Birney Bull (J.D. 1983)
Private Practice, Adoption Law
Mr. Bull currently works at his own firm, the Adoption Law Office of Birney O’Brian Bull in Savannah, Georgia. He served on the board of directors of a crisis pregnancy center for over ten years before limiting his practice to adoptions. Mr. Bull believes that practicing adoption law is what God has called him to do. Though he has had several assistants and law student summer interns, Mr. Bull has always been the only attorney in his office, and is currently the only employee. He deals mostly with adoptive parents, though he has frequently represented birth parents as well. His clients hear about him through word of mouth, Internet searches, and referrals from other lawyers. Before beginning his firm, Mr. Bull worked as law clerk to two local judges, Judge David R. Elmore and Judge Perry Brannen, Jr. Between these, he did insurance defense for six years and then written advocacy for other lawyers by association for another six years. Licensed since 1983, Mr. Bull has been involved in a little bit of everything law-related.
To law students and recent graduates searching for positions, Mr. Bull advises: “If you get to the middle of your life and discover that you sold your soul to get a good income, you paid too much.” A shrewd career decision from a financial viewpoint will quickly transform into an unwise decision if your heart isn’t in the work. However, if your heart is in it, you’ll find a way to make even a difficult practice area work for you. Mr. Bull quotes the career-search cliché, “Follow your heart, and the money will take care of itself.”
Mr. Bull’s practice is a niche practice and there are positive aspects and marketing advantages to this format. Whether companies or individuals, clients are not as likely to have only one lawyer or firm handle all of their legal work as in the past. The law has become too complex for individuals, or even individual firms, to do “a little bit of everything” competently, let alone well. Lawyers and firms are focusing on fewer and fewer areas so they can remain current. Often, Mr. Bull’s satisfied clients express their wish that he could handle other, non-adoption related issues for them, but he no longer attempts to handle things outside of his chosen field of adoption.
If you have a niche practice, it allows you to become one of the “go to” people on that subject in your locale. This is true for clients as well as other lawyers. Other lawyers frequently contact Mr. Bull for information about how to conduct a certain part of the adoption process. Another advantage is that even lawyers whose clients do still look to them for all of their legal work will have no concerns that referring their client to you for that one area could lead to them “losing” that client. Since you only do one thing, you will send that client back for everything else. The more of a “go to” person you become in your field, the easier promotion of your practice becomes through activities such as addressing relevant groups, giving news quotes on relevant stories, and so on. The fewer topics on which you focus, the more feasible it becomes to remain up to date.
Like finding your spouse, there is no blueprint for finding your purpose in law practice. Mr. Bull suggests trying new things much the way you try on clothes before you buy them. It took twenty years of law-related work before he focused on adoption. Look for firms that do the sort of work you’re interested in. For those intrigued by adoption work, remember that adoption is very state-specific. Therefore, starting with a particular state or region would be best when targeting firms that deal with adoptions. It might be good to seek out a smallish firm that does family work. Though these deal largely with divorces, they can probably give you some adoption experience. There are a few firms in Georgia, including Mr. Bull’s, that concentrate solely on adoption.
One of the things they don’t tend to mention in law school is that, while the “customer” is always right, the “client” is sometimes wrong ... and wants you to facilitate that wrongdoing. On the one hand, clients may not even realize that what they want to do is wrong, and it is the attorney’s job to tell them. On the other, when they DO know it is wrong, no fee can make Mr. Bull feel OK about doing that kind of work. Another thing not dwelt on in law school is how attorneys are paid to take on other people’s problems. The danger then is becoming resentful that people want you to wave a magic wand over their problems, perhaps even ones they created themselves.