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Venjuris

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.

How to Get a Job at a Small Law Firm

I had the pleasure of participating in my law school alma mater’s Small Firm Week. One of the activities was an event featuring eight small firm lawyers who each had had table and a small group of students got to have lunch with them. It was a great way for students to meet local lawyers and learn about what it’s like to work at a small firm. For those of you who don’t know, I gave up my solo practice to become one of nine lawyers at Venjuris. I only use Carter Law Firm for professional speaking and writing.

One of the students at my table is interested in bankruptcy law and he asked me what he should do to try to get a job at a small firm. Here’s what I told him to do. This is also what I wish I did more of when I was a law student:

Social Media Camp 2009- Social Media for the Job Search by Dean Meyers from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Social Media Camp 2009- Social Media for the Job Search by Dean Meyers from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

1. My law school’s career services office maintains a list of all the law firms in Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located) that includes each firm’s practice areas and how many lawyers work in the local office. I told him to get a copy of this list.

2. Go through the list and find all the bankruptcy firms. Then do some research on the lawyers who work at each one and try to identify which ones might be people that you would want to have as your professional friends. I actually told him to look for lawyers that he would want to hang out and drink with. Networking is all about building your professional social circles.

3. Reach out to the lawyers you want to meet and asked them to lunch or coffee, or even just a 20-minute meeting in their office. (Lawyers are busy.) Ask them what it’s really liked to work in their practice area and if they have any tips for getting a job.

Notice I didn’t say ask them for a job. They will probably ask you if you have a summer job lined up or if you have secured a job for after you graduate. It’s a given that most law students are looking for a job. Unless a firm is advertising a job opening, asking for a job the first time you meet somebody is like trying to sleep with a person on the first date. It’s too forward and aggressive. I’ve heard some lawyers don’t go to the networking events with law students because they don’t like being hit up for jobs.

4. Instead, you want to foster relationships with the people you hope will be your friends when you graduate and pass the bar so they will think of you when they hear of a job opportunity. There are many firms that never advertise when they’re looking to add an associate. They just ask their network if anybody knows anyone who might be a good fit.

At the end of lunch I asked the students at my table for their cards, and I was surprised that none of them had business cards. Every law student needs a business card. You may be able to get them through your law school or there are plenty of places you can get them online. It just needs to have your name, your email address, your phone number, your school, and when you’re graduating.

I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering names, but I use a contact database where I keep track of everyone I meet and where I meet them. Had the students given me their cards, I would have added them and they could have been on the list of people I would look up and recommend if I heard of a job opening or internship. But they didn’t give me their cards, so they’re not in my database, so unless they send me an email I will probably never have contact with them again.