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Venjuris

Bar Prep Is Officially Stressful

Studying for the bar exam is challenging. Balancing work and studying is brutal.

Reminder: Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to document and share our stories from studying for the July 2017 California Bar Exam.

Ruth is Stressed
This is what I posted on Facebook at 8am yesterday morning:

Dear God:

They say you don’t give us more than we can handle. Thank you for your faith in me to handle:
1. A high-stress job,
2. The California Bar Exam,
3. A car accident,
4. Questioning everything about my gender, and
5. A maternal figure [childhood gymnastics coach] with terminal cancer.

My hair was already turning gray without your help. Now, there are times I want to tear it out. [And I’ve shaved my head before.]

If you do anything to Rosie in the next year, I will fucking kill you.

Me

Photo by Roger Griggs

Needless to say, it’s pretty stressful in the Land of Ruth, and that was before the opposition filed an unexpected memo in one of my litigation cases. So, I spent the day writing our objection to that instead of working on the client work I currently have on my plate: drafting a motion for summary judgment, reviewing a client’s contract, drafting a custom contract for a professional creative, and submitting a demand for arbitration.

My day was hijacked. I planned to leave the office by 1pm to keep up on studying, but I didn’t settle in to watch the lecture on civil procedure until 4:45pm. This week will be the first time I’m officially behind on the Barbri schedule. I had to submit an answer for a performance test question (like writing a legal memo) for grading and I took way more than the recommended 90 minutes to do it. I hope I can catch up this weekend.

I got an extra fan for my office to keep me cool while studying. Rosie approves.

One of the challenges of bar prep is there are no days off. I can’t “push through” and do a late night tonight because I’ll set myself up to be too tired to work and study effectively tomorrow. There are no days off, so it’s best to be mindful of diet, exercise, sleep, and avoiding distractions each day.

Speaking of exercise, I miss it. For me, not exercising is not an option, except for times like now when I’m recovering from a car accident that messed up my neck and back. Running gives me the outlet I need to keep my stress in check. During my last bar prep, I ran, rode my bike, or did yoga every day. Thankfully, I’m finally feeling like my body is healing from this accident. I hope my doctor releases me to start jogging again soon.

Rob sent this photo from St. Petersburg. He said it’s the view of an Orthodox church and the Museum of the Battle of Leningrad taken from the café where he was studying.

Rob says Hello from Russia with Love
Rob-tastic is still across the pond, in St. Petersburg, Russia for the last week of his trip. He’s dealing with his own type of stress over there, as he said he hasn’t slept much in a few days because one of his roommates at the hostel, “snored like he was laying down suppressing fire.” He “coffee-zombied” through some studying, but mostly went sightseeing.

One thing Rob and I both noticed this week is that having experience doing litigation makes it easier to understand this subject – especially for Rob because he has experience in both Arizona and Federal Civil Procedure. (I only have experience litigating in state court.) It’s easier for him to differentiate between the two rule sets and understand the corresponding vocabulary.

Civil procedure was challenging for both of us in law school. Having real-life experience to draw from makes studying for this portion of the test less challenging than when we studied for the Arizona Bar Exam.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions about what we’re doing or how we’re doing, leave it as a comment below. If you want to send us good vibes via snail mail, that’s always welcome – especially as our stress kicks up. Send us postcards at Ruth and Rob, c/o Venjuris P.C., 1938 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85016. (If you have a friend taking a bar exam this summer, send them one too. They’ll appreciate the love.)

Long Days of Bar Prep – & Some Fun

One of my contacts at Barbri asked me how I’m managing to study and continue to practice law. The only phrase that came to mind was, “Not gracefully.”

Reminder: Rob-tastic and I teamed up with Barbri to document and share our stories from studying for the July 2017 California Bar Exam.

Presenting at Phoenix Comicon 2017.
Photo by K Royal, used with permission.

Busy Life of Bar Prep
I’ve never said that I was graceful or eloquent, and it becomes more apparent when I exist in a state of stress. My days are full, and even fuller than I originally expected because a few weeks before I started studying for the bar exam, I was in a car accident. So, instead of having a schedule of client work, studying, and exercise, I have client work, studying, chiropractic appointments, twice daily sessions of icing my back, communications with my attorney, and dealing with daily pain.

My days are long: up at 4:45am to walk and feed the pirate dog, ice my back, and get ready to be at the office by 9am, work until 2pm on client work and upcoming presentations, go to the chiropractor, get home by 3:30/4 to walk and feed the pirate dog, study for the bar exam, ice my back again, and hopefully be in bed by 10pm.

On the days I don’t have the chiropractor, I try to be out of the office by 1pm to do a longer day of studying. It’s comforting when I see that I’m ahead of the schedule set by Barbri. I try to stay about 5% ahead of where they say I should be.

One of my flaws is I’ll push too hard too fast and burn myself out. My tell-tale signs of stress are purple under my eyes from lack of sleep (“black eye syndrome”) and my tongue will have little groove marks along the edge from my teeth. I try to be careful not to stay up too late and whenever I feel stress taking a hold of me, I try to shake it off with a deep breath and think “I got this.”

Meeting the Minions!

Hurray for Phoenix Comicon
Thankfully, I got a respite from studying this past weekend at Phoenix Comicon where I spoke on two panels: Comic Creator Rights and Copyright and Fan Art/Fiction. It was wonderful to see and hug some of my friends, and the people watching was fantastic. There are some talented cosplayers in the Phoenix area. (No, I don’t dress up when I speak.) I was giddy happy when I got to meet the Minions. (Did I mention stress makes me more weird than I usually am?)

This was the last big thing on my calendar until the BlogHer conference in late June. I’ll still see some friends on occasion, but those will be special events for me. (It’s for the best. As I get more stressed, I get less tolerant of crowds, noise, and annoying things.)

Church in Budapest
Photo by Robert McGee, used with permission.

Rob on the Road
Yay Rob’s alive! After a successful INTA conference in Barcelona, Rob-tastic sends his best from Budapest where’s he’s alternating between studying California law and geeking out over the Hungarian architecture. Rob sent me an email and said, “The most difficult part of studying on the road so far is, predictably, the lack of books. Listening to the lectures and taking notes as I go is great, but I’m more of a visual learner than an auditory one. I did bring a book of outlines relevant to California law in particular, so I’m not totally without my preferred medium, but it limits my ability to review the bigger subjects.”

Rob’s doing the attorney’s course with the diagnostic pre-tests that gauge how much you recall from your last bar exam. He said these make it “easier to pinpoint the blank spots in your good subjects, while letting you know what your bad subjects are more efficiently. I dislike admitting when something is difficult for me, or when I don’t know something. It’s a character flaw. These tests don’t care, they’ll tell me exactly what I’m doing wrong with all the loving tenderness of a machine. It works.”

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions about what we’re doing or how we’re doing, leave it as a comment below. If you want to send us good vibes via snail mail, that’s always welcome. Send us postcards at Ruth and Rob, c/o Venjuris P.C., 1938 E. Osborn Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85016. (If you have a friend taking a bar exam this summer, send them one too. They’ll appreciate the love.)

Teaming Up with Barbri for Bar Prep

I’ve already shared that I’m taking the California Bar Exam this July (July 25-26, 2017). What I didn’t share is that I’m not doing it alone. My colleague and fellow Venjuris attorney, Robert McGee (aka Rob-tastic – no idea why I call him that), is taking it too – and we’ve teamed up with Barbri to share our journey!

Partnering with Barbri
Rob and I both used Barbri to study for and pass the Arizona Bar Exam in 2014 and 2011, respectively. When we told them that we were taking another bar exam, they offered us a discount in exchange for sharing our experience studying for a bar exam while practicing law.

Done!

Rob and Ruth aka Rob-tastic and Undeniable

His and Her Bar Preps
Even though were taking the bar exam in the same state, we’re going to have substantially different prep and test experiences.

First, we’re taking different tests. Since I’ve been practicing law for more than four years, I only have to do the essay day of the exam. Rob’s only been in practice since late 2014, so he has to take the full bar exam: one day of essays, one day of multiple choice.

Second, we’re taking different Barbri programs. Rob is taking Barbri’s new Attorney Course. This is geared towards people who have recently taken another bar exam and likely remember a substantial portion of the information. Each subject has an assessment to gauge what you already know so you only have to focus on what you don’t remember. I’m taking the traditional Barbri course, because after being out six years, we assume I don’t remember much about the subject areas that are outside the scope of law I currently practice.

Third, we’re going to be traveling, especially Rob! I will be speaking at BlogHer17 in Florida for a few days in June, but Rob will be doing a 3-week trip to Barcelona for the INTA Conference followed by some much-deserved down time in Budapest and St. Petersburg. He’ll send photos letting us see where he’s studying.

Our boxes containing our Barbri workbooks arrived a few weeks ago. To celebrate the beginning of this adventures, we decided to bench press them:

Why Take Another Bar Exam? Why Now?
Almost everyone who hears that  I’m taking the California Bar asks if I’m moving. My usual response is, “I’m just expanding the kingdom, not moving the castle.”

California has strict rules about out of state lawyers taking on clients there, even for simple consults or transactional matters. I got tired of having to turn down opportunities for representation there, so when California announced that they were shortening their exam from three days to two, I decided to take it.

I asked Rob why he was subjecting himself to torture of another bar exam. He said, “Because I have the time to do it now. Five years from now, family or business obligations may be eating up most of my free time. Thinking long-term, you won’t get far in life thinking ‘I’ll just take the next opportunity to do stuff.’”

Last Hurrahs
Rob and I spent time with friends last weekend, knowing we won’t have time to see most of them until after the bar exam. Rob went camping with his friends and I did a Love and Complements Rally with Improv AZ.

According to our Barbri schedules, we don’t have to start studying until May 22nd, but we both want to get a jump on our work because we’re both going to be practicing law while we’re studying. I’m grateful to all my legal eagles who shared their tips for handling the daunting task of studying while working.

Follow our crazy journey! I’ll post an update every week through the bar exam. If you have any questions about what we’re doing, please leave it as a comment.

Giving Myself Permission to be First

Making myself a priority is not an area where I excel. I put my work first. I put my goals first. I put other people ahead of taking care of myself. I didn’t want to be in a position where I felt like I was letting people down, especially when it seems like everyone around me is doing so much more than me.

I know, quit comparing my insides to their outsides.

The Road Not Taken by Greg Westfall from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Lately, I’ve felt like a typical lawyer: I get up; I go to the office; I do client work; I go home; I wake up the next day and do it all again. This isn’t what I wanted for my life. I’m so drained by the time I leave the office, I barely have enough energy to work on my blogs, let alone new projects.

I’ve been working on my first online course, but it’s been a much slower process than I envisioned. As long as I need sleep to function, I don’t have enough energy or bandwidth to just work on this just in the evening and on weekends and expect to bring it to market. It needs substantial blocks of uninterrupted time. The hackathon method has been effective so far, when I do it.

Yesterday, I decided the right thing to do to get this course done is to take one weekday every week to stay home and crank on this project. I think this is the only way to give myself the time and space I need for this creative endeavor.

Yeah, that’s me with fire breathers. 
Photo by Annie Christodoulou

So that’s my plan – I’m going back on the road less traveled and clearing my calendar one day a week until this course is done. I hope once I re-dedicate substantial time to this project, that it will have a snowball effect and I’ll be even more jazzed about it instead of being crippled by the fear of failure.

I’m reminded of the Beverly Sill’s saying: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” One step at a time, one component at a time, this is going to get done. And likewise, if I want a lifestyle that works for me, I have to make it happen.

Footnote: I have no plans to leave my firm. I love working at Venjuris, but I need to balance client work (which is so satisfying to help people in a way that they can’t do for themselves) with speaking, writing, and other projects. It’s just who I am. I’ve never been normal, and I’m not going to start now.

Another Reason I Love my Job

While I was getting my master’s degree in counseling, I asked my professor, “Is it ever appropriate to do counseling barefoot?” (I was a gymnast for 17 years. I think better when I’m in bare feet.)

“Only if you work at outdoor school,” he replied.

I guess I’m lucky that I changed careers to become a lawyer.

Typical Day at the Office

Typical Day at the Office

The Undeniable Recap of 2015

Geez! 2015 was an insane year for Rosie and me. I spent over a month on the road this year, and Rosie and I had an unofficial competition to see who could run up the highest medical bill (too bad I can’t claim her as a dependent on my taxes).

Per blogging tradition, I’ve had the joy of looking back over the last 12 months and have compiled a list of the top events from my year.

Visiting the Seattle Troll

Visiting the Seattle Troll

1. The Undeniable Tour. I did a two-week sponsored road trip from San Diego to Seattle, staying mostly at hostels, and speaking to lawyers and law students about how to improve their careers with social media. The Undeniable Tour was an incredible trip – I met so many amazing people, saw so many incredible things, and I got to see a few friends in the mix too. I’m glad I did it – but I’ll probably never do something like this again. Planning the tour was a full-time job by itself. Hat tip to Jason Zook and his course How to Get Sponsorship for Anything that helped me make this all happen.

Love this Dog

Love this Dog

2. Rosie Became a Pirate. My sweet basset hound was diagnosed with glaucoma this year. We had to remove her right eye, and it will only be a matter of time before she goes completely blind. She has been such a trooper with the surgery and taking eye drops every day that cause tunnel vision. Her medical situation changed my life now that she’s on three medications. My daily schedule revolves around her. And with her eventual blindness, I’m more cognizant about making her life awesome. We spent a long weekend at Long Beach visiting the dog beach and dog-friendly restaurants.

3. I Joined Venjuris. At the beginning of 2015, I became Of Counsel at Venjuris – a business and IP boutique law firm. It’s probably the best career move I could have made. By combining forces, I get to take on more complex and litigation cases, and now it’s easier for my clients to get help with their patent needs. I love the people I work with and it’s definitely taken my skills as a lawyer to the next level.

4. Modeling. Starting this summer, I got to do a bit of modeling this year – portrait work, underwater work, milk bath, and bodyscaping. Modeling lets me be expressive in a whole new way, and the resulting photos are amazing. There are some exceptionally talented photographers in Phoenix. As a bonus, one of the photos – a compilation of 13 images of me – is the new postcard for Carter Law Firm.

5. Medical Mystery/Heart Problems. 2014 ended with a medical mystery for me – night sweats, dizziness, fatigue, and chest pain. Three cardiologists, two ultrasounds, and a transesophageal echocardiogram later, they determined I have a hole in my heart – a defect from birth – but this wasn’t the cause of my medical problems. My doctor ran every blood test he could think of and everything came back “normal.” Our best guess is I’m prone to severe costochondritis and anxiety.

6. Seeing Friends. The Undeniable Recap usually lists the top five events from the year, but I want to add a bonus event. It’s not really an event but one of the benefits of traveling so much this year – I got to see so many friends that don’t live near me. That was probably the best part of this year; almost everywhere I went, there were familiar faces. If I had to name my favorite moment from 2015, it would be hugging my former voice coach Richard Weidlich in New York.

With Sheila Dee in London and my Signature Sickle Foot, Photo by Evo Terra

With Sheila Dee in London and my Signature Sickle Foot, Photo by Evo Terra

Firsts in 2015
DNF race
Transesophageal Echocardiogram (with Propofol)
Making Cornbread
Stay in a Hostel
Ride on BART
Skinny Jeans
Couchsurfing
Episcleritis
Sticking Gum on a Wall
Scone with Clotted Cream
Solo International Trip – to London
Sitting Second Chair
Sights: Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Times Square, Central Park, “Free” Stamp Sculpture, Fork in the Road, LucasFilms, Ballard Locks, Seattle Troll
Events: Content Marketing World, Periscope Community Summit, Ungagged, Dad 2.0 Summit

Meeting R2D2 at LucasFilms

Meeting R2D2 at LucasFilms – Still with my Sickle Foot

Celebrity Sightings
R2D2
Anderson Cooper
Michael McDonald
John Cleese
Scott Sigler
Colin Wright

In Memoriam
Leonard Nimoy
Joseph Cherapan
Sandy Askland
Atticus VanSlyke
Trixie Ortmeyer

Day 54/90 – Just a Good Day

Day 54 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? It was just a good day overall!

This is a photo from Ignite Phoenix #17 - yes I'm skipping. It embodies how I felt yesterday. (Photo by Joseph Abbruscato, used with permission)

This is a photo from Ignite Phoenix #17 – yes I’m skipping. It embodies how I felt yesterday. (Photo by Joseph Abbruscato, used with permission)

I had to think about what made yesterday awesome. There were so many good things to choose from. There was nothing especially extraordinary about the day but it had good flow and energy:

  • Went to the office – fourth time being the first person in where I didn’t set of the security alarm!
  • Cranked on client work – for many lawyers, summer is a slow time. I’ve had the opposite this year. I’m surprised that so many new and returning clients have asked me to do work for them.
  • Went to therapy – we’re all better people because I sit on my therapists couch every week.
  • Picked up a new water bottle at Runner’s Den – I wanted one that straps to my hand to help me stay hydrated during evening walks and runs.
  • Took Rosie with me to Fellowship Under the Stars – everyone loved her and it was a great meeting.

By the end of the day I was exhausted and I flopped into bed and purposely didn’t set an alarm.

In case you missed it: Day 53 of the 90 Days of Awesome – no cavities at the dentist!

Day 36/90 – Sitting Second Chair

Day 36 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I got sit second chair for the first time in a courtroom!

Sunset Scenes, Sedona, AZ 7-30-13zzm by inkknife_2000 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sunset Scenes, Sedona, AZ 7-30-13zzm by inkknife_2000 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I started Carter Law Firm right out of law school, I restricted my practice to transactional work: contracts, copyrights, and trademarks. I didn’t want to take a case that could go to litigation because I was afraid, as a new solo lawyer, that I would screw up the case. I never wanted to take that type of risk with my clients. Now that I’m with Venjuris, where I have colleagues who are experienced litigators, I am expanding the scope of my practice.

Today, I made my first court appearance as a lawyer. It was a small hearing in Sedona regarding an injunction against harassment (a.k.a. a restraining order). I was there mainly to observe and learn, and it was a fantastic experience to see how the law plays out in real life. My colleague reminded me that you should never go into a court appearance thinking that anything is a for sure deal, because you always want to be on your toes and ready for anything.

One thing I’ve learned this year since joining a firm that does litigation is that the law provides a framework to achieve resolutions to problems; however, it takes a certain level of creativity and finesse to practice law exceptionally well.

In case you missed it: Day 35 of the 90 Days of Awesome – Being a Model for Bodyscaping Photography!

Day 32/90 – Raising my Game

Day 32 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I feel like I raised my game as a lawyer.

This is how I look when I'm working - me & my laptop. (Photo by Brandon Larkin)

This is how I look when I’m working – me & my laptop. (Photo by Brandon Larkin)

When I started Carter Law Firm, my work mainly consisted of client consultations, drafting and reviewing documents, and intellectual property registrations. I limited the scope of my solo practice to consultations and transactional work because I didn’t want to screw up a case that might go to litigation, and I definitely wasn’t prepared to handle a litigation case alone. Now that I am with Venjuris, where we have seasoned litigators on the team, I have the proper entity to expand my practice areas to include potential litigation matters.

Today I drafted a cease and desist letter for a client. It was a solid effort and sufficient as a first draft. I took the draft to one of our litigators who sat down with me and went through it sentence by sentence, suggesting minor changes throughout that significantly raised the quality of my writing.

I went back to my desk bubbling with energy. My first draft was covered in notes in my chicken scratch handwriting. I was excited to integrate the changes into my work.

I love working with amazing writers. I appreciate it when they review my work and they return my drafted covered, almost dripping, with ink. And I consider myself to be a good writer! Working with these people gives me the opportunity to raise my own game, which leaves me ecstatic to know that I’m becoming a better writer and a better lawyer.

I feel a little weird using the phrase “raise my game” in reference to legal work because I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t take my work seriously. On the contrary, I am always aware that when someone comes to meet with a problem, their life and/or their livelihood is on the line. I have the deepest respect for the trust they have in me and my abilities. But I felt this phrase was appropriate because it embodies the energy and desire I have to improve my skills.

In case you missed it: Day 31 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I love listening to the way lawyers speak when they analyze cases.

Day 31/90 – Listening to Lawyers Speak

Day 31 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? Listening to a seasoned litigator talk about a case.

Giant Gavel by Sam Howzit from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Giant Gavel by Sam Howzit from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Have you ever listened to a lawyer analyze a particular case? I’m not talking about the egotistical ambulance chaser stereotype of a lawyer, but I thoughtful articulate lawyer. They are so smart when it comes to their practice area that it is almost mesmerizing to listen to them process strategy ideas and ways to phrase documents.

I popped by one of my colleague’s office today to discuss a case I’m working on and a demand letter that I’m drafting. I wanted to get his take on the situation to make sure that I wasn’t missing any legal issues. My pen flew across my legal pad as I tried to scribble down every word that seemed to flow out of his mouth like butter.

At one point in our conversation I paused, and he started to explain his previous statement because he thought I didn’t understand. I smiled and said something like, “Oh I know. I just like hearing the way you speak.”

Joining Venjuris has provided so many amazing opportunities for me in terms of expanding my scope of practice and I get to be surrounded by super smart people every day who below my mind with their knowledge, eloquence, and work ethic.

In case you missed it: Day 30 of the 90 Days of Awesome – Real Conversations with my Friends.