August 25, 2010

General Solo’s Recipe for Stress Management

• 2 table spoons coarse salt
• 3 items checked off “to do list”
• 1 hour business lunch with colleague re: stress
• 1 new client & signed retainer
• Lime wedges & a good friend or two
• 1 hour yoga class & aroma therapy
• 1 Friday evening
• 74 degree temperature & no humidity
• 3 oz tequila
• 1 oz triple sec
• 2 oz lime juice
• 1 cup crushed ice
• Outdoor café or roof top garden
• 1 serving chips & salsa
• 1 dog
• Breathe

July 28, 2010

General Solo Is Hot

A few months ago I had a 9:30 AM hearing in Immigration Court at 26 Federal Plaza. It was one of those sweltering hot days at the end of May. I knew as soon as I stepped outside my office that morning that, despite the fact that Mercury had gone direct a few weeks before, all was still not right with the universe.

I arrived at the employee/attorney entrance of Federal Plaza to discover that I didn’t have the case “hearing notice” which would have allowed me to forgo the customary “strip search” upon entering the building. Therefore, I had to go around the block to wait in the 90+ degree heat on a line that was longer than any international airport security line I have ever been on in my life— and I traveled out of the country right after 911.

After making it through “Checkpoint Charlie,” I now had to embark on the quest to find my ever elusive hearing room. You see, the Immigration Court at 26 Federal Plaza is a labyrinth fraught with peril and many an immigrant and unsuspecting attorneys have been know to disappear in it.

When I reached the courtroom, my shoulders shrugged in relief as I saw my client standing outside. I was so glad to see him in fact that I did not immediately lecture him on his appearance. As the beads of sweat on my forehead and back started to cool, I put my suite jacket back on and we found seats in the courtroom.

But as soon as we sat down, I began to feel uncomfortable, something was not right.
There was a strange and unfamiliar sense of haste in the air and the judge seemed to be calling cases faster than usual. I decided he must just have beach plans and was grateful that I would be getting done early.

So, I turned my attention to my client’s less than appropriate attire. But no sooner did I get the words “no tee shirts next time” out, then I hear that ghastly shriek and that bloodcurdling message, “attention, this is a test...” No! No please, I looked at the judge with pleading eyes hoping he would just keep going, faster, next case and next case to our number. He was trying hard, but alas our number didn’t come in time and we had to go.

We were herded through the long hallways by a fire marshal who was neither informed nor awake. We then had to walk down 14 flights and go back out into the now 100+ temperatures. As we descended the stairs we ran into a pregnant woman on about the 9th or 10th floor who looked like she would give birth there and then. She said he had asked for an elevator and was told they were out of service. She had a family member with her, so we kept going. I am not sure, but I think a couple of other attorneys gave her their cards as they were passing by.

As we emptied out onto the sidewalk, I could feel my clothes starting to cling and my body begin to rapidly dehydrate. I knew I needed a Starbucks stat.
So, I left my client on the line at about 11:00 AM and went to get a frappucchino across the street. When I returned, no more than 15 minutes later, the lines to get back into the building were wrapped around both sides of the plaza and my client was gone. I tried calling him on his cell phone but there was no answer.

About 45 minutes later, while I was still on the outside portion of the line, I got a call from my client saying that the judge is calling for me. He had jumped ahead of the line when I left, evidently forgetting the nature of the attorney/client relationship.

I didn’t get back up to the court room until 1:00 in the afternoon. As I walked down the long strangely empty hallway to the hearing room and I could see my client leaning against the wall outside. There was a hand written sign on the court room door— “adjourned for lunch until 2:00.”

June 7, 2010

"FLOWING SOLO"

Last month I spoke on a panel sponsored by “The Lawyers in Transition Committee of the New York State Bar Association”. The subject for discussion which was basically “starting a practice.” I was one of five panelists and the one with the least practice experience. The other speakers had been practicing for 10+ years and one for over fifty years. So I really didn’t want to talk about “how to start a practice” or the “dos and don’ts.” I wanted to talk about what I knew, what I was confident with— doubt.

As I spoke that day I saw, heard and felt what has become a very familiar attitude —“I just can’t take a chance right now, it is not the right time.” Over the past year the reasons, excuses and reluctance has assembled into a chorus of fear and self deceiving rationalizations that grows exponentially louder with every call, email or resume that goes unanswered.

This is the worst recession that I have ever had to work through. And although I have been fortunate and lucky, day to day is still a struggle and often a conquest of will. But I known of many other attorneys who are struggling with no support system or hope. To them I say, don’t struggle against your doubts, flow.

When I am afraid, when I my phone hasn’t rung for awhile, when I think about the large and vicious student loan monster standing in front of me, I try not to fight with those feelings. Instead I look back, to all that it took to get me here and at all that has been achieved in just one year. I remember that I am always strongest when I flow with the energy around me rather than against it.

Last week I responded to an email from woman whose fear and doubt I could feel— especially when she spoke about not wanting to go hungry. I know the feeling, I’ve been there. I didn’t know that woman’s name, but I knew that she was a new attorney who couldn’t find a job and was sick about not being able to paying her bills and just trying to keep from drowning, financially and emotionally. I know that starting her own practice is her dream, but the downsizing, firm closings and what seems to be a current economic and legal “no man’s and especially no women’s land” just gives her nightmares.

I know that she and I will always feel fear and will always have doubts. I also know that we can not allow those fears and doubts to cripple us or to corrupt our ambitions. No, it is not easy to push past those feelings, sometimes it feels like you are just swimming against the tide and as soon as you stop fighting you will drown. But you won’t. When you stop fighting and just go with the flow, keeping your head above water will be easier.

May 8, 2010

Your’s Is Not To Reason Y.

I had a conversation with someone yesterday, the implications of which have been raging around in my head since. I was talking with another attorney in solo-practice (Y). Y has been practicing for many years, we just met recently and he thinks he knows how, if at all, I should have started my practice. He doesn’t.

I called Y to ask one question I was sure he would have the answer to, he didn’t. But he had a lot of other things to say or “teach” me. During that one hour conversation, he advised me that I should not have started my own practice without having gotten “experience” first. I should have worked for someone else or a firm and “learned” the business so to speak. But, if I were going to start a practice without such “experience” I should have started off with “closings, wills, contracts” and such, but certainty not civil litigation.

When I responded with my record so far in civil court-housing part, immigration court and my successes in employment law and other general civil matters, he was decidedly unimpressed and in fact stated that neither landlord/tenant nor immigration law rose to the level of “real civil litigation— his area of expertise.

He then focused on the question for which I called him. It concerned a recent case of mine involving my representation of a large group of shareholders in a cooperation matter. Y told me among other things, that clients are generally liars, ignorant, and that my clients in particular, are very litigious. I told Y that I did not agree with him and that I did not come to this place the same way he did. That I believed something different and that he and I were on a different path. At the end of the conversation, he said “we believe the same things and we are a lot alike.”

When I got off the phone, I felt really sad. That sadness turned to anger and that anger soon became indignation. Y was clearly troubled or perhaps insulted by what he seemed to perceived as insolence, arrogance and audacity.

I don’t remember when the training wheels came off my bicycle. I don’t recall who taught me how to ride or if I taught myself. I know that when my tires got a flat, someone would help me fix it or get it fixed. I also know that if I ever fell off, no one would tell me I couldn’t ride or to stop riding.

When I decided to change careers and become a lawyer, my first goals were to get in & then out of law school with my sanity and personal life in tact. I did that. I graduated into an economic tsunami that transformed my student loans into a subprime mortgage. With each new day, week and month, my confidence in finding a job, much less the “right one” decreased exponentially with every new cover letter and “selling myself” became a conquest of will.

I made the decision to start my own practice on the autumn equinox. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I will never regret it. And by any reasonable standard it is, so far, a success. The secret of my success is not just my audacity, of which I am not ashamed. My secret lies in the other people who believe in me, the ones I trust and know I can always call for help and to keep me going.

I have no delusions about the difficulties I face in maintaining this practice. And, not a day goes by when I don’t doubt some decision I make in a case or feel some anxiety about some thing or another.

But, if my practice closes it will not be because I should not have opened or because I should have somehow obtained more “experience” or should have started with “simple” things. If I fail, it will be because I stopped believing.

April 23, 2010

The Secret of My Success...

I was asked for some advice recently. “So CJ, what’s your secret . . . ?” The person asking me the question (hereafter known as Mr. X) was an attorney working at a large and prestigious law firm for more than five years and earning a good deal of money. X wanted to know what my “secret” was to starting my own practice and “making it work” meaning, why hasn’t it closed yet?

Mr. X was unhappy. He felt stuck in a job where he had little if any chance of advancement, very long, tedious hours and was in a constant state of competition and worry about his job security.

However, despite his unhappiness and dread, X was more uncomfortable with the idea of starting over or worse, losing “everything.”

During our conversation it also became clear that it wasn’t my “secret” that he was interested in. He wanted to know which book I read and/or which career guru I listened to. X wanted “the secret,” the “inside information” — the sure thing that would launch him into his own firm where he would immediately match or exceed his current income. Well, I hadn’t read such a book and didn’t know anyone with such a “secret.” Should I ever come across such a treasure however, I will certainly share it, but with only those of you who read my blog.

In an effort to make X feel better, I quoted Deepak Chopra and evoked the sacred and ancient art of “Foonbergism.” I was not successful. He went back to work and made me pay the check for lunch.

March 21, 2010

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY, IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE. NO! ITS GENERAL SOLO!

A few weeks ago, I saw an attorney in housing court make a motion that was nothing short of heroic. The case involved the attempted eviction a woman from the rent controlled apartment that had been her home for decades because her son was smoking marijuana outside her building. In that case, our hero leapt to the rescue with an order to show cause, a lightening bolt motion to dismiss and a sonic rage that just shattered the teeth of the Hydra known as “zero tolerance.”

My friend Tom Griffin, is one of my favorite unmasked avengers. As many of you know, he co/founded a free medical clinic— “The Lamp for Haiti” several years ago in Port-Au-Prince. Tom continues to work tirelessly for the people of Haiti while maintaining his own immigration law partnership in Philadelphia. And, as many of you know, my partner and I are hosting our second fund-raiser for that clinic this Saturday. (Please feel free to contact me if you would like to attend. The $100 donation is tax deductible). Before The Lamp, Tom utilized his power and risked his life to investigate, uncover and make public the atrocities in Haiti following the overthrow of the Aristide government.

Now I can’t be, nor do I need to be, Tom Griffin. But I can use my power for good.
I won asylum for a man who was being persecuted because he was gay— if he had been deported he may have been killed. I stopped another man from being evicted from the apartment he shared with his partner after that partner, the lease-holder died.

I have also negotiated settlements between cats and dogs, won amnesty for an aged wild turkey and successfully argued for the release of one unlawfully detained sea bass from the east river.

And, on a recent Sunday afternoon I was called into action again. In this case, I received a phone call from one of my small business owner clients who needed some immediate emergency legal counsel. I could have tried to resolve the issues remotely, but no, I grabbed my cape, jumped in the elevator and was on the scene within minutes. A short time thereafter, order, peace and limited liability were restored.

So be forewarned all ye tortfeasors, transgressors and those intent on malice,
where there is violation, breach, trespass or other injustice,
General Solo will not be far
with my yellow pad, fountain pen and the CPLR!

February 25, 2010

We Are The Lamp For Haiti

Friends, my partner and I will be hosting a fund-raiser on Saturday March 27, 2010 @ 7:00 PM in Manhattan for a truly righteous organization— “The Lamp for Haiti.” The Lamp is a free medical clinic and community resource center in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti co/founded by a very dear friend of mine— Tom Griffin. Tom is also a partner in an immigration practice in Philadelphia. See below link to a recently published front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about him and the Lamp.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/82768327.html?page=1&c=y

Believe me when I say, that for several years Tom and The Lamp have been doing amazing work on a daily basis in one of the most forsaken and devastated parts of the world— Cite Soleil in Port-Au-Prince.

We hosted a similar fund-raiser in 2008 in response to the floods that almost wiped out that city. The recent earthquake compels us to respond again. Now, I am also asking my legal community for support.

The donation is $100 per person and is tax deductible.

Tom and members of the board will also be there to answer questions and give us a first hand account of the current conditions. There will also be a silent auction with original art directly from Haiti and a raffle.

The event will be catered (for the 2nd time) by “Table Tales” (http://www.tabletales.com/cafe.html), which is an absolutely fabulous restaurant downtown owned and operated by my good friend Grace Clerihew. Not only is the food simply marvelous, the prices are as well. You will also feel like you are in your living room with good friends sharing a wonderful evening. Grace will most likely come over to your table to make sure your lamb and shrimp bisque are just right. Please make a reservation soon.

My other good friend, Chris Cooper will be donating an amazing chocolate and wine experience.

Please let me know if you can attend and send me your email address. I will then send you an evite with the event details. When you receive the evite please RSVP and send me a check to the address on the invitation made payable to “The Lamp for Haiti.”

Thank you very much.

A Solo’s Morning “To Do” List.

Rise and shine. Pet the dog.
Make the coffee, according to my partner, before I am a barrister, I am a barista.
Get dressed — office casual— great.
Walk the dog.
Take a few minutes to look at and smell those things in the neighborhood that were never really fully appreciated.

Go to office.
Check PDA calender, no appointments or court appearances today— great.
Check wall calender, confirm no appointments— great.
Make list of things to do today.

1. Research employee/independent contractor
2. Research elements for withholding & CAT filing
3. Make misc. calls
4. Phone conference with client
5. Draft complaint
6. Check out electronic filing (find instructions, passwords, access codes)

Organize case files on desk to correspond to “to do” list.
Find post-it on bulletin board — reminder! Forgot, good grief!
Add to list.

Pet Dog.
Decide dogs teeth should be brushed.
Add to list.

Answer phone call from mom, spend 30 minutes discussing Rachel Maddow, the Olympics, the state of health care, the state of her health, the dog’s health, the health of everyone we know.

Answer door for mail delivery.
Give postman legal advice for 10 minutes.

Answer phone call confirming appointment for root canal— great.
Add to list.

Answer phone call from client, spend 20 minutes explaining why “we can’t just not mention that to the judge.”

Answer second phone call from mom, discuss why I am "always in a rush to get off the phone" and everything else under the sun for 15 minutes.

Redo list, this time on index card with Sharpie marker.

Answer phone call from FED-EX, listen to 10 minute explanation as to why my overnight package didn’t get delivered overnight or over two days.

Pet the dog.
Brush dog’s teeth.

Tear up list.


January 31, 2010

May It Please the Court. Indeed It Does.

One of the best things for me about 2008 was graduating from law school and getting to shake hands with the most Honorable Judge Judith Kaye. To say she is a role model of mine is an understatement. Standing on the stage with her for those brief few seconds made that day even more remarkable and unforgettable for me.

During my career in the federal court in the Eastern District of New York, I observed, appeared before and got to know countless state and federal magistrates and judges. Regardless of the judicial decisions in the respective cases, sometimes my experience with some members of the bench was disappointing at best. I am sure you know what I mean and have all had similar or worst experiences at some point.

But the judges who have had the most impact on me and who I will never forget are not just the ones who I thought made the correct and just decisions, but the ones who were clearly seeking to administer Justice. I believe great judges are not the ones who make decisions or pronounce sentences based solely on some arbitrary or circumstantially irrelevant theory of crime and punishment, or worse, judges who have been socially segregated from society for decades who decide the rights of other’s based on what they believe “society is willing to accept.”

On the contrary, I have seen and worked with judges who overcame the inertia of our justice system and struggled with their own moral compass to arrive at a place where they could render decisions and pass judgments that although not always infallible, aimed to be righteous. Those judges, especially Judge Kaye, I believe are great and they will always inspire me.

This month I had the pleasure of attending two induction ceremonies for newly elected New York County civil court judges. When I received the first invitation I was very surprised and honored. I, especially as a new attorney, was delighted that another attorney, now judge, remembered meeting me, some two months earlier, looked up my address and sent me an invitation to her induction.

When I met both of these judicial candidates, I knew that they were remarkable women. I knew that they were the kind of attorneys I wanted to be like and the kind of judges I would want to appear before. They were both very “real” and grounded people who I believe appreciate the often ethereal relationship between the law and justice. I also sensed that no matter how long they sat on the bench, they would still “be a part of” the society they were judging. And my feelings and opinions were more than validated by the statements of the many family, friends and politicians who spoke at their respective ceremonies.

I have often thought of Judge Kaye and how sad I was when she retired last year. Whether there will be another like her remains to be seen. But after the second induction ceremony, I had only two thoughts, “The state of New York and especially New York County has some amazing judges” and “I am so proud to be a part of the New York State Bar.”

January 15, 2010

General Solos Do It Faster and Better.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things I have discovered since I started my firm is— adobe acrobat. As a new attorney with a general solo practice, I endeavor to be more like the adobe acrobat professional— practical and intuitive with the power to transform and adapt to changing needs and programs.

In addition to the law, I love tools— especially power tools. I love that feeling I get when I am working on some new project and realize that I have just the right tool for the job— that will make it easier and get it done right the first time. That reminds me of something a good friend said the first time he came into my office, “this is a place where things get done. One way or another, they get done!” He was no doubt moved by the juxtaposition of my fabulous all-in-one copier and my equally fabulous craftsman Laser Trac miter saw. Yes, I can fax, pdf and frame out a door way in the same office!

The other day I found myself desperate for a certain immigration form that had to be completed and filed STAT. It also had to be signed by myself and my client. Enter my AAP. Using my adobe acrobat professional I was able to download, complete via type, sign & send the form to my client for him to sign and return to me via fax in less than 20 minutes! While I waited for him to send it back, I used my Dremel to change and refit the door nob and lock on my office door.

On another occasion I needed to format and print a litigation cover (blue back). Two months ago I spend what felt like days trying to figure out how to properly align Blumburg forms for printing. Those days are gone. Now I simply scan, convert, type and— voilá!

Being a general solo can be very nerve-racking, tiring, scary and overwhelming, but with the right tools, it can also be made simpler and even fun.

FYI, my Potluck Legal Network is still accepting new members for 2010, please feel free to contact me if you would like to join the group. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month to eat, drink, socialize and network. Thanks and happy new year.