Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thought I'd briefly blog about the interrum progress:

Finished the prepatory videos the week before last.  The last item remaining before I could take cases is an orientation, which was supposed to be automatically arranged at the conflict administator's convenience at some later date.  Of course, no orientation appointment was arranged until I called and called until someone finally made one late last week.   And then the administrator wasn't able to be there, so some assistant gave me a rudimentary overview.  Bottom line:  I can now receive cases.   The other bottom line:  this conflict panel pays as you go, meaning you don't have to wait until the case is finished before you get paid like you might in other panels.

Unfortunately, the panel had no cases available for me in the couple of days leading up to Christmas, which was ok.  I had to do a bunch of stuff for various family gatherings anyway.  Plus, we had a lot of work to prepare for the "launch party".

The Launch Party is, apparently, a staple among emerging city lawyers.  It is not unlike Vorenius' launch party in the Rome HBO series.  We put together a bunch of food and invited a bunch of friends, family, etc. to celebrate what is still, to me, terrifying.  Of course, most of the people we know are career public defenders, so optimism for me was, shall we say, guarded.  Another issue with the launch party was that most of the attendees were more properly characterized as my girlfriends' friends than my friends.  In reality, it was better characterized as my girlfriend's holiday party.

No matter.  I have launched this ship and there is no turning back, especially in this economy.  Fortuna, bring me success!

Monday, December 14, 2009

As an update to you, I am still watching these interminable videos.  I was sick on Friday and missed videos on that day. And, while still sick today, I must get through these videos and start getting cases. 

So, my girlfriend and I met with some of her out-of-town friends this weekend.  One is a current conflict public defender--a county office handling conflict cases (just like the public defender's office).  I imagine the following scene will be recreated en absurdum in the foreseeable future:

friend:  So, you bought a nice desk, huh?
Me:     Yeah.  I like it.
friend:  Does that make you feel like a real attorney?  Does that make your office seem more "lawyerly"?
Me:     Fuck off.

Anyway, one of the ongoing problems of moving from public defender to private attorney is the constant attack on one's motivations.  Namely, it is the assumption that it is an extreme expression of "lawyerly" narcissism.  So, every move you make will be seen in that light, including trying to buy furniture that is going to last because you don't have a county/state agency to replace broken shit every year. 

No one will assume that you're now a private attorney because you'd like to have the freedom to handle your cases the way you see fit, without the oversight of an extremely stodgy and conservative public defender's office.  Or, maybe you'd like to have fewer cases because, in this day of massive budget cuts, you feel that case loads are such that you are not spending adequate time on your clients' cases. No, they will not assume these things.  They will ALWAYS assume that you are now in it for the money, wine parties, and fancy schmancy smoozing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I'll tell you what I've done to prepare for private practice.  Since I am most familiar with criminal defense, I shall continue to pursue criminal defense in the private world.  Thankfully, since criminal defense is constitutionally mandated, many opportunities are available.  There are a variety of panels, for instance.  In most counties, there are panels of attorneys who handle conflict cases; cases that the public defender has a conflict with.  There are also sometimes panels for 2nd or even 3rd level conflicts. There are panels for appeals work.  And there are panels who handle parole work.  One thing you should know is that each county organizes the panel differently, so you should find a local attorney to work out how one applies for panel work.  For example, in El Dorado County, there is a panel of a handful of independent contractor attorneys handing conflict cases for a set amount of money per year.  In Placer County, there is a private conflict firm who handles conflict cases for a set yearly rate.  In Sacramento County, there is a loosely organized panel of independent attorneys who earn as they go, but there is no apparent limitation of panel membership.  So, as you can see, it takes research. 

My county is like the third; a loosely organized panel of independent contractors with no membership limitation.  I am told that it will be enough to get by while I build the private portion of my practice.  Of course, I am lucky because I do not have any immediate financial concerns, such as dependents or immediately due debts (other than college loans).  However, even if I did, I would want to get on the panel immediately.

Be forewarned:  getting on any panel takes time, no matter where you go, so plan accordingly.  Knowing this, I applied for the panel long before I quit my job, and even then the transition has NOT been seemless.  There are always hidden requirements that one must have in place before taking cases.  For example, I was told that I have to watch a "few" training videos before I can start taking cases.  I thought a weekend of video watching.  It turned out to be 48 solid hours of videos.  And you can't watch them 24 hours a day at home; you have to watch them at the panel offices so they can be sure that you watched them.  Hmph. 

Also, getting a quote on malpractice insurance is a surprisingly long process.  I erroneously thought it would take a day or two to get one.  Oh no.  It took two weeks just to get a quote.  Check with a number of different lenders because rates may vary dramatically.  A little patience will pay dividends.  I was able to save hundreds of dollars as a result. You will find, though, that they are completely unsympathetic to the need to get a quote immediately.  You will just wait, maybe longer.

Office space is often a requirement to take panel work.  Initially, I had hoped to work from home and rent access to a conference room from time to time.  The panel requires an office address.  I assume you can find someone who will share space with you, but in the admittedly poor research I've done, it is often more pricey than getting your own tiny office.  The reason for that is they often want you to pay for a portion of their overhead as well, which is something you must avoid at all costs and probably don't need.  Thanks to the market downturn, I found a place with a reasonable rate close to court.  And, moreover, it is slowly becoming my manspace, which is indeed a benefit when you have moved in with your girlfriend, as I have done.

The real problem, at this point, is that I'm spending my entire day trying to comply with the panel requirements.  As a result, I am unable to take private cases.  And, thanks to previous contacts, I have some potential cases coming in that I just don't have time to take right now.  This video watching has seriously consumed an entire week and half, not to mention the problem with finding office space, furniture, and insurance.

A note on furniture:  I am a person who cannot take shitty partical board furniture any more.  It costs a lot and does NOT last.  I know this because I have spent my career in public defender offices dealing with this crap.  Fortunately, I had saved enough money to get a nice desk and I've had a donated bookcase and table. The point I'm making here is that decent, well-made furniture is not as readily availabe as you might think.  I have spent substantial hours trying to find real wood furniture.  I tried going to a furniture store and asked where the non-particle board stuff is at, and they told me they can get it by ordering it only.  And this was a giant store.  There's some good stuff out there, you just have to spend a substantial amount of time looking for it.

So, I am nearing the end of my video watching.  Hopefully, once this is done in the next day or two, I will begin taking cases.  At which time, I hope I can describe the process.
The last post on this blog concerned my previous life as a public defender.  I started with the Public Defender in California.  Disgruntled by the pro-prosecution posture of my home county and itchy for adventure, I worked as a public defender in Fairbanks, Alaska.  There, I spent two years having a wonderful time participating in a more level playing field.  In addition, I was able to take advantage of the great things this frontier state has to offer.  And then I met a woman. She is from California.  And, last year, I returned to California, again as a public defender.  Since then, things have changed.  I have decided to go private.

Although this seems like an easy thing to do, for many reasons it is not.  And that is the purpose of this blog.  I'd like to take this opportunity to document my struggles in the hope that it will make things easier for those who follow. First, there is a certain comfort in getting a check every couple of weeks.  When you go private, you lose that.  Secondly, all that business stuff that WAS done for you, such as ordering paper, dealing with tax stuff, equipment, furniture, advertising, and *shudder* more. Third, for many who have been public defenders during their entire careers, such as myself, there is a psychological trauma in having to charge people for services rendered. In relation to that, charging for services forces a little softer touch with the clients.  Let's be honest, public defenders, with that massive case load, you are forced into a position of triageing cases.  And triage means forcing often unwanted information on clients in a very short period of time.  While I'm hoping I won't have to triage anymore, I am going to have to move away from the abrupt client handling that I've become accustomed to.

I will not talk about specific cases on this blog.  My goal is to show what you might expect from throwing out a shingle and perhaps you might avoid some of the same mistakes.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Here are a few more. There may be duplicates from previous posts, as I have lost track.

Above are some more random pics from the ferry ride. They were out of chronological order in the camera, but worth seeing. I believe that most of these are around Bellingham, WA.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Here's "the bunker", my basement apartment still in the process of being moved into and furnished.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Top is the road to Kenai from Whittier. Pictures do not do this justice.

Middle is the ferry ride from Juneau to Whittier.

Bottom are random pictures of Juneau.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Below are the Alaskan Hotel, my room at the hotel and downtown Juneau.

This is Ketchikan, I think...

Here are some pics of the trip up. They are out of order, but they'll give you a general idea of what the trip's all about. There are a number of settlements depicted along the way, mostly of Ketchikan and Juneau.