How much is a half hour worth to you?

Depending on my pending cases, I travel a moderate to high amount during the week. Most of the time, the travel time is spent accumulating frequent flier points with Southwest. However, despite the number of free flights I earn, I do not like to fly. I don’t like the TSA, and I hate the feeling of my sinuses preparing to burst.

When possible, I always opt for rail travel. Most of the time, this is constrained to the eastern seaboard and occasional trips to Chicago. It is convenient, and I like the opportunity to perform uninterrupted work during the trip. While I occasionally use regional services, Amtrak usually gets my business.

However, something has been bugging me about Amtrak. This is their Acela Express service. For those of you who do not know, the Acela is the US’ only high speed rail service. With speeds up to 140 mph, it promises quick and comfortable service between Washington and Boston.

Notice that 140 mph number? That’s fast, especially compared to its analog counterpart, the Northeast Regional, which averages about half the speed with its traditional diesel/electric configuration.

However, that’s not how it shakes-out in reality.

Just for fun, I’m going to plan a 1-way trip from Washington to New York City on December 16. I’ll use “value” based fares. That way, I’m comparing apples to apples on lowest available fares. I’ll also plan to leave around the same time, choosing trains that leave between 9AM and 11AM.

Here’s what I found:

Train 1: Acela, 2 hours, 45 mins, cost: $184

Train 2: Northeast Regional, 3 hr, 20 mins, cost: $86

Train 3: Acela, 2h, 46m, $158

Train 4: Northeast Regional, 3h, 24m, $86

Train 5: Acela, 2h, 50m, $158

Looking further through the day, I note that the NE Regional lower fare remains at $86, while the Acela has a low of $158 and occasionally spikes into the $200s during peak times.

To be fair, the lowest class on Acela is “Business Class.” There are no seats classified as “Coach” on the high speed service. To upgrade to “Business Class” on the NE Regional, you will need to pay $130. However, for purposes here, I’m comparing the lowest available to lowest available.

Looking at the sample provided, NE Regional trains take approximately 3 hours, 22 minutes to make the trek from DC to NYC. The Acela takes approximately 2 hours, 47 minutes for the same trek. This, is an average time savings of 35 minutes, but that savings will cost, at a minimum, $72.

Here are my takeaways:

I do not believe the savings in time is worth $2.06 per minute.

For a train capable of nearly twice the speed of its analog counterpart, a mere 18% savings on time is not worth paying 184% more in fare.

Advertisements

Azimuth Check: Lawyer or Lawyer*

It’s been a while. I know. Such is life when you are maintaining a practice whilst packing house and home and moving to a new place. At one point, I decided to abandon Unwashed Advocate. I do this once a year, mostly during summer months. This decision is celebrated by me. It sure feels good to tell your blawg to go to hell.Compass

Then, I return.

After writing brief after brief, appeal after appeal, it is nice to write something that contains your voice. Here, I don’t worry about using passive voice or botching citations. That’s nice.

So, what’ve I been thinking of this summer? Let’s check my direction and see…

Lawyer or Lawyer*

I love talking to other lawyers. I hate talking to other lawyers.

During one of those conversations where, while listening to the other lawyer drone on and on about what she thinks about the legal profession and other lawyers and how other women dress in court and contemplating my suicide plans if she doesn’t soon execute a Kopfian STFU…

Anyway…

She mentioned a particular legal case and remarked “I could never handle cases like that.”

“Huh?” I intelligently replied.

“I SAID I could never do cases like that.”

“Oh, so you’re an asterisk lawyer.”

“What did you just call me?” she retorted.

“I SAID you are an asterisk lawyer. You’re a lawyer, but only when the case or conflict supports and strokes your delicate sensibilities.”

“Are you saying…?”

“Yep,” I cut in, “deal with it. It’s just the type of lawyer you are.”

Knowing me, she got over it quickly, but it reminded me of something I’ve noticed for the last 10ish years.

There are a lot of asterisk lawyers out there.

First, a definition. An asterisk lawyer is a lawyer who is willing to zealously represent some. However, they are completely incapable of representing others.

Here are examples of lawyers*.

“I could never represent a man accused of sexual assault.”

“I could never represent big business.”

“I could never represent a terrorist.”

“I could never take a case representing the tobacco industry.”

“I could never prosecute…”

“I could never defend THOSE people…”

Do not confuse this with the following, which is not a lawyer*.

“I limit my practice to only scrotum husbandry cases.”

That last example is merely someone who limits their practice in order to be very good at one niche. That isn’t saying that they are flatly incapable of representing a particular side, client, or subject.

Lawyers* should be forthcoming about their limitations. Hence, the “*.” At the bottom of their bio, there should be the caveat that quantifies the *, like:

*Except men accused of sexual assault. They should all be emasculated once charges are filed.

*Except terrorists, who should be summarily executed.

*Except big businesses, who are just looking to screw the little guy. Having said that, I can’t wait to upgrade my iPhone and trade-up for the newest, loaded GM vehicle.

*Except the tobacco industry, because cigarettes kill, and that makes me sad and tearful.

Just as I don’t appreciate passionate lawyers, I similarly do not appreciate lawyers*.

A while ago, I started a case with a new co-counsel. They were relatively new to the legal profession but were generally enthusiastic about learning and perfecting the craft. The conversation started something like this:

“Eric, what part of the defense do you want me to work on?”

“None,” I replied.

“None?”

“I want you to focus on prosecuting the case,” I stated.

Confused, they confirmed “You want me to prosecute the case?”

“Yep, and I want you to be flawless.”

Through the ensuing conversation, I explained myself. I wanted them to determine the most dangerous, horrible, loathsome, and damning things that could be done to us by the opposition and play the role throughout our preparations. Without that, our case was just flapping around aimlessly. I concluded the conversation as follows:

“And, when you do it, I want you to love it.”

I love what I do. Really. However, I could prosecute. I could represent a big, nasty, unfeeling, odious corporation. I could represent a nonprofit, and I could represent a party seeking to destroy a nonprofit. I would take on a client who committed (allegedly, of course) horrible, loathsome acts that would shock the conscience of the average person.

Our job as lawyers is to advocate for a particular perspective as part of an adversarial system. We don’t have to accept the perspective of our client into our own hearts. In fact, it is probably best that we not accept it. We fight for the case we are given, not the case that matches our delicate sensibilities. A lawyer can represent any client in any matter under any conditions. That’s what we are trained to do.

That’s what I want to see in a lawyer. That’s what I want to hire. That’s what I want as a co-counsel.

Everyone else is just a lawyer*.

Dunkin Donuts in the Afternoon

A few habits really say something about a person. Here are two examples.

Example 1: A person who drinks bourbon in the morning.

Example 2: A person who eats donuts after 2PM.

Today, I received an email saying that I could get a sweet discount on donuts after 2PM. Therefore, I plan to be one of those mentioned in the second example.

Why not Colby?

This is not about what we practice. It is about where we practice. Though, the two are often inextricably intertwined.

Yesterday, I enjoyed making fun of North Dakota with a few friends. I like this because, while I’m also from a sparsely populated state, I can always revel in the fact that folks in ND will always have it worse than me.

Statistical Tidbit: North Dakota population: 699,628. Kansas population: 2.886 million. Number of votes for Mark Bennett in his bid as a Libertarian for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: 1.326 million.

This got me thinking about where lawyers choose to live and work.

Some lawyers want to work in huge cities. New York. Washington. Boston. Philly. Chicago. Houston. San Francisco. Miami. Los Angeles. And the like.

Others prefer the smaller, yet significant cities like Oklahoma City, Fresno, Portland, Charlotte, Richmond, Kansas City, etc.

Others of us go for something…..well…..less substantial. I’m one of these.

I want to eventually settle my practice in Colby, Kansas.Image

Now, hear me out on this one. Consider a few important factors. I’ll grade each.

Availability of Work: A

Last year, I attended a continuing education seminar where the idea of selling, closing, and/or passing-on a practice was raised. The conversation morphed into some lamenting by an older lawyer from Colby, Kansas. He noted that it was virtually impossible to lure younger lawyers to the area. He feared that his practice would die with him. It wasn’t that he wanted to leave a legacy. Quite appropriately, he was worried about his clients who relied upon him for various legal needs. The paying work was definitely there, but too few lawyers live in the area to handle it.

Air Quality: A-

Overall, the air quality is fantastic. However, I did dock points for the occasional dust storm and summertime pesticide applications on the huge farms surrounding the town. Even with that, the air quality is markedly better than those facing persistent smog in larger cities.

Availability of Services: C+

Walmart put a gleaming new SuperCenter there, so all the basics can be handled. Aside from that, there are some mom’n’pop stores and cafes coupled with a few chain places along I-70. While I’ve seen worse, folks in larger cities definitely have it better. Colby is still working on its status as a great place to find quality seafood.

Weather: B

Good news: no hurricane threat, fairly ho-hum temperate environment.

Bad news: Can get bitterly cold in winter, especially with the near-constant westerly winds. Every time you glance at clouds to the southwest, there’s the constant wondering whether they might be bringing a long-overdue F-5 tornado.

At more than 3000 feet above sea level, you’re safe from the flooding that’ll be cause by those pesky Antarctic ice sheets. For a while.

Things to Do: B-

You might be surprised to learn that Colby is the home of the Prairie Museum of Art and History and is conveniently located just 2.5 hours from Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas. Check out this site which goes into more detail about Colby. Be sure to also check out the “8 Wonders of Thomas County, Kansas.

Denver is a mere 4 hours along I-70, and the thriving metropolis of Hays, Kansas is just 2 in the other direction.

This is a great place for those who find sport in observing mullets in their natural environment.

Image

A picture taken by intrepid climbers at Mt. Sunflower.

Cost of Living: A+

To give you a bit of understanding for how far a dollar goes in Colby, look no farther than the local restaurant reviews. A Qdoba opened along I-70, and one of the locals regarded it as being “pricey.”

Average home price is less than $60 per square foot. That’s great considering that most of the US is higher than $75/. Commercial office space is equally (if not more) cheap and is readily available. I can already see myself as a valued neighbor to the Feed’n’Seed store.

As for everything else, expect to pay very little for the goods that are available. Of course, most expensive goods are not available, so your sorta forced to be frugal. Going to a fancy restaurant with the ladyfriend equals steaks at Montana Mike’s.

Quality of Work: A

This is largely a matter of perspective. You really have no choice but to be one of those small town guys who does a little of everything. From divorce to criminal to small business to municipal to animal husbandry. You’ll do all of this because the community needs you to do it. Prepare to travel to nearby (nearby = 2 hours) counties to appear in those courts. For those with adult ADD, you’ll be in heaven. For those who want to become a subject matter expert in one, specific, sharply-definied niche, this wouldn’t be a good marriage.

Sick of traffic every morning and afternoon? That doesn’t exist here. To Colbites, “traffic” is something that is occasionally observed zooming-by on I-70.

You’ll be a bigwig in the local chamber of commerce along with the banker, pharmacist, and funeral home director. The little league team will bear your firm’s name on the back of the jerseys. If you learn how to square dance, you’ll be mayor in a few years.

Overall GPA (on a 4-point scale): 3.42

That’s a solid GPA that would put most students on the honor role. As far as places to work, you couldn’t ask for better, as long as you’re not a big fan of choices……and seafood.

 

The New Niche: Giving You Something To Think About

Every lawyer in private practice has conducted this call within 5 minutes of hanging a shingle.

Lawyer (L): Hello?

Potential Client (Not Really) (PCNR): Yes, are you a lawyer?

L: Yes! I am! (stated with oodles of nauseating enthusiasm)

PCNR: I’ve got this situation. (explains situation in gory, irrelevant detail)

L: Wow. OK, well, the way I see it… (lawyer proceeds to give away all his knowledge in an in-depth analysis of all gory, irrelevant details)

PCNR: OK, so… (asks question after question after question after question (ad nauseum))

L: (Answers questions, because wants to have clients and help them)

PCNR: This is great!

L: I’d love to take your case, my fee is (any dollar amount from $5 to whatever).

PCNR: Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I have your number right here.

And on this basis, the call ends.

30-60 minutes of professional life spent with nothing to show for it. You do, however, have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve given someone much to think upon, and that your number is right there.

Young lawyers gain experience, and these calls go from 30-60 minutes to less than 1 minute. We develop skills to control the conversation from the get-go, dissecting the most important points, and sending quickly-identified lookie-loos on their way.

I had one of these calls just the other day and dispatched it in 34.62 seconds. As I sat back, prideful of my learned expedience, I realized that maybe I’m missing the bigger issue.

These potentials were actually sending a very strong message. They needed help in a legal niche that has never been tapped. They need a lawyer to give them something to think about. As both an entrepreneur and lawyer, an idea popped into my head.

Eric: Specializing in Giving You Something To Think About

Brilliant! You know it’s brilliant. Admit it to yourself.

Forget hours hunched over an appeal. Put away those suits you wear to the courthouse. Rid yourself of pesky depositions.

From the comfort of my home, I endeavor to provide thousands with the legal help they really need, but no lawyer was wiling or able to give.

Something to think about.

But, hey, I gotta pay the rent. How to do this? The answer is as clear as the niche.

Competitive, a la carte, tiered pricing.

Here’s how it works:

Level A: Something to think about regarding the specifics of your legal issue. This is detailed. All facts are considered, no matter how minute or insignificant. Talk as long as you want. I’ll give you everything I know. Fee: $1000 for the first hour, $750 for each additional hour, with an additional $2500 if you cause me to become suicidal + any actual costs arising from institutionalization.

Level B: Something to think about: generally pertinent to the ultimate consequences of your legal issue. Time is limited on this one, and not all facts are considered, but we’ll get you into the ballpark. Examples include: “You should totally plead not guilty” or “Settle this one for $5000” or “You’re probably looking at 4-6 years in jail” or “Have you ever considered residing in Ecuador?” Fee: $500

Level C: Something to think about: Whether to hire a lawyer or not. From very basic facts, we give you one of two answers. Answer 1: You should hire a lawyer. Answer 2: You probably can get away with not hiring a lawyer. Fee: $250

Level D: Something to think about: Screwed? You’re given 20 seconds to tell me as much as possible. Then, I reply with “Dude, you’re screwed” or “I don’t think you’re screwed, yet” or “You totally screwed him/her/it.” I then hang up. Fee: $50.

Level E: Just something to think about. I call you. You are not allowed to talk. I give you something to think about. What I say might be relevant to your legal matter, but only by sheer dumb luck. Examples include “Which Muppet are you attracted to, and what does that say about you?” or “Why do farts smell completely different when they originate in water?” The call ends immediately after I give you something to think about. Fee: $10.

There you go. No need to tell me that I’ve given you something to think about. As the national expert/specialist in such matters, I know all about my skillz.

Yes, I will accept credit cards, goods-in-kind, and bitcoin.

So, next time you need something to think about, give me a buzz. I’m the lawyer for you.

And I’ll let you keep my number right there. For free.

Hourly Rates

As a kid, I spent a fair amount of time at McAbee Body Shop in Topeka, Kansas. Several of my father’s close friends worked there, and he’d occasionally help to fix their welding equipment. Back then, nobody wore masks or any sort of protective gear (except the occasional welding mask/goggles), myself included. I realize this explains a lot.

Thanks to Clark at Popehat, I’m reminded of a sign that hung on the wall in Mac’s shop. This isn’t the actual sign, but it says substantially the same thing. I never fully understood it as a kid. Now that I’ve practiced law privately for more than 10 minutes, I understand it perfectly. Funny how closely our profession is tied to other, more blue-collar services.

$(KGrHqF,!jkE8F-NPZZdBPMZ1U4,9w~~60_35

In which I advocate for the creation of a Law ____________, and it will be awesome.

Thanks to a post by my buddy Greenfield, I am now nothing more than a few minutes closer to death, via a video by one of the newest ABA “legal rebels.”

So, basically, what we’ve been needing is a “Law Laboratory” in order to deliver quality and affordable legal care to the masses?

I’m not sure about its actual delivery of legal services, but I’ve discerned from the video that the “Law Laboratory” does the following:

1. Holds events in various locations.

2. Has a spiffy website.

3. Talks about stuff with people.

4. Does not wear lab coats.

This sounds like a fantastic way to effectuate a paradigm shift in the legal profession, whatever that means. Granted, I only watched the video once. I can’t do it again, I won’t do it again, and you can’t make me.

Frankly, I think this young lady has it wrong. Laboratories, from my memories of them, are boring, overly sterile and filled with funky odors. That’s not an environment in which to change a profession. Let’s look at a few better options.

Law Amusement Park

Who doesn’t like an amusement park? Activities abound that pique the interests of almost any segment of the population. You can be turned and twisted. You can be turned upside down and caused to puke the undercooked turkey leg you consumed 20 minutes ago. Opportunities abound to scream “Wheeeeee!”, even at inappropriate times. Especially at inappropriate times.

At the end of the day, you are exhausted, grimy, and need to take a dump. Why, that’s just like the practice of law.

Law Bistro

Every restaurant wants to be a bistro. Why? They want to appeal to uppity clientele with deep pockets and a hankering for rich, creamy hollandaise sauce poured over everything. If you know what I mean.

Nowadays, many restaurants want to bring a bistro feel to the masses, just like some of of these legal rebels. What they fail to realize is that a Whopper is a Whopper, whether you call the joint Burger King or Burger Bistro. Changing the decor and name does not change the food.

Many in the practice of law attempt this same business model.

Law Carnival

Like a Law Amusement Park, but with freaks. Lotsa freaks. Just like the law! Have you ever attended municipal court in a large metro area? If you have, you know what I’m talking about. Remember what I said about ending an amusement park day feeling exhausted and grimy? In municipal court, you feel that way by 9AM.

Law Strip Club

Everyone enters expecting to leave a winner. In the end, the vast majority leave feeling nothing but hot and bothered. Then there’s coming up with an excuse for being covered in glitter makeup, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Law Supermarket

Walmart brought cheap stuff at a cheap price to the masses, all while employing cheap labor. Isn’t that what most of these “bringing affordable legal services to the masses” are seeking to do? They just think they’re above genuflecting to a portrait of Sam Walton every morning prior to leaving for work.

Law Outlet Mall

Those jeans seem like a great deal. That is, until that faulty seam in the back splits and you show your ass to the entire world.  But, hey, it was a great deal, and the savings were incredible!

I hear it from potential clients again and again, as they come to similar revelations about their prior legal representation.

Law Whorehouse

Now we’re getting somewhere. Consider the similarities to a courthouse:

–Some people are getting screwed.

–Other people are doing the screwing.

–Some people end their visit feeling satisfied.

–Others end their visit in pain.

–Some leave with diseases. Most are incurable.

–Some people never leave, having been buried in the basement and forgotten.

–Most people working there are selling services. And we all know that services is services.

–Those who are not selling services work in a losing effort to sanitize walls and floors.

Because that’s the law, and it sure as hell ain’t no laboratory. That’s where change, if it is to be made, happens–not in some sterile laboratory, but in the real world, with real lawyers, doing real stuff for real clients. Ugly, unseemly, and undignified, though it often is.

It’s In The Books

Published by the American Psychiatric Associat...

Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-IV-TR provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can tell a lot about a lawyer’s practice from the books on his shelves.

The three most tattered and dog-eared books on my shelf (in order):

1. Manual for Courts-Martial

2. Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-9 (Military Judges’ Benchbook)

3. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV)

Will the DSM-5 replace my beloved DSM-IV? At this point, my magic 8 ball says “outlook hazy.”

 

BigLaw vs. ShitLaw

If you’ve ever read “Above the Law,” you know that there are two distinct flavors of private law practice. The first is BigLaw. These are big firms with big clients with big budgets with big offices in big buildings and paying big salaries. They are the ones who advertise to law students that they will only consider those in the top 5% of the class to come and provide janitorial services in hopes of getting a shot to do lawyerly stuff.

There are many good reasons that these BigLaw jobs are coveted, as the brass ring is huge.

The other segment of private practice is called ShitLaw. This is everyone who is……well……..not BigLaw.

I freely admit that I am in the ShitLaw.

Though, I’ve said before that I don’t consider myself to have a small practice. Nope. I’m fun-sized.

Anyhow, a lot of ShitLaw practitioners bash BigLaw. Some of it is jealousy. Some of it is because the BigLaw lifestyle is undesirable to them. Some were excreted by BigLaw after a year or two. There are many reasons. BigLaw ignores ignores all the criticism, because they are BigLaw.

I’ll just be honest, and the best way to be honest is with an honest infographic. I determined the following categories to be important in framing my analysis of BigLaw vs. ShitLaw.

Salary. Be honest with yourselves. You’re looking to provide for your family and yourself in the best possible way. Salary matters, regardless of how you slice it.

Prestige. Everyone who goes to law school has an ego. The ego needs to be fed. Prestige is the most robust way to feed it. There are two types of lawyers out there: those who admit that they have a big ego and those whose ginormous ego prevents them from admitting the same.

Fine Dining. The fastest rising demographic in America are the idiots who call themselves “foodies.” That fact coupled with the average belt size of Americans gives a clear indication that dining is important. Rich, fine, fatty dining.

Paying for Stuff. How you pay for stuff says a lot about you. How you are are able to pay for stuff says even more.

Client Intake. No clients means no salary, abysmal prestige, no fine dining, and no paying for stuff. Some are handed the Glengarry leads. Others need to steal them.

Cleaning the Toilet. This is perhaps the most important factor, as it alone is an honest indication of who you are and the practice you have. The biggest benefit of going to a place of outside employment is that you aren’t required to maintain toilets and toilet cleanliness. If you coordinate your daily routine accordingly, this can even save  time at home. Us guys in ShitLaw clean a lot of…..well……you get the point.

Having said all of that, here’s the infographic:

(click the picture to embiggen)

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 1.36.17 PM

That being said, we ShitLaw guys have the ultimate trump card during conversations with BigLaw folks (when they’re forced to mingle with the smelly lawyers of the world). It goes like this:

No Sale for Old Lawyers

Attending a continuing education conference a few weeks ago, a diverse roomful of  lawyers engaged in a debate about old lawyers selling their practice. It started with a story about a septuagenarian who wanted to sell his practice and retire, but he couldn’t entice any younger lawyers to buy it. His was a successful practice in a rural Kansas area where he was known and respected throughout a several-county area. Ideas flowed as to his problem.

A welcoming front desk may add value, but it can be negated by the mess found in the back rooms.

A welcoming front desk may add value, but it can be negated by the mess found in the back rooms.

Old lawyers (guys with names like Jack, Bill, and Ed) said that young punk lawyers only wanted to practice in the Kansas City area, where amenities and opportunities abound.

Young lawyers (with names like Connor, Tegan, and Dakota) said that nobody wants to live out in the land of dirt–not even farmers who work the land. Accepting ownership of the old guy’s practice means to die with the same.

Old lawyers said that the younger lawyers weren’t willing to work in a junior capacity, instead wanting to immediately be the owner and/or partner.

Young lawyers said that waiting for the old guy to finally quit or die is not an enjoyable or practical way to anticipate a (earned, assumedly) promotion. Why buy an old, musty practice when they could buy the building next door and create some new hotness.

This back and forth continued for several minutes.

Then, one of my very reasonable and balanced peers* of the middle generation of lawyers offered this:

“I bet he’s asking too damned much for his practice.”

Generation diaper and generation adult diaper both stared in silence, mouths agape.

Finally, one of the geriatric gang replied “Well, I know [the lawyer], and he is asking quite a bit.”

“Quite a bit” was never quantified, but we guessed it was significantly more than the value of his building and furniture. The discussion turned to a breakdown of the things that contribute to the value of a law practice:

Real Estate: Fair value is fair value. You can’t exactly argue with that. However, older lawyers often forget that there is a maintenance liability that accompanies any commercial space ownership benefit. My experience tells me that stained ceiling tiles are less worrisome to older lawyers than they are to younger lawyers. Asking a young, upstart lawyer to go into debt for a building that looks and smells like years of water damage rarely garners an answer of “yes.”

Equipment and Furniture: This is necessary. True. However, just because you bought that 1992 Wang computer for $2000 doesn’t mean it is worth the same today. You’d better subtract from your asking price for the fact that your successor will need to invest heavily to upgrade automation. Also, have you smelled that couch in the waiting area? It reeks of a badly maintained nursing home bedpan. Subtract quadruple the amount you originally paid for the couch in 1972 to allow for purchase of new seating and air freshening products.

That snazzy blue door doesn't add as much value as you think.

That snazzy blue door doesn’t add as much value as you think, even if you spent hours mixing the colors and painting it yourself.

Phone Number and Website URL: A well-established phone number has value, but not as much now as it did 20 years ago. Come to terms with the fact that Reagan is no longer president. Nonetheless, you can add a bit for it. As for your URL, I was just kidding. Everyone knows you don’t have one. Or, if you do, it’s something like KeokukLawOffice.GeoCities.com. Zero value. In fact, dollars must be deducted if you try to sell this.

Clients: Established clients do have value, but only if they are willing to accept Logan as their new lawyer once George leaves the building. There are no guarantees that they’ll be accommodating. In fact, many may be waiting for George to die or retire so they can switch to John, who they’ve wanted to hire for years but remained with George out of pure loyalty Deduct value for this potential loss and liability. Criminal and personal injury practices? Don’t kid yourself. Yours are constant hustles and rapid turnovers. There is no client value to sell.

Sweat Equity: Let me be clear, there is no such thing. You can’t transfer work ethic or dedication. Consider that a person may labor for years to build a house. However, the value will be determined by square footage, quality of interior components, location, etc. No realtor will say “but, the owner of this house worked really, really hard.” Nope. No value added. We don’t care about the labor pains. Just show us the baby.

The File Room: Old lawyers have file rooms. Big ones. Lots of files. Typically, correspondence with prior clients was silent as to the maintenance of files, making a huge headache for anyone who inherits this cavernous room and its pulpy contents. Therefore, this is a huge liability and fire hazard. Banker boxes, stacked a mile high, are strewn throughout the room in no particular order. One person knows the location of every file. Unfortunately, that person is the lawyer closest to death. Deductions for this have the potential of completely negating any value added by the included real estate.

Sometimes, the problem is that the retiring lawyer fails to store a late-life nest-egg, and they view the value of their practice as a means of obtaining financial security. They will, almost always, be disappointed. Other times, the problem is simple pride, inflating the value of a practice well-beyond a practical range.

Should retiring lawyers ask value for their practices? Sure. Should inheriting lawyers pay value for a practice? Again, sure. The problem comes with the fact that both sides are not being reasonable in determining the value.

That’s where my middle generation is so critical. You all should listen to us much more often. After all, we’ve been bridging the gap between old and new for eons.

*Note: My peer group, whatever it may be, will always be the most reasonable, fair, insightful, and balanced of any other competing groups or generations. Why? It’s my blog, my rules. Deal with it.

The Value of Legal Representation

Many argue that there is plenty of work for lawyers, but not enough potential clients with the means to pay for legal services.

I disagree.

Oodles of folks have the ability to pay for legal representation, but most choose to value other things over legal services.

Based on almost 10 years of observations, here’s a list of things that seem to be valued by many, many potential clients, in relation to legal representation (from most important to least important).

  1. A Fancy Car
  2. A not-so-fancy car with $20,000 rims.
  3. A not-so-fancy car with a boomin’ sound-system and $5000 rims.
  4. A 1995 Brown Chevy Caprice Classic with $2000 rims.
  5. $2000 rims, but no car.
  6. A weekend in Cancun with unlimited alcohol.
  7. A weekend in Panama City with pay-by-the-drink alcohol.
  8. A big-ass flat-panel television (minimum 50 inches).
  9. A weekend in a crappy hotel in Gary, Indiana with two bottles of cheap alcohol.
  10. Tattoos (thanks to Texas ADA).
  11. A weekend in an average hotel in Topeka, Kansas with a bag of weed.
  12. One afternoon in a Reno, Nevada brothel.
  13. An opportunity to flirt with the female clerk working the afternoon shift at Panda Express at the southside mall.
  14. Paid access to adult internet site featuring a girl who attended their high school.
  15. A $3000 Karaoke machine.
  16. One night out at Applebees.
  17. 15 minutes of tokens for private booth at Franks Adult Emporium.
  18. Playstation 3
  19. Call of Duty Black Ops 2 for Playstation 3
  20. A $200 Karaoke machine.
  21. Blu-Ray of “Barb Wire, Extended Director’s Cut.”
  22. 2 tickets to a Lakers game.
  23. Bus ticket to see girlfriend in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
  24. Replica movie poster of Al Pacino in “Scarface.”
  25. Blingy “$” necklace.
  26. 4 tickets to see a Monster Truck show.
  27. One day at a state fair.
  28. iPad
  29. One purebred Pit Bull Terrier.
  30. iPhone
  31. One pair of the latest in-brand of jeans.
  32. One carton of Marlboros.
  33. NFL Sunday Ticket.
  34. New Baskeball Shoes.
  35. A dog (any breed).
  36. Six Pack of Beer (any brand).
  37. A Large, One-Topping Pizza from Papa John’s.
  38. One pack of Marlboros (or one can of Copenhagen).
  39. A new jacket (hunter camo pattern ONLY)
  40. A 1983 Chevrolet Chevette (not necessarily operable).
  41. One can of body spray.
  42. Glass anal beads.
  43. Legal Representation
  44. Plastic anal beads.
  45. Education
  46. Condoms

Client Intake 101

Everyone knows that law schools across America teach classes like Torts, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Contracts, and Law & Literature. They are all classes that focus on substantive law. They don’t focus on the practice of law.

The closest you’ll get the a class involving the practice of law might be a Trial Advocacy course, taught by an adjunct and looked-down-upon by tenured faculty who have never seen one of those trial thingies.

It’s time to focus on the practice of law. Not just the practice of law, but the most vexing, infuriating, bad-time-consuming part of practicing law. That is potential client evaluation and intake.

Now, I’m not asking for a 3-hour course. Although, most of us who’ve practiced more than  a few years have enough material to fill a 5-credit-hour course to the brim. Perhaps a 1 or 2 hour seminar course is appropriate for starters.

Assuming 22 class periods, let’s take a look at each of them.

1. Introduction. Title: “No Kids, We Don’t Make This Shit Up”

2. What the hell is a “consultation?” How your definition is not the same as that of the potential client.

3. Practical Exercise: Controlling the initial consultation. Theme: It’s not for them; it’s for you.

4. Getting to the Bottom Line 1. Theme: Your mortgage cannot be paid in thank-you-so-much-for-your-time and you-gave-me-a-lot-to-think-about currency.

5. Getting to the Bottom Line 2. Theme: You are not a flea market. Stand firm on fees.

6. Government to Private: Adjusting to charging for your services after having dutifully served as a public defender. (This is a harder transition than most realize.)

7. Getting to the Bottom Line 3. Theme: Wives hate lawyers (or, why “I just need to talk to my wife (spouse) about this” means they will never call you back.

8. Potential Clients 1: Those who know they need a lawyer, know the value of a lawyer, and were referred to you. (Happy, feel-good class day)

9. Potential Clients 2: Those who found you because of your website. (Also known as Jekyll and Hyde day)

10. Potential Clients 3: Those who found you through Avvo. (Purchase a gas mask day)

11. Potential Clients 4: Those who found you because god led them to you. (Purchase a gun day (or Hire a Bodyguard day, if you’re particularly offended by firearms references))

12. Potential Clients 5: Those who immediately say that their case will make you rich and famous. (Run the other way day)

13. Potential Clients 6: Those whose cases will really make you famous, but not necessarily rich. (Run the other way fast while wearing a gas mask day)

14. If, after the initial consultation, your first thought is to call a press conference, it is either a really bad case or you are a moron. (Last day to drop classes)

15. Special Topic: Why becoming famous from the practice of law is not necessarily a good thing. (Nancy Grace day)

16. Telling the potential client that their case sucks, and why most react as though you just called their baby ugly.

17. Assessing the neediness factor of potential clients. How to spot potentials who, if a relationship is formed, will expect you to cater to their needs like Tom Hagen.

18. Advertising don’ts and don’ts.

19. Guest Speaker: Mark Bennett. Topic: 10 Rules for Dealing with the Borderline Personality.

20. The Retainer/Fee Agreement. Text: The 21st Century Retainer Agreement by Carolyn Elefant. (I’ve read it. I wish I had it a few years ago when I started my pathetic practice. Oh, and if you want to complain about price, compare the cost of this book with that of the Prosser Torts book.)

21. Panel Discussion with Real Lawyers (Civil Practice Day)

22. Panel Discussion with Real Lawyers (Criminal Practice Day)

Final Exam: 4 hours (1 hour multiple choice, 1 hour essay, 2 hours practical evaluation)

Maybe Not Updating the Library

Working as a labor attorney for the Army in my initial JAG assignment, I took for granted the library provided for me (at taxpayer expense). I never looked at prices. I ordered what I needed. Questions were never asked.

Today, I thought I’d shop for the latest copy of a favorite federal labor treatise.

I said to myself, “Self, it will probably only be $50 to $70.”

Self was wrong.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 10.17.23 AM

Payment, Texas Style

My New Armadillo says "Vote No on stupid changes to TX PR Rules."

I’m a lawyer, so I charge for my time. Mark Bennett knows this.

So, he paid me for pimping the “Vote No in Texas” perspective by sending something from his illustrious home state.

I was hoping for something of the BBQ variety, but then this arrived at my doorstep. It is neither cuddly nor tasty, but it is doing a wonderful job of aerating my lawn. Thanks Mark.

By the way, seriously, vote “no” on the stupid Texas Professional Responsibility proposed changes. Go. Vote. Now.

Nothing says Texas like an Armadillo, and they hate the proposed changes, too.

A Curmudgeon’s Christmas

Originally published as a comment to a post at My Law License.

Christmas arrived once more, and the old curmudgeon at Simple Justice sat hunched over his keyboard. It was an old keyboard, once white, now stained a light, tannish brown. Some keys were missing, but he didn’t care. He’d never need to use “PrintScr” again. Not with his latest version of DOS. The large, yellowed computer box sat under his desk, streaked with shoe polish from being kicked on particularly trying days. The words, UNIVAC displayed faintly on its face next to the 5 1/4 inch floppy drive.

The faint light from the green, monochrome screen made his face look ruddy, but he didn’t care. He was alone. Just he and his blawg.

Tonight, he wouldn’t be disturbed. His phone, with its crystalish, rotary dial never rang at this time of night, and the cell phone, mandated by his wife, sat silent, turned off. The words JITTERBUG glowed lightly in bold cursive. AARP said it was the best phone. By god, if AARP says it’s good, then it must be damn good.

He tried to play nicely with others. He really did. He even opened a contest for the best blawg post, but that brought him nothing but despair. Some guy named Jamison shat upon the page with dozens of submissions, tearing a hole in the bandwidth. One of the posts, he suspected, was from ESPN, and not a blawg at all.

Tonight was the night when everyone across the blawgosphere would get their new toys. There were touch things.  There were internet things. There were books in computers. There was legal research that looked like Google. There were Judges who, starting tonight, would start accepting motions filed over email. There were gadgets and gizmos. Some with apples, and some with other, glowing displays. To him, they were all fruity. The bile welled-up in his throat.

“Merry F-ing Christmas” he thought to himself as he prodded the yellowed keys. He’d be done in a few minutes with this post. Free again, for awhile.

Then, he’d do what he always did at this festive time of year while everyone else dreamed of gifts with lithium-ion batteries. He’d replace the pocket parts on all of his federal reporters. In these days of electronic unhappiness, it was the one thing that gave him sheer glee, if only for a while.

The Core Of A Criminal Defense Lawyer

Brian Tannebaum

As most of you know from reading my past posts, I have a soft spot for what it truly means to be a criminal defense lawyer. Others share my passion.

Brian Tannebaum is one. Check out his latest blog post here. It encapsulates a lot of what we think. Brian is also the current president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

You Get What You Pay For: The Military Perspective

In the criminal justice system of Gotham City....

I don't care if they have Batman on their team, I'll never be part of this workgroup. Image by David Jackmanson via Flickr

In the last couple of days, criminal defense blogs have been en fuego because of the recent article by Hartley, R.D., et. al., Do you get what you pay for? Type of counsel and its effect on criminal court outcomesJournal of Criminal Justice (2010) highlighted by the American Bar Association.  The basic conclusion of Hartley is that public defenders have just as much success in representing their clients as private practice defenders.

Naturally, both private practitioners and public defenders have their own takes on this issue. Two great analyses of this article are from Scott Greenfield and Mark Bennett, and I encourage you to read their opinions (please note that Mr. Bennett’s analysis is contained in 6 separate entries, starting with this one and ending with this exclamation). The most notable gripe from those in private practice is that Hartley heaps praise upon the closeness of public defenders with their prosecutorial counterparts as well as the judiciary. His definition of good defense work causes the most consternation, and this definition defies what most members of the defense bar believe to be zealous advocacy. Hartley lauds the existence of a courthouse “workgroup” that facilitates smooth case processing and administration of justice.

Workgroup? Justice? Where do I begin?

Continue reading

Criminal Representation – The Way to Not Advocate

The more I observe the actions of others, the more I realize we can learn a lot from the Underpants Gnomes. For those of you who are not South Park savvy, these were small gnomes in one episode who adopted a very curious business model.

It goes like this:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants

Phase 2: ?

Phase 3: Profit

Here is a short excerpt of the gnomes briefing their plan to the South Park gang:

I’ve seen this model at work in legal representation.

Continue reading