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Can I PLEASE have some time to breathe????
Author: Steven Shelton (6:23 pm)
Wow! How long has it been since I posted something on my blog? June-something? Well, it's been crazy. Crazy for me and crazy for the rest of the planet, I guess you could say. So, for those who give a rodent's posterior about anything that might be going on with me, here's the latest:
Okay, back in April some time I think I hinted that the law practice was starting to take off. At this point, I think it's taxied to the runway, taken off, and is now cruising at 30,000 feet. You may now move freely about the cabin.
Here's what's happened: I started doing some appointed criminal defense work in January. At the time, I was still thinking that what I wanted to do was join a small firm, practice there for three years or so, and then strike off on my own. The idea, of course, was that this would give me a chance to practice with someone more or less looking over my shoulder and when I was comfortable on my own, I could start my solo practice or maybe go into practice with some friends.
The problem with this idea was a practical one: very small firms like I wanted to join (I'm talking five or so lawyers) tend to be extremely difficult to get into. You literally have to be related to someone in the firm to get in. And not being related to anyone, or really even knowing anyone on this side of the state, that turned out to be a practically insurmountable barrier. I did have a couple of interviews, and in both cases I was told I was their top pick, but in both cases the firm eventually decided not to hire anyone.
I was asked to interview at a few big law firms, and I went. The interviews went well, and I was invited back to second and third (and in once case a fourth) interviews, but there was only one firm that I even really felt good about. The rest all seemed to be in pursuit of the almighty dollar at the expense of any kind of personal life. That's not my thing; I actually love spending time with my family, and getting rich is not something that's really high on my list of priorities. Plus, I didn't go to law school to get rich; I went because I knew there were regular working stiffs like me who were getting screwed on a regular basis because no lawyer would talk to them, and I wanted to change that if I could. So after the second interview, I started asking questions about "What if my kid is sick and I need to leave?" and "What's your policy on pro bono work?" and "Do you ever participate in low-income law clinics?" Suddenly I'd get a lot of, "We don't have time for those kinds of things because we're here to make money" and "We help people enough by taking cases on a contingency basis", usually with more than a hint of defensiveness. And that would be where my interviews with big law firms ended. All of which was fine with me, actually. I already knew I didn't want to work at a big firm; I've got friends who have done that or are currently doing it, and they have nothing but horror stories. The big firm thing? Thanks, but not my cup of tea.
One other thing that did attract me was working in a prosecutor's office. The thing is this: I love the practice of criminal law. I'm drawn to criminal defense work because I have a very strong belief in the necessity of a fair trial for every defendant, but I've been very
impressed with the prosecutors I've met and the way that they really do care about the civil rights of defendants and about making sure all trials are fair. (Most prosecutors I've met fall into this category. I've met a couple who were out to nail anyone they could, right or wrong, and by any means necessary, but they are the minority by far.) I was actually offered and accepted a job at a prosecutor's office while I was still in law school, but as I think I've already related in an earlier post, the prosecutor quit and his replacement withdrew all of the offers that had previously been made.
So, I started looking for jobs in prosecutors offices. Of course, several positions opened up on the west side of the state right after I moved to Genesee County from Kalamazoo. Most of the prosecutors offices are in hiring freezes at the moment, so job openings in these places are rare. Genesee County did have an opening, for which I applied. I got a letter back several weeks later saying that due to budget constraints, they were not going to hire anyone after all but would reconsider that decision sometime around September.
So, anyway, there I was: trying to find a position in a small firm, trying not to get sucked into big law firm hell, and in a location where no prosecutors offices were hiring at all. This is when the court appointments started trickling in: first a concealed weapons case, then a UDAA, then a couple of drug cases, and so on. As I started handling these cases, I got to know some attorneys and discovered that I really didn't need to be in a law firm to get the kind of advice and hand-holding that I felt I needed. There are plenty of attorneys who are more than happy to help out and to give any help they can. For all the crap we take in this profession, it turns out that most of us (especially criminal defense lawyers) are actually very nice.
So the public defender cases started to come in. Then I started getting referrals from my clients in these cases. (As it turns out, people who are arrested for drug offenses tend to know other people who use drugs, and those people tend to get arrested and ask around for the names of lawyers.) So now I was doing court-appointed and retained criminal defense.
In the meantime, I'd also started pursuing junk fax cases for a few clients. (This is kind of a personal thing for me; I hate junk faxes. Hate them. Mostly because they used to war dial my phone at 3 a.m. looking for fax machines. Plus, from a practical standpoint, these are such easy cases and they are so pervasive a problem that I could easily make a good living doing nothing but these cases if I wanted.) Well, these clients ended up having other issues--usually contract disputes, with a couple of property law issues thrown in--so they retained me to handle these cases. In one case, a guy I sued for a client ended up calling me and asking me to handle some matters for him (which I was happy to do once I'd gotten the appropriate waivers from my client to make sure there were no conflicts of interest).
Then friends of mine from law school who went to work at specialty firms started sending me referrals for cases that their firms didn't handle: criminal law, family law, employment law, and so on. Then non-law-school-friends started calling me about legal matters, and that led to more cases.
Around March, I got involved in a local community theatre group, the Fenton Village Players, and landed a role in their performance of Neil Simon's The Good Doctor. People in the cast and crew found out I was an attorney and started referring their friends to me. Then people who came to the shows saw in the cast bios that I was an attorney and started asking for my card after the show. I've gotten at least five cases just from being in that show.
So since January, I've handled something like 45 cases and I'm receiving referrals almost daily now. Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn't need to look for a place to start practicing law; I was already doing it. So I have now plunged headlong into the solo practice of law. I got a phone line for the practice, I set up a website (which is still something of a work in progress, to be honest, but it does the trick), got my Lexis subscription, and my advertising campaign starts this weekend.
My main concern at this point is that I'm getting busy enough that I need to hire a secretary, but I'm not yet making enough money to hire a secretary. I'm hoping the advertising will solve that problem and bring in enough new clients to push me over the edge where I can really afford to bring on some staff and make things more efficient. (For instance, there's no reason I should spend half my time printing envelopes, typing standard letters, and transcribing my case notes into my case management database.)
So that's the law half of my life. Before I was a lawyer I was a website hosting/design and desktop publishing guy. That business started exploding for me around mid-December, and I am in the midst of designing 100+ websites for part of a large contract that started in January, with several other projects also in the mix. I ended up having to contract a friend of mine to do some of the work for me due to my schedule. In the process, I discovered that he not only does very good work, but also has the ability to do things that are far beyond my abilities, such as creation of sophisticated web applications. I was debating on whether to really promote the design business, or to just let it become a part-time vocation that mostly allowed me to service my existing customers. Being able to bring this guy on has convinced me that what I should really do is promote the business and hire some staff, so this weekend marks the beginning of local advertising for this business as well. With a little luck, I'll be able to increase the volume to the point where I can hire staff to do most of the production work and I can fade back into a mostly managerial role to concentrate on the law practice.
And, in the midst of all of that, I've had to try to find time to breathe. I try to pencil in a couple of inhalations around 9:35 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and schedule a couple minutes to exhale on Friday afternoons. Of course, those appointments end up getting moved around, too.
The long and short of it is: all of this has made it very difficult for me to keep up with the blog. But I'll try to do better.
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