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January, 2012:

I Was Cyberbullied – Part 1 of 4

Cyberbullying sucks. I know because I’ve been through it.

I’m sharing my story to show that it can happen to anyone, at any age, and that there are things you can do to combat it.

My story begins in February 2010, the spring semester of my second year of law school at Arizona State University. I had a full load of classes and an internship at a large Phoenix law firm. I was also an executive officer on multiple student clubs at the law school. It was because of the connections I made in a leadership position that lead to me receiving an invitation to attend the HRC gala. The invite was written and sent to me in an email that was to my personal email account, not the club’s email address.

One of the other execs, another law student, did not receive such an invitation. She became my bully.

For the following three months, I dreaded seeing the notification that I had new email in my inbox.  Every email from her was filled with anger and disrespect. She called me dishonest, unethical, phony, dumb, seedy, a poor leader, and made discriminatory statements about my sexual orientation.

From the beginning, I sensed this could be a heated situation and may not end well. I elicited the help of four of my friends:

  • Michael: former assistant dean of the law school who has a wealth of knowledge regarding law students and the ASU system,
  • Jeff: my friend who has experience with handling public criticism,
  • Andrea: was the president of an LGBT student group at Oregon State University when I was a student there, and
  • Julia: my classmate who is a former national speech champion. She is the most articulate person I know, and she’s brilliant at handling difficult people.

Project 365: Day 57 by Cara Photography

Every time I got an email from my bully, I forwarded it to these four. After her first email, I never sent a response without giving myself several hours to let my emotional response subside and to formulate the best response based on the goal of getting the harassment to end.

My bully’s impulsiveness scared me. She reacted to every email with such anger. She responded without taking any time to think through her response. I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t shift from being verbally impulsive to physically impulsive, but I wasn’t completely convinced.

After one particularly cruel email that I forwarded to my support team, I got a one line email response from Michael: “Ruth, you need to stay away from this person.” Michael has counseled thousands of law students in his career. A warning like that from him carried significant weight for me.

I reached out to Gavin de Becker and Associates, a firm that assesses threats in personal relationships and the workplace. De Becker is the author of the bestselling book, The Gift of Fear, a book I recommend everyone read to identify and respond to people who threaten your safety. I explained the situation to an associate, and he responded that I likely had cause for concern.

I was 30 years old, and for the first time in my life, I was afraid to go to school.

Read more about my experience with cyberbullying and how I fought back in Part 2 of I Was Cyberbullied.

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Three Candles: An Interview with Will Corcoran

After enduring horrific child abuse, Indiana attorney and author Will Corcoran became a loving father of four. Unfortunately, his son Henry has mitochondrial disease – a terminal illness. Will recently published his first book, Three Candles, where he shares his & Henry’s stories of love & perseverance. Will was gracious to talk about his book & the organization he co-founded, Henry’s Hope. 

Tell us a little about yourself & Henry’s Hope.
I used to define myself as a lawyer, writer, law professor, businessman, & professional coach. Now, with the ultimate dose of perspective, I am a proud husband & father. Like all parents, my biggest & most important life lessons have come from my children. When we got the devastating news that our son, Henry’s, time on Earth would provide me only a crash course, I became a hesitant & humble student – learning & sharing everything that Henry, & our other kids, could teach me & my wife. I learned that my childhood shaped my perspective as well. Henry has taught us a perspective everyone could benefit from.  I am committed to share my & Henry’s story in this book, public speaking, & one-on-one coaching & counseling.

Henry’s Hope was inspired by Henry & his mature wisdom. During our time in the hospitals with him, we saw many children & their families that could not afford to pay for the treatment & expensive road to diagnosis that we were lucky enough to afford. Children suffered. Families were tormented. One day, Henry asked, “Why doesn’t JJ get the medicine that I do?” There was no good answer. We founded Henry’s Hope to help children with life-threatening & terminal illnesses receive quality treatment by assisting with funding, finding resources, & providing patient advocates for families.

What inspired you to write this book?
Henry. He, like so many other sick children, has a perspective on life healthier than any adult I know. Though he certainly has much to complain about, he doesn’t. His focus remains on the here & now – being a kid, having fun, enjoying time with his family. So many of us are caught up in things that really don’t matter in the long run. I started writing to capture Henry’s purity in his perspective & our journey with him.

The second part of the story, my traumatically abusive upbringing, almost seems like a disconnect, but my childhood helped guide me in parenting Henry. It helped us both share “first” experiences & have a much fuller appreciation for them.

What’s the story behind the title “Three Candles?”
Three Candles starts by following Henry & I when we were both 3 years old. Both of our lives took dramatic turns that year. My first childhood memory was of a beating, being locked in a shed, & disassociating. Henry was diagnosed with a terminal illness when he was 3. But, the light in the candles represent the hope & inspiration – despite what sounds objectively like horrific changes for both children. 

How does your experience with child abuse help you raise a terminally ill child?
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I was robbed of a lot of childhood experiences. Henry, through his battles, is also put in a spot where he can’t truly be a kid. Though very different experiences, I know how important it is for kids to feel loved, feel safe, & be as worry-free as possible.

We chronicle several examples in the book, and one of my favorites was when I took Henry on a class field trip to the apple orchard. Henry was so excited. I was worried because, though he knew that he couldn’t eat anything because of his illness, sometimes he would get caught up & still ask. I resisted going & talked about other things that we could do together, but my 3 year-old was steadfast. We were going to the apple orchard.

When we arrived, Henry’s excitement continued.  With his classmates, he learned about the different types of apples, their textures, & smells. We picked several apples. As the group headed back to do some taste testing, I dilly-dallied – almost hoping to miss it. Henry wouldn’t have any of it. “Daddy,” he grabbed my hand in a huff, “We have to hurry. Can’t miss this.”

Henry guided me to the food line. My heart sunk, thinking that I’d have to explain that he couldn’t eat anything. But before I could address it Henry told me, “I know I can’t eat it, but you can.” I got the food, let him hold & smell it, & described it to him – answering a lot of questions.

Then, he asked, “Daddy did you have a fun visit to your first apple orchard?” It was my first visit. He remembered. My experience was just as important to him, if not more during some points, as his was. 

How does it feel to have your abuse story out there for all to read?
That’s a hard question to answer. As any abuse survivor knows, there never is a finish line. We will continue to have issues that we will have to deal with, but we are survivors. The emotions are so diverse & can change each day.

Embarrassment. Guilt. Sad. Lonely. Overwhelmed. Exposed. Those are the feelings that I struggled with all of my life. It took me a long time to turn the corner. When I realized that my horrible childhood experiences & who that made me was actually helping me parent Henry, I couldn’t be ashamed anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy that happened to me. But, I can use those horrific experiences as weapons to make difficult experiences now more positive. That doesn’t change what happened or make it ok, but if I can make my past have a positive impact on the future, then there is no shame in that.

So now I experience pride, strength, hope, courage, & perspective.  I hope in sharing my abuse story other abuse survivors might be able to use their past tragedies as important tools for what lies ahead.

 

Three Candles is available for purchase on Amazon. A portion of the proceeds goes to Henry’s Hope. You can learn more about Three Candles and Will at his website.

Lessons from the 2012 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

Photo by Crystal O'Hara

I completed my third half marathon this past weekend. My goal was to finish the race is less than 2 hours. I destroyed that goal & finished in 1:52 – 14 minutes faster than my previous personal record.

1. The Race Will Accept An Altered Liability Waiver.
I alter every liability waiver before I sign it. The race organizers wanted to avoid all liability, no matter what. I have no problem accepting responsibility if I trip over my own feet, but if they run me into oncoming traffic or a pit full of tigers, I want to sue them. This year, I wrote in a provision that stated that the altered agreement superseded all previous agreements. I’d never written in a provision & I was pleased when the race accepted it.

2.  KT Tape Is A Godsend.
I had issues with shin pain during training. I wore KT tape on my leg almost every day between mid-December & the race. It made it possible for me to finish my training with minimal discomfort. At the pre-race expo, KT Tape had a booth where they provided free tape jobs. I had them give me a fresh tape job on my shin & one on my left foot that had started feeling sore. I felt no pain in my foot or leg for the entire race.

3.  Stay In Front Of Your Pacer.
The organizers provided runners who maintained a particular pace for the race. Each one held a stick with a sign on it indicating what pace they were keeping. In my starting corral, there was a runner with a “2:00” stick. I knew I had to cross the finish line before him to accomplish my goal.

My friend’s dad suggested that I get at least a quarter mile in front of my pacer. My pacer was supposed to run 9:10-minute miles, but pacers aren’t human treadmills. They’re faster some miles & slower others. It’s best to get in front of them & stay there. Once I got in front of my pacer, I was afraid he’d overtake me. It kept me motivated to keep my speed up.

4.  The Back Of Your Shirt Matters.
In the past, I started the race with my friends who are faster runner than me, & as a result, I was passed more than I passed others. This year I had the opposite experience. I learned that the back of your shirt provides entertainment for the people running behind you.

Photo by Tyler Hurst

5.  Having A Cheering Section Makes A Huge Difference.
I saw my friends & family at miles 8, 11, & 12. Seeing the familiar faces & hearing their voices boosted my spirits. I remember being at mile 4 & thinking, “Only 4 more miles ‘til I see my friends.” After I saw my friends, thinking about them kept me motivated until I saw my next cheering section at mile 11. My friends humored my masochistic side by yelling things like, “Move your ass, Bitch!” In aggregate, I saw my friends & family less than a minute of the race, but having them there made a huge difference.

I also need to give a huge hat tip to the supporters who made multiple appearances along the route. They would be at the sideline to see their runner to go by, jump in the car, drive to another part of the race route, & be there again. That takes some serious planning & dedication. Even though they weren’t there for me, I appreciated their support in general.

6. Put One Foot In Front Of The Other & Believe.
I knew I was running faster than the pace I needed to finish the race in under 2 hours. The race clock at every mile marker helped me estimate my pace. Everyone around me was running so fast, & I had serious doubts that I could keep up my pace for the entire race. I took a risk & believed that it was possible to have such a strong finish. I nearly started crying at mile 12 when I saw that it would take a disaster to not finish in under 2 hours.

I was beyond pleased when I saw that I finished in 1:52 – average pace: 8:36. It still blows me away that I did so well. It’s a reminder that amazing things can happen if you give yourself permission to give it your all.

Please Insult Me During the Half Marathon

I have long accepted that I am a bit of a masochist. Looking back over my life, there is a pattern of events and activities where I have paid people to hurt me or to give me the opportunity to hurt myself: competitive gymnastics, body piercings, tattoos, deep tissue massages, paintball, law school, and now running.

Adam Almaraz & I Smiling before the 2010 Half Marathon

This Sunday, January 15th, I will be running the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon for the third year in a row. I have two rules for running the race.

  1. Don’t stop running.
  2. Don’t die.

My goal this year is to break the 2-hour mark. I finished the race in 2:09 my first year and 2:06 last year. It will be a tall order, but it’s doable. I’ve always appreciated the support of the crowd cheering all of us on. I didn’t understand how beneficial it is to hear people cheering and to see all the signs until I ran the race. It makes a huge difference, especially when you’re tired and your body hurts.

Most of the signs I see during the race say “Go ________” or “__ Miles to Beer.” The best sign I’ve seen at a race was “Hurry up. We’re Hungry.” I’m happy to see every signs along the route, but I wish there were more signs that insulted me. I want to see signs that say things like

  • “Hahaha…You’re Running,”
  • “You Paid Money for this Torture,” and
  • “I Have Warm Coffee and You Don’t.”

If you’re in the Phoenix area Sunday morning, please come out and support the runners. The half marathon route goes through Tempe and Scottsdale. Apparently, I’ll be running right by the fabulous Echo Coffee in Scottsdale. If you’re along my route, please make a sign that makes fun of me, especially the fact that paid money to get up early on a Sunday and run the cold.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I’m altering my release and waiver of liability agreement again this year. I will never let the organizers avoid all liability, especially things like gross negligence. If I trip over my own feet, that’s on me; but if I fall because of something they did, I want to have the option to sue them. This year I’m writing in a statement that says the hard copy agreement supersedes any previous agreements, in case I had to electronically agree to the waiver in order to sign up for the race.

I’m hoping to have another fun race this year. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m super excited that two of my cousins are running it with me – their first time doing the race. If you are a lawyer, law student, or friend of the legal community and running the race on Sunday, I created an event for us on Facebook so we can connect and network before the race.

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Going Pantsless was the Best Thing I Did in Law School

The best thing I did in law school was the 2009 No Pants Light Rail Ride in Phoenix, Arizona. The people I met there opened the doors to the opportunities that made me the lawyer and the person I am today.

Photo by Jamey Peachy

Improv Everywhere has been doing the No Pants Subway Ride since 2002. In preparation for the 2009 ride, they invited everyone to organize No Pants Rides on the same day in cities all over the world. Jeff Moriarty conspired with a small group of his friends to do a ride on the newly opened light rail in Phoenix. I was a first-year law student and really a nobody in my school and the greater legal community. I didn’t know Jeff back then, but I saw the event on Facebook and signed up to do it with some of my friends.

On the day of the ride, all of my friends who were supposed to do the No Pants Ride with me chickened out. I wasn’t surprised. I said, “You guys all suck. I’m going without you” and I headed out to Tempe to meet my fellow pantsless riders. I figured Jeff had to be a cool guy for organizing the ride, so I purposely stood next to him on the ride and chatted all the way to our final destination.

The rest is history. I can show you, in 7 connections or less, how participating in the 2009 No Pants Ride led to some of my best professional opportunities and experiences.

No Pants Ride >>> Establishing Myself as a Legal Expert

  • Many of the people at the 2009 No Pants Ride are involved in blogging. This inspired me to have a blog.
  • Jeff Moriarty helped me create UndeniableRuth.com in January 2010.
  • I wrote, and still write, weekly posts about legal issues.
  • My posts demonstrated that I have a unique voice and competence in certain areas of law.
  • I parlayed my expertise into opportunities to write dozens of guest blog posts; provide quotes for news articles and blogs; participate in TV, radio, and podcast interviews; and give presentations at conferences.

No Pants Ride >>> Sponsor A Law Kid  

  • I met Jeff at the 2009 No Pants Ride.
  • Jeff is the creator of Ignite Phoenix. He encouraged me to apply to be an Ignite presenter.
  • I was selected for Ignite Phoenix #5 to present Frosting the Law.
  • Kade Dworkin was one of my fellow presenters at Ignite Phoenix #5.
  • Kade had a podcast in 2010 called Meet My Followers where he interviewed his Twitter followers.
  • One of Kade’s guests was Jason Sadler, founder of I Wear Your Shirt.
  • I Wear Your Shirt inspired me to create Sponsor A Law Kid, that funded part of my final semester of law school in 2011.

No Pants Ride >>> Paid Blogger for Attorney at Work

  • A group of us from the 2009 No Pants Ride founded Improv AZ to continue to do flash mobs and pranks in Phoenix.
  • Planning events with Improv AZ sparked my interest in flash mob law.
  • I asked Ari Kaplan whether this might be a viable niche.
  • Ari used my interest in an article for Law Practice Magazine in the fall of 2009.
  • The editor of the magazine, Mark Feldman, loved it. He continued to follow me and blog.
  • When Mark created Attorney at Work with Joan Feldman and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, they invited me to be one of their professional bloggers in 2011.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I can show how the No Pants Ride led to making some of my best professional connections, writing my first book, developing an interest in podcasting, and meeting some of the most wonderful people in my life.

The 2012 Global No Pants Ride is this Sunday, January 8th in at least 56 cities. If there’s a ride near you, you should go. You never know what will come out of it.

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LawWithoutWalls – Coolest Law School Program Ever

(cc) dbaron from Flickr

When I heard about LawWithoutWalls, my first question was, “Where was this when I was in law school?” This is the most unique academic experience I’ve heard of in a law school environment. It takes students from 12 law schools from all over the world and puts them into teams guided by an Academic Mentor, a Practitioner Mentor, a Subject Expert Advisor, an Entrepreneur Advisor, and an Alumni Advisor to identify and propose a solution to a problem affecting the way law is taught and practiced. At the end of the semester, each team presents their findings at “ConPosium,” where they were judged by a panel of experts in law, business, and entrepreneurship.

How cool is that?

We live in a world where our community is no longer defined by where we live, but with who we are connected, and yet the law is still constricted by state and national boundaries. LawWithoutWalls embraces technology and innovation to take a multicultural and multidisciplinary approach to the practice of law in a global economy. It questions age-old traditions and encourages students to be more creative and entrepreneurial. It teaches students that the practice of law needs to focus on providing a valuable service and running an effective business.

The program currently includes students from Fordham Law, Harvard Law, IE Business School (Spain), Indiana University School of Law, Miami Law, New York Law School, Peking University School of Transnational Law (China), Stanford Law School, Sydney Law School (Australia), Universidad de Los Andes Facultad de Derecho (Colombia), University College London Laws (England), and University of St. Gallen Law School (Switzerland). Everyone in the program participates in a weekly videoconference using Adobe Connect. This must be a crazy endeavor to coordinate schedules across that many time zones.

This collaborative academic experience was created by Michele DeStefano and Michael Bossone at the University of Miami School of Law and launched in January 2011. They are preparing to kick off the program’s second year this month in Switzerland. This year’s topics include publicly held law firms, ever-increasing law school debt, the role of women in the law, and creating the 21st century career services model.

I met Michael Bossone when he was an assistant dean at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. His entire job there was to meet with students to help them have the law school experience that will prepare them for their desired legal careers. He’s been listening to what law students want for over decade and co-created this program with Michele to fill a void in legal education. He will be presenting LawWithoutWalls at the American Association of Law Schools annual conference in Washington, DC this month.

LawWithoutWalls has garnered national media attention, including Time Magazine, and won a 2011 InnovAction Award from the College of Law Practice Management.

I am excited to see what comes out of this program. Through LawWithoutWalls, these innovative students and professionals will continue to push the envelope of legal education. Hopefully this program will inspire other academics to give up the traditional legal pedagogy and to take more risks and create the types of educational experiences that students want and need.

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