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Solo Soars (Sort Of): A Diary

March 15, 2002: My daughter is six months old, mature enough to make her own way in the world. I enter into negotiations with my insurance defense firm to return to work. I offer to work basically no hours but still get paid a whole lot. They counteroffer that I can work basically no hours and get paid basically nothing. I flash back to a talk I heard years ago by a solo practitioner who specializes in writing briefs for other lawyers on a contract basis. I am awesome at writing briefs. "No deal," I haughtily tell my firm. "By the way, would you mind sending me some work?"

April 4, 2002: I officially open my practice. I do this by starting to refer to my study in the back of my house as my office. I make space on my bookshelf between The Lord of the Rings and The Clan of the Cave Bear for my Lawyers Diary, 1995.

April 5, 2002: I call the office that administers IOLTA funds and ask how to open an IOLTA account. The administrator gently explains that I don't have to have an IOLTA account until I actually have clients. I am crushed.

April 9, 2002: I call a friend's neighbor, who has a brief-writing practice. She tells me getting work is no problem. To get started she just called a couple of friends and the work flowed in.

April 11, 2002: I call a couple of friends. I call a couple more friends. I wait for the work to flow in.

April 16, 2002: Still waiting.

May 1, 2002: Still waiting.

May 5, 2002: I go to Staples with my husband, a computer guy. After several hours of comparing brands of copy paper, looking for just the right shade of yellow highlighter, and wondering whether it's okay for a lawyer to buy pink paperclips, we proceed to the fax machine section. My husband advises me that the best deal is a combination fax machine/scanner. I tell him I don't need a scanner. He tells me that the combination is still the best fax machine for the money. He tells me he doesn't know how well the scanner will work and it will take some time for him to figure it out. I tell him, "I will never use a scanner. I do not want you to waste my time on this. Under no circumstances will I ever use a scanner." I buy the machine just for the fax capability.

May 7, 2002: I call contact number 213, the real estate attorney who did the closing on my house. I give him my brief-writing spiel. He sighs and asks me to email him some writing samples. Cheerily I tell him my writing samples aren't on my computer but I have hard copies that I can mail to him. "That would take up to much room," he says. I have a flash of brilliance. "I can scan them and email them to you," I say.

May 8, 2002: The scanner turns my briefs into haiku. I cannot word-process them. Apparently this scanner scans documents in as pictures, not text. I yell at my husband. "You're supposed to be a computer guy. How could you talk me into buying a scanner that is useless? Would you treat a paying customer like that?" I reduce him to a quivering mass. I feel good. I could be taking depositions again.

May 10, 2002: Contact Number 37 tells me she is referring an out-of-state attorney to me who needs someone to draft some pleadings. "Cool," I say, as if I'm not totally ecstatic. Now my practice is really open. I almost have a client. (I never hear from him.)

May 14, 2002: My husband reminds me that I already have a caseload. I am representing him (for free) in a zoning appeal, where we are trying to stop a developer from building a three-family house in a little garden next to our yard. I ponder whether this qualifies as a must-open-an-IOLTA-account case.

May 21, 2002: Potential income! A friend, contact # 21, calls me for free legal advice! I am thrilled! She is buying a house with her vile boyfriend. She has to have her name on the mortgage because his credit history is so bad he can't get a loan without her. She will pay half. But the vile boyfriend does not want her to have any equity in the house. They want a written agreement to protect his rights. I give her two referrals. I tell her the first one is a lawyer I know very well who will (yes!) give me a referral fee. I don't know the second one personally and will not get a referral fee from him. She chooses the second one.

May 23, 2002: Vile boyfriend of contact # 21 calls and asks whether I will give unsolicited yet free legal advice to contact # 21 about a loan she incredibly stupidly cosigned for a coworker a long time ago. Heartbroken at having to turn away a non-paying client, I explain that contact # 21 would really have to ask for my free help before I can give it.

May 24, 2002: Contact # 21 calls and asks whether I can give unsolicited yet free legal advice to our mutual friend, contact # 25, about divorcing his wife. Once again heartbroken at having to turn away a non-paying client, I explain that contact # 25 would really have to ask for my free help before I can give it.

May 25, 2002: A non-lawyer member of the synagogue I attend contacts me for free help. She asks me to email her a copy of a Lawyers Weekly article from a couple of weeks ago. I email her the article. Case closed!

May 26, 2002: Contact # 25 calls for free advice about divorcing his wife.

May 27, 2002: A friend, contact # 53, calls me for free legal advice. She is convinced she is dying. (I am convinced she is not, unless nuttiness is now lethal.) She wants me to draw up papers for her to ensure that her mother will not have any say over the disposition of her corpse. "This is my chance to get in the last word," she tells me. "You're the only one I know who can stand up to her." I stall. A few weeks later she calls me and tell me she and her mother have made up. Second case, settled and closed!

May 29, 2002: I call contact # 361, my husband's friend's rabbi's wife's sister. She tells me to mail her my literature and she'll pass it on to her husband, an environmental law attorney. Two days later I get a letter from the husband, whose name she had not mentioned. He is the opposing counsel on the zoning case in which I am representing my husband.

May 30, 2002: My next door neighbor asks me to do some free legal research for him on whether he can put a fence across a private way to stop through traffic. He tells me he's sure it will be no trouble for me to find out, since I'm a lawyer and all. I puff with pride. I get back to him two hours later. I tell him the answer is no. My third case, closed.

June 5, 2002: Another neighbor asks for free legal advice. As he was exiting an ATM kiosk, the bank's sign fell and hit him on the shoulder. He's all set with his personal injury claim. He just wants to know if the banks owes him money because he was honest enough to return their sign.

June 7, 2002: A friend, contact # 14, calls me for free legal advice. She has been named as a third party defendant in a lawsuit because her car insurance carrier did not pay some chiropractic bills. She gives me the third party complaint. It is 112 pages. I call the attorney for the third-party plaintiff. I have an actual discussion with his secretary about an actual lawsuit in which I am almost representing someone. I obtain an extension to answer the third party complaint. I write a phenomenal confirming letter.

June 10, 2002: Contact # 213 is sending me a real case, for real money. Something about animal husbandry and racism. I'm all over it. Today, black goats, tomorrow, car accidents, slips and falls, you name it. Solo practice, here I come.

Nina Kallen, an incredibly experienced and effective litigator, is available for brief-writing and sundry other paid legal work, and also represents parties in civil litigation. She specializes in insurance coverage issues.

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