Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Clerks & Bailiffs

Clerks and bailiffs are gatekeepers to the kingdom.  Some have bad reputations... just like attorneys.  However, clerks and bailiffs are an asset on which to capitalize.  They KNOW stuff.  I ask the clerks and bailiffs everything.  They probably think I am ridiculous most of the time… I ask about what their judge prefers, what the hearings are called in their courtroom, what days are best to appear on each type of hearing, etc.  If you have multiple hearings in the same courthouse, they will keep you on schedule and out of trouble. Also, if you have to second call a hearing, they are extremely important to make the transition smooth. 

Getting in their good graces is important for your reputation {because they all talk}, but also because it improves your ability and efficiency as an attorney.  If you have the support of the courtroom staff, you will also enjoy court appearances a lot more.

So, remember, make sure to smile and kiss their behinds!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Billing Debacle

Billing: a Never Ending Problem

One of my least favorite things to do as a lawyer is billing.  It is a simple task, but it is tedious and takes forever.  It is never ending and can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t stay on top of it, which I rarely do.  I am very good at keeping detailed notes of what I do on a day to day basis, but unfortunately I am very bad at imputing my daily tasks into my billing software which means I’m always behind.  Our firm handles most clients on a flat fee basis so it does not affect our bottom line, but it is still important to have current and correct records.

In the beginning, it would have been easy to stay on top of the billing.  But also, everything is a learning experience in the beginning.  So, of course I can look back and ask, “what if?”, but the truth of the matter is that I didn’t do it then compounded the problem now.  I am behind because I’m always playing catch up. 

As a part of my 2013 job related goals, I am going to get caught up on billing by implementing a daily chunk of my time to billing and hopefully as the year goes by I will catch up.  I plan to bill at least one client per day, which means that I should bill each client approximately every two months which will be a giant step up from last year.

With this attainable goal, I will be able to get rid of the looming billing cloud, which drags me down.  Like anything else looming over your head, the longer you leave it unattended the bigger the problem will become.  If I've learned anything in the past, you DO NOT want to push those “problems” aside because they do not go anywhere – they just get bigger and much harder to deal with. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Begin with the End in Mind

            I love broad, long-term perspectives! I love grand ideas of love and justice. I love talking about them, mulling them over on a solitary walk at dusk, and debating ideas while drinking herbal tea with an intellectual counterpart. But honestly, it’s a little more difficult to make small daily choices that reflect my personal morals and values. I am not sure how often, I actually ask myself if what I am about to say to the dry cleaning lady is in line with my values and what I want people to remember about me when I am gone.[1]

            The exercise that Covey asked me to do at the beginning of Chapter two, in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, required some deep thinking.  He asked me to really consider what I wanted to be remembered for at my funeral in four separate categories, my family, my friends, my career, and my service. I found a couple of hours and a quiet couch and typed my heart out.

            From there, Covey said that we can create mission and vision statements that really reflect where we are going and what we want. So, beginning with the end in mind made a lot more sense after I had contemplated what I want to be remembered for. I found themes in all four categories. I realized that I wanted some of categories to at least partially overlap. For instance, I want service to be a huge, if not complete part of my career as an attorney. I also realized some areas in which I am better operating out of my set of values than others. For instance, I don’t always respond in love when I am dealing with teenagers (or 7 year olds, for that matter) who forget to do their chores after I have a hard day at the office.

            What excited me about this exercise is that I got to define what success is to me, not what society says it is or my parents or my 11 year old or 13 year old. Pretty sure for my kids, it is the ability for us to shop weekly at the mall for new clothes and drive through in and out four times a week.

            I won’t bore you with what my definition of success is or what I want to be remembered for. I hope if you know me, you already have an inkling based on our relationship. However, I do want to encourage you to sit down and think about what you would like said at your funeral, then work backwards from there and join me on the journey of beginning with the end in mind. It’s never too late.

-Julianne Vandegrift, Associate Attorney

[1] Caveat-my dry cleaning lady and I have a really good relationship and thus far, I have nothing egregious to report. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Appearance Attorneys: Why You Should Use Them Often

A great way to gain experience if you are looking for a job as an attorney or looking to go out on your own is to be an appearance attorney.  An appearance attorney will go to court and handle a case for another attorney who couldn’t make the appearance for a multiplicity of reasons.  An appearance attorney can make between $75-$250 for each appearance.  Being an appearance attorney is valuable experience.  Not only do you not have to worry about the day-to-day client interaction, but you get the opportunity to go into different court rooms in different cities and meet different court staff.  This is certainly more experience than you would get as a first year associate in a large law firm, plus those large law firms look at real life court experience as a big plus.

             Young, new attorneys do not realize how valuable appearance attorneys are.  Now that our law firm has been up and running for close to a year and we have been growing at a moderate pace, we understand the need to use appearance attorneys.  Having only Taylor and myself to do court appearance, sometimes the need arises for someone else to cover an appearance, especially if it is merely to request a continuance.  While we have a group of close friends that we rely on to handle appearances on a favor basis, we do not want to over-use this option, especially if we aren’t able to return the favors quickly for our friends. So, we are started to put together a list of reliable appearance attorneys to hire for appearances we cannot go to. 

           As part of our business vision, we strive to give back to the community.  Therefore, the type of attorneys we hire as appearance attorneys are ones that want to gain experience and get their foot in the door.  In college and while waiting for my bar results, I remember the feeling of reading job descriptions that already required work experience to apply. I remember thinking how am I supposed to get work experience if no one is willing to give me a chance to work for them? Now, as a result of that experience, I will only hire new attorneys for appearances -unless specialized knowledge is required.

            So the moral of the story is: Use appearance attorneys. They can save you so much time! Take a chance on a new, young appearance attorney. If they do not have a plethora of work experience, it does not mean that they are not capable. Give them a chance, you'll be impressed!

Friday, August 31, 2012

You Can’t Do Everything, So Why Even Try

"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it." 
--Theodore Roosevelt

It is extremely important to learn early on that there are going to be certain tasks that you just cannot do on your own if at all.  Designing a website and creating one that is not only user friendly but possesses the correct effective “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization) is one of those tasks that you just have to source out, either in-house or to a well reputable company.  But it certainly is not one that you want to try and take on yourself.  This little known fact was extremely elusive in the begin for Taylor and I, at first we were of the mindset that we just needed to get one up, but then we quickly realized we didn’t want a run of the mill template website we could build over night.  We did not want people’s first impression of us to be negative based on our website, so we held off until we could afford a professional version that would better represent who we are and what we want people to remember about our firm.

You hear it time and time again, first impressions are everything and I cannot stress it enough that your website is no different.  You don’t want it to look too cheesy or people will not take you seriously, you don’t want it to look too stuffy or people will get the wrong impression and look elsewhere.  It is extremely difficult finding the happy medium between professional and approachable, but it is absolutely necessary.  As I searched hundreds of websites for ideas I found myself judging people and their firms without really even realizing it, but once it hit me I couldn’t help but think if I was a client looking for a potential lawyer that I wouldn’t even call some of the lawyers I found purely based on my perception of them from their website.  It isn’t until you find yourself in the same situation as your potential clients that you realize that every little thing, picture, slogan, color scheme, and layout counts.  It could be the difference between running a successful law firm and just getting by.

So by now you’re thinking, wonderful I’ll hire someone to do my website because it isn’t worth the headache, but what you’re forgetting is that even if you have an experienced web designer working for you, you still have to come up with the content, concept and design and help steer the way into production.  Your website is a time consuming task, but if done correctly it will be worth it, but if done incorrectly you’ve wasted not only time but money and that is never good.  So start thinking early and often about your website because it is not an overnight task and even once you’ve hired someone to take the lead, your input is crucial.  Remember, first impressions are everything and your website will often be the first glimpse into what your firm can do for potential clients. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Websites I Love

Nolo –

Nolo is probably my favorite website for quick information on different areas of law.  It is also an excellent resource for law books.  If you are a new lawyer or just a person looking for some quick and free legal advice, this is definitely the place to stop.

Rocket Lawyer –

Rocket Lawyer is not only a great place to market your firm, but also to learn some basic information on various legal topics.  This website is great for finding a lawyer or just asking some advice.  Also, you can be a member of Rocket Lawyer and have access to the legal forms and can make calls to an attorney for some free advice. 

Avvo –

Along the same lines, Avvo is an excellent place for quick advice.  It is also a website for advice from other professionals.  You can ask quick questions at and have a lawyer respond.  It is also another excellent place to look for reputable attorneys.

Lawyerist –

This website has information on technology for lawyers, tips on starting a law firm, various practice management tips, and other great advice.  I love reading the articles when I have some down time at court or between meetings.  Bristol, Haynes & Associates has used this website in determining what practice management tools to use and what technology to purchase.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Make A Difference

-Make A Difference-

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
-         Mother Theresa

            “Why did you start your own practice right out of law school?” is a question I often get asked by friends, family, and even clients.  There are some obvious answers people are looking to hear, but I believe they are pleasantly surprised when they hear my first answer.  I started my own practice right out of law school because I want to help people and make a difference in my community.  It may sound like a cliché answer, but it the honest truth.  I am a lawyer, but that doesn’t mean that I am above people, it means that I have attained the knowledge that is necessary to help people in their times of need. 

            I was lucky enough to find a partner that believes in this same philosophy.  When we first sat down together to start putting together our business plan, one of the first things that we discussed was what type of law firm we wanted to be and what type we didn’t.  We first started talking about the experiences we both had had working for other lawyers and discussing what we wanted to take away from those experiences and what we did not.  We both agreed that we didn’t like firms that treated clients like case numbers, we wanted to actually care about our clients and advocate on their behalf with the necessary information.  We wanted them to feel comfortable coming to us with any of their legal needs.  We wanted to build a community law firm, a one stop shop in essence, we wanted to be able to assist them with whatever need that may arise.  And if we personally could not help them, again going back to the importance of networking and building a strong and reliable network, we wanted to be able to point them in the right direction to someone who would treat them in the same manner.

            From the inception of our law firm and now in practice with a heavy case load of clients, we still know our clients first and last names, the name of their children and the gist of their case.  We don’t have to refer to the case file for basic information.  It is a wonderful feeling knowing that we’ve taken a personal interest in their lives and that we are doing everything in our power to help them out.  So, so far so good on living out the first mantra of our firm and as long as we continue to stick to it, I believe we will continue to reach our goals and remain successful.

            I think it is really important to establish from the beginning what is most important to you and what you want to be known for in the industry, because it is the beginning stages of your career and business stature that will stick with you for a lifetime.  If you come out guns ablaze with no regard for human nature, you will not crawl out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself for a long time, if ever.  Your reputation and your word are what will determine your success, especially if you’ve decided to go out on your own, so from the very beginning you’ve got to decide what will propel you and hope that the world views it positively.  I’m lucky enough to know that each and every day, the work that Taylor and I, and soon our new hires, produce and put out into the world commands respect, as does each appearance, meeting, and filing that our firm does. 

Whether you decide to go out on your own or not, remember either way to make a difference.