Dear members of the Real Property Law Section,
We hope that you all had a truly blessed holiday season with family and loved ones, and hope you enjoyed some rest from your busy law practices. We want to remind you to renew your membership in the Real Property Law Section (RPLS) of the California Lawyers Association for next year! Recall that many of you may not receive your individual 2019 State Bar dues statement, as many organizations, agencies and law firms are now receiving and paying their attorneys’ State Bar dues through on line “agency billing.” As such, if you wish to continue your enrollment in the RPLS for 2019, it is important that you affirmatively advise your firm administrator or agency biller of your request to continue as a RPLS member. Further, given the additional benefits membership in the CLA which RPLS provides, now is the perfect time to encourage attorneys in your network who may not be current RPLS members to enroll in our Section for 2019! Here is the new member sign up link for CLA: https://calawyers.org/Join-Us
As a reminder of all of the value that the Real Property Law Section provides to its members as part of the CLA, We’ve included the following link to a new CLA video featuring CLA’s President Heather Rosing, and inaugural Chair of the CLA Board of Representatives, Jim Hill: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV_2qs54was. We encourage you to view this short video and forward it to all of those interested in joining or simply learning more about the CLA.
In closing, we wish you all a prosperous and very Happy New Year! And we hope you will consider renewing your RPLS membership for 2019.
Tom Lombardi & Neil Kalin
Paul Brest Hall
555 Salvatierra Walk
Stanford, CA 94305
Earn 3.75 hours MCLE credit!
Schedule | Essential Information | Sponsors
Please join us on Thursday February 7th, 2019 for the 8th Annual REAL Symposium at Stanford Law School featuring two amazing panels and a keynote speech by the past Chair of the California Building Industry Association. You can find more information here, and you can register here.
Members on our first panel will share their expertise in navigating the challenges that arise from complex mixed use infill development projects. This panel will focus primarily on the Truckee Railyard Project, which is transforming an industrial railroad site into a blossoming downtown area with new businesses and affordable housing units. This Railyard Project was anything but smooth sailing, but through the tenacious efforts and collaborative spirit among the project developer, the City of Truckee and the State of California, the Railyard Project pushed forward despite numerous legal challenges and funding issues, including the dissolution of California Redevelopment Agencies. Our panel will shed more light on these challenges and will examine the solutions utilized to plan, preserve and expand one of California’s favorite towns.
Our second panel of industry experts will discuss Opportunity Zone investing, a community investment tool recently created under the Investing in Opportunity Act (as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in late 2017) to stimulate long-term private investment, job creation and economic development in certain designated low-income communities. By providing capital gains tax incentives, the Investing in Opportunity Act relies on private investment rather than tax payer dollars to fund development in Opportunity Zones. Our expert panel will explore the emerging investment and development opportunities presented by this cutting edge program.
We are thrilled to have the immediate past Chair of the California Building Industry Association, Jeffrey Pemstein, join us as our keynote speaker. An expert in housing and land use policy, urban planning, environmental permitting, infrastructure planning, and finance, Jeff will discuss the state of California’s housing policy and his recommendations to Governor Gavin Newsom and California Legislators concerning policies that would increase housing supply and improve affordability.
I want to welcome Ona Dosumnu, the new Executive Director of the CLA, who Roland Brandel has said is a superlative and proven leader. We are really excited to have you on board. Ona, you are going through couple of moves here in the last few months? How is the personal move going?
Thanks, J.R. I’ve settled into my new home nicely and am really enjoying Sacramento so far. Thanks to Amazon Prime, I had everything I needed to be comfortable in my apartment already delivered when I got there.
Did you move from D.C. to San Francisco and then to Sacramento?
No, I didn’t have to move twice. As some of our members may know, we just moved into CLA’s Sacramento headquarters on January 15, but we had temporary space in the same building, which we used to interview candidates and for meetings. I worked from that space, from home and one day I even worked from the office of one of our members, CLA Vice Chair, Chip Wilkins. I’m really happy for us to be moved in at the new space, though.
It sounds like you must have been living out of Airbnb’s for the last month. Has that all settled down?
I was actually pretty efficient about finding an apartment, so there wasn’t too much AirBnB’ing. That said, when I came in December to finalize my housing arrangements, I stayed in an AirBnB right around the corner from the place we ultimately rented and it was a great chance to get to know my new neighborhood.
Now, tell me about moving of the offices. What has been challenging about that move?
The move has been very exciting. Our Associate Executive Director, Tricia Horan, and her team did an extraordinary job with everything. Of course, there are still punch-list items to fix in the new space and we’re still figuring some things out but, on balance, the logistics were pretty smooth.
The really exciting part of the move was welcoming so many new team members to CLA! We spent most of Tuesday, January 15, orienting staff and getting to know one another. The positive energy and buzz was palpable and contagious.
How much of the staff is staying with the CLA?
As with so many things, it depends on how you count. Fully half of the team is new and if you count people who joined after CLA became CLA, such as Ellen Miller, and people who were temps that we decided to keep, I’m guessing that 60-75% of the team is new.
Are there unexpected costs and expenses because our infrastructure came from the state bar?
I think the key word in your question is “unexpected.” We are still getting invoices and determining what unanticipated needs we might have, so I expect there to be some such costs but as I mentioned, on balance, the move was incredibly well-managed, so I don’t expect a lot that wasn’t anticipated.
Any other move challenges?
Sure, but they’re pretty small in the scheme of things. I realized today that because my office has one glass wall, I’m going to need a headset and a white noise machine if I don’t want everyone around me to hear every call I make. (I’m pretty loud.)
Two main things were brought up when you were hired as goals: grow our membership and expand our member benefits. What are some ideas the CLA is considering to grow our membership? Are we expanding beyond attorneys?
To start, we have a lot of active, licensed attorneys in California who aren’t members yet. We also want to convert our unpaid CYLA members into paying Section members. We are taking a close look at options for structuring membership and dues. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows bar associations because many are revamping their membership approaches and options. The A.B.A., for example, will be moving from something like 157 price points to 5 price points. Our Director of Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives, Ellen Miller, has done a great deal of research on the membership structures of other bar associations around the country. Members will be hearing more about this over the coming months.
In terms of non-attorney members, we already have some. For example, some Environmental Law Section members are consultants. I would be surprised if we ever grew to have very many non-attorney members but having some individuals from related industries, like e-discovery companies, is nice.
Is it also a matter of invigorating our existing membership? What is CLA looking at to invigorate the membership?
It’s really both. I really think the new people coming in to the profession are the future of CLA, so anything we can do to engage the CYLA folks is critical. One of the key new members of my senior executive team is Tej Baath. Tej is our Director of Marketing and Membership. He has a great background in digital and online marketing. I’m confident that he’s going to be able to effectively tap in to the younger generation and meet them where they are, which is online and on social media.
For example, in our section, the real property section, the majority of our members are in the Los Angeles area, so we are trying to hold more LA-centric CLE’s and social events. Any ideas like that being considered?
I’m always a fan of social and networking events! We are exploring a variety of ways to engage members including networking and social events.
What are your most important new hires?
Great question. I have told the team that one of the most critical factors for CLA’s success is having the right people in the right positions. As I mentioned, we just onboarded 15 new team members and among the “old” staff, many have only been with CLA for a few months. Except for one new Section Coordinator, I think we’re going to pause on new hires until we’ve absorbed the people who just started this week and until we have a chance to see how everyone is working out.
What are the most pressing openings or new hires?
Everyone on the team is important and everyone contributes but the Section Coordinators are particularly critical in terms of partnering with the Sections to help them with their events, meetings and MCLE programs. And the key open position on my senior executive team was the Director of Marketing and Membership. That role has now been filled by Tej.
Who can I call when I have a complaint?
I really do want to hear from members and while I can’t promise that I can fix every complaint that’s brought to me, I can promise to try. We’re very committed to trying to get to “yes” and to having a pro-active, member-service oriented, “can-do” approach. My phone number is 916-516-1702.
I’m really curious to hear about your experiences with the Brookings Institution. I read somewhere you helped establish an overseas center for Brookings in New Delhi, India?
Yes, I did. And what an experience that was! Any members who have worked in India know it can be a quite challenging legal and cultural environment in which to do business but I also found it quite rewarding.
What were the challenges with that?
You know, you would think that because we’re both English speaking common-law countries that it should be seamless but it’s considerably different than say, working in Canada, where I’ve also set up an entity, largely because of the dramatic cultural, historical and political differences. I really love India and hope to take an extended trip to experience the country beyond New Delhi and the Taj Mahal.
Did anything from that experience change how you live or think?
That’s a profound question. I’m sure it did in many ways that I’m not even aware of. In other ways, perhaps I was better equipped for some of the cultural differences than others. I’m married to a Nigerian immigrant and traveled to Nigeria when our children were young. I’ve also spent a lot of time among Nigerians in the D.C. area. If your interactions with Nigerians tend to be with the educated elite, which is often the case— then you might expect Nigerian culture to be similar to U.S. culture but it’s not at all. That doesn’t answer your question but it does tell you a little bit about me. I really value diversity and try hard to build bridges across cultural differences. I think that’s an important skill.
What were some other rewarding projects you did at Brookings?
While it certainly wasn’t “rewarding” while we were experiencing it, I learned a great deal from Brookings being the target of two New York Times investigative journalism pieces. I learned that I’m good with “crisis communications,” that I can think beyond the immediate issue to possible long-term implications and that I can help those around me remain calm and approach things a bit more dispassionately—something that’s hard to do when you believe you’re being unfairly attacked.
You were general counsel at Brookings and are a member of the D.C. Bar, tell me about your different roles as an attorney during your career?
So I began my professional life as a real estate attorney and morphed into a transactional lawyer with an emphasis on energy-industry transactions and project finance. When I left private practice, I went to Brookings to help manage one of its research programs. While there, one thing led to another and I became Brookings’s first General Counsel. Building the legal function for the organization from the ground up and building my team was incredibly rewarding. While in-house at Brookings, I was very active and held a number of volunteer roles in the Association of Corporate Counsel, which was also quite rewarding. It also means that I know what it’s like to be a volunteer leader in a bar association. As I told the board and the search committee when they interviewed me, I’ve done pretty much everything there is to do in a bar association except run it, so the opportunity to serve the volunteer leaders of CLA as Executive Director is a career highlight!
What was or has been your favorite part of being an attorney?
My favorite part of being an attorney is working with others and helping to solve their problems.
What was or has been your most challenging part about being an attorney?
As a former “big law” transactional attorney and a former in-house lawyer, I think one of the most challenging parts of the job arose when there were no good options or when, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find a way to accomplish an objective. I think I would have a much different answer if I practiced family law or criminal law but the stakes for my clients were never life or death.
Did the D.C. Bar do anything interesting?
I think the D.C. Bar is quite interesting and I know they’re watching what’s happening in California carefully. I think there are some things that the D.C. Bar does well that we might explore--bearing in mind the differences between a city-wide unified bar and a statewide voluntary bar. One area in which the D.C. bar excels, which we might want to consider adapting for California down the line, is the resources they make available to solo and small firms to help them run their businesses.
Any stories to share on that front with people we may know about on the national front?
Funny you should ask. As it turns out, one of my outside counsel friends took me to lunch to celebrate landing the CLA Executive Director job and we saw Justice Elena Kagan as we left the restaurant. Not long after that, another friend took me to dinner to celebrate and I saw Nancy Pelosi on the way out of the restaurant.
Did you rub shoulders with Barack Obama at one point? What was that like?
To say we “rubbed shoulders” would be a stretch but he did come to give a speech at Brookings and I was in the audience. Does that count?
Where were you born and raised, D.C.?
I was actually born and spent my childhood in Michigan. I was born in a place called Muskegon and later moved to the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area, which is a lovely place to vacation in the summer and great place to be from.
Do you have other ties to California? What are they?
You’re not the first to ask what my tie to California is but the truth is that I came for CLA. I believe that the potential for CLA is so great and the chance to be part of building it so incredible that I couldn’t say no.
Tell me about your time at Howard.
Howard was a great experience. For those who may not know, Howard is an “HBCU,” which stands for “historically black college or university”. We Howard alums would say it’s the best, most prestigious and most important HBCU but of course we’re biased. I learned and grew so much during my time there. I was active in student government and got my first taste of leadership—something I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to do had I attended another university.
Who inspires you from the Howard walk of fame?
That’s an easy one—the great Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Have met people like Kamala Harris? Any stories to share?
I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Senator Kamala Harris. As a Howard Alum, I think I can nonetheless claim her as one of my own and I share Californians pride in Senator Harris.
Why journalism? Did you want to be a writer?
Doesn’t everyone want to be a writer at some point?
Actually, the truth is much less interesting (though I do dream of writing a novel one day). Parental pressure is the real answer. My mother was a housewife, a school teacher and later, after my father died, a single mother. She did an incredible job raising my three siblings and me but she wasn’t very sophisticated. I wanted to major in political science or history. She thought journalism would give me more job security. Little did she know . . .
OK, hard question here. What do you think about the state of journalism in our modern words of blogs, twitter, facebook, etc? Is there a true assault on the truth?
Wow. Another deep question. Yes. I do think there’s been an erosion of truth as a value. I think it’s related to the devaluation of expertise and the assault on institutions. I think these phenomena are all related and are all bad for democracy. Our society is too complex, fast-paced, technologically dependent and inter-dependent for us not to have a shared understanding of reality.
What inspired you about sociology in college?
Procrastination. I didn’t have a full-time, permanent job so staying in school studying a social science I enjoyed seemed like an interesting option at the time.
Undergrad or Law School, which is better? Why?
That’s a tough one. In some ways Howard had the most profound impact on me in terms of developing an international outlook, learning about Black history and culture and developing great friendships. But I owe my livelihood to Georgetown, which is where I went to law school.
So your facebook profile has you with a photo of what looks like a triathlon number on. Is that or was that a big part of your life?
I wish I could say “is but the truth is more like “was”. My last major race was the Steelhead Half-Ironman in Benton Harbor Michigan, which I finished in 2016. Since then I’ve torn my meniscus and gained a few (dozen) pounds. That said, I just got my bike from D.C. and I look forward to at least returning to cycling and maybe joining a Masters Swim program.
What do you do to help balance your life with work?
Hopefully, cycling. I also enjoy food, wine, action-adventure movies and live music. I try to get to a yoga class once a week and I try to meditate, though that hasn’t become a habit yet.
What are some things our group can do to promote diversity with the African American and Hispanic communities?
I’m so glad you brought that up. Diversity is a high priority for CLA—it’s mission-critical. Building relationships and being good partners with some of the ethnic bars is a basic starting place. Personally, I’d like to see each Section’s Executive Committee reach out directly to groups that are under-represented on their Ex Com to invite applications. Bar relations and diversity is part of Ellen’s portfolio and I know she’s looking to work with each Section on these issues.
Is there something or are their plans to help promote more diversity among attorneys here in California? How can our group or everyday attorneys make a difference?
Again, this is part of Ellen Miller ’s portfolio. It’s also something about which I’m quite passionate. Diversity was part of my portfolio at Brookings and something I’ve worked on in various ways throughout my professional career. I think we have to start very early by exposing young people to the profession and we don’t have to re-invent the proverbial wheel in this regard. There are already programs that get lawyers into classrooms. I think one way CLA can help is by providing volunteers to efforts already underway by other organizations.
How about wellness? Can the CLA make a difference beyond drastic problems with substance abuse and create a more healthy bar? What are some ideas the CLA is examining?
Attorney wellness or well-being is an important topic and one that many bar associations are embracing. You and I have talked about this before. My own view is that CLA should offer resources to people in crisis. But also we owe it to our members and to the legal community to offer resources to help attorneys develop and maintain health, well-being and equilibrium so, hopefully, fewer find themselves in crisis. This is something I’m actively working on and it has generated a fair amount of interest among our members and friends.
If you were to make a goal for our real estate executive committee, what would you suggest?
I’m not going to impinge on Section autonomy by suggesting a goal for your Ex Com but if you really twisted my arm, I’d encourage you to find ways to engage CYLA. Newer lawyers are the future of the organization.
Friday, February 15, 2018, 12 noon - 1p.m.
This program offers 1 MCLE credit. You must register in advance to participate.
Verbal discussion between e-bulletin coordinator and co-chair- of RPLS highlighting important statutory and case law developments, upcoming RPLS sponsored events and featuring interviews with prominent Ex-Com members, CLA leaders and others.
Speakers: Neil Kalin and John Richards
Tuesday, February 26, 2019, 12 noon - 1p.m.
From the statue of Frauds, to the Notice of Compensation, to the recording of activity at the property to sellers' signatures, when a real estate broker takes a listing of residential property many of the terms need to satisfy legal or regulatory requirements. C.A.R's senior legal adviser to its Standard Forms committee will go over those items in the listing contract that have legal implications.
Speaker: Neil Kalin
by Michael Kelly and T. Robert Finlay
For years, mortgage lenders defended TILA rescission actions by arguing that the notice of rescission or action was untimely and/or barred by applicable statute of limitation. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt lender’s efforts a severe blow when it held that the notice of rescission could be issued at any time within three (3) years after the loan closed, not file suit to rescind within three years, as the industry had argued (Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 790 (2015). Just recently on December 6, 2018, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion that further weakened the lenders’ position (Hoang v. Bank of America, N.A., F.3d, Case No. 17-35993, 2018 WL 6367268 (9th Cir. 2018)). Specifically, the Ninth Circuit expanded the time for a borrower to sue to enforce rescission of a loan if a lender fails to wind up the loan after a notice of rescission.
Under the Truth in Lending Action (“TILA”), borrowers have the right to rescind certain loans within three business days after consummation of the loan. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a). However, if the lender fails to make the required disclosures under TILA, the deadline for borrowers to rescind the loan expands to three years from consummation of the loan. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f). In its’ 2015 Jesinoski decision the Supreme Court held that under TILA, a borrower only has to notify a lender of his or her intent to rescind within three years. The borrower is not required to bring suit within the three years to effectuate the rescission. A simple notice is all that is required. The Supreme Court explained, “so long as the borrower notifies within three years after the transaction is consummated, his rescission is timely. The statute does not also require him to sue within three years.” Jesinoski, 135 S. Ct. at 792.
Under TILA, if a borrower provides notice within the three years, a creditor must take steps to “wind up”1 the loan within 20 days of the notice. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(b). However, as is often the case, what if the lender fails to act to wind up the loan as required by TILA? In Hoang v. Bank of America, N.A., F.3d, Case No. 17-35993, 2018 WL 6367268 (9th Cir. 2018), the Ninth Circuit answered the following question: “when a borrower effectively rescinds a loan under TILA, but no steps are taken to wind up the loan, when must suit be brought to enforce that rescission?” Id. at *3.
In Hoang, the district court ruled that a claim to enforce rescission is governed by the one-year statute of limitations for TILA damages claim. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit rejected the district court’s application of the one-year statute of limitations that applies to TILA damage claims. The Ninth Circuit reasoned, “TILA provides for both legal damages and equitable relief but only includes a statute of limitations for legal damages relief. The statute does not suggest that the statute of limitations for legal damages relief is also applicable to claims for equitable remedies. If Congress intended that statute to apply, Congress surely knew how to draft the statute accordingly.” Id. at *4.
Because TILA does not provide a statute of limitations for rescission enforcement claims, case law requires federal courts to borrow a limitations period from analogous state law. In Hoang, the Ninth Circuit looked to its host state, Washington, as a guide. The Ninth Circuit ultimately used Washington’s six (6) year statute of limitations for contract actions. The Court reasoned,
Under Washington’s general contract law, the statute of limitations sets forth a six-year limitation period for an “action upon a contract in writing, or liability express or implied arising out of a written agreement.” The loan agreement between Hoang and the Bank is a contract in writing. An action to rescind that loan (under TILA or otherwise) arises out of that written agreement. Because TILA rescissions necessarily require a contract to be rescinded, contract law provides the best analogy and we adopt the general contract law statute of limitations.
Id. at *4 (citation omitted). In summary, the Ninth Circuit concluded that “[a]pplication of Washington’s longer six- year contract statute of limitations would actually further TILA’s purpose, which is to protect consumers from predatory lending practices and promote the informed use of credit.” Id.
Therefore, under Jesinoski and Hoang, a borrower has up to three years to provide notice of rescission of the loan. If the lender fails to wind up the loan, the borrower has another six years to bring an action to enforce the rescission. Thus, a borrower can have to up nine years from consummation of the loan to enforce rescission under TILA. Although this is a decision by the Ninth Circuit, which applied Washington state law, borrowers will certainly rely on Hoang and argue that the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning should apply to their specific case. The statute of limitations to enforce a rescission claim may be shorter or longer than six years depending on the breach of contract statute of limitations for each specific state.
There are several take-away from the decisions in Jesinoski and Hoang. First, a lender/servicer should quickly and carefully review any notice of rescission or even an indication of rescission from the Borrower. Second, if a borrower properly rescinds the loan under TILA, the lender/servicer has twenty days to “wind up” the loan. Third, if there is a question about whether the lender provided the required TILA disclosures or if the borrower timely and properly gave notice of his or her intent to rescind, the lender should consider immediately filing a declaratory relief action to resolve those disputes at that time instead of waiting years for the borrower to file an action to enforce the rescission.
by James D. Crosby
This piece was originally titled “Tips for Solo Survival”. But mere survival is not really a viable long-term option for most attorneys. You will tire of the struggle to make ends meet and the demands on your time without acceptable corresponding financial reward, and eventually move onto something different. The goal is to succeed professionally, financially, and personally. Here are some tips from a long-time solo trial attorney to help make that happen!
1. Market, Market, Market!
You have to commit to robust, regular, never-ending marketing – lunches, dinners, drinks, articles, professional organizations, blogs, email campaigns, social media, …, whatever works best for you! You are in a highly competitive marketplace with tons of lawyers hustling for business. If you don’t market, all the time, if you don’t compete for business, all the time, your solo practice will, at best, survive and, at worst, fail. You will not have a firm brand or in-house marketing professionals to help with client generation or partners sending you work. You’re on your own, you have to market, market, market!
2. Guard Your Professional Reputation and Image.
Your professional reputation and image go hand-in-hand with your marketing efforts. Prospective clients and referral sources will check you out before they hire you or refer you work. Your reputation and image matter. What other attorneys say about you and your work matters. How you treat opposing counsel matters. What your on-line presence says about you matters. Continually build, with everything you do, and tenaciously guard, with everything you do, your reputation. It is the lifeblood of your practice.
3. Do Excellent Work and Provide Great Personal Service.
This seems obvious, but to succeed, solos simply have to work harder, perform better, and provide better service, than firm attorneys. With many clients and referral sources, there is an inherent perception that solos cannot compete with larger firms. That’s really BS. But, you have to work hard to overcome, or more precisely, not validate, that perception. Start with promptly returning calls – do that and you are way ahead of a good chunk of your competitors!
4. Case Selection is Key – Take Good Cases, Don’t Take Bad Ones.
You must be disciplined in your case selection. More precisely, you must have the discipline to say “No” to a marginal case even when you are not that busy. Slow-pay or no-pay work, or poorly vetted contingency matters, will kill a solo practice. Cash flow dies, and better work is squeezed out or not properly attended to. You are better off hustling for new business than spending that valuable time on lousy cases that don’t make you money.
5. Enforce Fee Agreements.
Get written fee agreements and, more importantly, enforce them. If the client is not paying in accordance with the fee agreement, get out and move on to the next client. If the client will not replenish a retainer per the agreement, get out and move on to the next client. You are running a business, you need cash flow to meet your business obligations and take money home. Make sure the clients meet their contractual fee obligations. You are their lawyer, not their legal credit line. It’s no fun, and bad business, to be at the office at 10:00 p.m. on a work night, or on a weekend, working for a client who is not meeting his fee obligations. There is plenty of worthy pro bono work you can do, by choice! Don’t let your supposed-to-be-good-paying clients become pro bono ones.
6. Set Market Rates and Hold to Them.
Your attorney time is valuable. It has a market value based on your experience, reputation, and expertise. Investigate the market, ask other lawyers, determine what your rate should be for what clients, and then stick to that rate. Discounting your rates to get new clients is bad business. It is a race to the bottom. There is always an attorney around the corner who will work cheaper than you. Discounting your rates at the outset undermines your value to your practice, and the perception of your value to your client. If you want to give some money back to a good client, give a courtesy discount for work done on the bill. Don’t cut your rates.
7. Religiously Monitor Your Finances & Pinch Every Penny.
Cash flow is critical in a solo practice. Regularly monitor your collections, your billings, and your expenses to maintain cash flow. If a client is not paying when she should, call her. (Honestly, if you can’t call a client to ask for payment on a past-due invoice, you are probably not cut out for solo practice!) Get your billings out promptly – don’t sit on cashflow in the form of un-billed, un-invoiced, time. Track and promptly bill all expenses. You paid those expenses, that’s money out of your pocket. Promptly bill and get reimbursed. On the firm expense side, buy what you need to work harder, perform better, and provide better service than other attorneys. But beyond that, pinch every penny. It’s not the big, well-thought out, fully vetted, expenditures that hurt. You have likely done the cost-benefit analysis on such purchases – they will make you money. It’s the accumulated small expenditures that hurt. Get what you need – after that, pinch every penny!
8. Make Your Quarterly Tax Deposits.
Make your quarterly tax deposits. Religiously set aside the money you need to pay your taxes. Once you start slipping back on your tax set-asides/deposits, you will soon find yourself getting extensions on your returns to make the money to pay last year’s taxes. And that is a difficult cycle to get out of. It requires discipline and, sometimes, a leaner take-home than you might like but don’t get yourself into the “get an extension to make money to pay last year’s taxes” cycle. Been there, done that, it can get brutal.
9. Invest in Good Equipment & Software.
Invest in good, reliable equipment and regularly updated, established, software. These are the tools you use to efficiently produce quality work and provide good service. Yes, pinch pennies and scrutinize expenses, but don’t cheap out on the core functions of your practice.
10. Prepare for the Unexpected – Redundancy and Backups.
Expect failures – build in redundancies and regularly back up your data. Don’t let your practice become paralyzed by a hard-drive, or equipment, failure. Computers, hard-drives, and basic office machines (printers, scanners, etc.) are pretty cheap these days. Have an extra desktop, or printer, even cheap ones, ready to go in the event of a failure. And, back up your data! Any IT professional will tell you, your hard-drive, with all your data, will fail. It’s just a matter of time. Lost data, without back-up, is a disaster, even a practice-killer. Lost data, with back-up, is an annoyance.
11. Keep it Simple!
This is a pretty simple business. The law can be complicated and complex, and the legal work can be challenging. But, as a business, a law practice is quite simple. We do work, we bill for that work, we collect money in response to billings, we pay our firm expenses and taxes, and we take the rest home. The law can be difficult – the business of law is not. Keep it that way. Don’t complicate things with complex, untested, software where simpler, tested, software will do the trick. Don’t invest in complicated case management/calendaring software, where dual calendars and a regular calendar review will do the trick. Don’t maintain labor-intensive physical files when most everything either comes to you electronically or can be easily scanned and maintained electronically. Don’t mail statements when you can email them. Don’t pay bills with mailed checks when you can pay them on-line. Don’t re-invent a document every time when you can create a document template for repeated use.
Don’t write your time down on a yellow pad and then enter it again into your billing program – enter it directly into the program the first time. Simplicity means efficiency. Efficiency means reduced overhead, solid hours worked and billed, better service, and happier clients. Happy clients, solid billings, and low overhead means more money in your pocket. More money in your pocket makes you happy. Keep it simple!
12. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle!
Solo practice offers many rewards. Independence. Full control of your time and schedule. Freedom to take the cases you want. It also can be quite lucrative. But, it is not for the faint of heart. You are on your own. If you don’t have work, you make no money. If you don’t get your bills out, cash flow dies. You don’t have partners making money to smooth over slow periods or to send you work when nothing is coming in. Bad case selection and poor business decisions can be disastrous. You must continually compete for business in a tough marketplace and regularly do battle with well-heeled, well-staffed, adversaries. And no matter how much you crunch the numbers, estimate billed hours, do the “hourly rate x hours you have to work” calculation (“wow, I only have to work X hours a day to make a X dollars”), and plan for expected compensation, it almost always turns out different from what you expect or plan for. And, to be succesful at it, and not just get by, you simply have to hustle, hustle, hustle, all the time, every day, year in, year out. But, for me, it’s the best way to practice. Why? Because its my gig – my practice to run, my decisions to make, my adversities to face and problems to solve, my cases to try, my clients to serve, and my money to make. And I like that.
Real estate transactions in today’s world often involve the wiring or electronic funds transfer (EFT) of money to complete a deal. Previous consumer alerts have referenced or covered wire fraud in timeshare transactions and fraud against seniors.
Wire transfers and EFT’s in real estate purchase transactions have become the targets of criminals who interject themselves into a real estate transaction by posing as a party in the transaction. In these cases, the criminal often takes on the identity of a title or escrow company or real estate agent in the transaction and provides legitimate-looking instructions directing the buyer where to wire or transfer funds. These instructions result in the wiring or transfer of funds to the criminal’s bank account, often overseas, and the immediate loss of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars to the victim.
These are sophisticated, professional-looking attacks on your real estate transactions, and you need to be on the lookout. Cyber criminals may convincingly take on the identity of legitimate parties to your transaction, using authentic-looking logos and personal details in communications, in order to make you or your clients feel comfortable. It is best to be safe in how you respond, and to assume that your transaction is being targeted.
What can you and your clients do to avoid such criminal activity?
If you (or your clients) are victimized, it is critical that you or your client contact your depository institution and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) immediately in order to have a chance at halting the criminal transfer. File a report with the FBI by calling a local FBI office or reporting online at FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. Their web site is: bec.ic3.gov
John (J.R.) Richards
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