Wednesday, March 28, 2007

maybe this will help

On Monday I met with a woman from the Professional Liability Fund, an organization that provides malpractice insurance to attorneys in Oregon. Because the PLF will have to pay up if you fuck up, they are in the business of helping you NOT fuck up.

For an hour and a half, a very nice woman handed me page after page and pamphlet after pamphlet, explaining all the ins and outs of starting my own practice. She gave me all the info I was allowed to have before I'm admitted to the bar -- and it's a lot of info. Once I have a bar number, I'll have access to more.

There's just so much to consider. For starters, all the different office possibilities: entirely from home, rented office space, office-shares, office time-shares, rented conference rooms, etc, etc. Or the more complicated issue of taxes -- I have to decide whether to operate as a sole proprieter or to create some type of business entity (like a professional corporation) -- the tax ramifications will be different for each. Not to mention, depending on where I do business and where I have my offices, I will have various state and local taxes to contend with. The PLF lady advised me to "buy an hour from a CPA and ask some questions."

Wow. I took tax classes and business associations classes, but this stuff is so complicated I have to talk to an accountant. That sucks.

I learned one surprising thing from both the PLF lady and also from Shelley (a blogger and solo practitioner who took me to lunch last week and gave me some helpful advice) -- one thing that shifts a lot of my assumptions. I learned that your clients won't respect you if you don't charge much money.

I have long imagined myself becoming something of a "people's lawyer" -- charging affordable rates, meeting with people on their own turf, dressing down a little. I planned to work with lower income clients and I foolishly assumed that what holds true in social work would hold true in a lawyer-client relationship. In social work, especially with homeless clients, you don't want the difference between the way your staff looks to be to wildly different from the way your clients look. We dress down to make our homeless clients feel more comfortable.

Well, I see now that I have been wrong. People who hire a lawyer are expecting a particular kind of experience. They are expecting it to cost a lot and they are expecting their lawyer to fit a certain profile. Basically, people are *expecting* a status differential with their lawyer. They expect a certain level of polish and professionalism and if they sense that these things are missing, they'll start thinking you probably suck.

Both the PLF lady and Shelley confirmed: if you charge less than the going rate for services, your clients will treat you like crap. That's an eye-opener. And it sucks.

So, I'm reevaluating my strategy. To that end, I picked up a copy of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society from work where the most random assortment of paperback books seem to amass, free for the taking. Leaving aside the irony of finding a book about affluence in a homeless shelter, I'm hoping this book will help me understand affluence from a different perspective. Until I do, I will keep behaving "poor" and I will keep *being* poor.

Already I'm riveted by something on page two: "So great has been the change [between true poverty and what we have in America now] that many of the desires of the individual are no longer even evident to him. They become so only as they are synthesized, elaborated and nurtured by advertising and salesmanship, and these, in turn, have become among our most important and talented professions. Few people at the beginning of the nineteenth century needed an adman to tell them what they wanted."

Wow. Ain't that the truth. We'll see if understanding affluence helps me with the professional-lawyer persona I will have to create in order to successfully build my practice. That and a good suit. And a new pair of shoes.

(P.S. Don't worry, SK. I'm reading The Lost first, then I'll read The Affluent Society.)


Post a Comment

<< Home