The Dark Night of the Solo

Once in the dark of night, Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose (O coming of delight!) And went, as no one knows, When all my house lay long in deep repose — Saint John of the Cross

One of the more nerve-racking things about public speaking is the wait between the speaking engagement and the receipt of the program evaluation sheets. It’s a giddily self-deluding period where, based on the positive feedback from the 3 people who talked to you in the 5 minutes between speakers, you are sure that all went well and that you are on the road to becoming the next great orator of our times. Then the evaluation sheets arrived and you realize that it will be some time before you are a threat to Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King or Emmeline Pankhurst. But, as often is the case, it is the comments and not the numerical evaluations that strike a chord , and it is one of these comments that I would like to take a moment to respond to. The writer states:

Rural [law] equals less rich (not necessarily ‘poor’). At age 28, I was desperate for a job, so I moved to a small town to work with an experienced attorney who is nearing retirement. Now, almost 7 years  later, I want to leave and will if I can. Modest income clients don’t (or won’t) pay attorney fees even though we charge much less per hour than attorneys in urban areas. Fact is, attorneys in rural areas make far less than in urban areas, often have bad clients, and can get better & more interesting jobs elsewhere. 

As our young writer has travelled halfway down life’s path, let me play Virgil to his Dante, and let our journey begin not in our Dante’s dark wood or in the proponent’s idealized celestial sphere, but rather at the foot of the craggy mountain of boots-on-the-ground reality. Young Dante,  I’ve yet to run across a lawyer (big city or small town) who has not had at least one the-grass-is-greener moment at some time or other in their career. Lawyering is a tough slog for anyone who gives half a damn about doing the best possible job they can for each client, and it sure doesn’t help that, for the average lawyer, it sure ain’t the high-paying, jet-setting, celebrity career the law school brochures described. Even I must admit to having the occasional lustful thought about packing it all in and heading off to look for a quiet associate’s position with a regular salary. However, if this is not merely a passing fancy but is one of those dark nights of the soul, then it is far better to move on to those greener pastures than to unhappily till the same dismal furrow. But before you go, talk to someone (a mentor, a friend, your local branch of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers); perhaps there are other options out there and it may be easier to fix what you have than to start something new.

The comment continues:

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Paranoia and Security

I’ve always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible positionPat Conroy

Let me make something clear right from the outset, when it comes to the security of the technology that supports my business, I am not a raving, paranoid lunatic; I am completely capable of carrying on calm, quiet, rational conversations.

Back in the day, when hard drives were the size of washing machines, tape drives consumed half-inch tape on 12 inch reels, computers were huge blue boxes serviced by a cadre of adoring acolytes, and networks were comprised of tin cans, bits of string, and acoustic couplers security was simple – those without the blessing of the high priest (the systems administrator – a god-like being capable of patching a OS binary on the fly). The concept of an external attack was practically inconceivable simply because (a) it was the rare computer that supported even dial-up access, (b) dumb terminals and acoustic couplers were not your typical household appliance, and (c) an attack coming in at 300 baud (about 30 characters per second) is something you would notice. It was a halcyon time, carefree and innocent. A time where security was a backup tape and a warm blanket. A time doomed by its own success and the crushing inevitability of Moore’s Law.

Today, if your tech is connected to the outside world though anything other than a electrical power cord (and I have my suspicions about those), it is vulnerable to attack; it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Therein lies the faustian bargain we make with the Internet – access to untold amounts of knowledge, pleasure, and power in exchange for our tech’s soul. But fear not, for tech also offers some hope of salvation if not complete redemption. Continue reading

A Techie Spring Cleaning

It’s in the homes of spiteful old widows that one finds such cleanliness. — Fyodor Dostoevsky

mopping

From a photo by Roma Flowers & used by permission

I cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be confused with a clean-freak. My private office is kept in a state of carefully managed chaos, occasionally disrupted by a biannual reorganization of the piles, the odd vacuuming, or an irregular exposure to a dust cloth, isolated from the ravages of the cleaning crew that patrols the public spaces of my office keeping them to the impeccable standards of the attorney I share space with.

Even the physical manifestations of my digital world embody this laissez-faire approach to neatness – cables run freely along baseboards, bursting from their cable ties to add a bit of kinetic color to the drab, industrial black demarcation of the boundary between wall and floor. Printers, routers, disks and CPUs are scattered between bookshelves, desktops, and tabletops; often sitting check by jowl with books, orchids, and the occasional stuffed frog – location being determined more by the availability of an electrical outlet than any cohesive plan – it’s feng shui colliding with Thomas Edison.

But cross the digital divide, and it is a far different story. My digital desktop is a stark expanse of lovely, precise (almost compulsive) order. A few files (my most immediate matters) sit with military precision along the periphery of my monitor, leaving vast expanses of uncluttered pixels to be managed by virtual desktops – one to a file, each corralling the applications needed for that matter. Continue reading

WWCD

The holiday lull and the unseasonable winter weather can to a rather abrupt, simultaneous halt this week – seems that it takes real winter weather (snow, high temps eking their way into the teens, a northerly breezes) to make folks start to make good on those new year’s resolutions that this will be the year “I’ll see a lawyer about…” – putting an end to my brief sabbatical.

As a solo, any downtime is a mixed blessing. It’s great to have some time to catch up on all those little inconsequential chores that get put aside (things like dusting the office, rediscovering the top of your desk, or getting a jump-start on your tax returns), but the downside is that unscheduled downtime means that the ol’ marketing machinery ain’t working at capacity. So, I spent my brief break asking myself “WWCD?” (what would Carolyn do), re-reading my brand spanking new copy of Solo by Choice (my first version was reduced to a somewhat collated stack of highlighted, ink-smeared and tea-stained pages during the start-up phase of my practice – the inevitable death of all really useful books), and re-evaluating/revising my marketing plan.

So, I come back from my sabbatical with my “quiet mentor” a little chided (it is humbling to see yourself when the text describes common mistakes) and greatly invigorated – sometimes a little affirmation that, at its core, marketing is not all that difficult and that anyone can be a better marketer goes a long way. Thanks Carolyn.

Be a Rural Lawyer, Success Guaranteed – only 49.99 + s/h Special TV Offer Only

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasmSir Winston Churchill

There are fifteen steps that, if followed precisely and in the correct order, will guarantee your small town law practice will be a successful, profitable enterprise. Unfortunately, the last person who knew what these steps is also the only person on record to have found a way to successfully transmute lead into gold. So, rural entrepreneur, you will have to be satisfied with these few suggestions to ease your way between failures.

Get paid up front

I cannot claim credit for this – this is, after all, Foonberg Rule #1. Discussing fees and collecting a retainer is the first of many difficult conversations you will have with clients, but it is something that must be done and is necessary if your practice is to thrive. It is far easier to get paid up front than it is to try to collect when all is said and done. If you aren’t collecting fees, you are doing pro-bono work and that is simply an expensive way to fail slowly. Develop a reputation for providing quality service at a reasonable price and most rural clients are not going to quibble about the price; but they also aren’t going to volunteer to pay it either – you’ve got to ask.

Give it everything you’ve got

This is more than just a reminder about working hard, in a small town there is little distinction between the profession and the professional – what you do is part and parcel of who you – so accept that you are going to be a lawyer 24/7/365 regardless of what your office hours are. Until you are established as a community fixture, you and your business are going to be evaluated, weighted and measured. You are going to be always building your reputation, so give this endeavor everything you’ve got and use every skill you have. After you are established as a community fixture – you’ll still be a lawyer 24/7, you and your practice will still be evaluated, weighted and measured, and you still have to maintain your reputation, but at least now folks will have funny stories about the day you… to tease you with – this is a good sign, it means you’ve been accepted. Continue reading