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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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My (Brief) Thoughts on the Moral Monday Prosecutions

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 5, 2013 in Unsolicited Commentary

For reasons still unknown to me — I’m assuming the resumed trial (and yesterday’s conviction) of NC NAACP chairman Rev. William Barber II — I’ve gotten near-nonstop flak this week over my involvement defending some of the 900+ people arrested by the Government during the Moral Mondays protests at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Which normally wouldn’t be that annoying (I have strongly opinionated friends ;) ), except that this go-round it’s been a bombardment from all over the political spectrum.

My conservative friends had long ago labeled me a pariah for defending “Commies, hippies, and other people who don’t bathe” as one person put it. The very first time I mentioned thinking about helping, one of my good friends from undergrad simply replied “oh you better not!”1

But then this week I’ve also had several liberals asking me “who thought everyone getting arrested was a good idea?” and “what were they thinking?” and “tell me what this all accomplished?” — as if I played any role in the protests themselves or cared an iota about the movement’s success-or-lack-thereof.

A not-uncommon query this week

A not-uncommon query this week

And there’ve even been what I’d consider the apolitical folks, who are just plain flummoxed that people can still be arrested (and convicted! :surprised: ) for things like self-evident political speech, and more flummoxed still that similarly situated protestors could end up with totally different verdicts in their respective cases.

So when I got an email over the listserv earlier today from a well-respected attorney helping with the defense, pontificating over how best to advance the politics of the Moral Mondays protests, I did one of these and typed an almost-ALLCAPS rant in response…

…then I took a few deep breaths, removed the inflammatory stuff,2 and sent the following:

From: T Greg Doucette
To: MM Lawyers Listserv
Date: December 5, 2013 @ 11:21 AM
RE: Update

I’d respectfully argue that whether “a litigious approach [is] the best way” for “helping the advancement of the MM issues” is a minor side issue, because what’s going on with these cases long ago transcended the Moral Monday stuff and is now about the bedrock principles of a free society.

Now I’ll concede up-front that (1) I’m just a baby lawyer and (2) I’m an unabashed Republican who didn’t participate in the Moral Monday protests and agrees with very very (very) few of the items the group was promoting. So take this entire email with several grains of salt as each of you sees fit.

But the whole reason I agreed to take on any of these cases was because it seemed mind-bogglingly outrageous to me that North Carolina taxpayers could be arrested en masse for obvious political speech in the very legislative building paid for by those very taxpayers for the very purpose of hashing out political issues. Even if I wholly disagreed with the content of their speech, I’d never try to have someone locked up over it (if for no other reason than I’d like to have the option of protesting one day when the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction).

It’s the kind of shameless abuse of power I (naïvely) figured the government would have stopped doing a long time ago after taking ConLaw in law school. It’s outrageous regardless of which party’s in power. And the Judiciary, at some level, needs to weigh in and remind the Executive Branch that jailing dissidents isn’t how we do business in the United States of America.

Anyhow, please forgive the imperious rant — thanks to everyone for their work so far, keep it up, let me know where us baby lawyers can continue helping, and let’s all pray the judges come to their respective senses on the rest of these cases :)

-T.

That about sums up my thoughts on these prosecutions: they’re an abomination.

Not to mention an audacious choice for a State that every April 12th celebrates the adoption of the Halifax Resolves — the first official action of any of the colonies calling for independence from Britain (talk about a protest!).

And while the initial arrests were wrong, I’d argue the prosecutions are worse; unlike police, District Attorneys are lawyers who (at least theoretically) had to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment in order to pass the bar exam.

With the guilty convictions racking up, it seems obvious the decisions have already been made at the meat-grinder/District Court level. I just hope the Superior Court — or the appellate courts if it comes to that — correct this particular abuse of power and as a result send a message about future abuses.

Because moreso than global warming or eeeevil 1%ers or any of the other boogeymen the political Left insists will lead to my demise, this is the type of thing that causes me to lose sleep at night.

—===—

From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:

From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:

  1. And then scowled at me when I said it was more a statement than a request for her advice. I’m not renowned for my tactfulness. :beatup: []
  2. The guy had been practicing for 34+ years after all. I respect my elders. :P []

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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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TGD Law: Year 1 Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

A peek into the TGD Law bank account after Year 1

A peek into the TGD Law financials after Year 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did I hear you say ‘dinner’??”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To get that done:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

Good night y’all!

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

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

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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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Swamped

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 21, 2013 in The After-3L Life

Good morning y’all! :)

No, your eyes don’t deceive you: not only is this the first bona fide entry on law:/dev/null in two months, but it’s also being written before 11pm :D

I know, I know. It’s been awhile since I wrote anything here. I kept meaning to get around to it, I just didn’t realize how long it had been until I went to update the .htaccess file for my law firm’s website, opened my .htaccess file for the blawg to use as a template… and noticed the last-modified date was exactly three months ago :crack:

As you can probably guess, the solo practice life has left me even less time for writing than 3L year of law school. The good news is that I’m swamped. The bad news is that… I’m swamped :beatup:

I hit the point a couple months ago where I probably need some support staff to keep things moving upward, but my revenue stream isn’t consistent enough to actually hire someone. Things had been going swimmingly from the day I opened my doors but then my hubris led me to make a classic rookie mistake — I started taking on more high-risk clients,1 didn’t insist on getting paid up front, then in April a good chunk of them skipped out on the bills.

So April became “Make-a-reluctant-phone-call-to-Nan-sheepishly-asking-for-a-loan-to-cover-May-bills” Month, May is now “Desperately-scramble-to-figure-out-what-to-do-for-June” Month, and as a result my long-flailing efforts to resume blogging with anything even vaguely resembling a degree of regularity has fallen short again :(

The only upside is that May is shaping up to be the best month financially since I started :surprised:

Aside from the money issues, on the lawyer-side of being a lawyer I’m still undefeated with my cases — extending the 6-0 record in November out to 19-0 today. I’ve had some pretty cool wins too: hitting a shady property management company with a $45K judgment (including treble damages) after an elderly lady’s apartment burned down from faulty wiring,2 getting a downright absurd settlement in a breach of contract case by letting the other side think something that was trivial to my client was actually vitally important, and saving a church from bankruptcy by having a $303K judgment against it vacated.3

Even the pre-verdict pleadings have gone well: I’ve only lost one solitary motion, and even that was part of a 1-and-1 (ours denied + theirs denied) that led to a favorable settlement. :crack:

I’ve gotten into some more-challenging litigation since then — including a case before the North Carolina Business Court against two of the largest law firms in the State — so we’ll see how long the win streak lasts. My long-term goal is to reach Harvey Specter-like proficiency before I hit 40 :)

In NC SPICE-related news, we’re still waiting on the IRS to get around to ruling on our nonprofit application. We’ve had a number of offices open up in the building I’m in, so I’ve been trying to find young lawyers to fill those spots and basically turn this building into our first SPICE Center. More developments to come on that hopefully.

On the extracurricular side of life, I was invited to spend some time at ECU’s LeaderShape program last week, as one of their “guest leaders” for a panel on leadership. It was both cool and weird at the same time — cool because I love mentoring / trying to help others (especially college students), weird because I haven’t really considered myself a “leader” outside of a Student Government-esque realm in… well… ever. It was definitely a fun experience though, and I got to meet several students potentially interested in legal careers.

I also accepted a spot on the Editorial Board of the ABA YLD’s The Young Lawyer newsletter :D  Not entirely sure what it’s going to entail yet, but hopefully it will involve creating something more than the chintzy 2-3 page newspaper-style “newsletter” we get every other month :beatup: I was supposed to be contacted by someone in mid-May about orientation / what’s going to happen when / etc etc etc but still haven’t heard from anyone — I guess technically “mid-May” is any day before May 31st, so we’ll see what happens.4

And Samson is still healthy and boisterous :spin:

I think that’s pretty much it for now. I won’t lie to you and claim there will be more on law:/dev/null this week, since it’s pretty obvious my efforts at blogging have now fallen somewhere between “grow a beard just because” and “get a root canal” on my List of Things To Do In Life. But hopefully I’ll be able to post again soon :) Hope all of you are well, and have a great Tuesday! :D

  1. Translation: folks with no money but good cases []
  2. They initially refused to compensate her for losing everything by claiming a liability disclaimer in the lease agreement would protect them and therefore “it’s not our problem” :roll: []
  3. The highlight of my career so far: my whole argument initially was focused on improper service of process, then as I was preparing bench books the night before I noticed a date discrepancy in two different verified pleadings filed by the Plaintiff some time apart — and as I dug, discovered the Plaintiff had basically fabricated the whole thing :crack: []
  4. And if I don’t get contacted at all, I’ll know going in that I’ve got more than one problem with the ABA YLD… []

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3

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

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

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

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

Thanks :P

(I still :heart: y’all though :* )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

::drumroll::

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

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

It depends ;)  (KIDDING!)

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

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

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

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

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

Expense breakdown by category

Expense breakdown by category

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

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

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

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

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

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

Income and expenses for TGD Law, with invoice data

Income and expenses for TGD Law, with invoice data

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

—===—

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

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

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

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“Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 27, 2013 in Randomness

Good evening y’all! :)

Last year’s resolutions turned out pretty well at 3-for-3, so against my better judgment I decided to keep the practice going for one more year.

I’m a few weeks behind in committing them to writing, but here’s what I’ve got as my top objectives for 2013:

  1. Wrap up the weight loss. I know, I know: cliché alert. After being one of those people who (gently) teased the folks who chronically make “I’m really going to get in shape this year! Really!” resolutions they never try to follow for more than a week, I’m now one of the folks making said resolutions :beatup: In my case I’m serious though! I’d already put in a consistent effort, dropping -27lbs in 4.5 months, but “fell off the wagon” back in late November because I thoroughly despise exercising in the cold. Once it warms back up I’d like to finally get down to my target of 175lbs so I can lighten up a smidge on the low-calorie lifestyle.
  2. Open the first SPICE Center. Forward momentum on NC SPICE was building pretty well at the end of last year… until things with the law firm started picking up and I had to scale back splitting my time between the two. I certainly don’t want the law firm business to slow down (especially since it’s my only avenue for paying bills!) but I’m pushing to get the doors opened on our first SPICE Center so the ball will start rolling on that too.
  3. Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue. This one’s the least likely of the group — not least of which because 1/12th of the year is already over and we’re not even close to that rate — but I figure it never hurts to dream, right? :D

Any of y’all have resolutions you’re trying to keep? If so, here’s hoping 2013 is a successful year for all of us! :)

More to come this week, have a great night y’all!

—===—

From the New Year’s Resolutions archives:

  • 2013: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…” (2013 Edition)
    • “Wrap up the weight loss”
    • “Open the first SPICE Center”
    • “Finish TGD Law’s fiscal year with $70K+ in revenue”
  • 2012: Mission Accomplished (or “T., Esq.”)
    • “Graduate with honors” (Done!)
    • “Don’t f*ck up my commencement speech” (Done!)
    • “Pass the North Carolina bar exam on the first try” (Done!)
  • 2011: [combined with 2012 post] –
    • “Push my GPA above a 3.0” (Done!… then Failed)
    • “Get back in some semblance of shape” (Failed)
    • “Win something” (Done!)
  • 2010: “Now, therefore, be it resolved…”
    • “Finish 1L year with at least a 3.0 GPA” (Failed)
    • “Make it to, and through, Marine Corps OCS” (Failed)
    • “Finish [UNCASG] strong” (Done!)
  • 2009: [combined with 2010 post] –
    • “Graduate from N.C. State” (Done!)
    • “Win reelection as UNCASG President” (Done!)
    • “Get into law school” (Done!)

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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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