Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A kind word about Thomson-West -- and another opportunity to bash the phone company

It wasn't my first choice to become a deadbeat. I'm still fairly new at this. Yes, I've joked that prioritizing my bills is a little like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic -- but, until recently, icy water was not sloshing across the decks.

I've complained about collection calls since I started this blog -- but, I've always managed (until now) to see a clear path out of the financial thicket. I used to get impatient about impatient creditors: Didn't they know I was going to make good ASAP? Today, the path is overgrown with weeds. Or past due bills. And I've had so many collection calls lately I feel I've become something of a connoisseur.

Thomson-West provides my Westlaw subscription. It also supplies a number of books I use in my practice. Until a year or two ago it also provided me online CLE. (That is, I used it until I figured out I could satisfy my obligations for free or by doing stuff I would have/ should have done anyway -- without shelling out an additional $80 a month.)

Westlaw is very useful in my practice -- but it is staggeringly expensive. It is particularly expensive for me because I need Federal court cases and out of state cases for my (lately imaginary) insurance practice. In round figures, it costs something like $600 a month.

Lately, West's competitor, Lexis, made a pitch for my business. They could provide me with the same stuff (without the proprietary West 'key numbering,' of course) for $350 a month. For this amount I'd also have access to all sorts of databases that I don't use because I don't have them on Westlaw... but which might be interesting.

I can add and subtract. Taking $250 a month out of overhead would be a big deal for me at any time. But, even several months back, I could see that this was shaping up into a terrible year -- and I was therefore particularly anxious to avoid getting in over my head. If possible. But I wasn't sure when my indentured servitude to West expired. I looked at my records -- and, as near as I could tell, I was already out of subscription.

What? A lawyer whose own records are incomplete? Don't be so shocked. Haven't you ever heard the expression, "the shoemaker's children are always poorly shod?" We mind other peoples' business so well, we sometimes neglect our own.

I sent West a goodbye letter -- and West responded by sending me a copy of the contract I apparently failed to keep -- one that keeps me in fetters until next summer. We expect you to honor your contract, West said. For its part, Lexis said it would charge me only $50 a month until my West contract expired -- and then start the clock running on my three year deal with that company.

Let's recap, shall we? I tried to save myself $250 a month -- and wound up costing myself an extra $50.

What a businessman I am, eh?

When the hard choices came between between Westlaw and rent or Westlaw and mortgage, Westlaw kept losing out. I just recently paid the Westlaw bill that was due at the end of July. Just to show good faith.

Faith, I've got.

Westlaw calls now, every couple of weeks. They've outsourced the collection work to India, and the callers are unfailingly polite. I tell them there is no way I can make a payment now but -- if someone pays me -- I will gladly pay them. They've been good with that so far. They appear to understand that I need the service to continue operating and, hopefully, dig out of this hole. And I appreciate this. Not enough to pay them $600 a month one nanosecond longer than necessary -- but I do appreciate it.

I'm hoping for a check this week that will get my rent current and take care of my October mortgage. There should be something left over for West. And so the bill for the end of August should be paid soon.

Why did they insist on keeping me again?

On the other hand, there is the phone company. I wrote in early February of getting a dreaded red notice from the phone company. (I had to go to the Illinois Commerce Commission to clear up a mysterious charge on my bill.) I got the red notice when I fell more than two months in arrears on my office phone bill.

It happened again this fall. I didn't really have the money to pay these latest overdue phone bills -- but I went down to near zero in my office account to get the phone company off my back when I realized that disconnection only works one way: I can't do business by calling out. People can't do business with me by calling in. But the evil phone company can still call. After making these payments, my next bill was due October 27 -- but, remember, I was, except for that bill, current.

I was therefore not too worried when I had no money to pay the phone company on October 27. (The phone bill used to be due on the last day of the month, but the due date has been creeping up for some reason.) I had to harbor my meager resources to put a downpayment on next year's malpractice insurance.

But the phone company has had just about enough of me: Even though I was only about a week late, the phone company sent me a disconnect notice.

I will probably have to move from this Undisclosed Location early next year; the lease is coming up for renewal. I don't think we can or will renew.

Of the four of us who moved here in 2006, one died; another abandoned us for Florida. That left two of us to share costs that four were supposed to divide. We carried two extra offices until earlier this year when we finally got a tenant who is very nice -- but who is paying substantially less than a quarter of our current expenses. Clearly we are paying more than market. The landlord will probably offer a reduction in the rent -- but I think my remaining colleague is already committed to moving out. I certainly can't carry the space by myself, so I will have to go, too.

I will probably abandon my land lines when I do. This is another $180 a month headache I do not need. And you had better believe that I will abandon Ma Bell to her fate when I do establish alternative service.


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

when i worked at the law firm we had some attorneys that had their own practice out of a home office and rented an office in our place when they needed it for a client meeting or such. is that a possibility for you? best wishes.

also, i'd love to give lss some earrings or such for you to give her for christmas if you like. it would be my pleasure. go to the etsy store and pick her out something.

smiles, bee

Dave said...

Try Loislaw.com. About $100 a month, all states and federal. Clunky but it works.