first two months without losing a case, I’d have called you crazy. But I’m now 3 foreclosures, 2 misdemeanors, and 1 breach of contract down without a losing client. I know the first loss comes to everyone eventually but I’m over-preparing in the hope I can delay the inevitable as long as possible ;)

Panorama of the new place right after moving in

Speaking of the law firm, I also migrated out of my apartment into a bona fide office. Trying to work from home was cheaper but incredibly inefficient between the dog and the lack of dedicated space for office-related work. The office is huge (~223 square feet), half a block to the Durham Courthouse, and cheaper than damn near everything in downtown Raleigh or Durham — and a testament to the utility of both networking and poker. :surprised:

How so? Well one of my friends from Student Senate connected me to a Raleigh attorney to talk about NC SPICE. I had lunch with him, and he recommended I talk with a particular Durham DWI attorney. I had lunch with him, and he invited me to join his friends at a weekly poker night they have on Mondays. After losing my entire buy-in one week and half my buy-in the next week, I randomly asked him if he knew any attorneys with spare offices they wanted to sublease.

Turns out he had two, including the one I’m in now :spin:

So I’ve got an office, conference room, full kitchen, lobby with receptionist, free parking, all right next to the courthouse! Plus the place is huge enough that I’m now splitting it with EIC, who’s getting ready to start her own practice as well.

And speaking of NC SPICE and splitting things, there’s been some developments on that end as well. I got a response from the Internal Revenue Service that it would take them 9 months just to assign our 501(c)(3) application to somebody for review, then that person would have 90 days to make a decision — meaning we’ll get no update at all whatsoever until June 20132 :crack:

So at our most recent Board of Directors meeting last week, the Board authorized me to cleave the group into two: the education-related components will stay in the nonprofit, and the office support services will get rolled into a new corporation. Since then I’ve lined up 4 investors interested in getting the program off the ground, and we’ve got our first in-person interest meeting and focus group slated for 12/12/12 at 6:00pm.

We’ve also got around 216 people following the NC SPICE Facebook page, and a hair’s breadth over 200 followers on the NC SPICE Twitter feed.

The only downside is that I’ve now gone from running one nonprofit 6 months ago to running a nonprofit, a corporation, and a law firm all at the same time :beatup:

A long overdue lifestyle change. Just 18lbs to go!

On the personal side, my quest to get back in shape is still on target with me down -27lbs since June 30th. I don’t think I ever wrote the original entry I meant to write on that, but during bar prep my good friend Tim Lipka (Mr. QC) from NCSU’s Student Government passed away from a heart attack at age 25. I’d just had drinks with him when I was in DC for the Howard Moot Court Competition back in February, and we’d talked on Facebook about grabbing lunch when he came to town before the DNC convention in Charlotte. His passing was coupled with an unexpectedly high blood pressure reading I got during a regular checkup the day before, so the two of those things combined freaked me out enough to get my life in order.

More exercise and less food has been the lifestyle change for the past few months, and I’m slowly making progress. My target weight is 175lbs so I’ve got a bit more to go but it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I imagined thus far — and my blood pressure is coming back down slightly, hopefully meaning I’ll be able to avoid medication.

Aside from my personal health, life is good. I’m still contributing semi-regularly over at JD Oasis. Samson is still happy and healthy. And even though I’m broke financially I know things are going to pick up as time goes on.

That’s all I’ve got for this entry, but hope to (seriously) have more some time soon. I hope all of you have had an amazing weekend, and enjoy the week ahead! :D

  1. Turns out my “no frills and no bullsh*t” reputation from years of overexposure in N.C. State‘s Student Senate, the UNC Association of Student Governments, and NCCU Law‘s Student Bar Association has helped with client development — which is odd considering those groups each had plenty of people in them who are now lawyers :crack: []
  2. I thought the purpose of us having to pay $850 just to apply was to ensure the IRS had adequate reviewers to look at these things in a timely fashion, but apparently I was wrong… []

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