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Carter Law Firm

Reflections on Working for Myself

For the last eight years, I’ve been an eat-what-you-kill entrepreneur, no steady paycheck, total freedom to do whatever I want.

I can’t imagine working a traditional 9-to-5 again.

I still sit on tables.

Freedom

“Freedom” is the goal in my life – freedom to do, to see, to create, to live. Being an entrepreneur allows me to pick when and where I work, to handpick my clients, and to decide what else I want to do besides practice law (speak, write, travel, teach, etc.).

One of the reasons why I started Carter Law Firm back in 2012 was not only because the Phoenix job market for lawyers was poor and I was basically unemployable as a blogger/flash mobber, but also because I didn’t want to be an associate at a firm that would want me to work 80 hours/week and wouldn’t want me to be a public speaker. I changed careers to be happy. I didn’t want to settle for a potentially soul-sucking existence.

Joining Venjuris

Becoming an Of Counsel practitioner at Venjuris was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career. I was looking for more stability and support, and they were looking for lateral hire with their own book of business. Being Of Counsel (legalese for independent contractor) means I’m still in an eat-what-you-kill work environment.

It’s been a mutually beneficial arrangement – I’ve been able to take on litigation clients, and they’ve expanded the firm’s practice areas to include internet law. Plus, they’re privy to my knowledge about social media and content marketing, and I do in-house continuing legal education (CLEs) for them.

Fear

The day I decided to become an entrepreneur, I was so scared, I sweat through my sundress. I still get scared all the time – every time I launch a new project, step up on a stage to speak, or when I have a lull in client work. (Client work seems to be feast or feminine. It’s usually when I haven’t had work or prospects in three days and I’m starting to worry that I’m going to have to survive on ramen, that I get a handful of emails from prospective or returning clients.)

Fear has become part of my process. Whenever I’m scared, I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and that everyone around me wants the best for me. That helps me calm down and trust that everything will work out.

Doing Work That Matters

I’ve always been a bit of an existentialist. I have to know that what I do makes a difference. I can’t just create widgets and send them out into the void. I had a summer job, that was a bad fit personality-wise, doing mostly legal research, and it seemed like nothing I did mattered. It wasn’t until my last week that I learned than my research had resulted in changes in company policy.

One of the upsides of working for myself is I get to leave the office when I’m done with my work for the day – even if it’s only mid-afternoon, sometimes earlier. I don’t have to pretend to look busy. When I have downtime, I get to work on other projects, or take time for myself. When you work for yourself, you don’t get in trouble for leaving the office early or running errands in the middle of the day.

Over the last eight years, I’ve learned that no one cares when or where I get my work done, as long as it gets done well and on time. I’m so lucky that I’ve crafted a life that allows me to attempt to live a Renaissance life. There’s no difference between me the person and me the professional. I consider all the work I do to be valuable. Ultimately, my job is to be the best version of me I can be, and I get paid for some of it.  

I Ripped the Ads Off my YouTube Channel

Earlier this month, I attended Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio and I attended podcaster Jay Acunzo’s talk entitled “Unthinkable Marketing.” He told a story about a time he wanted to show a video to his roommates and their anticipation was jilted by a YouTube ad. He had gotten them excited about this video, and then he had to work even harder to keep their enthusiasm up while they waited for the ad to play through. The lesson I got from this story was “Don’t put barriers between your target audience and the content they want.” We live in a world where having to sit through a 30-second ad could be enough to make someone leave the site in annoyance, instead of watching your work.

march07 374 by Lord Jim from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

march07 374 by Lord Jim from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Jay’s story made me think. Why do I have ads on my YouTube videos? I make little Question Of The Day videos where I respond to questions the people ask me via email or the weird stuff people Google and end up on my website. Some people ask me about some really messed up situations – both hilarious and cringe worthy.

I monetized these videos because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time, just a lease I got enough views to earn a few bucks from it. Here is the reality: these videos are never going to get enough traffic to make running ads worth it. These are videos are only valuable to people who have a specific question at that time and my friends who just like to watch me pontificate to my web cam. There is no reason for me to run ads on any of my videos. If anything, they annoyed or confused my audience over the years, which doesn’t do anything to help my desired reputation for creating knowledgeable and accessible resources about legal issues.

Vehemently, I grabbed my pen and scribbled myself a note to rip my ads off of every video on my YouTube channel. They contribute no value to anyone or anything I care about. After I got home, one of the first things I did was sit down and edit each of my 272 videos, removing the ads from each one. (YouTube should create an option to un-monetize every video on the channel with one click. That would have saved me an hour.)

I support the idea of people being paid for their work. They deserve to be compensated for adding value to others lives. However, I don’t support the idea of doing it in such a way where it creates an obstacle between the artist and their audience.

And if you are an artist who relies on YouTube ad revenue, be careful about your business plan going forward. Many YouTubers recently learned how easy it is for YouTube to disrupt their expectations with its monetization policies.

Day 71/90 – Paying it Forward

Day 71 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I got to help a fellow lawyer understand the benefits of blogging to get more clients.

Hanging with Peter Shankman - Love this guy!

Hanging with Peter Shankman – Love this guy!

One of my legal eagle friends popped by my office today to pick my brain about using social media to get more clients. She was thinking about using LinkedIn to post long form content. I suggested she start a blog instead.

I love blogging and using social media. I prefer blogging to posting long form content on social media platforms because it gives me more control over my content and I have people visiting my site weeks, months, even years after I wrote a post to read my content.

I showed her the backside of the Carter Law Firm website to see how my readership has steadily grown over the last three years. I wanted her to see that my readership has grown steadily because I keep putting out quality content on a regular basis. Eight out of the top ten pages of my site today are blog posts. I don’t share this to brag. I share this to show that blogging works.

Helping other lawyers understand how social media and blogging work makes me so happy. It’s my way of paying it forward from the people who have helped me so much over the years. This is an area that is always growing and developing so it’s always fun to see what’s coming down the pike next. Here are the top three people I recommended she follow to learn more about how to use social media effectively:

If you want to know more about the legal issues that go along with blogging, I wrote the book on that.

This discussion got me so jazzed up that I recorded an episode of Unsolicited Advice about it:

In case you missed it: Day 70 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I had a spontaneous dinner date with my friend Chad!

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.

The Undeniable Plans for 2014

I recently asked my readers what they wanted me to write about and someone suggested I share my 2014 plans. That gave me reason to pause, because in 2012 I was focused on getting the law firm off the ground and last year I spent the beginning of 2013 getting ready to speak at SXSW. This year I don’t have a big event or activity taking up all my time. I think I get to just live for year. But of course I have plans for how I’d like to spend my time.

My legs after  a session of ASTYM.

My legs after a session of ASTYM.

1. Get Healthy. Years of gymnastics and running has resulted in a buildup of scar tissue in my lower legs. I finished my last half marathon with so much pain that I thought I had three stress fractures. Instead of training for the 2014 race, I’m in physical therapy. They’re breaking up the scar tissue with ASTYM and dry needling, building up my strength, and working on my running posture. They said I should be good to go to run a 10K in March.

2. Separate Work from my Personal Life.  Carter Law Firm got a brick and mortar office in December 2013. To go along with that, I want to work on keeping work at the office and not work once I’m home for the day. This includes not working on the weekends and getting all my blogs written during the week. (When I was writing books last year I’d work on the books during the week and blogs on the weekend.) I got used to working all the time and it’s time make more time for fun.

More Adventures = More Handstands

More Adventures = More Handstands

3. Go on More Adventures.  Going to law school really got me out of the habit of having a life on the weekend and it’s too easy to fill the weekend with work stuff, so this year I want to make it a point to do more new things during my down time. There are so many wonderful places and events in Arizona I’ve never experienced. I’ll be using Roadside America and community calendars for inspiration but I’ll be starting the year by doing the Polar Plunge in Tempe. And I definitely want to see Bisbee this year and take advantage of the night in Sedona I won during Indie Week.

4. Continue to be a Minimalist.  I made a huge donation run to Goodwill a few weeks ago. My backseat and trunk were packed with stuff I don’t use anymore. Since then, I’ve already started the next pile of stuff to be donated. I will continue to be mindful of what I do and don’t use and periodically do a sweep of the house to get rid of things that don’t add value to my life. Next year will also start with the reversal of all my closet hangers. Every garment will have to earn its right to stay in my wardrobe again.

5. Release my Next Book.  The American Bar Association is publishing my next book – The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers. It’s expected to be released in February 2014. I’m excited for it to be released and I hope it will open more doors for me to do more professional speaking.

Those are basically my plans on top my standard events, activities, and goals of having fun and being productive. I hope your 2013 is winding down on a high note and that you have an awesome year in 2014. I’ll keep you in the loop about my adventures.

Excited for Independents Week 2013

Independents Week is coming up June 30 – July 7, 2013. I’m really excited for this week of celebrating independently owned business by getting awesome discounts. Since I joined Local First Arizona last year, I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of supporting local businesses. When you shop locally, not only are you supporting “the little guy,” you’re keeping more money in the local economy. I was amazed when I learned that for every $100 you spend at a big box store, only $43 stays in the local economy. When you spend $100 at a local business, $73 stays in the local economy.

LFA Infographic

To celebrate Independents Week, Local First Arizona created the Golden Coupon program where dozens of Local First members are offering a 20% discount if you shop with the Golden Coupon.  The list is pretty extensive and diverse.

Here are some of the places I’m most excited about using my Golden Coupon:

The Dhada: This little Indian restaurant in Tempe will blow you away. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with Indian food; everything here is fantastic. This was the first place I made sure was on my calendar for Independents Week. Some of the other great restaurants that are accepting Golden Coupons include Fez, Coronado Café, House of Tricks, Tryst Café, and Duck and Decanter.

Urban Cookies: I’ve been looking for an excuse to indulge my sweet tooth. This is an award-winning bakery and they make gluten-free cookies and cupcakes.

golden-couponAZ on the Rocks: I really like this rock climbing center in Scottsdale. The staff is friendly and they have auto-belays so you can climb by yourself if you are so inclined. I’m really happy that this place is on the Golden Coupon list.

Zia Records: Independents Week will hopefully be my first of many trips to Zia Records. They are known for being a great place to buy and sell CDs and DVDs and for finding obscure items that aren’t available in other stores or hellaciously expensive if you buy them online.

Write On’s: This charming stationary and gift shop in Phoenix is part of my family. This is my go-to place when I need a greeting card or a classy gift. The women who work here are like a set of aunts. I love shopping here.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the full list of Arizona businesses that are accepting the Golden Coupon for Independents Week. It’s a great excuse to try someplace new and explore what’s available your community. Yes, even Carter Law Firm is participating in this year’s event.

For those of you who don’t live in the Phoenix area or are looking to get out of dodge, a lot of businesses in the Cottonwood, Flagstaff, and Tucson areas are also accepting the Golden Coupon.

Update: Be sure to check out these last minute additions that are accepting Golden Coupons – Jamburritos, Brand X T-shirts, and Changing Hands.

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Undeniable Recap of 2012

Ruth Carter, ABA Legal Rebel

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

It’s been an incredible year! Looking back, so much has changed and so many wonderful things have happened for me this year – personally and professionally. I never could have predicted so many good things happening. Of course, I didn’t get here alone and I want to thank all the friends, family, and colleagues who helped make this year fan-fucking-tastic. It was hard to pick the top five events from this year, but here you go!

1.  Carter Law Firm Opened!  I opened my own law practice on January 4, 2012 and I’m happy to report that I’m still in business and haven’t been disbarred. It’s been an amazing year creating and building my own business with all the trials and tribulations that go along with that. I love my work and I’m so lucky that I get to build the professional life I’ve always wanted as the approachable geeky lawyer who wears t-shirts and does awesome work. I love that I’m building my niches in social media and flash mob law and being invited to do things like speak at major conferences.

ruthcover smaller2.  My First Book  I wrote and self-published The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. I’ve always wanted to write a book and all the pieces fell into place to make it happen. The book has been well received so far and appears to be opening the door for more books. Special hat tip to ePublish Unum for teaching me everything I know about self-publishing.

3.  ABA Legal Rebel  I’ve always looked up to the American Bar Association Legal Rebels, but in my wildest dreams I did not expect to be picked to join this illustrious group only months after becoming a lawyer. I’m tickled that they chose me because of my work in flash mob law.

Rosie!

Rosie!

4.  I Got A Dog!  Adopting Rosie from the Arizona Basset Hound Rescue was probably the biggest life changing event of this year. It had been years since I had a pet and because of her we go walking every day and I’m on a more structured schedule. She can melt my heart with one look and it was so hard to leave her at the kennel for a few days. I love the way she looks when she runs and how she howls at the phone.

5.  Half Marathon Personal Record  This may seem petty, but it was a big deal to me to finish the race under two hours. I was blown away when I heard I finished the race in 1:52. I’d never run that hard for so long before. It was a great experience to do so well.

 

Celebrity Encounters in 2012

 

Firsts in 2012

  • handstand bean1st trip to Chicago where I leave the airport – included my 1st ride on the L Train and my 1st visit to Cloud Gate (The Bean)
  • 1st trip to the Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Bought my 1st Powerball ticket
  • 1st time using Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp
  • 1st time at Phoenix Comicon
  • 1st time owning a pet that wasn’t formerly a family pet
  • 1st business trip to San Francisco
  • Sent my 1st DMCA Takedown Notice
  • Put up my 1st yarn bomb
  • 1st trip to the ABA TechShow
  • 1st YouTube channel

In Memorium

  • Peg Grucky
  • David Malcolm

This has been an incredible year. I’m excited for what’s to come next!

Behind the Scenes at my Legal Rebel Photo Shoot

A few months ago, I got an email from the American Bar Association that said I was selected as one of their 2012 Legal Rebels. They acknowledge 10 members of the legal community each year for being innovative. The ABA selected me because of my knowledge and work in flash mob law. As a co-founder of Improv AZ, I’ve studied the legalities of flash mobs since 2009 – it encompasses criminal, tort, property, First Amendment, and intellectual property law. I was very honored and humbled to be selected.

The ABA needed a photo for my profile so they hired Phoenix photographer Don McPhee to take it. The ABA also sent me a pair of bright red Legal Rebel Converse sneakers and said they had to be somewhere in my photo. That was the end of their instructions to me. Don and I decided we wanted to shoot at the courthouses that had interesting architectural elements in downtown Phoenix. Don and I meshed well from the start.

Ruth Carter, ABA Legal Rebel

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

Location #1: Maricopa County Superior Courthouse
Our photo shoot started at 6am on Friday, July 6th. I met Don and his assistant Max in front of the courthouse where there’s a large statue of a horse standing on a book. Even though I didn’t see any signs that said “Do Not Climb” or “Stay Off,” I knew we had limited time. I swung myself up into the saddle and we started shooting.

I think we took about 20 minutes worth of photos before we were approached by a security guard who said I couldn’t be up there for liability reasons. He informed us that we were on camera, which made me wonder how we lasted that long. We were respectful and explained what we were doing and that we did our due diligence before climbing onto the statue. When he saw that it was a legitimate photo shoot and that we were respectful he asked, “Did you get the shot you needed?”

We finished our shoot at that courthouse with pictures on the book and some cool metal pillars that stand in the courtyard. Even though it was early in the morning, I was nervous I’d see someone who knew me and would figure out what the shoot was for.

Ruth Carter, ABA Legal Rebel

Photo by Don McPhee Photography

Location #2: Arizona Supreme Court
We took a lot of photos on the North side of the Arizona Supreme Court building. We started with some windows that were at ground level that led to offices in the basement. I sat on the ledge and Don worked various angles that incorporated my reflection in the glass. It was fun listening to Don and Max banter back and forth about lighting and angles. There were always looking for opportunistic shots. Don also explained a lot to me about body positions that feel awkward when you’re doing them but look awesome on film.

Next we moved to the stairs which I think was when we hit the court security’s radar. He had a cigarette and watched us work and he only stopped us when I tried to stand on a tall wall. I suspect he thought I was a kid taking their senior portraits. I don’t know many lawyers who show up for a professional photo shoot in jeans and a t-shirt.

Location #3: Phoenix Convention Center
Our last stop was the 3rd floor of the Phoenix Convention Center, North building to shoot my video for the ABA. It’s the same place I took the Arizona Bar Exam last summer. The convention center has beautiful architectural elements. Don and Max were meticulous about the placement of my chair and the lights. It took a while to set it all up, but it was worth it. The ABA sent me a question to answer to go along with my profile. We did four takes and we were done. Don said it came out great. I didn’t want to see it because I feel weird when I watch myself on camera.

I had a blast at my photo shoot with Don and Max. I highly recommend Don McPhee photography to anyone who needs professional photos. I’ve shared more of the photos from my shoot on Carter Law Firm’s Facebook page.

What’s My Picture Doing On Pinterest?

Ignite Phoenix #5 Ruth Carter by Sheila Dee

This is the photo of me that's on Pinterest -- Ignite Phoenix #5 by Sheila Dee

I’m not on Pinterest. I don’t need another internet addiction, and I think it’s a hub of unintentional copyright infringement. Pinterest provides a forum that encourages sharing, and I think it leads to people being so interested in sharing images that they don’t realize that they are violating other people’s copyright rights.

I was recently surprised when I saw that someone got to my law firm’s website by following a link from Pinterest. I traced it back to a board for the ASU Law Solo Network. The person who created the board posted a photo of me from my site with a link to my law firm’s webpage. I know the person who created the board used the picture to promote me and my business and only had good intentions. But she also didn’t consider whether she needed permission to use the photo.

My initial reaction was anger. I’m not on Pinterest, and I don’t want anyone posting any of my work on Pinterest without my permission. I started thinking about what I could do to get it removed, like sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice. That train of thought immediately stopped when I realized, “I don’t own this picture. I don’t get to decide where it’s shown online, and my rights aren’t being violated. I’m getting free publicity out of this, so shut up.”

I went back and looked up the original photo. It was a photo Sheila Dee took of me at Ignite Phoenix #5. The photo is available on Flickr and it has a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to copy and distribute the photo as long as they don’t alter the image, use it for commercial purposes, and if they give an attribution to Sheila. There’s nothing I can do to stop someone from pinning Sheila’s work on Pinterest. I bet Sheila’s happy that someone is indirectly promoting her by showing her work to others.

So what did I do about this photo on Pinterest? Not much – it’s not my photo and it’s free publicity for Carter Law Firm. I saw that the photo that was pinned didn’t have an attribution to Sheila Dee, so I sent the board owner an email asking her to give an attribution and a link back to the original image on Flickr.

This has been a good reminder to me that I don’t get to control every picture of me. I have no expectation of privacy in anything I do in public and part of that is I don’t have any control over where picture of me in public end up in most cases. And just because I’m not keen on Pinterest, it doesn’t mean that it can’t benefit me.

If you want to know more about copyright issues on Pinterest, check out this video.

Pinterest Spawns Copyright Issues

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