Hi Scott, where do you practice law?
I practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia, at Scott MacMullan Law, LLC. I’m barred in both these jurisdictions. I practice criminal defense, personal injury, car accident cases, as well as with ABA people. I’ll help them pro hac vice into Maryland or D.C., if they’re representing or defending a business in Maryland or D.C.
When you say “ABA people” what do you mean?
Someone from the ABA might have a client that’s in Maryland or D.C. and they’re not barred in Maryland or D.C. So I can do what’s called pro hac vice and let them practice law under my guidance in Maryland or D.C. Or I can represent their client in Maryland or D.C.
Do you do a lot of those types of cases?
Yes. I’ll help them represent their cases; I’ll either do a deposition for them, file a case negotiate for them or cover hearings for them in Maryland or D.C. Pretty much help people take care of their clients where they can’t practice.
What percentage of your practice does that make up for you?
It’s small; maybe five or ten percent.
How do you get involved in something like that and do you recommend other lawyers offer that type of service for out-of-state attorneys?
Sure, especially to the American Bar Association. It’s great if you’re meeting other lawyers from all across the country, you can say, “Hey, I’m in Maryland and D.C. If any of your clients have anything in Maryland or D.C. and you can’t represent them there, talk to me and I can help you out. I can either pro hac vice you into a case in Maryland or D.C., or I just handle a case for your clients in Maryland or D.C.” And that happens a lot.
You also handle criminal defense and personal injury cases?
I think it was Bill Gibson who said “Car Wrecks and Arrests,” and that sums up what I do. I handle a lot of car accident cases. I handle a lot of arrests. A lot of them are domestic assault situations; either first degree assault or second degree assault situations. Four out of five days a week I’m in court handling different cases, different hearings or trials. I’m in court a lot and I try to stay away from the paper and I focus in on the court hearings. That’s what I enjoy.
Have you ever had a case that combines both the Wreck and the Arrest; like a hit-and-run, for example?
I have had hit-and-run cases, but a good example is a case I got yesterday, where a 68-year-old woman came into my office and hired me for her car accident case. She’s also a witness in the criminal case for the person that was a drunk driver who rear-ended her car. So, she’s asking if I can represent her at her DUI. Not my client’s DUI case, but the case in which my client is going to be a witness against the DUI driver. So, a lot of times they overlap, but I’m not really doing two cases at a time.
If I do two cases at a time, it’s generally an assault case that’s also a violation of protective order case. Sometimes, there’d be a fight between a couple and there’d be a protective order that comes out and there would also be an assault charge. A lot of times those are really good cases because you get two criminal cases for one incident, but I don’t really handle both the car wrecks and the DUI car accident and the arrest at the same time, generally.
Where did you go to law school?
I went to college and law school in Pennsylvania. I went to Villanova University and I went to Widener Law for law school. They’re both in Pennsylvania.
How did you end up in Annapolis Maryland and the D.C. area?
I was born and raised in the Annapolis area. I was in law school and I was clerking for a judge – a US District Court judge in Baltimore. I loved the experience, but I didn’t have the Ivy League background, so being in federal court was not really in the cards for me. But I talked to the judge. I told him, “I really like to clerk,” and he found that I was from Annapolis and he made a call to a judge in the Annapolis area. When I talked to that judge, he didn’t have a spot for me, but I kept pushing and another judge down the road ended up being the head judge of the circuit court – trial court level. And he had a courtship position for me.
I found out, and this is a good tip for younger lawyers, or anyone at a courthouse, is that the real interview was before I went into see the judge. The real interview was with the administrative assistant and I didn’t know it at the time. I put my best “Leave It to Beaver” on and the administrator says I talked to her for 20-30 minutes outside. I went into the judge and I talked to the judge for like five or ten minutes. And after that I got the job.
What did the administrative assistant talk to you about?
It was just personality things. She was getting the background, asking about my family, what I liked, what I didn’t like. It was to see if I was a good fit. I had the academics for the position, but it was more about whether or not I’d be a good personality fit because we were going to be working closely together.
When did you join the Law Practice Division?
I joined the Law Practice Division three years ago under Bob Young as the Public Interest Chair and this year I’m a Law Practice Fellow.
What’s the Public Interest Chair?
Public Interest is pro bono. The Law Practice Division had their mid-year in San Diego and I organized the Homeless Youth Project and Homeless Youth Legal Clinic. Homeless youth came in, along with people from the Law Practice Division and people from the local San Diego non-profit entities. The highlight was Paulette Brown, the president-elect of the ABA at the time, who attended the event as well. We’re focused on public interest and pro bono as it applies to law practice. I’m thinking about trying to get into doing more with non-profits, like Legal Aid and making Legal Aid more efficient and using our Law Practice Division skills more efficiently. That’s ideally what we’d be doing, but we’d also be hands-on helping out too. We’d be making these entities more efficient and also helping out where we can directly with public service and pro bono when we can, too.
You’re also a Fellow. What does that mean exactly?
A Law Practice Fellow? It’s a way to get introduced to the Division; to get to know the Division and meet a lot of people. You get the chance in both the fall and spring meetings; you kind of have built-in mentors. I have a great mentor named Thomas Howard. He’s in Michigan, I believe, and he’s been really helpful. I’m also talking to Antonia Roybal-Mack, the Fellow’s Chair, and she’s been a great resource for me. It’s been a great way for me get submerged into the Division.
What made you join the Law Practice Division?
I’m a solo attorney and I really enjoy it because of its creativity and innovation. A lot of people in the Law Practice Division realize that law practice is changing. There are a lot of creative, innovative people that want to make the practice of law more efficient and effective, and I think that’s great for my business. I like being around people like that and I would like to hope that I’m like that as well.
How has the Law Practice Division impacted your personal law practice?
It has helped me focus my practice and continually realize that law practice is, in fact, a business and you have to treat it as a business. That’s what the Law Practice Division really helps me with, to focus on the business side.
Is there anything specific that you’ve learned directly from the Law Practice Division that has helped your practice?
She talked about the importance of focusing your law practice. I’ve been practicing on my own for about four years. And about a year into practicing on my own, I was doing what was called “door law.” I was letting everything into my door, and it really wasn’t that effective. Now that I’ve become more focused – and you can almost track it directly to my involvement in the Law Practice Division – I’m actually referring out cases more than I’m taking in, but the cases I’m taking in are very lucrative because I know how to do those cases well. I get a good reputation that way. And the people that I’m referring cases out to are more likely to refer cases that I do well, to me. So, the Law Practice Division has really helped me grow from door law to good law.
When you refer cases out, do you take a fee?
If it’s a big, high-end medical malpractice or a big personal injury case that I don’t have the resources to handle, I would, but, 95 percent of the time I don’t take a fee on any of those cases.
Do attorneys that you’ve referred cases to subsequently refer you business in return?
Yes. And that’s an important thing – to network with other attorneys that are in practice areas that match up well with yours. There are a lot of family law attorneys that just do divorce and family cases. I just do criminal law. Criminal law and family law really intersect a lot. A lot of times, people are in an ugly divorce or a custody fight and it ends up becoming an assault case or ends up becoming a protective order case and I can handle those. The family law or the divorce law attorney wouldn’t want to get into the criminal area. A lot of times I can match up with other solo attorneys like that.
How does focusing your practice affect referrals from other attorneys?
A lot of times people from large law firms don’t get referrals. And the reason why they aren’t being referred at the large law firm is because people are afraid that if they refer something to them, they will never get a referral back because that large firm does everything. So, when you’re solo, it’s so important to not be like the large law firm that does everything. You have to be very good at that one thing and the business generally will come in after that.
What is your biggest practice management challenge?
Clients are the biggest challenge. They can vary from trying to call you four times a day to emailing you at all times at night for things that aren’t urgent. It’s trying to balance helping out clients, but also balancing my life.
How do you deal with clients?
At first, I had just my own cell phone and my own account. Now I have my own law firm email account for my name, but I also have a general email box and a virtual receptionist. At the beginning, when a client retains me, I tell them that I will try to get back to them within 24 hours, so there’s no need to call again. I’ll set up the guidelines of my schedule; how much I can represent them and how I will always try to get back to them as soon as possible, within reason. I’ve also set up some “buffers.” I have used Ruby Receptionist as a virtual receptionist. That’s a good buffer. I can screen a call and can tell the receptionist to say, “That’s handled,” or, “Tell them I’ll give them a call back in a day or two when discovery evidence comes in.” Or, I’ll email them an informational email box that another virtual assistant handles and that she can screen and handle those inquiries for me.
What is a virtual assistant?
I use Virtual Staff Finder, which is, basically, a recruiting agency for virtual assistants. I told them what I was looking for and they set me up with three different candidates, located in the Philippines. I Skyped with them and with them and selected one. She works very hard and it’s very, very helpful to have someone that can take care of the small details.
What type of tasks do you assign to that person?
Basically it’s part of my intake process. She’ll send out the basic intake email and create a file in Clio, the case management software. She’ll create a contact for that new client; she’ll do a “matter” for the client; and put in the documents. If it’s a criminal case, there’ll be probable cause statements. It’s just as if an administrative assistant was here in my office. In Anne Arundel County, where I practice, there’s e-filing now, so I’m slowly but surely, giving her my e-filing appearances. She drafts my basic line of appearance to get into the case and she’ll draft my discovery request. I also tell her how much they’re paying me or how much they did pay me and she’ll often help with the fee agreement, too. She takes care of the pleadings, the motions, the basic emails. She also handles social media. Most importantly, she handles my calendar. She even drafted a promotional book, about what to do if you’re charged with a crime in Maryland!
You mentioned Clio. Is it there any other platform that you find indispensible to your practice?
Yes. Two or three years ago, I started using LawPay and they way I use it has really changed my law practice; it’s really gotten me more clients and more revenue. With online payment processing, you can have a client pay you via email, or you can have a link on your website so it helps to close the case. Lots of times, I’ll get a call from people who are shopping around for an attorney. If I can quote them, via an email or give them a quote and have them on a link and then have my virtual assistant send a fee agreement right away, I can close the case right then. It reduces that friction to close a client. I’ve closed a lot more clients that way because of it.
Any other goals in terms of improving your practice management
Yes. I’m hiring a bookkeeper. I have an online bookkeeper, but I’m getting away from that. I’m getting an in-person bookkeeper. With my type of practice, I get cash, I get credit cards, I get checks, and a lot of times it’s like I get small payments here and there. So, I’m always trying to improve the process of getting the money in and tracking it.
What would you say is the biggest difference between what you thought practicing law would be like versus what it actually is?
When you’re a kid, you think it’s going to be all jury trials. You think of Atticus Finch or something like that. It’s not like that. A lot of times it’s negotiations. It’s more negotiations than jury trials. I enjoy the jury trials, but I just don’t do them as much as you might have thought, growing up watching TV.
How long have you been practicing as an attorney?
Six years. I clerked for a year. I worked at an Anne Arundel county defense firm, and I’ve now been on my own for four years.
Given what you’ve learned so far as a lawyer, what advice would you offer to a law student or a new lawyer that’s just starting out?
You’ve got to think long-term. You think long-term in relationships, your marketing, and in everything you do. Even in my four years, I’ve seen relationships that I started in the last two or three years are paying off now. When you think long-term, you’re also thinking your long-term niche. Sometimes you have to say “no” to people at the beginning, but later on it’ll really bear fruit, it’ll bear money, and you’ll be happier for it.
What is your best or most effective marketing tactic?
I think it’s been networking and connecting with family law attorneys. Because I’m a criminal defense attorney, that’s been really good for referrals for me. I’ll do some marketing ads with Avvo, which is a good site. Some people don’t have success with it, but Avvo’s been good for me. I also have a local podcast where I get to talk to a lot of influential people where I work and where I want to practice.
Is your podcast legal-specific?
No. It’s not. It’s called the Annapolis Podcast, and I do it because I want to meet different people. They say, marketing-wise, you should go out and get coffee with someone different every week. Well, my podcast is like coffee on steroids. I’m getting to meet people for coffee that I would not have been able to meet otherwise without the podcast. I’ve become friends with them and I really like it because I can also connect with people that could potentially hire me. I thought a local, geographically-based podcast would do that.
So who do talk to on your podcast?
I’ve talked to some former mayors. That actually led to me representing one. She got a suspended driving license and I represented her on the case. I was in the local newspaper because of it.
What would you say is the funniest or strangest moment or case that you’ve had as a lawyer?
Two or three years ago, I had a client who came to court wearing old-school Oakleys and camo-fatigues. It was a mold case and he was under the impression that every place in Maryland had mold in it and that the courthouse had mold in it. So, he had to wear sunglasses because it was affecting his eyes or something. It was kind of a funny sight – this guy was wearing full fatigues and wearing old-school Oakleys in court. Of course, he was asked to take the sunglasses off, but he said he had to wear them because of the mold.
What about your proudest moment as a lawyer?
In 2012, I got the award from the Court of Appeals in Maryland, which is Maryland’s top court, for the most pro bono hours in my county. A lot of it was because I had the time to do the pro bono. But it was also because I wanted to help people and because it was a good opportunity for me to learn.
How would you describe your ideal client?
The ideal client pays on time, does what I say, and then after that does what I say, again. Because a lot of times I’ll have a conversation with a client and I’ll say, “Whatever you do, don’t talk to your spouse,” and then the next day, they’ll talk to their spouse and they’ll violate the protective order or something like that. It’s not only telling me that they’re going to follow what I say, but actually doing what I say. Simply, just following directions well and paying on time.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Carmelo Anthony, who’s a big NBA basketball player, dunked on me in high school. His high school team played my high school team and he slam-dunked on me and his team beat us 30-4. But the other one was, last year I was an actor on House of Cards. I was an extra. Season 4, Episode 11.
What was the scene?
The First Lady, Claire Underwood, is making a speech. She’s saying, “Frank and I are partners in life, now we’re partners on the campaign ticket.”
What would you say is your most lawyer-like characteristic?
I enjoy advocacy – speaking and writing. I think I’m strong at those.
And what about your most un-lawyer-like characteristic?
I can be a little casual. I always wear a suit and tie with clients and in court, but if I’m not with a client or in court, I’ll come to the office pretty dressed down.
Last question: What’s your favorite quote?
“Everything popular is wrong,” by Oscar Wilde. Also, I read this book called Blue Ocean Strategy: “You want to be in the blue ocean, the nice peaceful blue ocean, not in the red ocean where all the sharks are fighting each other.” So, putting it all together: “Find your niche.” Just because it’s popular to do a certain type of law doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do to stand out.
Jason Marsh is the founder of internet marketing agency MARSH8. He frequently writes and speaks on how law firms can develop online strategies to acquire new clients. Jason is the Chair of the ABA, Law Practice Division, Client Development and Marketing Committee, and Editor of Member Spotlight in Law Practice Today.