Lawyers are People Too: An Interview with Jenny Doling

(Republished with permission from the Central District Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys Association Newsletter)

Jon: Hi Jenny. Where were you born?

Jenny: I was born right here in Palm Springs. I’m the oldest of four siblings, two younger sisters and a younger brother, all born and raised in the Palm Springs area.

Jon: Tell me about your parents.

Jenny: Dad was a Navy brat, and travelled all over the world with his parents and ultimately landed in the Desert where he became a union electrician. My mom recently retired from the planning department of Southern California Edison. They met in high school, got married young, and had me a year later. Mom is such a good confidant with a powerful work ethic, she will do anything for anyone. I have always admired her. Dad was a registered democrat, always interested in what’s going on in the world. My mom is healthy, but Dad has Alzheimer’s.   

Jon: I’m sorry to hear that. Where did you go to high school?

Jenny: Yucca Valley High School. I have nothing but happy memories of those times. I played softball 8 months out of the year and was the senior class President. I met my husband, Richard! We started out as great friends, but then spent the summer going to the beach together and fell in love. We found ourselves as teen parents to a beautiful daughter. We got married and had our son. This July is our 30th Wedding Anniversary and we’ve been blessed with our first grandbaby, Marley, who is two.

Jon: What does Richard do?

Jenny: He does high-end home theater, AV, and security integration. He’s always been my best supporter and is truly my best friend.

Jon: Where did you go to college?

Jenny: Well,we did things a little backwards. With two kids, and working, it took me seven years to get my B.A. in Criminal Justice commuting to CSUSB. I had planned to be a parole officer. 

Jon: Did you go straight into law school then?

Jenny: Yes. During undergrad I was looking at a career catalogue and realized law school was only three years. So, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I went to Cal Western School of Law in San Diego and we moved to Point Loma. I started law school with a 10-month old and six year old. It wasn’t easy but I was young and didn’t know better.

Jon: How did you like law school?

Jenny: I loved it! Honestly, I love learning. I would be a full-time student if there were no other considerations. I finished in 2 ½ years, took the bar in CA and NV, and passed both on the first try, thankfully!

Jon: Do you have any particular professors or classes you remember from law school?

Jenny: I took Bankruptcy with Prof. George Kuney who was a partner at Allen Matkins and is now at the University of Tennessee School of Law. I loved bankruptcy and got the Am. Jur. Award in that class. In law school, I clerked at a collections law firm representing creditors. 

Jon: What did you do after that?

Jenny: We moved back to Palm Desert about a year after I graduated. I worked as a Temp Research Attorney at the Superior Court in Riverside and in 2001 I opened my own practice.

Jon: Just like that! That’s a tough way to learn both law and the law business. 

Jenny: You’re so right. And I actually did not plan to do bankruptcy, but I had worked for a bankruptcy attorney as paralegal before law school, so I knew the software, but found I really enjoyed it. In 2004, I joined NACBA, and my practice took off after that. I had some really good mentors at NACBA, like Tara Twomey and Ike Shulman. With the changes brought by BAPCPA and the public fear that bankruptcy was going to go away, I was incredibly busy. We were working until 2am in the stretch to the deadline before the new law took effect, just trying to file all the cases. In fact, I imposed a cutoff date, that we would not file any more cases after Thursday before the new law took effect. I didn’t want to risk something not getting filed timely. I’ll never forget that. And, on Friday, I surprised the staff with bonuses and a spa day at the Ritz Carltonas a thank you for their hard work.

Jon: I remember that time. There was something like 26,000 petitions filed in the Central District the week before October 15 and 59 petitions the week after. 

Jenny: Right! It was crazy, but it was actually a lot of fun. There were eight of us in the office. We had such great comradery. My practice continued to grow after that. In the 2008 to 2015 time-period I was up to 13 employees, which included myself and two other attorneys. 

Jon: Do you advertise? 

Jenny: Not really except maybe a few social media posts; 63% of my cases come from referrals from other attorneys and past clients.  

Jon: Do you enjoy being an attorney? Would you recommend it as a life career to others?

Jenny: I enjoy fighting the good fight and brainstorming legal issues. You know, I think law schools should do a better job of painting a picture of what the practice of law really looks like. I spend so much of my time on the administrative part of the practice that is not taught in law school. I also feel it’s sort of a shame that the creative lawyering can bestifled by the endless use of mandatory fill-in forms. I take clients with no hope, and often can turn things around for them. Bankruptcy is one of the few areas of law where the clients are actually happy at the end (laughing), and that’s rewarding.

Jon: So, would you become an attorney if you could get a do-over?

Jenny: I love what I do but I’ve always said my do-over might be a career as a general contractor (laughing). I’ve always loved construction projects and designing floorplans.

Jon: Any downsides to practicing bankruptcy law?

Jenny: It’s hard to make a good living as a consumer attorney, especially doing chapter 13s these days. They’ve grown to be very adversarial and it’s not like that everywhere. You have to have systems in place to be profitable. I also agree with the saying that the RARA fee in chapter 13 penalizes the competent practitioners and rewards the incompetent. We need the good attorneys to stick around.

Jon: I understand you went back to law school recently?

Jenny: See! I’m a born student at heart. Yes, I had been doing a lot of IRS Offers-in-Compromise and was getting referred bigger cases. I just felt that I needed a better foundation. So, I went back to law school at the University of San Diego. I graduated in May 2023 with my LLM in Taxation.

Jon: How was that experience?

Jenny: It was a blast! So rewarding.It was fun to strip everything back to the basic legal concepts again. It was also funny to be the oldest person in my class, answering practice questions of my younger friends and classmates. Prof. Richard Carpenter was fabulous. The whole experience re-energized me for the practice of law.

Jon: What does Jenny Doling do in her spare time?

Jenny: Richard and I are enjoying our granddaughter! She is pure joy. It is true that you can’t imagine how fun it is until you have your own grandchild. In the summers, we have a boat and a little vacation home at Lake Havasu, so we spend time with our family wakeboarding, and in the winter we are off-roading with our quads and dirt bikes or skiing/snowboarding. 

Jon: Any advice for new attorneys?

Jenny: You really need a good work-life balance. The practice can crush you if you let it. I think a lot of good actually came out of the pandemic. I rarely waste time any more in my car commuting to hearings. I do most of my client meetings by Zoom and as a result I am far more efficient with my time, and we have to be, given the inflationary challenges small firms face. I just miss listening to audio books on the commute.

hayes
Senior Counsel, RHM Law, LLP (Los Angeles, CA)

M. Jonathan Hayes has practiced consumer bankruptcy law primarily for the past 42 years in Southern California. He recently completed a two-year sabbatical as the BAP Law Clerk first for Judge Laura Taylor in San Diego and then for Judge William Lafferty in Oakland. He is now Senior Counsel to the bankruptcy firm of RHM Law, LLP. Jon has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of West Los Angeles School of Law for the past 33 years where he has taught Bankruptcy, Business Associations and other subjects. Jon was a member of the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization, Bankruptcy Law Advisory Commission, 2010 to 2018. He was Vice-Chairman for the year 2016-2017 and Chairman for the year 2017-2018. He was President of the Central District Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney’s Assn (“cdcbaa”), 2013 and 2014, and is a member of the Board of Directors 2008 to present. He was a Lawyer Representative to the Central District Judicial Conference, 2014 to 2019. Today he has joined with Hon. Meredith Jury (Ret.) to form a bankruptcy appellate “dream team” with six other bankruptcy attorneys throughout the 9th Circuit to help consumer attorneys with their bankruptcy appeals. Jon has written four books entitled, “A Summary of Chapter 13” published in November 2019; “A Summary of Bankruptcy Law, Third Edition” published in December, 2016; “Bankruptcy Jurisprudence from the Supreme Court, Second Edition” published in 2016; and “Melvyn ‘Deacon’ Jones: My 40 years with the Blues Legends,” published in 2004. All are available on Amazon.com. You can reach Jon at [email protected].

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