A Review of the TBD Law Conference by Lawyerist

About Ruckus + Christina: After starting a successful intellectual property law firm, Christina Scalera was approached a lot about how she did it. Ruckus is her answer. To read more about the origins of Ruckus, click here. To visit her law firm, click here. To see how she's turning her services into products, click here.


 
 

A Review of TBD3: A Legal Conference by Lawyerist

One of the platforms I've been following closely as I get Ruckus™ up and off the ground is Lawyerist, run by Sam Glover and Aaron Street. They have a phenomenal podcast that introduces you to a variety of different lawyers with one thing in common- they're practicing outside the box in some way, shape or form.

They have started hosting a conference they've titled 'TBD Law,' which focuses on bringing together progressive attorneys who are already onboard with things like cloud computing, Mac-based practices and generally running their law firms like an entrepreneurial business instead of a 'profession.'

What is TBDLaw?

When they announced the first TBD Law conference, I wanted to go but my then-solo practice was still in its infancy, and I was afraid I would be in over my head. By the time they hosted the second one, I was booked for a speaking gig (on contracts) to an audience of 100+ attendees as the Thrive Creative conference in Houston, soooo yeah. Finally, that third TBD conference rolled around and I was thrilled to get to attend.

One thing that impressed me off the bat is that this wasn't just a money maker for Sam + Aaron. They had applications, and called approved applicants to make sure they curated the most diverse, forward-thinking group of attorneys as possible. I figured this had to take tons and tons of time (which Sam confirmed-- yes, yes it did). 

The other thing I was really impressed with is that this conference didn't center around keynotes and lectures, which I've enjoyed in the past but feel I've largely moved past (for now at least). The experience was very much a concentrated, extended mastermind session.

So I applied, talked to Sam, told him why I wanted to come and they extended an invite. I paid for it (at the last second, of course-- $1k+ and travel is a lot to spend on basically a 1-day event after all!) TL;DR: it was worth it.

Getting to the Conference

I travel all the time (I plan on doing a podcast episode/blog post about what this is like soon- sit tight). Literally, we have a home in Atlanta, are renting a room in ski country, Colorado, and the back of our truck is outfitted with a custom platform with drawers underneath for stealth camping anytime/anywhere we want to go. See here:

 
 Just me, chillin' in the truck. Okay, this was totally for a magazine photoshoot, it doesn't normally look like this FYI. But we do live back here sometimes!

Just me, chillin' in the truck. Okay, this was totally for a magazine photoshoot, it doesn't normally look like this FYI. But we do live back here sometimes!

 

My Trip

But for real, this was a challenging trip (at no fault of TBD Law). I had to fly from Denver to St. Louis, which is no big deal, just a trek through one of the most challenging interstates you've ever seen (there's literally signs on I-70 that say, "Truckers, do not be fooled, you still have 1 more mile of steep terrain and winding roads left.") That being said, it's summertime, so who cares really!! It's a much more difficult trip to make in the winter when your car is sliding off the road and into the Continental Divide. #reallife

So I get to St. Louis after a relatively okay, albeit delayed, flight (if you're new here, you know I have an embarrassing, crying, irrational fear of flying). I dry my tears, get off the plane and head to baggage claim. Should be a piece of cake- there's no baggage handling union practicing for the sloth pageant, and the airport is super tiny compared to my usual haunts (ATL, DIA, SFO, etc.)

An hour and ten minutes later, I am still waiting for my luggage and I've missed the bus from downtown STL to the rural retreat location. I am one of four passengers still waiting for my bag. It is stuck in airport purgatory, aka on a tram behind the finest sandwich-munchers + procrastinators St. Louis has to offer. The nice United man goes and tracks my bag down, and I am free*! [*Still need to get a rental car, which had no gas, so I had to go back and get filled up. C'mon people, weed isn't even legal in your state, what's your excuse?]

I haul ass/ drive my normal speed into the wilderness of the Ozarks, blasting podcasts + EDM intermittently depending on my reception. I arrive just as the last of the bus passengers files off in the darkness and introduce myself like a weird homeless person clearly no one was expecting to see approaching them. 

Day 1

The first attorney I meet is Charlotte, a gal I'm immediately drawn to for her accent that feels like home (I later find out she's from Huntsville, AL, where my guy is from). She's super sweet and points me in the direction of the lodge where they're handing out room assignments.

I find out I'm rooming with Elizabeth. Yay! I do not know Elizabeth, but with every passing group of girls as I make my way to the cabin, I excitedly ask, "Are you Elizabeth?" You have to remember it's pitch black, so after a day of travel + delays, I'm just this weird shadowy figure that probably looks like mix between the girl from The Ring and an obscured Gollum-esque troll hobbling around with fifty pounds of laptops and clothes draped off of me. My voice is even a little shot, so the heavy mouth breathing isn't making me any more endearing.

 
 

I find Elizabeth, and plop my shit onto the first bed that doesn't have a suitcase on top of it (the international retreat center symbol of "claimed"), and run back to the lobby to Marvin Gaye it up and see what's goin' on. Everyone has grabbed a drink, sprayed themselves with poison cleverly disguised as bug spray and has headed down to the campfire out back. It is here that I have my first engaging and exciting conversation with Carol, who lives in my town*! (*when I am there, which has been less than three months total in 2017).

Nevertheless, it's a fun start to the experience, and I am relieved other people are secret elderly at heart too and like to go to bed at a reasonable hour and/or secretly binge on the food they stashed in their suitcase like a shameless kid at fat camp. That second part might have just been me. 

Day 2

I wake up early, which is weird because I'm on Mountain Time and decide to go for a walk. I'm a loser about walks, my mental capacity is slightly better than a labrador's-- that is, I lose my shit at the prospect of an upcoming walk. I love walks.

 
 The Wildnerness Lodge we made our home for TBD3.

The Wildnerness Lodge we made our home for TBD3.

 

With my luck, I run into a raccoon. Except this raccoon is clearly struggling, shoulder-deep in a tin can that refuses to budge. I waver back and forth about taking it off, but ultimately do the asshole thing and decide not to help it because we are in the middle of nowhere and "not contracting rabies" definitely falls in the 'pro' column when it comes to being alive. I make a mental note to clean up the next campsite I stay at a little extra to try to prevent future crappy moments like this.

 
 Poor raccoon :( Please clean up your shit.

Poor raccoon :( Please clean up your shit.

 

I head back to the Elizabeth House, as I've come to name it, and clean up. I'm late for breakfast (shocker!!) and slurp what's left of the coffee. Once my hands are thoroughly shaking and I look slightly cracked out, I know I've reached the perfect level of caffeination. It's just in time for our first exercise, which out of respect for the next TBD Law, I won't reveal, but I learned:

  • I am addicted to the internet
  • I have trouble defining emotions and characteristics, which everyone else has been able to do with flying colors ("anally cleans house every morning to Nirvana" is what I jot down, while others listed phrases like, "tidy," and "minimalist," words that never come to mind as I do this exercise)
  • I can deal with no wifi, or lots of wifi, but sporadic wifi turns me into a total psycho bitch
  • The only thing I can proficiently draw is Blucifer, the creepy, malnourished 32-foot horse that greets you at the Denver airport entrance. I'm weird, whatever.

The Mastermind Sessions

We're given a chance to list the things we'd like to discuss and break out into small discussion groups largely facilitated by one of the Lawyerists (that is, Sam, Aaron and Matt-- you didn't know about Matt, did you?? Sah-prize. Neither did I.)

I join the discussion on pricing and get about 8,979,018,108 ideas for content on this blog or the podcast I'd like to eventually launch, but probably never will because #time. We get into a really good discussion about whether lawyers should charge for initial client consults, or not. I realize most attorneys are not taking my influencer-strategy approach, and I'm encouraged to write the first post on this blog that it's seen in 6+ months.

 
 A view from the Black River, where we had our campfire.

A view from the Black River, where we had our campfire.

 

The next session I attend is about creating complementary services to what you already offer. It had a fancier title and covered more than this, but it's my blog and my brain and in my selfish universe this is what it was about because this is what I wanted to hear. I get some good ideas to create even more services my clients could use on an ongoing basis, mostly from Sam.

Finally, the last session I attend that day is about creating a niche practice, which I've definitely done but would like to discuss the challenges I'm facing as a result, namely, waivable and non-waivable conflicts of interests (my firm practices trademark prosecution for wedding pros + creatives, hellooo? doesn't get more niche than that...)

The conversation quickly devolves into what it would take to strike gold as a weed lawyer, which I'm fine with as I sit here typing this post from the epi-center of Mary Jane's palace, aka Colorado, and see the crazy amount of money flowing through this state (so much glaucoma and anxiety have been alleviated!). Whatever your views on the matter are, it's an interesting discussion of where the legal market is going-- what's being eliminated (DUI defense is dying with Uber), what's the next boon (cyberbullying defense) and what we're all scared about (the loss of our entire practice with the revolution of unknown TBD industries, pun intended).

We have a fantastic dinner (homemade by the lovely gals at Wilderness Lodge in Lesterville, MO). After dinner, we are tasked with creating a board game. Basically everyone has the same idea, which is create sarcastic, funny cards that advance your game piece on the board. My cards have such musings as:

  • You failed a drug test. Oops! Lose two spaces.
  • You get a new client. Move forward three spaces.
  • Your Tesla ran out of batteries. Just kidding. You drive a 1997 Toyota Corolla. Lose five spaces.
  • You connect with your client over a shared love of handmade tie-dye shirts. Gain one space.
  • Your client has to explain to you what 'truffle butter' is. Lose three spaces.
  • You got an invite to TBD Law! Move forward five spaces. (<< Once a teacher's pet, always a teacher's pet).
  • You bought cheap site hosting and a concerned client asks why your site has porn on it. Lose two spaces.

All in all, it was an incredibly fun, yet insightful day and I'm glad I came. The experience isn't over yet! We still have "Moth Night" aka grown-up story time. I learn that this group of lawyers is incredibly funny, sentimental and sharing stories is not my ish UNLESS THOSE STORIES ARE ABOUT CONVERION RATES ON LANDING PAGES!! Nerd alert.

Instead of chatting about poignant lessons learned and loves lost to a small, intimate group where there's no cell reception, I apparently prefer to put my stories out there for the millions of people on the internet and confirmed thousands of people who watch my Facebook Lives. Makes total sense.

My Biggest Takeaways

If you just skipped over all of the above, screw you. My time is valuable and you should respect it, because I am a narcissist and will be really upset if you think your time>my story. Just kidding. (OMG I really am, but leave the nasty comments below anyway, IDC). Here's a list because I'm a shameless blogger at heart, and lists are our love language.

Here's my 10 biggest takeaways:

 
 
  1. If you are reading this, you are ahead of the curve. You go Glen Coco! It's not too late for you to make a huge impact with your practice.
  2. Lawyers really don't know about Pinterest, and are doing their potential clients a huge disservice. People need you but can't find you!!
  3. Getting clients is still a problem for most attorneys, at any stage of their business-- er, profession.
  4. Elon Musk is a utility pirate. I don't really know where this came from actually.
  5. Most attorneys aren't niche enough in either their practice, their target market, or both.
  6. You need friends. This is coming from a confirmed, hissing cave-lady who normally rebukes human connection if there's a wifi signal.
  7. Depression is a real thing and we're all likely to end up on the spectrum of it at some point in your careers-- it's okay, you're normal. Seek help, and help means actual humans not cupcakes (<<writing this more as a reminder to myself than anything else).
  8. The biggest breakthroughs in your career will come from events like TBD Law where you have 'a-ha' moments during safe, open discussions; they won't necessarily come from getting lectured at, even though the latter is much easier and more fun to experience in the moment, in my opinion.
  9. You will teach yourself what you need to know-- sometimes that will happen when someone else is talking to you, or sometimes that will happen when you're talking to someone else.
  10. Women are still largely stuck in a victim role in the legal profession. Let's stop putting energy into "whoa is me" tales and start pouring that effort into looking where our site traffic is coming from, and how we can retarget that traffic through ads...mmmmmmkay?

Lawyers to Look Up

As expected, I met a few really outstanding individuals at the conference (one of whom I've even hired!) Here's who to look out for as forces-to-be-reckoned-with in the coming months or years:

Erin Gerstenzang

 This is the ultimate cool girl. This wasn't actually my first time meeting her- coincidentally she's from Atlanta and I've actually had the privilege of seeing her speak before. Annnnd I had a traffic ticket in Brookhaven that she totally bossed. Basically, she's amazing. But here's why you should care about her:

1. Not only is she an insanely talented attorney, the way she runs her firm is badass. I've never seen such an organized, efficient practice.

2. One of her passions is ethics, and she knows her stuff. You'd be lucky to find yourself in a conversation with her on the topic.

3. Look for her to take on more of an educator role-- we as a community need to learn more about how she runs her practice and maintains a great work-life balance. 

Aaron Thomas

Uh oh, this list is starting to be heavily Atlanta-skewed. Whatever, I'm not apologizing. Not only is this guy capable of making you laugh your ass off, he's super sweet + humble (he went to Harvard, but I had to find out from his LinkedIn profile). Here's why you should pay attention to Aaron and his career:

1. Without revealing what it is, he has an excellent idea for turning a service into a product-- something I'm particularly keen on, totes obv.

2. He should be teaching trial performance. I'm not a litigator, so I don't know if this is actually a thing. I'm sure it is, and some of you out there are like, "Hey dumbass Christina, that already exists!" Well, then learn it from Aaron. He knows what's up.

3. Sometimes you need to go to events like TBD Law to meet someone in your backyard that's super cool.

Billie Tarascio

I didn't get much time to spend with Billie, but I did have the privilege of driving her safely back to the airport (for why I was driving, and not on the bus like a normal person, see above). I'm not sure I've ever met someone who was such a boss of their own life.

1. Billie has her shit together. She has four kids (that she actually spends time with), a thriving practice with plenty of clients and has even hired a yoga teacher for her firm on Fridays.

2. We have to put ourselves first. It sounds lame, but leap and the net will appear. AKA, get off your computer every once in awhile to be a human, and remember why other humans wanted to work with you in the first place.

3. We could all learn something about website utility from Billie's. This may be one of the most helpful websites of all time. I'm not even going to qualify that with "most helpful law firm website." She's got calculators, sample agreements and even the ability to get in touch "with her" after hours via text. I mean, we know this is probably a bot or some associate, but still, it's nice for potential clients to feel loved on like that.

In Summary

You should go to TBD Law if:

  • You feel like a crazy person explaining why you do things the way you do, and often think you must be missing something because you don't understand why XYZ inefficiency isn't apparent to everyone else
  • You want to serve your clients better
  • You actually like your legal job (or could with some help/tweaks)
  • You have a mission, and it's not just "make more money"
  • You're open-minded about new ideas, tech and strategies

You should not go to TBD Law if:

  • You work in Big Law with no plans to leave, and have no influence over your firm's practice management.
  • You already know everything.
  • You're not willing to actually implement new tech/SAAS (ex: Pinterest)
  • You're in it for the money
  • You're uncomfortable with others challenging you

Have you gone to a good conference?

Tell me which one in the comments below!


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