This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office New York attorney, Vivian Sobers talks about the perils of practicing threshold law.
Of the seven deadly sins, I suffer most from gluttony.
Gluttony has a way of manifesting itself in almost all aspects of our modern lives; from conspicuous consumption to the actual act of food consumption. While I have may minor problem with buying shoes and may generally sop up every bit of escargot-laden butter sauce with a crusty baguette, these are the least of my gluttonous sins.
My scarlet letter to bear is that I am a legal glutton.
Frankly, I used to take as many cases as possible. Literally, I would take any case; from a tort involving necrophilia to a no-contest divorce. Under this approach, my new practice unintentionally morphed into a general practice.
Some of you may be thinking that there is nothing wrong with taking everything and anything that you come into contact with. A mentor of mine refers to this as “threshold law.” He describes a lawyer who practices threshold law as a lawyer who takes any case that crosses the threshold of their office door.
In my experience, practicing threshold law is a tricky form of masochism.
My own legal gluttony sometimes backfires.
Like any disease, legal gluttony quickly metastasized into something more. Something a little more insidious…
The luxurious promise of every case’s potential monetary value blurred my normally reliable vision.
If you have ever been on a winning streak at a casino, you know the blurred vision that I am referencing.
It’s this type of vision (and hindsight) that neglects the foreground in favor of an often, undefined, and generally blurry, background of unattainable possibility.
Better stated, it is living in the moment. And when you gamble, it is often red or black.
Lawyers are different. If lawyers had to choose a favorite color, it would probably be gray. While me may feign to live in the duality of black and red, it is our intellectual ability to negotiate the gray which makes us successful.
Back to the story at hand…
I was taking cases left and right. The problem was that I would spend copious hours making myself familiar with nuanced areas of law so that I could zealously represent my new clients in the only fashion I knew how.
The larger problem is that I would never charge a client to make myself heinously adept in an area of law that I may not have otherwise been comfortable with. In reality, every client that signed a retainer agreement in an area of law that I was not familiar with was a losing proposition. I should have made them sign in red pen, because at least then, it would have foreshadowed the inevitable end.
The legal glutton in me only saw dollar signs. And trust me, there were a few blank numerical spaces in front of the hypothetical comma sign that always grabbed my attention span.
I can now formally admit that I am a recovering legal glutton.
Recently, a pre-existing client of mine presented an opportunity to draft a very specialized transactional-based document. The old Vivian would have jumped at this opportunity. I mean, I am a litigator. I deal with the nefarious truth of contractual disputes every day, right?
Out of habit; purely out of habit, I said “Yes” to the client. Immediately after my involuntary response, I called a colleague in my shared law office for advice on drafting a certain provision.
To my surprise, he inundated me with necessary contingencies that I would have never thought to include in the contract. These contingencies were so nuanced, and worse, so necessary, that I almost shuddered while hearing him speak.
And then it hit me: “I would have never thought of that.”
Even worse, the fact that I did not have the experience and acumen in this particular area of the law would directly affect my client. All in all, this was a humbling phone call.
Then, I did something I never did…I gave away the case.
The realization that short term money could truly effect a potential long term client was not easy to own up to. As a solo attorney, I have psychologically created a life of “famine,” while only dreaming, glorifying and exoticizing the “feast.”
In reality, if I continued with the case, I might have ended up in famine.
The most humbling realization came psychologically. I am already living “the feast.”
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Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.