Posts tagged practicing law
Access to Justice Presentation

Today, I have the opportunity to speak at the Kentucky Bar Association's New Lawyer Program about access to justice issues in the Commonwealth. This blog post contains links to information and materials that I referenced in that talk. It probably won't make sense outside of my talk, but here you go...

Existing Landscape for New Lawyers: this is a non-exhaustive list of legal aid organizations, nonprofit law firms, lawyer referral services, government agencies, legal associations and membership organizations, and allied organizations/nonprofits currently working across multiple issues and across the Commonwealth. 

Let's Start a Law Firm: the short-run podcast I did with Annie O'Connell about how a law firm

Link to Access to Justice Panel event hosted by the American Constitution Society on February 1, 2018

My Fake Law School Commencement Address

All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi

You Need a Budget software

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Defining "Consumer Law"

When people ask me what I do, I usually tell them, "I make bad jokes on the internet." When they ask me what I do for money, I tell them I'm a consumer lawyer. If they're not too proud to admit to not knowing what consumer law is, they'll ask, "What is consumer law?" 

Here is a little mailer I sent out to fellow lawyers last year explaining what kinds of cases I handle as a "consumer lawyer".

Somehow, though, I think that just describing the kind of work that consumer lawyers do and the kinds of cases they take misses the point a bit. It gets to the what, but not the why of consumer law. 

But, I recently had the opportunity to speak to about a hundred newly-minted attorneys at the KBA's New Lawyer Program about Kentucky consumer law. My Lebowski-themed presentation about consumer law touched on many of the same areas I listed in the mailer: the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act, debt collection abuse, insurance bad faith, auto fraud, the Kentucky Lemon Law, etc. 

Before I ran through those specific state and federal statutes protecting consumers, though, I gave Kentucky's newest lawyers my freshest take on what consumer law is. I told them that being a consumer lawyer means applying all of your skill, training, and heart to the legal problems that impact low- and middle-income Americans. It means using the laws (common, local, state, and federal) to protect the bottom lines of the most fragile budgets in America. 

Rather than defining consumer law as a kind of case or a particular set of statutes, I want to broaden my definition of consumer law to "practicing law with the goal of helping low- and middle-income American families achieve and sustain financial stability". 

This definition allows me a broader self-concept of "what I do", aligns me more explicitly with the work of allies seeking those same ends through lobbying and public education efforts (rather than my more litigious efforts), and provides me a "North Star" when charting the work I want my firm to do. way forward for my firm. helps me evaluate the direction I want to take my firm. Anything that threatens the financial stability of economically vulnerable people—foreclosure, eviction, abusive debt collection, auto fraud, unfair or misleading business practices, repossession, bad faith claims adjusting from insurance companies—that's what I fight.

Practicing with a goal of helping people avoid the threats to their bottom line motivates me to pay attention to the evolving landscape of threats out there. Every year, it seems, there's a new problem, whether it's vacant and abandoned property, unpaid tax bills on real estate, starter interrupt devices on cars. There's a scammer born every minute. 

Practicing consumer law is much, much broader than using the statutes we typically think of when we think of "consumer law" statutes. It means aligning yourself with  economically fragile families and individuals and using the best, bravest version of yourself to defend them from the flinty-eyed predators stalking your clients and senseless corporate machinery that will consume them without ever thinking once.

Law Office Equipment Guide

In many ways, equipping a small law office has never been easier or less expensive. However, if you do it wrong, you can definitely end up spending a ton of money and inviting a bunch of hassle and disappointment into a job with plenty of hassle and frustration in it already. 

In this post, I've tried to compile the best equipment for law offices. It is difficult to discuss law office equipment without some tangential considerations to the software a law office will use to get its work done, but—as far as possible—I've tried to separate the two and limit this post to actual products with protons and neutrons rather than the 0s and 1s of software. (I am aware that protons, neutrons, and electrons also create the 0s and 1s.)

Here are the assumptions I've made in making these recommendations:

  1. You don't want a lot of paper in your office. 
  2. You don't have a ton of dough. 
  3. You want to be relatively mobile. 
  4. You don't like hassles and friction. 

That is to say, these are recommendations for solo and small firms and those lawyers in government or big firms with enough authority to demand a certain amount of autonomy in how they get their work done. 

Annie O'Connell and I discuss many of the nuances of these equipment decisions in episodes of our award-winning (not really) podcast, Let's Start a Law Firm. We also discuss some of the software that we use with this equipment. 

If you like this post, please share it with other lawyers. If you really like it, know that I get a small kickback on purchases you make on Amazon by following the links in the post. One of these days, those kickbacks will be large enough for me to take Annie out to dinner. 


Use what works for you. For me, the portability and continued speed of my mid-2011 Macbook Air is all I need. As a nerd, I would love an excuse to upgrade to the most recent iteration of the Air, but my current computer is, alas, perfect. 

Computer Backup

You must back up your data. You must have at least one on-site backup and one off-site backup of your data at all times. For Mac users, a Time Capsule is an easy on-site backup solution. For everyone, BackBlaze is a great, affordable solution to back up your data in the cloud. 

One compelling option for file-sharing and off-site backup is File Transporter. Like your own, private Dropbox. 


Again, this is one of those areas that is too personal to make a definitive recommendation. I have the luxury of renting an office that came with a desk I use for client meetings and enough room in the corner for my standing desk from Geek Desk. (Obviously, a standing desk is not strictly necessary to equip a law office.)

Regardless of what kind of desk and chair (if applicable) you use, make sure you're set up to do your work in ergonomically correct positions. Be kind to yourself. 


Speaking of ergonomics, I just recently purchased my first ergonomic keyboard: the Microsoft Sculpt. It is great and, after minor tweaks to the key commands, works well with my Mac. 


Another "not strictly necessary" expense is the totally-worth-it expense of an external monitor. I have used both the Apple 27" external monitor and a much-more-affordable Dell 27" monitor. I can definitely notice a difference between the two and can get more application windows on my Apple monitor, but whether it's worth 3x the price is a personal decision.  


Here, you need to decide whether you need to print color. Personally, I do not. I have been solo for 18 months now and have not yet needed to print in color once. And, I think there are fewer things more annoying than when I accidentally print something in color when I just needed a grayscale version of it.

This is why I had my logo designed by Two State Champs to be black-and-white to avoid needing to print color (and avoid the expense and hassle of having to have letterhead and envelopes printed by an outside print shop). I use the Brother HL-5470DW

As frustrating as accidentally printing something in color is, I find accidentally printing a brief onto twenty envelopes (or, conversely, printing an envelope onto 8.5" x 11" paper) even more frustrating. I know: it is easy to pick which tray you want to print something from. You are smart and I'm not. Despite my 7 years of higher education, I make this mistake all the time. This is why I do not print envelopes at all. There is literally never anything but letter-sized paper in my printer so that I can't mistakenly print a 20-page case onto 20 envelopes.

To print envelopes, I use the Dymo LabelWriter 450 Twin Turbo. I actually own two. At work, I use the two label spools to print envelope labels and, very occasionally, file folder labels. At home, he prints envelope labels and stamps. You haven't lived until you've owned a label printer.


I use my iPhone as my office phone. To avoid giving my cell phone number to everyone (though I'm not sure it really matters), I use a Google Voice number as my primary business phone. I just have all calls to my Google Voice number ring directly to my cell phone. Google Voice gives you the flexibility to decide how to route calls to the number based on time of day, so if you do have an office phone or a receptionist or intake specialist, you can have the Google number ring one phone during business hours and a separate number after hours. 

I'm probably going to get brain cancer from the radiation at some point, but until then, I'll keep itemizing my business use of my iPhone and deducting that portion as a reasonable business expense. (That's not tax advice: it's just what I do.)

Postage Solutions

You're going to have to mail stuff. If your office doesn't provide a postage meter, you'll need one. Pitney Bowes does a good job with that, but I prefer (and use) the Dymo Stamps software at my home office. You'll need a scale to weigh your postage and then you can just print postage on your Dymo Twin Turbo.


I don't use a fax machine. I use Hello Fax. A "Let's Start a Law Firm" listener recently pointed out that fax machines actually do have their benefits. They are more secure than an email with attachments because they are a point-to-point communication rather than a message that gets bounced around multiple servers. If you're going to get a fax machine, avoid an all-in-one printer-scanner-fax-coffee-maker-copier. Get the right tool for the right job. Not a compromised machine. 


Before I moved into my current office space, which I rent from another law firm that leases a big-ass copier, I didn't have a copier. In my opinion, you don't need one. Get a good scanner (see below), and if you need copies, print the scan. 


Repeat after me: "I will only use Fujitsu Scansnap products." Do not buy any other scanner. Get the Fujitsu Scansnap iX500. Spend the dough. Thank me later. 

E-Legal Supply

There are some law-specific office supplies that are difficult-to-impossible to find locally or on Amazon. I buy, for example, all of my number and letter tab inserts for exhibits to briefs at E-Legal Supply. (For a list of the envelopes, paper, pens, notebooks, and other office-supply minutiae, you can check out the notes for Episode 3 of Let's Start a Law Firm.) 


Confession: Sometimes I do work just so that I have an excuse to use my Prodigy PaperPro stapler. I recently purchased the big boy—the Prodigy PaperPro 1300 Stackmaster—for communal use at the office copier and I am now a demigod at my office. I am Prometheus, stealer of fire. (Aside: "Stackmaster" must be one of the greatest marketing terms of all time.

File Cabinets 

Since I purchased a Fujitsu Scansnap, I no longer need file cabinets. I don't use them, but if I did, I'd only buy Hon-brand file cabinets. 


Here's a #protip: if you need a cable for you TV, iPhone, DVD player, projector, monitor, internet, receiver, fill-in-the-blank, buy it from You are getting scammed basically everywhere else, especially at Best Buy. Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news. Don't feel too bad, though. I once purchased really crappy speakers for far too much money from some dudes in a white van. 

Amazon Prime

How are you going to get all this great stuff to your office? With the exception of Geek Desk, Monoprice, and E-Legal Supply: Amazon Prime.


That's pretty much it. The takeaway, I hope, is that it has never been easier or less expensive for a small practitioner to set up a mobile-capable, relatively paperless law office while still being able to produce a very professional finished product for clients and courts. 

Again, if this list has been useful, don't be shy about sharing it with others. Help them out. We nerds tend to think that everyone knows that Fujitsu Scansnaps are the only kind of scanners people should be using, but my IRL experience with non-nerds has proven to me that this is not the case.


Get the tools and use them to hammer out justice for your clients and the world. 

Strides App is Helping this Kentucky Attorney Get Better

In an upcoming episode of Let's Start a Law Firm about law firm goals and "getting better", and “resolutions” for 2014, I talked about an iPhone app that I’ve been using to track some of my goals for 2014. (As an aside, you should really listen to the episode because Annie and I talk about how New Year’s Resolutions can be dangerous and cause more harm than the good they may or may not do.)

The app I’m using (after trying and buying about half a dozen) is called Strides (iTunes page)(developer site).

Before talking about the application itself, I think it’s important to explain the kinds of goals I’ve set for myself as a person and for my practice. I don’t resolve to “be more loving” or “be more contemplative”. I try to set goals that are measurable and will encourage me to get better over time. 

Here are my goals for 2014:

  • Exercise 200 times
  • Work from home 100 times
  • Write 52 blog posts for Ben Carter Law 
  • Sit quietly for 10 minutes 153 times
  • Collect $120,000
  • Work 12 weekends
  • File 10 bankruptcies
  • Visit a Kentucky State Park 8 times
  • Post 20 podcasts

Here is the crux of these goals: they are designed to encourage me to make lasting changes in the things I do each day. But, they are gentle enough and flexible enough that I don’t have to do any one of them every single day. Even though I don’t have kids or a real job and I could schedule a workout on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week and a blog post each Monday morning and times for me to sit quietly on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday morning, that kind of structure has never been super-helpful to me. Inevitably, I miss one of those dates and I just start feeling bad. Feeling bad is not the point of trying to get better. The point is to get better.

I want my life to move in the direction of working out more often, writing more, filing more bankruptcies, and working from home more frequently. To do that, I'm encouraging myself into new patterns and new practices that will get me there. 

What I love about Strides app is that it allows me to set long-term goals and then track my progress towards that goal each day, week, or month. The best part about the app is that it tells me whether I’m ahead or behind of my long-term goal and allows me to adjust my behavior accordingly in the moment. If I’m behind, I haven’t failed. I just need to work to generate more bankruptcy work for myself, schedule a trip to a state park, or go work out.

Here’s what some of my goals look like right now. You can see from my “Home Work” goal that the 6 times I’ve worked from home so far puts me pretty far ahead of the 3.8 times that would put me on track to meet my goal. It also projects that on my current pace, I’ll work from home 156 times this year. GREAT!

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But, as you can see, I’ve only posted two blog posts to Ben Carter Law, which puts me on pace to post 48.7 in 2014—4 short of the 52 I want to post. (Knowing I’m off-pace is one of the reasons I’m writing this right now.)

If you want to get better at something, think about setting a long-term goal that you can work towards now and using Strides to give you good feedback on whether you are on track to meet your goal. That’s it. It is a really good app. 

The rest of this post is a little bit more “in the weeds” about how the app itself works and how it could be improved. So, if that’s not your thing, I understand. (But, it does contain a useful tip for users from the developer...)

After using Strides for a few days, I was having some issues with updating the totals each day. I got some really helpful feedback from the developer. Here’s the exchange.

Hey Kyle,

Thank you for Strides. I'm an attorney and was looking for an app to help me meet some of my personal and professional goals in 2014 and your app provides the flexibility to track goals like "work out 200 times" and "bill 120K" and "work from home 100 days" and "write 52 blog posts". I've looked for other apps, but I think yours is the closest to how I want to structure and track my goals. I really appreciate the feature that lets me know whether I'm ahead or behind of year-long goals. This allows me the opportunity to modify current behavior to reach long-term goals. Awesome.

I have two suggestions. Please allow me to "check off" (add +1) to a goal just by hitting the number total in the goal summary page. In other words, instead of navigating to the tracking page, make the total number inside the circle a button that adds one to the numerical value in the circle. I think that would be a good function in and of itself, but I also want this feature because I'm having a really hard time getting the "add to total" toggle button working correctly. Each night for the past five nights, I've gone in to update my totals and the button seems to perform differently (erratically). One night, the toggle will be to "on" and I'll add "1" and it will reset my total to "1" for the year. Another night, I'll toggle it to "off" and change the number from 4 to 5 and it will add 4 and 5 to give me 9. It's sort of maddening and the one downer to the app right now. It's especially frustrating because it's so close to being exactly what I'm looking for!

Anyway, I've never written a developer with a feature request before, but know enough to know that you probably get a lot of requests and just hope you'll put this one on the list in its appropriate priority.

Many thanks, bc

And then the developer wrote me back:

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the feedback! I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying Strides.

We're working on a bunch of fixes to the Add to Total function for the next update. Sorry about that! It worked perfectly for all the beta testers, but we've found lots of little bugs that slipped through the cracks, so we'll get those fixed soon.

In the meantime, I would recommend turning Add to Total OFF and entering the new total, rather than the addition (e.g. 9 instead of 5) since the math is easy for this particular tracker.

I'll also think through the +1 idea from the circle chart. I totally get the value there, so I think we'll be able to do that in an update. Either way, we'll get Add to Total working correctly for you. :)

Thanks again for reaching out, and have a great day!

Kyle Richey


twitter: @puresignalapps

So, that’s awesome. And, the tip that he gave about turning "Add to Total OFF" for the time being and entering a new total is working for me. 

After using it for a couple more weeks, I have a couple more suggestion for future revisions. First, I would like the option to “snooze” recently updated goals. The app allows users to decide how frequently they want to review progress toward their goals. On many of these, I have a daily review scheduled at 6 p.m. because they’re things that I may have done that day: work from home, work out, write a blog post. Others, I only review once every few weeks (bankruptcies) or once a month (visits to state parks).

I would like a feature that allows me to not have to get a notification to review “work out” or “sit for 10 minutes” at 6 p.m. if I’ve updated that goal’s total within the last 24 hours. If I’ve updated the total, it’s because I worked out or sat earlier that day. The notification is just a hassle at that point. The point of the notification is to remind future you that “these are things that you might want to consider doing” and if I’ve already done that thing recently, I don’t want to review it.

Related to reviewing goals, in the "menu" page (shown above), a right swipe gives the user the option to delete the goal. A left swipe in this view should take the user directly to the page on which they can update the goal's total, whether that's hours worked that day, calories consumed, or times the user sat quietly for ten minutes. 

These would be small usability improvements I’d like to see in an app that is really, really helping me a lot.

Budgeting for a Solo Law Firm: Or, How I Sleep at Night

I'm probably the last person you should be taking budgeting advice from. Turns out, majoring in English and going to law school didn't really do a lot to prepare me to run a business. (This is a bit of a misstatement. Truth is, majoring in English helped instill in me the values that I use every day to advocate for consumers against some of our country's most powerful industries. What I mean is that majoring in English and going to law school didn't really give me a whole lot of insight into the logistics and practicalities of starting and running a law firm.)

That being said, I want to share a spreadsheet with you that I've developed for my own practice and life that has helped me figure out exactly what I need to be making each month to survive as a business and person. Basically, it's a two-sheet workbook. The first is for determining my monthly business expenses and the second is my monthly personal expenses.   

I determine my monthly business expenses by totaling all the monthly expenses, totaling all the annual expenses, dividing my annual expenses by 12, and adding my monthly expenses and 1/12th of my annual business expenses together. 

Then, I carry that figure over to the second sheet of the workbook. The second sheet contains all of my personal monthly expenses. After totaling those expenses, I determine taxes by multiplying my personal monthly expenses by 1/3. (This is not a technically accurate measure of my tax liability. Technically, my tax liability will be on the net profits of my business, not the money I take to pay personal expenses. But, because at this point of my practice all net profits go to pay personal expenses, this is a "close enough" measure for me.)

Adding my monthly personal expenses and my tax liability gives me my "Personal Monthly Nut"—the amount of money I need to pay personal bills, my country, and my Commonwealth.  

I've carried over my "BCL Monthly Nut" from Sheet 1 of the workbook and add that to my "Personal Monthly Nut" to determine my "Great Big Monthly Nut"—the amount of money I need to make it all work. 

Finally, and this is what let's me sleep at night (or, keeps me up at night), I've calculated the amount of money I "Must Bill and Collect Each Day" to make my "Great Big Monthly Nut". I determined this amount by dividing 365 by 12 to get the average number of days a year and multiplying that number by 5/7 to allow myself two days each week of not billing anything. Ostensibly, that's to account for a weekend. This gives me 21.72 working days each month to work towards my "Great Big Monthly Nut". 

Knowing how much money I need to bill and collect  each day gives me one metric by which I can measure any given day. Sure, it's nice when a client calls and gives you good news. It's nice to talk with someone who says, "You're the only person who has called me back." Those are other metrics that I use to measure my day. But, if you're going to run a small business, you've got to be using the "Must Bill and Collect Each Day" metric, too. I can't pay rent with warm fuzzies and I can't pay court filing fees with good karma. 

You can view, download, and modify my budget to suit your purposes. I should say that mine is constantly changing as I grow, cut services, move offices, etc. The goal is not down-to-the-penny accuracy, but rather to give me a goal to work towards and to measure my performance against. 

Why I will not be renewing my Westlaw subscription in 2016...

Westlaw is, in my opinion, the best legal research software available. That's why I chose to buy a subscription from them. That's why I agreed to pay them $350 a month for the service. 

A few months ago, I moved offices to a place that offers Lexis to its tenants. That service is included in the price of my rent.  

I no longer needed Westlaw and would be content to use Lexis, which is a slightly less great product and save $350 a month. I asked Westlaw how much it would cost me to buy out the rest of my contract and they quoted me a figure that was more than $9,000. In other words, I could stop using Westlaw if I just paid for the rest of my three year contract up front. Instead of charging customers a reasonable early termination fee, they think that "every agreement made with West should be honored by both parties".

You know what I think? I think things change. And, I think companies ought to account for the fact that things change.  

I understand that the contract says what it says. I'm not disputing my obligation to pay under the contract. But, I also understand that I will only do business in the future with companies that understand that circumstances change and customers should be allowed to end contracts early for a reasonable early termination fee. So, I won't be renewing with Westlaw even though they offer the best legal research software because the terms under which they offer that software are unreasonable. And, because the tone of this letter is intolerably self-righteous.

So, attorneys who listen to my podcast or who read this blog, remember: just because a service may be the best, when it's combined with onerous or unreasonable terms and conditions, it can quickly become a poor option. It is an expensive lesson for me to learn. West could allow me to pay a reasonable early termination fee, but instead has insisted on continuing to provide me with a service I don't need. This short-sighted and greedy position will make them $9,000 over the next three years but won't make them a dime more.

Fortunately for me, in 2016 I expect the market for legal research options to be extremely competitive with Lexis, Fastcase, and CaseMaker all improving quickly. In my opinion, West should be concentrating not only on continuing to create a great service, but improve their product by pairing that product with humane terms and conditions that would foster customer loyalty. With the market of legal research options only getting more competitive, customer loyalty is going to matter a lot more than West currently appreciates.

Perhaps West's willingness to forgo customer satisfaction in favor of short-term profits reveals just how competitive the market has become for a company that used to enjoy a monopoly on the legal research world...

Along with that azz, include the data

I heard a harrowing story last night of a young man who lost 38 weeks of photos and video from a cross-country road trip because his car was broken into in Fargo, North Dakota. All his data was on his computer, backed up to thumb drives that were also in his car (and also stolen).  

Can you feel that pain? He was making a film . 


I think there are two lessons here. First, don't go to Fargo. Second, while you are busy backing that azz up, include your data in that backup.  

When I get the dough, I'm going to use File Transporter. For now, I backup on external drives that I store off-site and Dropbox.  

Sidebar: I really love this excerpt from the Wikipedia article about "Back that Thang Up", the non-explicit version of "Back that Azz Up": 

"The song, an explicit exploration of the same themes as Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back..."

And, for your Thursday pleasure (and because this is how my brain works): an extremely white version of "Baby Got Back":

Evernote gives lawyers a valuable archive for their legal research

As anyone who knows me knows, I am a bit of an information hoarder. I have backups of backups. I have scans of important or memorable documents and a fireproof safe for precious documents. 

One of the areas of my life that had consistently frustrated my hoarding habit was legal research until I discovered Evernote.

The problem with saving legal research is that it's difficult to create a useful taxonomy for the stuff. When saving cases, should I save it in a subfolder in the case I'm working on? That seems logical but then retrieving the case years later will require me to remember exactly what case I was working on when I came across "that one case that stood for [insert legal issue] proposition". 

If instead (or additionally), I opt to save it under the legal issue the case stands for, what should I do when the case stands for two important propositions? Kentucky attorneys will obviously know that Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Service Center, Inc. gives us our summary judgment standard in state court. But, it also states that a breach of fiduciary duty is tantamount to fraud. As a consumer advocate, this is an important part of the case. Do I save Steelvest in three places: the client file, the research file on summary judgment, and the research file on breach of fiduciary duty?  


I save it to Evernote by emailing it from my online research service using a special email address Evernote provides. When I email that case to Evernote, the .pdf is automatically OCR'd so that a later search for any word in the case will yield results. This means if I can just remember a snippet of language or even what judge decided the case or attorney argued the case, I can search in Evernote and find the case. (I also have a spotless .pdf that I can attach to motions and memoranda.)

Even better, though, than the automatic OCR is Evernote's organizational tools. Evernote gives users the option of placing notes in notebooks (folders) as well as tagging the notes. This means that I can email Steelvest to my Evernote account, save it to a client's notebook, and tag it with the tags "summary judgment" and "bofd" (my shorthand for "breach of fiduciary duty"). Later, I can retrieve that case in one of three ways: I can remember the client notebook the case is saved in, I can find the case by reviewing the cases that have a particular tag, or I can search for the case in the search window using words that are likely in the language of the case. 

Lawyer–Nerds should be very excited right now. And it gets better. Are you ready to have your mind blown?  Evernote gives you the ability to send a case to a notebook with certain tags in the subject line of the email you send to Evernote. They explain on their blog how this works:

In the subject line of your email, write the title of the note as you want it to appear in your account. In the same subject line, add one or both of the following:

Use @ for notebooks: Use an @ symbol followed by the name of your destination notebook Use # for tags: Use a # symbol followed by the tag or tags you wish to assign. You can have multiple tags just make sure each one starts with an # For example, Subject: Trip to Florida @travel #expense report

Would create a note titled Trip to Florida in my travel notebook, tagged with expense report.

So, in one step, I am able to put a filed, tagged, OCR'd Steelvest into Evernote by emailing it to myself with this subject line: Steelvest @clientname #summary judgment #bofd

This is, to employ some fancy lawyer-speak, bonkers.

Any seasoned advocate will tell you that having a system that will allow you to accrete and retrieve your past legal research will yield wonderful benefits over the course of a legal career. I am totally invested in Evernote as that system because it allows me to easily and usefully create multiple taxonomies of meaning for my legal research. At $5 a month or $45 a year, the premium membership is a basic business expense that every lawyer should happily incur.

Lawyers, there are no SEO shortcuts

After I announced my willingness to help lawyers build better, more beautiful, easier-to-maintain websites, a few attorneys have asked me what they can do to increase their prominence on Google's search results. Many of them have the sense that SEO ("search engine optimization") is some magic dust that techies can sprinkle onto their website that will lift the site up into the first page of search results. (Of course, many have this sense because SEO "experts" market themselves as the 21st-century's dark magicians.)

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. 

Certainly, there are some best practices you can use when creating pages and titling blog posts that will help search engines determine whether what you're saying will be responsive to a particular query from a user. But, beyond a few very basic premises (which we'll be discussing at this summer's Commonwealth Justice Conference—sign up for email updates), the reality of increasing your prominence online is that you have to actually provide value to people. Gyi Tsakalakis explains this in a useful blog post. I particularly enjoyed his list of activities that real law firms engage in. 

So what kind of “stuff” do real law firms do? Here are some ideas:

Real law firms stand for something.
Real law firms are active in their communities.
Real law firms educate the public.
Real law firms inspire social change.
Real law firms help real people.
Real law firms partner with organizations that further justice.
Real law firms raise awareness of important social issues.
Real law firms maintain the dignity of the profession.
Real law firms participate in public service.
— Gyi Tsakalakis

The idea, folks, is that you start getting better results online only after you start achieving better results offline. Do something in the world worth telling people about and then tell them on your site. Or, do something online that brings people together in a new and unique way. Over time, documenting the real work that your law firm does and providing real value to your online community will naturally translate into better search results. But, this is important: you do the things not to get better search results but because the things are important to do. They're important to you, your clients, your community. Maybe the traffic from search results comes, maybe it doesn't. But, either way, you've done something worthwhile with your limited time and energy.  

I can work anywhere! Wait, that means I can work everywhere...

I am back in Ashland at my parent's place for Thanksgiving. I have been up since 5:30 cranking K-Cups in a quiet house and working on a contract for one of my clients, a great video production shop in Louisville.

One of the great aspects of lawyering in 2012 is that we can do it from most anywhere. My documents are securely stored in the cloud, my practice management software is available online, and I can do all of my research on the internet. This offers great freedom. 

Of course, it also means that I have done work while on a beach in Palau, from a coffee shop in New York, and a condo in South Carolina. I have responded to client emails from gas stations, during meals, and while sitting at red lights. (Do not text and drive, people. That's caveman-style levels of unsophistication.)

So, for my lawyer friends: how do you prevent the ability to work from anywhere from becoming the need to work from everywhere? What boundaries, if any, do you set up to separate yourself from work? 

Holy Lord, I started a law firm.

I have exciting news: Ben Carter Law PLLC is a thing that exists in the world. Today. 


While there are a number of heartening things about starting my own firm, perhaps the best is that I now count myself as a member of the elite class of “job creators” that make America great.

My job at Ben Carter Law PLLC? I built that.

I want to tell you what I’m going to be working on because I think some of it is very exciting:

  • I’m going to continue working for the Network Center for Community Change, advising them on issues surrounding foreclosure and vacant and abandoned property. I’ll be training Kentucky attorneys to defend homeowners facing foreclosure and lobbying in Frankfort to give local communities the 21st–century tools they need to address the growing number of vacant, abandoned, and blighted homes.
  • I will represent creative professionals: web designers, app developers, photographers, videographers, musicians, and graphic artists. These good people often don’t use lawyers and as a result don’t have contracts that help them have good conversations with their clients about deadlines, payment, and deliverables or protect them when things occasionally go south.
  • I am going to continue representing people who have been injured by someone else’s negligence, whether that someone else is a negligent driver, lawyer, doctor, corporation, or property owner.
  • I’m going to continue representing consumers that have been duped and defrauded by the false, unfair, deceptive, or misleading acts and practices of unscrupulous businesses.
  • I want to help attorneys build beautiful, easy-to-maintain websites and not be idiots about technology. Many attorneys pay too much money for ugly, unusable sites.  Others don’t have sites at all. In 2012, it doesn’t have to be this way.
  • One of the things I am most excited about is a conference I’m organizing for 2013. The Commonwealth Justice Conferencewill be in Louisville from August 8–10. It’s for attorneys and laypeople in Kentucky who want to use the law and grassroots organizing to pursue impact litigation and legislative change to make Kentucky a better, safer, fairer place to be a worker, an immigrant, a homosexual, a voter, a kid, or a consumer. I’ll be launching a website and providing additional information about location, events, schwag, and speakers in the weeks and months ahead. Please sign up to receive email updates if you are interested in hearing more about Commonwealth Justice 2013.  

That’s it. This is the plan. You can get email updates from the firm, but only if you sign up for them

My phone number is (502) 509-3231 and email

You can be strange, but don’t be a stranger.


P.S. Since I last emailed you, I wrote a pretty good essay on typography that lawyers and other people who type on a computer should read.

P.P.S. You really should hop on the Commonwealth Justice train

Update to Typography for Lawyers Essay: When Ten Pages are Thirteen

My essay encouraging lawyers to adopt better typographical practices appeared today in The Advocate, the bimonthly publication of the Kentucky Justice Association

In it, I explain how making a few small changes to your letters, briefs, and presentations can make your words more beautiful and engaging on the page. I also explained that these changes may also help you fit more words on the page while staying within court-mandated rules governing type size, line length, and line spacing. 

One of the biggest changes comes from using true double spacing (set your line spacing to "Exactly" 24 points rather than Microsoft Word's default "Double Spacing" option (which is actually a bit taller than 24 points). 

Here, I've created a couple of documents that will show you the difference between the two approaches. I've created two separate documents so you can download them and compare side-by-side. Do that now.

Download the Appellant Brief sample
Download the Appellant Reply Brief sample

Here are some of the changes I made in the Reply Brief:

  • Used small caps for the section titles (Matthew Butterick's typeface, Equity, has beautiful small caps),
  • Removed ALL CAPS from the headings, opting instead for simple bold or italics,
  • Removed capital letters in headings
  • Used a table rather than a series of ........................... to denote a page number in the Statement of Points and Authorities (using a table also makes formatting way less of a hassle), 
  • Changed the typeface from Times New Roman to Equity (look at Equity's italic: beautiful)
  • Reduced the line spacing from Microsoft Word's default "double space" to true double spacing (set line spacing to "exactly" 24 points)

Here's the skinny: the Reply brief is more beautiful, it's easier to read, and therefore, more likely to be read. (Judges and their law clerks are looking for any reason—any reason—to stop reading. Even if that reason is the "blah" vibe that your brief is giving off. Sorry, it's true.) 

The Reply brief also fits more words onto the page. The "Argument" page in the Appellant Brief is 284 words long, including footnotes; the "Argument" page in the Reply Brief has 358 words. Reducing the line height to 24 points allowed me to fit 74 more words (26%) onto the first page of my brief. Multiply that by the ten pages allowed by the Court of Appeals for a Reply Brief, and I get 740 more words than an attorney using Microsoft's default double spacing. That's 3 extra pages of argument. That's a big advantage. 

If successful, our appeal will allow injured temporary workers to pursue lawsuits against temporary employers. Currently, these businesses enjoy both complete immunity and complete control over a temporary worker (whose workers' compensation benefits will be paid by their temporary employment agency). This encourages businesses to misuse and abuse temporary workers for the business's most dangerous work. A win would mean accountablity where there currently is none. That's a big deal. 

We all have cases that can yield big change if we win. I'm happy to have an additional three pages (when I need them) to explain to the Court why we should win.  

Typography for Lawyers: One Space, Double Spacing, and other Good Ideas

***Read an update to this essay (after reading this essay) that offers typography samples and actual words-per-page math. Thank you to Kentucky Justice Association for printing this in The Advocate***

This is an essay about typography.

What is typography? Basically, it’s how letters and words appear on the page, how individual words and chunks of text fit together. As lawyers, our livelihoods depend often on chunks of text. The thesis of this article is that small typographical improvements in your resumes, letters, briefs, and presentations can make a dramatic difference in your ability to effectively communicate and persuade.

Better typography improves your chances in mediations, in court, and in trial.

I need to make two points before I even get started. First, and perhaps already obviously, I am a nerd. How much of a nerd? I still own a 20-sided die. The best way to get me to corner you at a party is to mention in an offhanded way that you need to get a scanner (at which point, I will rhapsodize about the Fujitsu Scansnap 1500 for 20 minutes as the ice melts in your cocktail). As you will see, I’m the kind of nerd who can’t resist making a reference to Weird Al Yankovich’s cult classic UHF even in an article in which I hope to impress my peers.

I’m the kind of nerd that says, “Hell, yes!” when I discover that some typeface-designer-turned-lawyer has written a book about typography and the practice of law.[1] This is my second point: almost everything I have learned about typography I learned from Matthew Butterick and his excellent website, and book, Typography for Lawyers. Butterick is a Harvard-trained typeface designer and a graduate of UCLA's law school. So, he’s kind of in his wheelhouse on the subject of typography for lawyers.

I recognize that not everyone has attained the same nerd heights as me and may not want to read an entire book about typography. This is an attempt at a summary. Still, I highly recommend getting the book. I refer to it each time I write a brief. It contains great examples of before and after improvements to business cards, resumes, correspondence, and legal briefs. Further, it contains detail that can only be captured in a book; Butterick explains the proper use of em dashes and en dashes and hyphens, the nuances of non-breaking spaces and non-breaking hyphens, the dark art of letter spacing. So, get the book.

Plaintiffs attorneys would do well to adopt better typographical practices now rather than later. Law schools across the country are using Butterick’s book as part of their legal writing curriculum. The federal clerks who are reading your briefs will know the best typographical practices and will judge you and your failure to adopt them. Further, as I mentioned above, better typography produces briefs, letters, and exhibits that are easier to read and therefore more likely to be read and understood.

Plaintiffs attorneys have a brief window in which adopting better typography will provide us with a subtle advantage. The defense bar will eventually adopt better typographical practices and then our failure to use them ourselves will disadvantage us and our clients.

So, let’s get started on improving our work product with better typography. I will begin with some practices that will improve all of your documents, including your briefs, and then discuss the impact of court rules regarding margins and line spacing in briefs.

Use One Space after Punctuation

Modern typographical best practices flow from an appreciation of a fact that has eluded many attorneys: we have computers now, not typewriters[2]. We learned to type (or our typing teachers learned to type) on typewriters that used a monospace font. That is, every letter, whether it’s a fat “m” or a skinny “i”, was stamped on a piece of metal that was the same width as all the other characters. Using two spaces after punctuation in a monospace font is acceptable (but even there, unnecessary). On computers, however, we are blessed with proportional fonts–fonts with varying letter widths. Using two spaces after a proportional font is a vestige of our days from the typewriter. It is, as Butterick says, “an obsolete habit”. As he says in his book and website:

Some top­ics in this book will involve dis­cre­tionary choices. Not this one. Always put exactly one space between sen­tences. Or more gen­er­ally: put exactly one space after any punc­tu­a­tion.

One space. Period.

Okay, with that sacred cow slaughtered, let’s move on…

Use Bold or Italic Type for Emphasis

Do not use underlining. Again, underlining is a vestige from our typewriter days when there simply was no other option but to use underlining to add emphasis. Bold type and italic type just weren’t available on typewriters. Bold and italic type are the typographical equivalent of the electronic unlocking mechanism on your car. When was the last time you actually unlocked your car with your key?

Use better tools: bold and italic typefaces are more elegant and less disruptive to the eye than underlined text.

Justify Your Text on the Left

There’s really not much to this rule except to say that studies have shown that left-justified text is easier to read than text that is justified on both sides. In a left-justified document, the reader’s eyes use the nonuniform breaks along the right side of the page as a subtle guide to find the beginning of the next line of text.

Unlike the two previous rules, you do not have to stop justifying your text on both sides if you don’t want to. Know that you are making your reader’s job more difficult, but justifying on both margins is still acceptable practice. If you justify on both sides, however, you are required to turn on hyphenation in your word processor. Hyphenation will help you avoid the unsightly gaps in text that can occur in documents justified on both sides. These gaps, like the double spaces after periods, are little tiny speed bumps for the reader’s eyes as they travel across the page.

Look, I should probably be explicit about this now that I’ve used the phrase “little tiny speed bumps for your reader’s eyes”: I write my briefs with the understanding that judges and their law clerks are drinking from the fire hose. Like little Joe Miller in UHF, judges and law clerks found the marble in the oatmeal and now their reward is to read tens of thousands of pages of lawyers’ briefs each year. My baseline assumption about my audience is that they are drowning and are looking for basically any reason to stop reading my brief. Given this assumption, a lot of “little tiny speed bumps” in my brief are a really big problem for me.

Use a Nice Font

Fonts are what most people think of when they hear the word “ typography”. I hope my ranting so far has given you a sense that fonts (technically, typefaces) are just a small element of good typography.

Consider investing in a nice font. Butterick has designed a typeface, Equity, to meet the special needs of attorneys. It is polished, tight, and its italic is beautiful. Seriously, I find myself trying to find reasons to italicize words when writing with Equity. It’s available for purchase on his website. He also has recommendations for replacements for your Times New Roman and other common system fonts that are preinstalled on your computer and make your work look like everyone else’s work.

Avoid All Caps

Many attorneys rely on ALL CAPS as a way to emphasize their most important points and in the headings of their briefs. This is not a useful practice. ALL CAPS IS ACTUALLY HARDER TO READ than regular text. Butterick allows for a single line of all caps text, but no more. Personally, I try to avoid it whenever possible.

A BOLDED, UNDERLINED, ALL CAPS HEADING is just an invitation to your reader to skip past it.

On a related note, if you have a case which involves the question of whether a provision in a contract is clear and conspicuous, Butterick is available to serve as an expert witness. I think his services would be especially useful in consumer cases which involve contracts that contain paragraph upon paragraph upon paragraph of all caps text. The science is in: this text is difficult to read.

Every court promulgates rules regarding typography. These rules are designed to promote fairness, uniformity, and legibility by forbidding attorneys from engaging in the worst typographical practices in an effort to squeeze more words onto a page. These rules have their most dramatic impact on line length (margin rules) and line spacing (the requirement that the lines be double-spaced).

Shorten Your Lines Outside of Briefs

“Shorter lines are easier to read than longer lines,” says Butterick. Ideally, your line will be between 45 and 90 characters, including spaces. Most courts in Kentucky require one-inch margins on both the left and right. (The appellate courts require 1 1/2" margins on the left.) At these margins, your 12-pt Times New Roman line is going to have more characters than the recommended maximum of ninety. Outside of lobbying for a rule change, there’s nothing you can do.

Move on to something you can fix: your line lengths in your letters, interoffice memorandum, and presentations. For me, shortening my line lengths was a revelation; this small change led to an immediate improvement in the look and readability of my letters.

Use True Double Spacing for Better Briefs

The ideal line spacing is 120–145% of your font size. That is, if you are using a 12-point font, you should set your line spacing between 14.4 and 17.4. Personally, for my out-of-court documents, I use 15-point spacing. It provides a little more space between the lines than the “single spacing” setting (which makes words look cramped and is difficult to read).

Most courts require us to double space our briefs.[3] CR 76.12(4)(a)(ii) requires us to use “black type no smaller than 12 point” and typing that is “double spaced and clearly readable.” The court’s requirement to double space your briefs does not mean, however, that you just go into Microsoft Word and pound the “double space” button. True double spacing for a 12-point font means setting your line spacing at “Exactly” 24 points. Using Microsoft Word’s default “double space” will give you line spacing greater than 24 points–about 15% greater, in fact. This translates to having 2–3 fewer lines on a 8 1/2“ x 11” page.

In other words, if you are using Microsoft Word’s default “double space” setting for your pleadings, you are hurting yourself in two ways: 1) you are making your document less legible by putting more space than ideal between your lines and 2) you are making your document longer than it needs to be. Because our courts set maximum page limits (rather than word limits), this means you are giving yourself (and your client) fewer words to explain your position than you would otherwise have available to you.

How many times have you been on page twenty-six and need to slim a brief down to twenty-five pages? True double spacing will give you more words and those words will look better on the page.

There: I just gave you a way to be more verbose than you already are. For that and for all the other typographical wisdom (cribbed entirely from Matthew Butterick), you’re welcome.

Sometimes it pays to know nerds.

  1. The only other lawyer I knew personally that had read Typography for Lawyers and cared about this stuff at all was Finis Price. I miss that guy.   ↩

  2. For anyone reading this still using a typewriter: you need help this article cannot provide. Please stop reading.   ↩

  3. I’ve looked through Jefferson County’s local rules and can’t find a double-spacing requirement anywhere. Nonetheless, I think the court would look askance at anything not double-spaced.   ↩

Shooting Ourselves in the Feet with Bullets

We are out of control with our PowerPoints.  

As a group, lawyers are the worst presenters I know. As a group, lawyers should be the best. We make our livings telling stories to clients, judges, and juries. Yet, give us a Powerpoint and we will oppress an otherwise interesting and important story into a brutal deathmarch of text-laden slides worthy of the Jackson Administration. We read from our slides (which consist of the notes for our talk) until a woman in the audience begins to wish that the bullets on the screen were lodged somewhere in her prefrontal cortex.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Never has it been this easy to give[1] a great presentation. Whether you use Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote, either program can quickly incorporate interesting images that capture a key concept. You can find these images online and save them to your computer in an instant. The fonts available to us are limitless.[2] Beautiful templates are prepared for us and baked into the software.

Never has it been this hard to give a great presentation. I have been traveling the state with the Kentucky Law Update series to talk about our enduring foreclosure crisis. I present after lunch. When I walk in the room during the break, I see the half-finished crosswords. I see the Amazon Kindle’s poking out of purses, the iPads filled with games and email. I know what I’m up against. The demands on our audiences’ attention have never been greater.

It has never been harder to get and keep an audience’s attention. I am here to tell you a hard truth: your deep knowledge and compelling series of bullet-pointed slides that explain everything so obviously and logically is not enough. Not even close. If you want your audience’s attention, you are going to have to rip it out of their iPad’s cold, dead hands.[3]

For trial attorneys like me, our livelihood depends on our ability to give a good presentation. Having someone’s attention is a precondition to persuasion. But, even if you are never going to set foot in a courtroom, you still need to know how to give a good presentation. You still have a stake in helping us all become better presenters.

There are 17,000 members of the Kentucky Bar Association. Each of us are required to gather 12.5 hours of Continuing Legal Education credit each year. We comply by sitting through lots of presentations. Multiply our membership by a 25-year career and collectively we will endure about 5,312,000 hours of presentations before we retire.[4]

That’s a lot of crummy presentations.

There are some basic things we can do to make our presentations instantaneously less awful. First, do whatever you need to do to keep your audience’s attention. If the only way you can do this is by butchering a chicken while talking about subrogation rights or ERISA plans, bring a tarp to make cleanup easier. Let’s stop pretending this isn’t a show and that we’re not, in part, ringleaders.

Next, adhere to Guy Kawasaki’s 10–20–30 Rule. No more than 10 slides. No more than 20 minutes. Nothing less than 30-point font on your slide. Look, your slides shouldn’t be your notes.[5] Your notes are your notes. After you create your crappy presentation that just reflect the main things you want to say, hit “Print”. Those are your notes. Congratulations. Now create your presentation with 10 words–one per slide that capture your points. Better yet, pick ten pictures that enliven the concepts and entertain while you use your notes. Your slides should be in conversation with your words, not an echo of them.

Third, get curious about how to make your presentations better. Read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds or Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

Finally, it’s time we start expecting more of ourselves and our colleagues than dry marches through case law and statutes. Obviously, imparting substantive knowledge needs to happen, but it’s time to stop pretending it’s our audience’s job to already be interested in our topics and it’s their fault if they don’t give us their undivided attention. Their failure to pay attention is our failure to capture it. Be brutal in evaluations. Demand more. If a presentation wasn’t great, give suggestions to make it better. If the presenter just phoned it in, say so.

Presentations matter. They matter to colleagues, clients, opposing counsel, and juries. At a minimum, five million hours of smart people’s time is at stake. Don’t let a bad presenter waste another hour of yours.

Ben Carter is an associate at Morris and Player, PLLC, a firm for plaintiffs. He is a consultant to the Network Center for Community Change on issues surrounding foreclosure, tax liens, and vacant and abandoned property. He welcomes your thoughts and ideas:

  1. When I say “give”, I mean it: a great presentation is a performance that stays with the audience. It is a gift.  ↩

  2. Please, stop using Calibri. When I see Calibri on the screen, the words I see are, “default.” As in: “The fact that this presentation is awful is default of the presenter.”  ↩

  3. I am aware that iPad’s do not technically have hearts and that they are, in fact, cold and dead already. You do not need to email me on this point.  ↩

  4. This doesn’t include all the time we spend in internal firm meetings that resemble the eye-popping scene from A Clockwork Orange ↩

  5. When was the last time you went to a movie and the screen was bifurcated: one side with the action and actors and the other side with a scrolling script? Exactly. Time to raise your game.  ↩

*  *  *  *  *

The Kentucky Bar Association is kind enough to publish this in their March edition of Bench and Bar. I don't mean to imply in this article that I'm the world's best presenter—far from it. I still rely on bullet points and text too much in my own presentations. You can see it in a presentation I gave last fall. But, if you watch the video, you can also see in that presentation a lot of pictures to complement the ideas I'm talking about. Including a few Venn diagrams. Nothing wrong with a Venn diagram.