Hi William, let’s start with a little background on who you are, the name of your firm, and where you’re practicing?
My name is William D. Goren. My firm is William D. Goren, J.D., LL.M., LLC. I’m out of Decatur, Georgia, which is a town just outside of Atlanta, about 15 minutes east of midtown. I moved here to Decatur in 2012, when my wife got a job with the Centers of Disease Control.
What kind of law do you practice?
My practice focuses on understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act; that law and related laws (such as but not limited to the Rehabilitation Act and the Air Carrier Access Act), and that’s all I do. So, it could involve: employment matters; government access matters. business access matters; and even constitutional law.
The practice is divided into two components. The first component is the representation side where, for example but not limited to, someone is not being treated properly by a place of higher education. For example, they might hire me to evaluate the case and then take them through the Office of Civil Rights, or perhaps someone got discriminated against by a business. They may hire me to evaluate the case and take that to the Department of Justice.
The other side of the practice is case-solving: evaluating cases for individuals and attorneys (plaintiff or defense); working with the attorneys on their cases; working with attorneys on strategy; serving as an expert witness; serving as a consulting expert; and publishing/presenting/training. I also have a blog that I put out each week that has been voted in the ABA top 100 legal blogs for the last two years. I also published four editions of Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act for the American Bar Association and I do a fair amount of writing. So, the practice is a combination of my substantive ADA work and education. Immediately prior to moving down to the Atlanta area, I spent 12 years teaching people how to be a paralegal full-time (doing my ADA practice on the side), the last four of which was spent running an ADA-approved paralegal program. I was also the person responsible for ensuring that all the stakeholders at the school knew what the ADA was about and what they were supposed to do with the ADA. So, I’m combining substantive knowledge and education background into my practice at the same time.
Are you originally from Georgia?
No. I’m a native Chicagoan. I received my undergraduate degree at Vassar in New York. Then, I went to the other end of the country and got a J.D. from the University of San Diego. I went back to Chicago to practice law where I did complex civil litigation for three years. While I am grateful for my litigation experience, I do not enjoy litigation. Accordingly, if litigation becomes necessary, I will get trial counsel involved and I’ll work with them, but I’m not going to be the lead trial counsel. It isn’t what I want to do.
After litigating for almost 3 years, I returned to school and obtained my LL.M. in Health Law from Depaul, and I went down to Texas where I was a General Counsel to two different mental health retardation authorities. I got myself licensed to practice law in Texas as well . From there I wound up doing a variety of things including: spending a year doing in-house for a medical school; serving on the Illinois Senate Democratic legal staff (I was actually on the Senate floor when then Senator and now President Obama passed his very first bill as an Illinois legislator-an unforgettable experience); running a state agency in Missouri; and eventually finding my way to teach paralegal for 12 years at community colleges in the Chicago area, eventually achieving the rank of tenured professor at the last college that I taught at. So, then I moved down here when my wife got a job at the CDC. So, I’ve lived everywhere, but I’m originally a native Chicagoan.
What brought you to focus on such a niche like the Americans with Disabilities Act?
I’m deaf. I was born hearing, but then something kicked in where I just lost my hearing. I got hearing aids in the fourth grade. In college, I got involved with the Rehabilitation Act when I interned for the Governor of Illinois working with the Illinois Commission on Human Rights under the supervision of a wonderful person, Susan Little, where I dealt with the Rehabilitation Act, which is the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then, when I worked as the General Counsel to the Harris County Mental Health/ Mental Retardation Authority in Houston, the ADA was signed (the ADA was a critical issue to deal with because the welfare of the people we serve was very much impacted by the ADA. In Texas, Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authorities (the name may have changed now because mental retardation is no longer used with intellectual disabilities being used instead), are independent governmental entities responsible for being the safety net for people with mental health issues, intellectual disabilities, and substance abuse). I looked at that law and I said, “Gee, I kind of know this because I did this in college,” and it also spoke to me because as a deaf person functioning in the hearing world, I am asking for reasonable accommodations every day of my life just to survive. So, I started in 1990 when the law was signed, and in 1992 it went into effect. I just never looked back. I just plunged into the ADA and never stopped.
When you say that you’re deaf, how can you hear me right now. Are there degrees of deafness?
Hearing loss has two components. The first component is the volume of loss. In other words whether you hear things at certain frequencies and how loud the sound has to be in order to hear it. The second component of hearing loss is whether you’re capable of understanding what’s being said around you if the volume is loud enough. So in my case, I have a rather unusual situation where I have a hearing loss of 65 dB to over 100 dB in terms of volume which means I’m severe to profoundly deaf. But I never lost what’s called residual hearing. I never lost the ability to comprehend the world around me if the volume was loud enough. If the volume is loud enough, I can get 80 to 90 percent of what’s being said. So I wear very powerful, complicated hearing aids and I’m also an excellent lip reader. I get 100 percent of my sound from my hearing aids, but I get 50 percent of my comprehension from lip-reading. So for right now, the way I’m getting by on this call is I have a Bluetooth device that I’m wearing and so you are coming into my hearing aids in stereo.
What the Bluetooth device does for me is that by having it coming into me in stereo as if I was wearing a pair of stereo headphones, I can now pick up on the inflections in your voice that I might not be able to do otherwise. So, it makes me function much more as a hearing person being able to talk to you and react to you in a way that you would expect me to react as if I was a hearing person. And since you are a hearing person, you expect me to react that way even if you don’t know that.
Being that you are deaf, can you describe how your disability relates to your ADA work?
One of the things that I see consistently, is there’s a lot of people out there who know of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I don’t see many people who exclusively focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act and related laws – certainly not all of the titles and related things that I deal with. Many are not attorneys with disabilities. So, there’s a lot of advice that gets out there where the advice might be sound, but because it doesn’t take into account the perspective of a person with a disability, often times it’s just asking for trouble. So, what I hope to bring to my practice is that outside-the-box differentiation that says, “Well, okay. You can do all of these things, but are you taking into account how the person with a disability is going to react? Are you taking into account disability-think?” And I’m in a unique position to do that. I’ve been involved with disability rights for a long time. So, all of that is what separates me from other attorneys doing disability discrimination work.
What is the most unique case that you’ve dealt with regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Many years ago, I had a case involving a policeman, who decided to become a woman and I was put into the case as an expert witness. There’s a lot of debate going on right now as to whether gender dysphoria is an ADA disability. There’s a specific exclusion for that in the ADA statute and there are legal cases going on today alleging that exclusion makes no sense, but this was a long time ago. What the police force did is they perceived the person as having a disability by ordering the person to get psychiatric counseling. If they just would have left it alone, they probably would have been okay, but by the fact of saying that the person had to go to psychiatric counseling, that’s where they shot themselves in the foot (in addition to the ADA protecting those who have an actual disability and a record of a disability, the ADA protects those who are regarded as having a disability as well).
What is your greatest achievement or your proudest moment as lawyer doing the type of work that you’re doing?
My proudest achievements are having written four editions of Understanding the American with Disabilities Act published by the American Bar Association and also having my blog voted a top 100 legal blog for two years in a row. I think both of those are achievements to be incredibly proud of. Writing a book all by yourself is not an easy thing and writing four editions of them, no less. Regarding blogging: I love it, but it’s quite intense and to be voted by my peers, as well as visitors to my site, as one of the best 100 legal blogs out there is really incredible. I’m very grateful for both.
What is the address of the blog?
Given your blog and the books that you’ve written, how much does that contribute to generating new clients and getting exposure for yourself?
My practice is basically designed to be a thought leader, so I get the vast majority of my clients from my blog, but that has been a long-term process. When I first started my blog back in 2011, I was getting just five to ten hits and now I get an average of close to 300 views a day and over 150 visitors a day. So, it’s a long-term thing. I’ve been blogging now, I guess, over four years – December 2011 to February 2016. After about three years, blogging once a week, it started taking on a life of its own, and it’s been going up ever since. So, the combination of the book and the blog is critical to my business.
For an attorney that is thinking about starting a blog what recommendations and advice can you give them?
First of all, I’m aware of a lot of people who say, “Well, pay me and I’ll write your blog for you.” Don’t do that. You’ve got to do it yourself. You’ve got to love to write. Blogging takes a lot of time. For me to get a blog up, to get it to where it really hums and where I want it to be, is a three-to-five-hour project. So, it takes time and it’s also a long-term game. It took me two and a half to three years before it started generating clients. You better love to write. You better be prepared to “feed the beast,” as people are going to expect that blog on a regular basis.
The other thing I would say is, in addition to being true to yourself in your writing, is: find a niche, especially as a solo practitioner. Niche is everything. If you don’t have a niche, you’re in trouble. So if you’re going to blog, find a niche and then find something about yourself that just separates you out and incorporate that into your blog.
I just want to make sure I heard you right. You said that you were blogging for over two years before it resulted in any work, any business, or any clients. Is that right?
I think that’s fair. It’s really a long-term approach and somebody has to have an awful lot of patience and ultimately the belief to be blogging once a week and knowing that, “Okay, I’m going to do this once a week and get nothing for it for, maybe, two years plus?”
Well, I think you have to have more than the mercenary motive that most lawyers have. I’m not typical that way. As I mentioned before, I spent 12 years teaching people how to be paralegals, so I am an educator at heart, and I love to write. So, for the two and a half years, maybe I wasn’t getting the clients from blogging. However, I was getting the feedback, through analytics, that people were watching, that my blog was growing, that I was moving the world because other people would mention that they read me and pass it along. So I was still personally getting a lot out of it even so the clients were not coming in at first. But if you’re just going to go into blogging, if your only motive – which is not unusual for lawyers – is what it does in terms of money and business, maybe you shouldn’t be writing a blog.
I’m an educator. My practice very much includes being an educator. Also, I love to write; research and writing (outside of spending time with my daughter and my wife), are the only things that relax me. Since research and writing is all part of blogging, blogging is relaxing to me. When blogging, I am also educating. People write me saying, “I so much appreciate your piece. I’m dealing with something similar. It made me feel less alone.” Or, “I had a complicated client and this helped me distill things that I could help my client with.” That doesn’t put any money in your pocket, but it makes you feel good and it also moves the world. So, I think if you’re going to do blogging, you’ve got to have a mercenary motive, but you also have to have the altruistic motive. And if you don’t have both, don’t blog.
Aside from being deaf, what else would people be surprised to learn about you?
In my thirties, when I was trying to figure things out, I worked for two Borders Bookstores. I would help people find and select books and that was a tremendous experience because it really taught me customer service. It was an incredible experience to be able to have that person walk up to the main desk and say, “You know, here’s the kind of stuff I like,” and then for me to talk to the person a bit and to be able to say, “Okay, I can find something for you.” Incredible experience. I’m very grateful for having had those experiences that were not necessarily in the easiest time of my life, but had a long-term payoff.
Did that help you in dealing with clients down the road?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely it does, because you’re focused on how can you get what your client needs and you also have to be creative. You have to not go in there with an idea, “Well I know what my client needs.” You have to listen and you have to explore further. It absolutely made me a better lawyer.
How would you describe your ideal client?
One who pays. I think every lawyer would say that. My ideal client? The case evaluation part, I often do for a fixed fee. But the other part, I work on an evergreen retainer. I don’t litigate so contingency fees make no sense for me. I have an “evergreen retainer” which has been great and that’s something I learned from the Law Practice Management section.
Can you describe what you mean by an evergreen retainer?
An evergreen retainer is: let’s say you have a retainer of $2,500 and if you bill $1,000 out for the month, the client then has to replenish the $1,000 so that the retainer stays at $2,500. That is the only guaranteed way that it works for you and the client.
And why is that?
Because what happens is if you don’t have the retainer, good luck on getting paid. And if you do have a retainer, but it’s not an evergreen retainer, what happens is that the $2,500 gets used up and now you’re back to square one where you may or may not get paid. Whereas if you have that replenishment going on, you know you’re going to get paid for the work for that month. And it also conditions the client, “Well I’m not paying that $2,500 every month, I’m just replenishing the $2,500. It’s not his money, it’s my money and it’s still in a safe spot.” So, it’s actually very reassuring to both the client and to the attorney to go that way.
What things have you learned from a law practice management perspective that you’ve found valuable or useful?
That it’s really critical to have practice management technology and the one that I adopted was Clio because I like Clio, and because it is the only one that I found that is acceptable to voice dictation technology, which I have to use in order to access my computer). Every other Practice Management software that I tried was not accessible to voice dictation technology. Clio is something that I use for practice management and that has made a huge difference for me. The other thing that I use for practice management is a software that is unfortunately not entirely accessible to voice dictation technology, but I like it because it does a good job of rolodex management. It’s a software called PracBuilder.
What voice dictation software programs do you recommend?
I always use voice dictation technology because my joints are an issue, so typing and using a mouse are a problem. There are three of them that I use, and I use them all together. The first one is the leading voice dictation product in the universe, called Dragon Naturally Speaking, and I use a version called Dragon Professional Individual 14. The thing about Dragon Professional Individual 14 that I love is that it allows me to put in a command that says, “Standard case evaluation language,” and the entire thing that I put up there all the time comes right up.
The other two softwares that I use is one by a company called KnowBrainer. It’s a command software. It basically turbo charges Dragon by allowing you to command your computer to do all kinds of things. And then the third thing that I just started using within the last few months, which is fabulous, is something called PCBY Speech Start. What that allows you to do is when you are stuck with a computer with lots of boxes on the screen, which are horrible for voice dictation technology, it allows you to say, “Show flags,” so that all these flags will appear on your screen and you can tell the computer by voice to click on a box and it’s really been great.
So, with the three of them together, you can eliminate over 95 percent of having to use a mouse or a keyboard.
Can any lawyer use them – even ones without a disability?
I would encourage that. Lawyers are talkers anyway and there’s no reason why they can’t be used by lawyers without disabilities who want to rely more on voice rather than on typing and mouse usage. The thing I would love is that if it was adopted by more and more lawyers, then I think more and more software would be designed that’s accessible to people with disabilities.
Did you dictate your blog posts and your books?
That’s right. I’ve done all my books and blogs with voice dictation.
How does the editing work with dictation software?
That can be a bit of an issue because, for example, I use WordPress for my blog. And I have been struggling with the box where you dictate. For some reason or another, and maybe since I went to Windows 10, I’m not sure, I’m still trying to nail down the problem. But for some reason or other, once I tell WordPress to save my draft, I am no longer able to use voice dictation in the dictation box. So, what I have to do is to work around it, and I have to actually do it in a Word document, make sure it’s thoroughly edited, and then cut and paste it and then use a bit of a mouse because of the save draft issue. It’s a real headache. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what changed. Until a few months ago I was able to do all of the editing in WordPress, and now I’m not getting the same benefit as a person without a disability which is not right and probably in violation of the ADA. But I have a workaround for now until maybe the problem gets fixed.
How long have you been a member of the Law Practice Division?
I am in my second year with the law practice division, but have been a member of the American Bar Association for many many years before that.
What made you join the Law Practice Division?
Two words: first name and last name – Tom Bolt. The reason I joined is: I had been involved with the rights of people with disabilities for years and one of the things that I have done for years is I have tried to get attorneys with disabilities to be considered in the diversity calculus. I had a lot of trouble doing that over the years to the point where a few years ago I was the founder, a founding member and the first president of the National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities, because I came to realize that the diversity calculus, unless attorneys with disabilities had their own organization, was a tough sell.
I am on a disability Listserve for the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. Anybody can be a member of that listserv even if they are not on the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. Tom put up a blurb on the Commission on Disability Rights Listserv saying, “Hey! I want attorneys with disabilities in law practice management. Come join me.” And I said, “Wow. That’s intriguing,” because I have had mixed success, even within the ABA, of attorneys with disabilities counting as part of diversity. So I said, “Tom, are you serious?” and he said, “Yeah. I’m very serious. Let’s talk about it.” And so, he and I talked about it and he told me why he was serious. It’s wasn’t a joke to him. It wasn’t him wanting a token person with a disability. He believes it! I said, “That’s good enough for me.” So I signed up. I got on a programming committee, because, again, of that education focus that I have and the rest is history. It’s been very helpful to my practice. Meeting people from various types of firms and sharing things about managing a law practice. So I’m very, very thrilled to be part of this section.
Do you have plans to go to any of the upcoming LP meetings?
The problem is that I’m a solo, so if you’re going to the meeting, you have to basically move away from your practice for a few days. You also have the issues of getting to the meetings, the hotels (don’t get me started on hotels not understanding how to accommodate a deaf person…), and all that. My wife has a big job with the Centers for Disease Control, and I have an 11-year-old daughter. So it’s just hard. I think as my daughter gets in high school and she’s not going to want me around so much and her afterschool activities, I think my opportunity to do that will expand.
You’ve had a lot of experience since getting out of law school. What advice would you offer the next generation of lawyers that are just starting out?
Niche – N,I,C,H,E. Get a niche and don’t look back. You’re better off being a mile deep than a mile wide.
Identifying a niche can help an attorney really stand out from the crowd. Though it might be a smaller market, how else can being viewed as the leader in the space help?
You’ll be able to charge more and you’ll feel better about your practice. Even if it’s an area of law that everybody else is doing, there’s something about that area of law that you could carve out that would just be your little thing. Especially if you’re going to be a solo. To survive, you must have a niche. But the law practice is basically moving that way period. Look at the big firms. What they’re doing is they’re basically becoming a bunch of smaller firms all with a particular niche. Or they’re buying up niche firms. So, everybody is doing niche and if you’re not doing niche, you’re going to struggle. You’re not only going to struggle, I don’t know how much fun you’re going to have.
What is your most unlawyer-like characteristic?
I am very, very obsessed with win-win. You think of lawyers as being win-lose and I am not at all that way and that’s why I got out of litigation. That is also why, when I’m in an educational role, which is the consulting side of my practice (which can include mediation/arbitration as well), I am doing win-win. I’m helping the litigator be the best he or she can be and I’m also educating. In that way it’s a win-win. So, my most unlawyer-like characteristics is: I don’t like win-lose. I think win-win is the way it should go.
What’s your favorite quote?
Life is a journey, not a destination by Thomas à Kempis. I believe he was a Catholic theologian from the Middle Ages. That is my favorite quote and it’s an important thing to remember, otherwise you lose perspective.
Thanks so much for your time today. This has been really interesting.
Well, great. I’m glad to help. I pride myself on being able to break down complicated information into understandable bites, and so, I’m glad I was able to do that.
Jason Marsh is the founder of Orlando-based internet marketing agency MARSH8. He frequently writes and speaks on how law firms can implement better online marketing 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.