My last year in college was probably the busiest year ever in my life. I took 6 & 7 classes in the fall and spring semesters, respectively, worked all week as a tutor in the school's writing center, (wo)manned the desk in the Philosophy Department on Friday mornings, and then worked all weekend at Starbucks. On top of those obligatory dibs on my time, I also had homework to do (tons of reading as an English major, of course), food to find and consume, and then the more fun task of carving time out to relax or take in a poetry reading here and there. I write that now and think I must have been on coke! Or Red Bull at least. But honestly, it was just naturally exhilarating to have that much going on. I can say it was one of the fullest and best years I've experienced.
Still, why in the world, in the midst of all that, would I elect to also join the Ethics Bowl, a debate team of sorts that met weekly to prepare for a regional and national tournament, in which we would debate opposing positions on current, highly controversial topics, using philosophical arguments? Why would I do that?
Basically, I would do that because Ramon Jimenez (now Esquire) persuaded me to, and he's a persuasive individual--which is why he's likely to make an excellent lawyer. Technically he already is a lawyer, but he hasn't yet spent much time in front of a judge, or any time at all in front of a jury. And maybe he won't ever. Not all lawyers get their "You can't handle the truth!" on (just think how many thousands of them are out there carefully crafting the licensing agreements you'll scroll over and agree to without so much as skimming). For now, he's working part time doing the unglamorous work of collecting debts on behalf of a lumber company, and moonlighting as San Francisco's own in(coffee)-house counsel.
Today's New Activity: An Evening at the Offices of Cafe Lawyer
I reconnected with Ramon a few months back and caught up on what's gone on since we got our asses handed to us at the tournament in North Carolina, since one of our fellow team members (Jeff) happened to marry my best friend Kelsi, and since another of them went to law school and then promptly went back to his MMA, cage fighting ways (as The Hungarian Nightmare).
Turns out Ramon got his law degree from Santa Clara University, passed the Bar Exam last year, and has for the past few months been setting up shop in San Francisco area coffee shops, offering legal advice at the bargain price of $1 per minute. $1 per minute!
I wish my own lawyer were so generous.
Ramon admits the Cafe Lawyer gig is gimicky. He knows some people probably think he's a lunatic. But the idea of offering legal services to the population at large--in a casual setting, and at an unbelievably good rate--was borne in a practical hour. He has student loan debt after all, and attorneys find their clients almost purely through word of mouth (unless they are paying for spots advertising the chasing of ambulances during episodes of Judge Judy and Cheaters...not exactly appealing). He hopes to do some good work for people, get repeat and referral business, and ideally be offered full-time employment as in-house counsel for a start up or other small business. I'd say that in these days of rampant unemployment (especially high among recent law school graduates), it's a pretty sound business plan.
As I type this, I'm overhearing Ramon speak with a client who arranged to meet with him after coming across his website. I'd feel bad about eavesdropping as these seemingly confidential concerns about photograph copyright are expressed, but hey, it's a freakin' coffee shop! Obviously this client is okay with the idea of his business being out there in the public air, mixed in with the sounds of milk foaming, the Nas album playing overhead, and the click click clicking of the laptop keys of every single patron in this largish space.
Ramon tells me the couple who he was working with when I arrived this evening were discussing a very personal, highly sensitive matter, right there in the middle of the coffee shop. I thought this very strange until he reminded me that people talk about such things with friends in the middle of coffee shops all the time. In fact, I'm sure this approach is very appealing to people who are intimidated by the idea of retaining a lawyer and then having to spend time staring at the bad art on the walls of their offices (or maybe that's just my lawyer...I don't blame her...the senior attorney there picks it out). And perhaps there's a bit of the idea that near-beggars can't be choosers at work there as well.
I think Ramon's idea is genius. And I think San Francisco is the best possible place to pull it off. The approach has a certain community-minded feel to it, as so much of what goes on in The City does. Really, a LOT of people find themselves in need of legal advice, and my word is it expensive! This way, he can keep his overheads ridiculously low (needing do no more than purchase a cup of coffee during any given session), learns about all different kinds of legal issues (since obviously he has to take what comes and research the issues in order to really help people), and meets interesting people along the way. I'd personally much rather work in a coffee shop than pretty much anywhere else I can think of.
On my drive up to San Francisco tonight, I was talking on the phone to Kelsi, who just got her license as a Marriage and Family Therapist. She asked if Ramon had ever heard of a Cafe Therapist. We agree there is a market for this service as well. Just as I've had *quick* legal question I thought could be answered without all the pomp and circumstance of hiring a permanent lawyer, I've also had a concern about my personal life that I'd love to run by a stranger in the interest of gaining new perspective. I know there are professionals (likely long-established ones) in either of these fields who would be insulted by this approach, thinking it trivializes their work, but I think there's room, as well as a viable market, for all the approaches, and probably plenty of others, too.
Nothing says we have to keep doing things in the same (budget-braking) way, just because that's the way they've always been done. And I love that so much of the business that comes Ramon's way comes via traffic on his website and Twitter feeds, Foursquare and Facebook check-ins. These new social media means are helping with the important work of launching revolutions and toppling authoritarian regimes, but they're also helping a hard-working young man get a bite to eat. I say kudos all the way around.
Hey, here's the Cafe Lawyer now!
If you see him at a coffee shop near you and decide to employ him, be sure to tell him the Cafe Blogger sent you. Who knows? You may even get a discount ;)