2015 Pushin’ the Deadline Gift Guide for the Lady Lawyer

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Ok, it’s already into the second week of December and if you haven’t grabbed that gift for the lady lawyer on your list, I’m here to offer suggestions with the help of a few of my friends: lady lawyers from across the country.

Planners

I’m a self-confessed planner nut, so this category makes the number one slot on my list. Most lawyers use a paper calendaring system and an electronic calendar (aka our phones). It’s just safer. As a wise man once told me: “The only thing you can screw up that I can’t fix is a deadline.”

I’ve used an Erin Condren planner for the past year and I have one waiting for me under the Christmas tree. I’m excited about the changes I’ve seen made (horizontal layout, less text for more flexibility) and I love the goodies and extras that come with every planner.  Order a generic planner now and they will send you a gift card for a personalized cover–which means you can still get it under the tree in time!

And, they have changeable covers, which means you can get festive all year long. I’m loving this New Years’ Cover:

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My second choice would probably be either the Inkwell or Simplified planners and I’ve heard positive things about the Day Designer from lawyer friends as well.

Inkwell makes journals of all sorts, but the quarterly journal may be particularly appealing to ladies looking to trim the bulk in their bags.

Current special for quarter bundle: $35.00

inkwell quarterly

They are currently sold out, but I’m sure a gift card would be appreciated; plus, they’ve got other great stuff, like a planner stamp! This is fantastic (hint-use chalk ink in a planner to ensure no bleed through):

Stamp: $7.00

planner stamp

Journals/Notebooks

Yes, lawyers love these. There is no such thing as too many. You’d be surprised how many we can get through in a year. First up is Inkwell Press again, with my two favorite designs: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” and the honeycomb print. They have graph paper inside, which comes particularly in handy when you are trying to chart out a fire location or point of shooting. We live charmed lives, don’t we?

Each journal:  $17.00

 

Mousepad and Headphones

She doesn’t have to live in an office that looks like it was decorated by Charles Dickens himself. Help her say, “umm, no,” to that mousepad her client corporation gave her and yes to something beautiful!

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Jamie K. in Dallas, a bankruptcy attorney, writes: “I enjoy things that make my office feel more ‘me’ since it’s where I spend a ridiculous amount of time. Examples include this beautiful watercolor mousepad:

watercolor purple mousepad

Mousepad is $12.00 from courtneyoquist on easy.com

Rachel V., an attorney in Chicago says:

“I definitely agree with Jamie on personalization! Also, when I was still in an office, a good pair of ear buds were my best friend. Also, I always kept a blanket and small pillow hidden away in my desk…just in case.”

If the lawyer on your list has been very, very nice this year, allow me to recommend my headphones:

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These are the Bang & Olufsen Play headphones, which are seriously like a slice of heaven on earth, and available through Amazon Prime 2 day shipping for $367.96.

Artwork

In the same thread, lawyers everywhere are looking to personalize that space they spend so much time in with unique art.

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Anne Milligan, a Portland-based labor law attorney, spends her day-dreaming minutes filling up a Pinterest board with art to buy for her office.

So far, she’s been very satisfied with her artwork from various artist, including Society6

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$16.00 for this print, which is currently in stock. You can’t go wrong.

 

Tiara

Everyone in our focus group of 8 lawyers agreed that a business tiara would be a welcome addition to their desks. For $11.95, she can own the Benevolent Queen of the Enchanted Business Forest Tiara from Bullish and rule her own (small) kingdom.

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There are tons of other goodies on that site that my friends definitely wouldn’t say no to, as you can imagine just by looking at that tiara.

Happy Gift Giving!

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Let’s Catch Up!

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Let’s Catch Up Real Quick

Heeeyyyy, oh my gosh, it’s been so long, I’ve been meaning to call! I’ve been so busy with the kids (2 kids ages 4 and 1) and shutting down my law firm.

Yes, shutting down a law firm is a lot of work. Like, way more work than setting one up. No one tells you that.

When I tell people that I decided to shut my firm down, most give me condolences akin to the death of a family member. To be sure, I felt like a failure when I decided to call it quits, but it had to happen for my sanity. But, at this point, I mostly just feel like jumping for joy.

Now that it’s not unusual for me to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night, I realize how terribly I was treating myself and I suffered and my family suffered because of it. I’m severely anemic and Vitamin D deficient, which already puts a crunch on my energy levels and I have a blood clotting disorder that doesn’t lend itself well to crazy stress. But…I’m a workaholic and can’t stop myself when I get started. Like, the bad kind of workaholic, not the interview kind. The kind that breaks up families, not the kind you joke about. In my old firm, I had protections built in for that. Every other attorney knew it was a real problem for me and if I was staying later than other people, a partner would double check that it was actually necessary. When I worked for myself, there was no check and no one else who knew what was actually necessary and what wasn’t.

I think, especially for a woman with two kiddos below kindergarten and an attorney spouse, running a law firm and managing the business side of a firm is just asking too much of yourself. Especially in a practice as high volume and stressful as bankruptcy (and I was also running PR interference for a case with national international media attention). I don’t really regret trying it, although I would say it would’ve been better had attempted it once both kids were older than kindergarten.

Anyhow, if you are seriously considering going out on your own, call me first and let’s chat.

Ok, tomorrow you should look for the 2015 Pushing the Deadline Holiday Gift Guide for Lady Lawyers!

 

 

Don’t Coach Your Witness During Depositions-Here’s How to Avoid It

Sanctions may be waiting for you if your zealous defense of a deposition of your client or witness rises to the level of witness coaching. There is nothing wrong with a proper objection (I encourage it, when called for, instead of playing iPhone games) but you definitely don’t want to make objections solely to tip off your client/witness to play along. How can you avoid this?

  1. Don’t just say “Object to form” or “objection, form.” State the underlying reason for your form objection. If it’s hearsay, say, “Object to the form, hearsay.” Same with foundation, etc. Continuously objecting with a pattern form objection could be interpreted as merely obstructing the questioner and tipping your witness to answer in a way differently than what she would have done without your interruption.
  2. Don’t object to every other question with “vague” or “ambiguous.” These are specific terms with specific meanings that shouldn’t just be a clue for your witness to ask for clarification or try to narrow down his or her answer to extinction.
  3. Don’t overly prepare your witness. I have several articles on this blog about preparing your witness about what to expect, what to wear, when to shut up, etc. but there is a difference between preparing a witness and practically writing a script that a witness memorizes and can’t deviate from.
  4. Don’t object to every single thing that you can possibly object to. Weigh the importance of the objection. If it matters, go for it. If you are really in doubt, go for it. But if the objection is to something harmless, let it go. Your transcript shouldn’t be littered with your name on every other line.

If we all follow these rules, we ultimately all win. Shorter depos mean cheaper depos. Cooperative depositions lead to future cooperative depositions and misconduct sanctions are avoided.

The Time a Senior Partner Stood Up for an Associate and Changed the Course of American History

Well, that’s a dramatic title, isn’t it? But, it’s true.

In 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a lawyer, former judge, and a junior senator from Wisconsin, shot to prominence by claiming that he had a list of “members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring” who were employed in the State Department.

He is famous for saying things like, “One communist on the faculty of one American University is one too many,” and “even if there is only one communist in the State Department, that would be one too many.” By the time he really got going, it wasn’t just important power figures who felt his wrath, but ordinary citizens who lost their livelihoods as a result of McCarthy’s finger-pointing witch-hunt. Despite the fact that he came in like a wrecking ball, he  was never able to prove his sensational charge.

But, in the few years succeeding his claim,  he became an all-American hero, despite his complete disregard for due process.

Not as widely known as McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade were his various attempts to intimidate, and expel from government positions, persons whom he accused, or threatened to publicly accuse, of homosexuality. Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson has written: “The so-called ‘Red Scare’  has been the main focus of most historians of that period of time. A lesser-known element…and one that harmed far more people was the witch-hunt McCarthy and others conducted against homosexuals.”This anti-homosexual witch-hunt that McCarthy and others waged alongside their “Red Scare” tactics has been referred to by some as the “Lavender Scare.”

In 1953, McCarthy decided to take on the military after his chief legal counsel, Roy Cohn, pressured him to. Cohn was unhappy because his friend (and a former junior staffers to McCarthy), David Schine, was called up for military service and was unable to get a cushy desk job in either the CIA or the Army, despite Cohn asking very nicely. That did not suit them.

Early in 1954, the U.S. Army accused McCarthy and  Cohn, of improperly pressuring the Army to give favorable treatment to Schine. McCarthy claimed that the accusation was made in  in retaliation. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, usually chaired by McCarthy, was given the task of adjudicating these conflicting charges. The hearings convened on April 22, 1954 and lasted for 36 days. They were broadcast on live televsion, with an estimated 20 million viewers.

The most famous incident in the hearings was an exchange between McCarthy and the army’s chief legal representative, Joseph Welch. On June 9, Welch challenged Roy Cohn to provide USAG Herb Brownell, Jr. with McCarthy’s list of 130 Communists or subversives in defense plants “before the sun goes down”. McCarthy stepped in and said that if Welch was so concerned about persons aiding the Communist Party, he should check on a man in his Boston law office named Fred Fisher, who had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, which Brownell had called “the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party.”

In an impassioned defense of Fisher, Welch responded.

Welch: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.”

When McCarthy resumed his attack, Welch interrupted him:

“Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch cut him off:

“Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further.”

When McCarthy once again persisted, Welch cut him off and demanded the chairman “call the next witness.” At that point, the gallery erupted in applause and a recess was called.

The American people saw a callous bully in McCarthy and his public approval ratings plummetted. The hearings recessed for summer and never resumed. McCarthy was later censured and lost all influence. He became a very heavy drinker and drank himself to death.

Fisher went on to have a long and successful career as a lawyer, becoming a partner at Hale & Dorr and president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

Baking a Law Firm from Scratch: How to Be Both a Chef and a Lawyer

As David Seders once hilariously recounted in Me Talk Pretty One Day, the word “chef,” in french, means “boss.” Because my law firm took on an associate very soon after I had started implementing it, I had to actually come up with title beyond “Attorney.” “Boss” doesn’t fit me (although I’m bossy, I think that title belongs to someone much older than me and in a much larger firm). I am very, very aware that the buck stops with me; that my associate is entitled to depend on my decision making when the ethical areas are gray; and that, ultimately, whether my law firm creation succeeds or flops is my responsibility. But “boss” just wasn’t it.

I decided to go with “Managing Attorney.” It has all the hallmarks of “person in charge” without sounding so stuffy. And it also has an verb before the noun that really says it all: “managing.”

Oh, how fast am figuring out how important that part of the title is. It is now my main job. I am attorney after I am managing, in both form and function. Whether or not I am doing that well is another story. I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect at it. I am learning it as I go. I am fortunate that my associate is not the type to hide her feelings, but provides real feedback about when I do something wrong and is my first cheerleader when I do something right (love you, LC). If I didn’t have someone who gave their honest opinions, I’m pretty sure we would be minus one associate by now.

You see, I’ve never been a manager before. I’ve helped managers. I’ve deposed managers. I’m rather familiar with the roles of Michael Scott and his British counterpart. But, I’m a lawyer, not a manager…at least until a couple of months ago. What do I manage? Here’s the partial list:

If I should hire someone.

Who to hire.

Compensation packages.

Advertising. Where do I even start?

Healthcare Plans and Dental Plans. Which plan? What is this marketplace tax thing?

Technology-which software? which hardware? where to buy? when to buy?

Bank accounts-two, one trust account designed to terrorize my few hours of sleep every night..how do I know which is the best bank?

Credit card processor-is the cheapest the best? Am I complying with the credit card companies directions? Am I going to get sued if I get hacked? How do I make this work with my trust account?

phone lines-landline, cell lines, VOIP, fax-which provider, which plan, prepay? Which hardware with this? How do I make this damn thing forward my calls?!

Filing system-How do I want to arrange my files physically?

Document management system? How do I want to arrange my files electronically?

Accountant-who should I hire? When should I hire?

Payroll-when do I need a payroll processor?

Parking-Where to park? How much is too much? Remember to send the check every month. Pray something better comes open soon.

and that’s just the job for the sous chef….

What Puts the “Grand” in “Grand Jury?”

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There has been a lot of discussion about grand juries and what they do. What makes them so grand? Where do they come from? How are they different from your standard (or “petit”) jury?

Grand Juries were historically used in common law countries, such as England and the United States, to provide checks against prosecutorial overreach. In fact, they were initially used for all sorts of purposes, including basic government. Over time, however, their use has gradually declined, with the United States being the only country that still regularly uses them.

From Wikipedia: “A Grand Jury is a legal body that is empowered to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought.”

In other words, the grand jury decides whether there is sufficient probable cause for the prosecutor to file charges against someone accused of a crime.

But what’s so grand about that? Well, while the petit jury you see in normal trials (or at least on Law & Order) is made up of 12 jurors, a federal grand jury has anywhere from 16 to 23 members. In order to bring a case in federal court, the prosecutor must have 12 of those jurors decide that there is sufficient evidence, or probable cause, to be tried. If they vote to do so, it’s called an indictment. (“in-DIGHT-ment”)

Why do they go through all this rigamarole? I thought the prosecutor just decided when to file charges? The requirement for a Grand Jury comes from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. You may know that the Fifth Amendment is the basis for Miranda Rights, including the right to remain silent, but it also provides that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…” So, in federal court, charges can’t be brought against someone until the Grand Jury has indicted.

So that’s how it works in federal court, but the cases that we’ve heard about recently have been in state courts, namely Missouri and New York. Do state courts have to use grand juries, too? Actually, no. In this instance, the Fifth Amendment requirement for Grand Juries hasn’t been held to apply to the States, meaning States are not required to use a Grand Jury to file an indictment. Only twenty-two states have laws allowing for the use of grand juries, and not all of them regularly use them. Many of those states only use them for felonies, or homicides, or other extreme cases. Many others don’t use them, even though they could.

Okay, so why go through the fuss of having two trials? Ah, don’t get confused here. Even though they’re a jury, the Grand Jury doesn’t meet in court. They are not actually held in courts, or with judges, or even with the defendant! Grand Juries are, generally speaking, only allowed to hear from the prosecution, from the witnesses the prosecution chooses to call, and they see only the evidence the prosecution wants them to see. There is no judge to rule on evidence, and there is no defense attorney (or defendant) there to dispute the evidence that the Prosecution presents. Needless to say, this lack of argument against the prosecution makes it incredibly easy for the prosecution to set forth its side. Because the Grand Jury hears nothing other than what the prosecution wants it to hear, indictments are almost guaranteed. When a prosecutor asks for an indictment, it’s generally given, which gives rise to the famous quote that “a Grand Jury would indict a ham sandwich.”

In addition to this, Grand Juries usually meet in secret, and any transcripts are sealed records, and the very fact that they have been called is usually not revealed. If Grand Juries were public, it would be even harder to get witnesses to come forward in the first place, especially if their testimony would serve no ultimate purpose if the person were not indicted.

The purpose of the Grand Jury is one more step in the checks and balances that we place on the government and the actions of the State. Just as the Founders provided that we can’t be compelled to testify against ourselves, they also didn’t want to give the State an unlimited ability to prosecute people for serious crimes. The Grand Jury is one (albeit small) hurdle for the State to clear along the way of trying a person for a crime. As stated above, it’s usually a done deal when a person is accused before a Grand Jury, but there are exceptions. The two prominent cases in the past weeks are proof.

*This was first posted on my firm blog at http://www.jwellslawfirm.com on December 8, 2014.*

Friday Funbag! Interview with Jennifer Wells (Yeah, That’s Me) About Starting a Firm from Scratch

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I’m back. And I’m better, faster, stronger…OK, I’m actually sick and slightly behind on actual work projects due to this horrendous sinus stuff. BUT! Business is going well. Family seems happy enough. I’m ready to start blogging again.

I have some great interviews already lined up for the next few months.  but I decided to interview myself for my first post since my hiatus. I’ve had a crazy past couple of months and all I can say is how incredibly glad I am to have taken the plunge and opened my own firm. It feels a bit odd asking and answering my own questions, but…oh well, here we go!

Q: Tell us a little bit about your firm. 

A. It’s called Wells Law Firm, PLLC. We are in a historic building in downtown Little Rock, on Second St. We both work out of one room, which is getting a little crazy and we are already looking at expanding a little.  I have one associate, Leslie Copeland, who just passed the bar this fall, and zero staff (unless you count my friendly mailman and the poor receptionist next door). We do a fairly general practice. I handle just about everything except domestic relations, which is Leslie’s area. We don’t do EEOC or admiralty law. So far, those are my only areas that I am firmly saying “no” to.

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Q: Did you always plan to have your own firm?

A: No. I have almost no business administration training, except for some accounting and a few college business classes. I like being a lawyer and doing legal work of starting a business (formation, dissolution, etc.), but the administrative part has never really appealed to me, so I thought I would always be with a firm. I ended up leaving my firm because there simply wasn’t enough flexibility in my schedule to accommodate my daughter’s new school schedule when she moved from daycare to a “real” school.

Q: What made you decide to have an associate?

A: At first, I thought I was going to be solo. I also did not want to do any domestic relations work. It soon became apparent to me that a brand new start up law firm would have to take domestic relations cases. They are the most frequent type of legal cases we get calls about. So, I found Leslie, who actually wanted to do DR work. She is one of those special people with a gift of knowing how to help families in emotional crises. I wasn’t born with that touch, so I let her handle that part of it. It’s paying off. I don’t have to turn DR clients away and I still don’t have to do it myself. I help Leslie with her cases when she has questions, but honestly, her clinic classes prepared her well. She usually knows what to do and her clients love her.

Q: What is the hardest part of starting a new firm? 

A: Honestly, there are two things that I think are difficult. One is learning to budget the money. The other is just figuring out all of the things it you have to do to start a business. We are finally getting there.

Q: How much were your start up costs? 

A. I have an interest free line of credit of $10,000, plus a $10,000 business credit card. I thought it would cost me a couple of thousand, maybe, to get started. I quickly discovered that it took closer to $9,000 (for two lawyers) just to get up and running. Now, I definitely could have done it cheaper than that. I like having good technology (good computers and printers) and good health insurance. That stuff costs more up front, but I think it pays off in the long run.

Q: What were some of your unexpected costs? 

A: I honestly never thought I would need a payroll company, but I learned that relying on a professional for wage withholding, etc. is definitely worth the price. I planned to handle my own bookkeeping (I have some accounting background), but doing that stuff means I wouldn’t have any time for legal work, which is how I make my money. I also didn’t realize how much malpractice insurance would cost. And we both joined ATLA, with is our trial lawyer association and paid for unlimited CLE passes. That stuff isn’t cheap, but it has been well-worth it.

Q: Where have you been able to save money? 

A: My website. My logo. I do all my own graphics work and I built my site through squarespace. It is much cheaper than paying to have it built. But, I have some graphics background and I love doing creative stuff. It isn’t for everyone. I don’t have a secretary or receptionist, but I have always done my own typing, etc.

This is an example of an advertising packet I did with materials from Office Depot:

ad packages

Q: Would you recommend starting a law firm right out of law school? 

A: No, I wouldn’t recommend it. I would do everything I could to avoid it, actually, but I understand that isn’t a possibility for everyone. I was lucky enough to have three years in a firm, 16 months clerking full-time for a judge, 6 law clerkships, and 4 years as a paralegal before I started my own firm. And it’s still a bit overwhelming, but that’s mainly the business side. The legal side isn’t the problem. I’m not afraid to admit what I don’t know, but at this point, I know who to call to find out what I need to know. If I were brand new, I would make sure I had several good mentors who were willing to spend the time and effort to mentor me from the ground up. Theoretically, you are ready to practice law when you get that bar license, but it’s so, so easy to commit malpractice without even knowing it! I love being an ATLA member for that reason. There are so many people willing to answer questions, night and day. It’s incredible.

Q: Which programs do you use?

A: We are an all mac office, which limits our choices (I think that’s a good thing). We currently use Rocket Matter, but also tested MyCase and liked it. I also use Google Drive, Evernote, and Dropbox. I love transcript pad and trial pad for iPad. I do my accounting stuff by hand right now: I use both paper sheets and an electronic sheet that I created for myself.

Q:What’s the best part of working for yourself? 

A: Deciding which cases I want to take and ordering my schedule the way I need to. I don’t work any less (probably more) but I do it at times that are more convenience for me. I also love the thrill I get every time I see my letterhead with my name on the top (it’s in bold dark pink, of course).

It’s Pro Bono Month! Here are the Events You Should Know About (Please Share!)

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October is pro bono (latin: for free) month and my firm, Wells Law Firm, is partnering with Arkansas Legal Services, Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and the W. Harold Flowers Law Society on several events this month, which I have listed below. If you are an attorney and you’d like to volunteer, feel free to email me and I will get you the information: jennifer at jwellslawfirm.com.

October 22-Wills and Healthcare Forms for UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute. 

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Teams of Arkansas lawyers, legal assistants, notaries public, and law students are needed to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters for cancer patients at UAMS. (I won’t be attending this one, but thought I should include it for anyone who qualifies

UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute patients can sign up online.

October 24-Expungement Clinic at Shorter College

1-3:30pm

Attorneys with the W. Harold Flowers Law Society are partnering with the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Legal Aid of Arkansas, Arkansas Legal Services Partnership and Arkansas Access to Justice Commission to host an Expungement Clinic to provide free legal help to low-income  Arkansans and Shorter College students in preparing legal forms to seal criminal records.

Low-income Arkansans who want help can make an appointment online.

October 28-Wills and Healthcare Forms at Arkansas Children’s Hospital

1-3:30pm

Teams of Arkansas lawyers, legal assistants, notaries public, and law students are needed to prepare simple wills, advance directives, and powers of attorney for health care and financial matters for patients and their families at Children’s Hospital.

ACH patients and families can sign up online.

Wells Law Firm Makes History Its Second Day of Business by Becoming First Law Firm in Arkansas to Accept Bitcoin

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I am happy to say that Wells Law Firm became the first law firm to register and be approved for accepting Bitcoin for its services and (to my knowledge) the first law firm in the state (and one of the first in the nation) to offer services related to Bitcoin and crypto currency transactions for businesses. I am sorry to say that we are not currently accepting Dogecoin, although I’m not ruling it out forever.

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When you’re a lawyer “making history” can be really good or really bad. I am proud to say that today my firm makes history in a good way by being the first law firm in Arkansas to accept payment in Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

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We are the second merchant in the entire state to accept it, the first being Quain Percussion.

But, accepting Bitcoins as a payment option isn’t our only cryptocurrency service: we can also set up trust accounts for bit coins, aid in contract drafting, review, and negotiation for business transactions using Bitcoins, and assist in other related crypto currency transactions. To my knowledge, we are the first firm in the state focusing on this area for businesses.

Part of my pledge to myself in opening my own firm was to refuse to do law business as usual and I’m proud that we have broken new ground from the very beginning.  I want to use every possible technological avenue to provide affordable services to Arkansans and Arkansas businesses.