How Lawyers Work: Jamie Whitney, Outside General Counsel and Sucker for Stray Dogs

In this week’s edition of How Lawyers Work, we talked to Jamie Richards Whitney, the owner of Richards Whitney, P.C., a solo law firm. She works with growing businesses and online businesses to help them plan for the future, resolve disputes, and support expansion. She has served on the State Bar of Texas’ Court Rules Committee since 2009 and also provides volunteer legal services to political asylum seekers.

You can follow Jamie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

What apps or tools are essential to your daily workflow?

I am hopelessly analog when it comes to taking notes. I have a huge stack of legal pads (the kind with the extra-wide left-hand margin) that I use to keep track of what’s going on in phone calls and strategy sessions. The only trouble is finding which page of which legal pad is the one I need when it’s time to go back to those notes!

I write the date/matter/time in the wide margin and flag the pages with sticky notes as an ad hoc filing system. I keep meaning to train myself to take notes on the computer or in an app so they will be more searchable, but it’s just not going to happen.

What does your workspace look like?

My office makes me really happy. My kids’ pictures cover one wall, and a big whiteboard covers the other.  My desk is made of whiteboard material as well, so I can jot down quick thoughts while I’m on the phone or working.

The office is located inside a co-working space, so there’s always enough bustle and community involvement that I feel energized, but I can close my door when I need quiet or confidentiality.

How do you keep track of your calendars/deadlines?

EVERYTHING goes into or gets synced to my Google Calendar, which shows up on my phone and my Apple watch. I love that Acuity and Clio can both sync with my Google Calendar. Sometimes I wind up with three versions of the same appointment showing up because I have everything syncing, but I’d rather see it three times than miss it once.

What’s your coffee service setup? (Other beverages are fine, of course, but you should really be serving coffee!)

The manager of my co-working space, Michelle, usually makes the coffee. She’s got a magic touch—it’s really good! The first time I had a client come after hours for weekend trial prep and went to make coffee by myself, I realized I had NO idea how to manage our industrial-sized coffee maker. This thing literally brews coffee by the tank.

I figured it out eventually—it was actually a little bit of a tension breaker for the client, who got to laugh at me standing there trying to figure out where to put a coffee filter the size of a soccer ball!

What is one thing that you listen to/read/watch that everyone should?

Z-Nation (binge-able on Netflix).  It’s a TV zom-com (zombie comedy) brought to you by the makers of Sharknado. Need I say more?

For professional development reading, I really love the Texas Bar and the ABA’s electronic CLE libraries. You can pay a pretty low annual fee to get access to hundreds of CLE presentations on both of these websites. I almost always head to one of these resources first if I need to get the lay of the land in a specialized area of the law.

What’s your favorite local place to network or work solo?

The coworking space that houses my office lets me “lazy network.” I can keep up with local business owners (my clients of choice) by just heading to our conference room to catch a speaker or a happy hour. There are also some great monthly coffees, book clubs, and CLEs put on around town by different groups of Austin solo attorneys, and those I will actually suck it up and brave the downtown traffic to attend. Online networking is good, too—I try to stay active in a couple of local attorney groups on Facebook.

The oddest place I’ve ever worked from is a little karaoke dive bar near my office. They have wifi and good food, and the regulars can actually sing! There was one random Wednesday evening when I had major writer’s block on an appellate brief. I decided changing things up might help, so I staked out a table at the karaoke dive bar, ordered some fried mushrooms and a Diet Coke, and cranked out that draft while listening to folks do their favorite songs. I’m calling it a success—the draft turned out to be solid and workable when it was time to edit, and best of all, it was finally on paper to work with! I may or may not have celebrated finishing up that draft by closing the laptop, ordering a White Russian, and engaging in a rousing duet rendition of “Pancho and Lefty” with a bald guy in a Metallica t-shirt.

What are three things you do without fail every day?

I write my to-do list on my marker board first thing in the morning, and I savor crossing things off! (Yes, sometimes I write something in after it’s done just so I can have the satisfaction of striking it out.)

I take a short walk around the parking lot between projects or phone calls—it’s mental palate cleansing.

A couple of times a week, I block off up to three hours during the work day for non-legal stuff—riding my horse, having lunch with my kids, or catching up with a friend. Sometimes that means I put in an early morning or weekend session to make up that time, but that act of claiming a piece of the work day for something fun is important. It reminds me why I made the choice to work solo instead of joining another law firm!

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