Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Going paperless, more or less

I hate paper. There, I said it.

My life suffers from a proliferation of paper. Occasionally I find myself almost literally buried under it, both in the office and at home. So go buy a scanner and be done with it right? Close - I bought two scanners: one for home, and one for the road.

My home scanner is a Brother MFC-7820N. Two exceptional things about this device: first, it has a 50-sheet ADF (document feeder) so you can stack your originals on it and walk away. Second, it has a built-in Ethernet port, so you can network it right out of the box. Did I mention it prints, copies and faxes too? All in all a great deal for a printer that retails for around $300.

For the road I chose the ScanShell 2000N. Ultra light, ultra portable - ultra cool. Fits right in my laptop case with no problems, and scans up to 600 dpi. No power cord needed, because it receives all its juice from the USB bus. I use it to scan in important client papers so I don't have to make and keep copies (of course, the scanned images go right into the encrypted folder on my laptop for max security).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Talking with clients about death

The estate planning side of my practice has been going very well. Despite the complex nature of succession planning and the shifting nature of the law (especially the uncertain future of estate taxation, which cannot be described rationally to a client because the rules are insane), I am getting a lot more comfortable with the process. The most difficult part has been dealing with the "D word."

Death and dying. You can't really discuss estate planning without broaching the subject, can you? If there were, I'd be all over it. I'm still working on ways to lighten the subject; for example, using euphemisms (pass away, "no longer there for them", at rest). It seems especially difficult for people to think about the death of their child or children, so when I'm explaining the difference between per stirpes and right of representation I often make up imaginary children to kill off: "Let's just say you have four kids (to parents of two children) and one of them dies before you...."

The material I've found on discussing death is all focused on helping terminal patients come to grip with their impending mortality. There really isn't much on how to talk to young, healthy people about it. Maybe this will be the source of my first book. Hmmm....

I know it's just something I'll have to get comfortable with, and I'm hopeful it will get easier as I go along. Sure makes the other aspects of my practice (contracts and business formation) seem easy to talk about.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Building things slowly

I got a surprise on Wednesday when one of my freebie clients (wrote them a trust package for free to get the experience) insisted they pay for my time and gave me a check that covers my first year's liability insurance premium. Maybe this law practice is going to be something more than an expensive hobby after all.

I've been spending a lot of time focusing on practice marketing. At the core, what I'm really looking for is the thing that sets my practice apart, so I will know what to promote. As a part-timer with extremely low overhead and a day job that pays the bills, I can price my services affordably and provide value to my clients. I also focus on convenience by meeting my customers in their homes, and being available on nights and weekends. And the free jobs I have done over the past three months have given some insights into ways I can really add value to the estate planning process.

Phase I of my marketing campaign is ready to begin. I just purchased a web domain,, and a website is soon to follow.


Other news of note: I am adding corporate formation to the practice, and I've already got a potential client asking for help incorporating her business. Also, I've been lucky to keep in touch with a friend of mine who practices entertainment law in Los Angeles (his advice to me when I joked about moving down south to join him: "Bring nuclear weapons") who has offered to give me some experience reviewing entertainment contracts. On the volunteer front, I just finished researching the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act for the Elder Law Clinic, and attended a working session on accessible housing put on by Contra Costa for Every Generation.

And finally, glad to note that the Westlaw situation was worked out amicably. Thanks to the fine people at Thomson-West for being reasonable human beings.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


So far my professional legal career has been a mix of low and non-paying side jobs. I've been doing quite a bit of estate planning free of charge to get experience, but I'm finally at the stage where I'm ready to go public so I've been thinking about how to get the word out. My thoughts have centered around the following:
  • Website. Definitely going to do this, just a matter of how to go about it. I've done my own web design before, but it takes a lot of time and I'm still never satisfied with the result. Since people hire lawyers based on an impression of professionalism/competence, I want the site to look good, so I'll probably hire out the design, which can run anywhere from expensive to second-mortgage territory, however some more affordable sites sell pre-built templates for budget prices. Most of the design/hosting sites are pushing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) which helps put your page at the top of search results.
  • Business cards. Someone's home office blog suggested spending money on printed materials like business cards and letterhead was a waste, but I can't tell you how many times in my short legal career I've been asked for my card. I'm currently using some inkjet-printed cards I made myself, but I'd like to get some nice looking cards done. People seem to expect this, and I'd rather spend the money than miss an opportunity to put my contact info in a customer's hands. Even if there's a 90% chance the card ends up in the garbage, that means a 10% chance it gets used again. One paying client will more than cover the cost of 500 professionally designed/printed cards anyway.
  • Brochure/flyer. A few weeks ago at a kid's birthday party someone asked me if I had a brochure, and it dawned on me this might be a good idea. If I can summarize some info about my practice, the brochure could be a good idea. This one might wait a bit down the road, since printing costs for this type of media are a bit higher than I can afford right now.
  • Joining the local Chamber of Commerce. I've heard from others this is a good way to network with other business owners and get your name out in the community. Costs about $250/year in my neck of the woods. Still kicking this one around, but it could happen.


Also...I was planning to review some practice management software, but dropped it when I found out it wasn't required by my insurance carrier. Right now my client list is small so I keep it in an Excel spreadsheet. When I outgrow that - hopefully very soon - I'll pop the $250 for a professional solution.

I'm buying some more lawyer toys, including a portable USB scanner to take on appointments with me. I typically ask clients to bring copies of their deed and property tax statement to our first meeting, but sometimes they forget. This toy will connect right up to my laptop and let me scan in copies of everything I need. Also queued up for purchase is a fire-rated safe with a rack for hanging files to keep my client documents safe and secure.

And to help pay for all these toys, I just opened a business checking account to hold all the money that should start pouring in any day now.