Shop’s Open

Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in 1993, Attorney, author, Business, Entertainment Law, fashion designer, filmmaker, Law Practice, Lawyer, motorcycle shops, Music, Music Business, restaurants

My sister likes to use this phrase to describe her side business selling used merchandise on eBay.  But, not enough attorneys think of themselves as a shop.  Some lawyers limit the scope of their practice to eliminate too much of what they’re capable of doing, or to find that their interests don’t really reflect the marketplace.  While other attorneys take on every case that comes through the front door and do not put much thought into how to build a practice with this scattered approach.  The former focusses only on what you want to do to the exclusion of what areas of law the locality can support, and the latter can end up getting a lawyer into a lot of trouble as they find that they cannot possibly adequately represent all clients and/or all client’s needs.

I worked for many years in the music business, both locally in Burlington, VT, and in New York City and Boston.  I knew that I was going to always be interested in helping clients in the entertainment world when I moved to Vermont.  But, I also knew that there was no way to that I was going to be able to cover my expenses, let alone make a living, by focussing entirely on entertainment law.  I truly enjoyed the trademarks, copyright, and trade secret classes that I took at Seton Hall.  So, I knew that I would also be able to help some clients in those areas.  But, I would also be competing with some accomplished firms in the process.  That’s when I realized that I could bridge the gap between the startups and established companies by meeting with the IP groups at some of those firms and asking for referrals for those that couldn’t afford the fees those firms charge.  After I opened shop, however, it became clear that these practice areas were not going to be sufficient for a small firm to survive.

Since my junior year at the University of Vermont, I have owned a few of my own small businesses.  The first business was a DJ outfit, doing weddings and parties.  Then Club Toast opened in 1993, during which time I also managed a couple local bands, Wide Wail and the Pants.  After those bands broke up, and Toast closed, I continued working with recording artists, briefly managing Ryan Leslie, Shaggy, Maxi Priest, and Billy Ocean.  So, I have always been aware of the trials of starting and operating a small business, and have used those experiences to advise clients in small business practices from startup to insurance, and in contract negotiating and drafting.

My small business practice has been a nice addition to the intellectual property and entertainment practice, because all of these areas have a great deal of crossover as to what skills are implicated.  Musicians, filmmakers, and authors have to be able to operate their small businesses in order to be successful, just the same as motorcycle shops, restaurants, and fashion designers.

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Startup Debt

Posted by on Sep 16, 2012 in Business, Government Agency, Law Practice

One of the biggest challenges to starting any small business is to keep the opening costs low, while also ensuring that you aren’t constantly looking for places to borrow the tools necessary to properly operate your business.  A law firm is no different.

When starting a law firm perhaps the biggest potential pitfall lies in developing a legal library.  You can spend thousands of dollars on any single subject and still have numerous subjects to cover.  Many local and state bar associations have extensive law libraries, or at least have low cost legal research services available for members.  When I was in New York City, I used the NYC Bar Association Library numerous times to conduct research.  But, I was not able to find anything close to that resource here in Vermont.  Luckily, the Vermont Bar Association makes up for that fact by offering a great inexpensive online legal research service through Casemaker.

Members of the Vermont Bar are also much more collegial than those in NYC.  So, a lawyer new to Vermont practice can be assured that if he were to reach out to his colleagues he can obtain some guidance.  Additionally, if you are in need of confirmation, or at least obtain greater understanding, of a mechanism of procedural law or govermnental regulation you can usually get someone on the phone at all levels of government, and they are almost always willing to answer any questions.  This was perhaps the biggest difference that I experienced between New York and Vermont practice.  These resources are worth their weight in gold, and will save any new Vermont practitioner much money and time.

The worst thing any new solo can do is to spend themselves into such a deficit that they will never be able to climb out of that debt hole.  If you are in a similar position as I was starting out, and have little in the way of contacts and few existing clients, you won’t be bringing in enough money to pay your rent, your credit card bills, and yourself.  One or two of these areas will suffer.  Thus, it’s absolutely necessary that you keep the credit card bills to a minimum.  I searched for credit card deals where I could buy equipment interest free for 18 months or more.  Since opening up shop, I have paid as much as I could towards these cards such that they will be paid off by the time interest can be accrued.  In my case, I also have not been able to pay myself a salary in this first year either.  How have I made it without pay?  A lot of help from my family.  So, make sure you’re significant other has an understanding of the sacrifices you will have to make, and make sure that everyone who can help you pay your bills is willing to do so.

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Now What?

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 in 2011, Attorney, Business, Job Search, Law Practice, Live Music, Music, Music Business

I am a Vermonter. I was born in Vermont, was raised in Vermont, and mostly lived in Vermont until I was thirty three years old. I owned a very high profile business in Burlington for almost six years. That business was Club Toast, a live music venue on lower Church Street. I know a ton of people throughout the Green Mountain State. However, very few of those people are attorneys, and even fewer were in a position to make a difference in my efforts to obtain legal employment.

Over the course of the summer of 2011 I met with numerous law firm partners, agency heads, and associates in an effort to find a job. I sent out resumes for every single local posting, ranging from St. Albans to Brattleboro. My networking efforts and resume barrage led to three interviews and zero offers. After all of the effort that I put into passing the bar and networking I had to take a step that I had never thought I would have to take. I was going to have to put out my own shingle.

Having run my own businesses, I understood the dynamics and sacrifices ahead. The successful small business doesn’t overdo it. Money is tight in the beginning, and it is easy to spend way more than you should. The easiest way to sink an upstart enterprise is to saddle it with rent that is too high. At first I thought that I had to be in my former hometown of Burlington, and my heart wanted to be in Brattleboro with my family. But, a old friend said that I should check out Winooski – the Brooklyn of Burlington.

Winooski has been transformed since I left the area in 1999, with numerous restaurants and  high end condominiums and apartments. Still, office space is not easy to come by. One morning I saw an add for space in the Woolen Mill on West Canal Street. I had a budget of $650 a month, and this unit was twice the size of anything in Burlington for $525. It even included free gated parking. The building is an old factory, and the office retained the loft appearance of my apartment back in Jersey City. I put a deposit down the next day.

I searched for and found some attractive used furniture in need of a little TLC, and furnished my office with two chairs for clients, a great desk for me, and a large wooden filing cabinet for less than $500. I already had a computer, bought a low cost printer on sale, and used a bunch of my own pictures to decorate the walls. I also bought a automatic drip coffee maker, a small fridge, and spent a bunch at Staples. I planned to spend less than $5,000 to open. I ended up spending just over that amount. The office opened in November 2011.

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Once You Pass…

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 in 2004, 2010, Bar Exam, Criminal Defense, Job Search

I sat for the Vermont Bar Exam over a few hot days at the end of July 2010. I had used the allotted time on every portion of the exam, and I was terrified. In 2004 I had the opposite feeling as I left the exam facility nearly two hours early for both MBE sessions, and a half hour early for the essay sessions. Had I needed the entire time allotment because I was underprepared? It wouldn’t be until mid September until I found out if my 140 plan had worked out.

I tried not to think about the results, and started to plan for a new study plan to tackle the February bar exam. This time I was going to add a month at the beginning of my study schedule and would not put in less than twelve hours a day, seven days a week. By the time the envelope arrived, I had convinced myself that I had not passed. A fact further buttressed by the regular sized envelope in my hand. When I had passed in New York and New Jersey they had sent an entire admission package. Surely Vermont would be similar. I opened the envelope. Read the results. And yelled to Nicole, “I PASSED”! As I had planned, I had scored 140 on the MBE and 140 on the essay portion. Unbelievable.

In Vermont, when you have to take the bar exam to be admitted, you also have to complete a three month clerkship with a practicing Vermont attorney, or with a sitting judge. The search for a clerkship can be as frustrating as a job search. This frustration is only compounded by the fact that you do not have to be paid for this clerkship, so you’re offering your services for free to people who cannot be bothered with the responsibility of having to supervise someone. I started my search once I found out about my passage of the bar. It wasn’t until December 2010, after having sent out well over fifty resumes, that I actually secured a clerkship with Dan Davis in Brattleboro.

Initially, I had reservations about clerking for Dan. His practice was nearly solely criminal defense, and I had never seen myself as a courtroom lawyer. My to my surprise, I learned more about the actual practice of law during my three months with Dan Davis than I did over almost five years working for big firms in New York City. But, the most important thing that I learned was that I enjoyed criminal defense and had good instincts for the work. I truly did not want to leave Dan’s office at the end of my clerkship, but Dan didn’t want to work the kind of hours it would take to support the two of us. So, my job search began anew.

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Studying for the Bar

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 in 2010, Bar Exam

Most of those taking the Vermont Bar Exam appear to be split into two populations; recent Vermont Law School grads and those out of staters recently hired by Vermont firms. I knew that the VLS grads probably already had study groups, and the recent hires would likely be studying alone after work hours, so I was left to place a Craigslist ad looking for a study partner. No one answered the ad. But, my good friend Clarence Davis had clerked for the bar and had never taken the exam, so he offered to join me in \ pursuit of passage.

There is an art to studying for the bar exam. No one cares what your score was. They only want to know if you passed. There is a tension between this reality and the fear of not passing that can lead you to study too much. Such was the case in 2004, when I spent roughly fourteen hours a day from ten days after graduation from law school until two days before the bar exam. All the hours paid off in very hgih scores across the board. While this was one recipe for success, it was not one I could follow and still have time to share with my family. A score of 140 on both the Multistate Bar Exam and the essay portion would be sufficient to pass, so I endeavored to devise a plan that would yield such a result.

Studying for the Multistate Bar Exam prepares you for the vast majority of what you need to know in order to pass many of the essays on the Vermont Bar Exam. However, there are still enough distinctions and areas of law tested on the Vermont Bar Exam that require you to expand upon the basic Multistate curriculum. No one has enough time, nor do most have the memory, to study and memorize all of the potential areas of the law that the exam may test. The approach that I applied to determine what additional areas to focus on was to calculate what areas Vermont most often tested for, identify what areas had been tested over the last five years, and to formulate a plan based on the probability of certain areas to be tested. I added those areas to the stack of Multistate subjects and commenced outlining.

Starting in April 2010, I spent 6 hours a day over four day weeks outlining. I completed that project at the end of May. By June First I expanded my study week to five days a week, and spent my time whittling down my outlines and taking practice MBE’s. Clarence outlined and studied on his own over this span and joined me on July First. On that day, our schedule expanded to seven eight hour days initially, and then to twelve hour days the final ten days before the exam. Those days were filled with going over our outlines and taking both MBE and Vermont essay practice exams. I felt prepared for the MBE when I was consistently scoring over 67% on my practice exams.

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So It Begins…

Posted by on Nov 1, 2011 in 2004, 2009, 2010, Attorney, Bar Exam, Entertainment Law, Job Search, Law Practice, Lawyer, Music Business

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

After passing the bar exam in New York and New Jersey in 2004, my legal profession floundered to a certain degree. Prior to attending Seton Hall School of Law I had an eighteen year career in the music business and intended on practicing entertainment law. However, much to my surprise, the music industry failed to respond to the internet threat in a productive way and thus experienced unprecedented market erosion. As a result, my job prospects dwindled to near nil. I bounced around a couple firms, supplemented my income with temp work, and even tried to forge my own way. But, regular income and a consistent source of clients was elusive.

In the late winter of 2009, after my most recent layoff and the birth of my daughter Thalia, my wife and I decided to explore a move back to Vermont. By July of that year we had found a position for Nicole as Dean of Admissions at Marlboro College, and had moved to Brattleboro, Vermont. The only remaining hurdles were to find daycare for Thalia and a job for me.

As out of work New York and Boston lawyers looked north to the Green Mountain State for opportunities and after months of a fruitless pursuit, I determined that I should obtain a Vermont license to practice law in order to improve my marketability. There was only one hitch. My most recent layoff left me five months short of the five years of practice necessary to waive in to the Vermont Bar. So, I had to take and pass the Vermont Bar Exam.

I had already taken, and passed, the New York and New Jersey Bar Exams. So, I knew how to study for and pass a bar exam. But, it had been six years since my last exam, and I had a study group of former law school classmates to keep me honest. It was December 2009, Thalia had just started daycare, and I had to determine when and how to study for this exam.

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