GPSolo Magazine - December 2004
Voices of Experience
What is your background, and what inspired you to become a lawyer?
My background is diverse. I worked in a dry cleaning plant during high school (before and after school), went to college for a year, and wound up being drafted. After two years in the Army, I moved to Aspen, Colorado, where I worked as a school bus driver and mechanic, then moved to the mining community of Leadville, where I worked as a concert promoter, mechanic, store manager, search-and-rescue coordinator, and emergency medical technician. As a small business manager and owner, I saw the complexity of rules that govern society as a whole and business in particular. My desire to study those rules and help others understand them inspired me to become a lawyer. Additionally, I wanted to be able to live where I wanted and earn a decent living.
What influenced your decision to pursue a general practice/solo/small firm career?
I grew up in a small rural community in south-central Florida, an area of orange groves and cattle ranches. My father was a self-employed sign painter, so my early experience did not include family members who worked outside the family business. The small-town, small-firm setting fits my background. When I enrolled in law school, I knew that I wanted to return to a small community after graduation, so I went to the University of Montana, where the emphasis was on practical skills and the school’s mission was to produce general practitioners who could provide legal services in small communities. Besides, I had never lived in a large city and was looking for the smallest law school in the smallest community (preferably in the West) that I could find.
How proficient would you rate yourself in the use and integration of technology into your practice (5-1, 5 = nerd, 1 = novice)?
5+ (high-tech country lawyer geek).
What changes has the use of technology brought to law practice in general, for better or worse?
Solos and small firm lawyers can now handle larger matters or a larger number of small matters. Fundamentally, lawyers process information, and our “deliverable” is information. Our clients bring us information, to which we add information from research, colleagues, and experience. We deliver information when we produce a contract or conduct a trial. Technology enables lawyers to process information and practice law more efficiently.
What early lawyer experiences have helped you in your career?
I can readily think of three. The first would be bar association involvement. I strongly believe that the best marketing any young lawyer can do is to other lawyers. The best way to become known among other lawyers is through local, state, and national bar associations.
Second, I pursued all opportunities to teach. Whether teaching a class in a local high school or community college, the benefits to you as a lawyer are significant. The opportunity to stand and deliver before any audience builds skill and confidence. As a small-town lawyer, I see one of my primary duties as educating clients so that they can make informed decisions. The skills learned teaching classes transfer well to teaching clients.
Finally, as a young lawyer I was told by an older lawyer that I was not entitled to any breaks or courtesies because I was new, and that in fact he intended to take advantage of my inexperience. I promised myself and others that I would never do this; I have kept this promise.
Do you have any concerns about the proliferation and expansion of technology in the practice of law?
Yes, it is happening too slowly. I am appalled by the gulf between techno-enabled lawyers and non-techno-enabled lawyers. The quality and value of legal services delivered by non-tech lawyers will continue to degrade in comparison to techno-enabled lawyers. This in turn will produce dissatisfied clients and further damage to the reputation of lawyers as a whole.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
William F. “Duke” Crowley, one of the professors at the University of Montana School of Law, imparted general knowledge on the subjects he taught, but his most sage advice was: (1) Get the money up front, and (2) Sometimes your clients will not tell you the truth.
What can the ABA and/or GP Section do to be a good home to young lawyers in the electronic age?
Provide information and resources that help lawyers keep pace with the continuous evolution in the way we practice law. In the electronic age the pace of this evolution has and will continue to increase as new technologies emerge, are adapted to the practice of law, and become elements of the standard of care owed to our clients.
What technological advance or purchase has made the biggest positive change in your practice and why?
The ability to easily convert paper documents to digital images using a scanner and Adobe Acrobat has resulted in a virtually paperless office that is easy to work in and easy to share with others.
What advice would you give young lawyers?
• Appreciate the value of technology to process information.
• Have a working understanding of the technology that you use in your practice. You would not drive a car without knowing how to change a flat tire.
• You will not succeed if you try to avoid hard work.
• Teach whenever you can. If you can teach another lawyer to do something, you will both be better as a result.
• There is no job description for the solo, small firm, or general practice lawyer. You must be willing to do whatever needs to be done.