Solo Lawyer Working Out of the Office

photoRecently, I opened my own law practice here in Greenville, South Carolina.  Right now, I am the only person working in the firm so I act as attorney, paralegal, boss, assistant, accounts payable, and everything in between.  I have been extremely busy, and I have had some thoughts that perhaps some prospective clients may have some concerns about the type of attention that is paid to their case.

I thought a real-life story would help in explaining how things are going so far.  Several months ago, long before I opened this law practice, my wife and I planned a trip to Chicago to meet some friends and celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday.  We took in a couple of Cubs’ games at Wrigley Field.  We left on Thursday morning and planned to return to Greenville on Sunday.  This meant that I would be out of my office for two days.  In a family law practice, a lot can happen over two days and I was a little nervous.

When I set up my practice, technology and the ability to practice from anywhere were high priorities for me.  So I have set up systems, software, and utilize technology to allow me to do this.  Some technology is as simple has having my iPhone, others things I use is Google Voice for telephone and voicemail, Google Apps for calendaring and e-mail, and Dropbox for storing documents and syncing between my computers.

During the weekend, I was able to use Google Voice to route all of my incoming office calls to my iPhone.  If I was in a place that would provide necessary confidentiality (like my hotel room) I would take the call.  If I was unable to take the call, the voicemail would then be transcribed and e-mailed to me so I could immediately have access to the message.  If it was very urgent, I could make arrangements to respond quickly.  While sitting at the Friday afternoon Cubs’ game, I received a voicemail from a client related to a custody/visitation matter.  About the same time as her call, I received an e-mail with a fax message from the opposing counsel on that case.  I was able to find a quiet corner of the stadium to call my client back to get an idea of what was going on.  Then, I was able to send a fax back to opposing counsel – all from my iPhone in the upper deck at Wrigley Field.

So, I hope this story will show you that my law practice is more personal and the way that I have carefully set it up will allow me to serve all of my clients effectively and promptly even though I may not perform all of my work behind the desk of my downtown office.

The Lawyer’s 2 Hats: Advocate and Counselor

I guess I’ve always known it.  Though, they don’t really teach it in law school.  When you think of a lawyer, you think of the person who is going to stand beside you in the courtroom and zealously represent you.  You think of the bulldog.  The person who has only your interest in mind.  That’s the advocate.  That is just one part of your attorney.

The other hat your attorney wears is that of counselor.  This is the hard part for lawyers.  You have to be able to deliver bad news to your client.  You have to help clients when the judge does not order something in their favor.  Clients don’t like the counselor.  This part is hard.  But it is also extremely important.  A lawyer needs to be able to discuss your case openly with you.  It is important that they discuss the pros and cons of your case.  In family law, as with almost any other area of the law, things are gray.  There is not one “right” answer but many workable answers.  So many factors play into a court decision and what could happen in the case.  A client should know where their case is strong and where it is weak or there is no way they can effectively resolve their case.

So, as a client, don’t get mad when your lawyer discusses the weak parts of your case with you.  He isn’t on your spouse’s side when he does this, he is just making sure you know the good and bad of your case and how the law applies to it.  Of course, when it comes time to put on the suit and head to the courthouse, your lawyer is going to do all he can to be your advocate and highlight the “highlights” of your case.

Your Divorce: Begin with the End in Mind

“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

— Paul “Bear” Bryant

One of the most important things for your divorce lawyer to know in the very beginning of your case is your expectations and your desired outcomes of your divorce case.  Would you rather have sole custody or share custody with your spouse?  Would you prefer permanent periodic alimony paid monthly or a lump sum paid all at one time?  If your divorce lawyer doesn’t know what you expect, he will be left to make assumptions for you based on his experience and the types of expectations other similar clients have had.

It is extremely important that this information be shared with your attorney up front.  This may not be something that you discuss at the initial consultation just because of a time issue, but once you have retained your attorney, you need to make sure that your desired outcomes are clear.  Now, this is also a time where your attorney will tell you about your chances of reaching these desired outcomes.  Depending on the facts of your case, some options may not be available and it is important that you know that up front.

The lawyer will take the information that you provide him and prepare a “theory of the case.”  This theory can be thought of as your story.  There will be a clear theme and everything should revolve around that theme.  If you don’t take the time initially to plan for what you are shooting for then you won’t have any clear direction in your case.

When meeting with my clients and prospective clients, I ask them to create an “autobiography” that I use to learn more about their background and the marital history as well as to help me prepare affidavits for the temporary hearing.  Part of this process asks the client to identify their goals and desires for this litigation.  If your attorney asks you to prepare this information for him, please do not take it lightly.  Not only will it help the two of you to get on the same page strategy-wise, but it will help your attorney understand what is important to you and to plan your case out.

Can Introverts Make Good Trial Lawyers?

Can an introvert make a good lawyer – especially a good divorce lawyer?  The truth is, most cases these days do not go to trial.  Whether it is the expense, time involved, or beacuse of new alternative dispute resolution methods being used more and more, people are not having to try their case as much.  But, some cases still can’t be settled and are left up to the Court for a decision where zealous advocacy is required by the lawyers.  I read an article recently by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler entitled “Why Introverts Can Make the Best Leaders” over at Forbes.com.  I originally wrote this post over at TrippAtkins.com but thought it would be beneficial over here as well as I examine whether an introvert can make a good trial lawyer.

Jennifer points out that many of the best leaders in the country consider themselves introverts.  The list includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Charles Schwab.  Jennifer wrote that there are at least five reasons that introverts make good leaders:

  1. They think first, talk later;
  2. They focus on depth;
  3. They exude calm;
  4. They let their fingers do the talking;
  5. They embrace solitude.

Now, when I read the article the five points above really resonated with me.  You see, I’m an introvert.  So I got to thinking…can an introvert make a good lawyer?  More specifically, can an introvert make a good trial lawyer?

When I think of a trial lawyer, I think of a character such as Alan Shore from TV’s Boston Legal. Someone who is extremely quick on their feet with wit and sarcasm.  I’m asked occasionally by clients or prospective clients who want to know if I’m going to be a bulldog or super aggressive – someone who stands up and makes a show or screams and shouts around.

Can an introvert effectively represent their clients in trial?  I think so.  My experience has been that I examine a case in depth.  Preparation is of extreme importance.  More extroverted people are able to think on their feet and may not need to prepare as much in advance, but an introvert can get past that with in depth preparation where they plan a response for any conceivable argument or objection.

The third point, “exuding calm” is extremely important for trial lawyers – especially for divorce and family law lawyers because of the extremely personal and emotional nature of the cases we deal with.  By being able to stand back from the case from a non-emotional place and look at it objectively, you can more effectively represent and advise your clients.

I think introverts can make excellent trial lawyers and can effectively represent their clients.  What do you think?