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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.  

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

Day 23/90 – The Satisfaction of Helping People

Day 23 of the 90 Days of Awesome is in the bank! What made today awesome? I got to help people!

Photo by Devon Christopher Adams - used with permission

Pictures of me working at my desk are boring. Here’s an image that embodies how I feel about my work. (Photo by Devon Christopher Adams – used with permission)

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an existentialist – a big one. An essential part of who I am is based on the idea that what I do matters. It’s not an ego thing, but rather a why-am-I-here thing.

One of the things I love about being a lawyer is that I get help people in ways that they can’t help themselves. I love being able to tell clients, “We can fix that,” or “We can make that work.” I see my job as being an educator about the law as well as a problem solver because most people don’t know what their rights are, how to protect them, or their options for recourse are when there’s a problem.

I work on preventing problems in solving problems in my work, and lately I’ve been putting in a lot more work on the problem-solving side. I spent a good chunk of today drafting and revising a demand letter for one of my clients, and it felt really good to know that this document may bring my client the resolution he’s seeking. I am both pleased and proud of the work I did today.

One of the benefits and challenges of my work is that it’s not about me personally; it’s about using my skills and talents to achieve my clients’ desired results. So there are times that I have draft documents and negotiate on their behalf in ways that I don’t personally agree with, but are not legally wrong. On the flip side, it also means that it’s possible to have a cordial relationship with the opposing counsel when both sides are acting as zealous advocates for their clients without their egos getting in the way. Those tend to be the fastest and the easiest negotiations.

Today was a good day.

In case you missed it: Day 22 of the 90 Days of Awesome – I took my Fake British Accent to the Verizon Store!

Traveling Reveals What’s Important

So great to see Tyler and Katie in Portland

So great to see Tyler and Katie in Portland

I spent the last 2 weeks on the road with The Undeniable Tour. I flew to San Diego and drove to Seattle, doing a speaking engagements and mostly staying in hostels along the way. I lived out of a small suitcase in the backpack, and I could have brought less if I didn’t have to dress like a professional or be prepared for such a wide variety of weather.

Hanging out with Clinton in Hollywood

Hanging out with Clinton in Hollywood

When I step back and reflect on my adventurers from a personal perspective, I see that traveling with such few possessions and traveling by myself reveals some of my core values. I hand selected my speaking engagements, lodging, who I interacted with, and how I spent my free time. It’s been a long time since the last time my days felt like they were my own and not dictated by deadlines and to-do lists. I often drove without music or the news playing in the car so I had lots of time to be alone with my thoughts.

Even though I am a gregarious performer, I’m a very simple person when it comes to my tastes and what’s important to me. I like super soft fabrics, memory foam mattresses, hot coffee, and excessively hot showers. I like to be near the ocean even though I hate getting sand in my shoes. When I had down time during the tour, I often went for a walk, read my book, or slept. I wish my city was more walkable.

Reunited with Sarah in Seattle

Reunited with Sarah in Seattle

I enjoyed chatting with my fellow travelers in the hostels, but I wouldn’t say that I socialized with them. I was in each city for only a couple of days at most so I was picky about who I spent quality time with. I’m really glad that this trip allowed me to see so many of my friends, some of who I hadn’t seen in close to a decade. There have been several times I’ve contemplated putting a map of the U.S. on my wall and marking where all of my friends live with push pins to help me remember who to look up when I’m on the road.

Living out of the suitcase reminded me how little I need to be happy and comfortable. It made me want to continue my diligence in regards to living a minimalist lifestyle. Since returning to Phoenix, I’ve added a few things to my donate-to-charity pile.

This trip definitely showed me that it’s important to periodically take a break from my everyday routine and surroundings to reflect on who I am, where I’m going, and what’s important to me. As much as I enjoyed sharing information and ideas with my audiences about how lawyers and law students can use social media and the blogging in their professional careers, the weakest gained from this trip for me personally was it gave me some time and space to think about my priorities.

Why Does the AZ State Bar Charge for CLEs?

Arizona has one of the highest bar dues in the country and it’s a mandatory bar so you can’t be an Arizona lawyer unless you’re a member (although the Arizona legislature may change that this session). We’re also required to complete 15 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each year, including 3 hours of ethics training.

Photo by Ellasdad from Flickr

Photo by Ellasdad from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I just paid $475 for this year’s bar dues. That’s just the price to maintain my license.  (For anyone who still paying off their law school debt, $475 = 1900 packages of ramen.) The State Bar also offers a variety of CLEs, and recently there have been a few that I’ve been interested in attending either because I wanted the information or I thought it would be a good forum to make connections with other lawyers.

But I’m not going to CLEs that are put on by the State Bar of Arizona and here’s why – they charge for them. Why does the State Bar of Arizona need to charge for CLEs? In my experience, they don’t pay their instructors to teach and they own their building so they don’t need to rent space. So why are they charging $39 to $129 to let their members attend an educational event?

As an outsider looking in, it appears that the State Bar is milking its membership for money any chance it can get. I’m already unhappy with the way my State Bar is running the show. (The legal industry is a self-governing profession and I voted in the last Board of Governors election so I’ve maintained my right to bitch.)

Now there may be a legitimate reason why the State Bar has to charge for CLEs. I responded to a recent announcement about an upcoming CLE with that very question because I am genuinely curious why they charge. If there’s a real reason, I’ll respect it. So far they haven’t responded.

I can’t change the fact that Arizona has a mandatory State Bar (for now) or that we have mandatory CLEs, but I can put my money where my mouth is and get my CLEs  elsewhere – like ASU CLE. They don’t pay their CLE instructors to teach either but all the money goes towards law student scholarships. And ASU Law School alums get to choose what they pay – so I could get my CLEs for free if I was so inclined. (Hat tip to ASU Law for thinking about their students educational needs after they graduate.)

Alternative Uses for the State Bar Directory

My Arizona State Bar Membership Directory - aka Massive Dust Collector

My Arizona State Bar Membership Directory – aka Massive Dust Collector

I just paid $475 for the privilege of being a licensed Arizona attorney for the next year. One of the most frustrating things about having to pay for a mandatory state bar membership is watching the people in power spend it on things we don’t need or want – like a paper membership directory. It’s the phone book of lawyers. Every licensed attorney in the state gets one – and our dues pay to have it printed, shipped, and mailed to us every year.

Some people like having a paper directory. I’m sure this is the same minority that still uses the regular phone book while the rest of us use the internet to look up whatever information we need. I wish there was a way to opt out of getting this, or at least limit it to one directory per law firm. I recently joined a law firm that has 7 other attorneys. We don’t need 8 directories!

This situation made me think, “What would be a better use of our directories than letting them collect dust on the shelf for the year or automatically recycling them upon arrival?” I did some research and here are some of my favorite ideas.

Make spit balls or paper airplanes to throw during boring CLEs

Paper mache project

Kindling

Door stop (I’ve actually done this with my bar directory.)

Booster seat for kids

Cut a hole in the middle and hide stuff in it

Garden mulch

Wrapping paper (The minimalist in me loves this idea!)

Kill bugs with it

Alternative for packing peanuts

Origami

I recently got a new desk and I’m pretty sure my bar directory is going to become my new foot rest. I can’t help my state bar membership directory fulfill its destiny as a phone book but I can give it a new purpose.

What did you do with your state bar directory?

Why Are Lawyers So Bitchy?

Law books on a Shelf by umjanedoan

I caught myself feeling really bitchy last week. It was a busy morning and I was headed to a breakfast meeting. I pushed the button to open the garage door. The motor whirled for a second and then stopped after opening the door only a few inches. A closer look revealed a broken spring. I went back into the house, postponed my meeting, and called a repair service. When the guy came out he started asking questions about the sound the door made and the condition of the track. I impatiently answered his questions while thinking “Just fix it!” I don’t care what sound the door makes; I just want it to go up and down when I push the button.

I’m my own boss, so if I’m not happy, it’s my own fault. My internal monologue inspired me to ponder what makes lawyers so bitchy. I immediately thought of one of my law school internships at a big law firm. My office neighbor was a brilliant but demanding woman. I was glad someone warned me that it was common for her to cut people off mid-sentence. When she heard the information she needed, she didn’t want you to speak anymore. Once I understood this, her behavior never offended me. It was just how she operated. She would tell me what argument she was trying to make and would send me off to find case law that supported it. When I gave her the information she needed, she wanted me out of her office. I had fixed her problem so she didn’t need me anymore. The benefit of doing projects for her was I never had to write a memo; she just wanted a copy of the case with the pertinent section highlighted.

Apparently sometimes she would call the office to complain about poor service in her cell phone. There was nothing her secretary could do to fix the situation, but she would go through the motions to humor her.

My reflections have led me to the acceptance that a lot of lawyers are controlling over-achievers. We were the people in high school you loved during group projects. We didn’t trust you to pull your weight and we knew we could it better, so we did all the work. We don’t like unexpected changes; our lives are too busy. We’re over-scheduled and work on tight deadlines. We don’t go with the flow. On the upside, we don’t intend to be mean or jerks, and usually we’re not. We just know what we want and we ask for it without any fluffy fanfare.

In general, we prefer to do things ourselves. We hate having to rely on others. When I have to hire someone to do something I can’t do, I’m grateful for their service, but I want them in and out of my house as fast as possible. I don’t like disruptions to my productive groove and quiet solitude.

Are lawyers going to stop being bitchy? No, not even solo practitioners like me. It’s a masochistic affliction I accept and try not to inflict it upon anyone else. And don’t think that only women can be bitchy lawyers because I’m female and the example I used is also a woman. Male lawyers can be just as bitchy.

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Bar Exam Wisdom from Arizona Lawyers

The bar exam is a few days away.  All of our work for the last 4 years to get into law school, through law school, and through bar prep will come down to a 2-day test (3 days for some people).

I went to Arizona State University for law school.  Most of my friends and I are taking the Arizona bar exam next week.  In preparation, I reached out to some people who practice law from Arizona, most of who have previously passed the Arizona bar.  I asked them what advice they wished someone had given them before they took the test.  Here’s what they had to say:

Saguaro Sunset

Image by Saguaro Pictures via Flickr

“The absolute worst thing you can do to yourself is speak with any of your fellow test takers about their experience with any portion of the exam.  They will have wax convincingly about seeing issues you did not spot, making you question whether you really studied at all.  Chances are high if you did not see the issue it’s because it was not there.   There is no need to peck away at your self-confidence this way – just turn the subject to something non-exam related, or just walk away.   This is especially good advice after the exam is completed.  Remember, you’ll have long weeks sweating out the results.  There is no need to add to the tension because Billy Bob, who never scored higher than a 72 on any law school exam, uncovered a hidden corporate duty of loyalty issue in that First Amendment question.”
Bill Richards, partner at Bade and Baskin, earned the highest score on the AZ Bar Exam in July 1990

“Before I took the bar, a good friend who had previously taken it told me to trust all of the studying I had done and go in there confident and with guns blazing. That really stuck with me and I took that advice right into the exam hall. I dared this exam to try and stop me from passing! Your state of mind is so very important on the day of the exam. I had people sitting next to me who were completely flustered and wound up missing whole questions on the exam. If you must listen to some arrogant rap music to get your confidence up (Kanye, anyone?). So stay confident and calm (do a yoga class the day before to get centered – I totally did this!) and remember that you worked hard and are ready for this.”
Rachel Rodgers, principal attorney with Rachel Rodgers Law Office

“You will never feel like you’re prepared enough, no matter how much you study. Just accept that! Do your best to remain calm because freaking out just makes you lose focus and forget things. You will, most likely, either run out of time on some questions, or get questions that really throw you for a loop, or both. But remember that EVERYONE is in the same situation, and NO ONE knows the answer to everything. Even the highest scores aren’t ever perfect scores. You only need a D+ to pass, that’s all. Not an A, not a B, not a C. Most of you have never even written C answers in law school, so have confidence in yourselves and know that you can do it! When it comes to the week before the exam, please don’t spend all of your time cramming. At that point you know what you know and cramming will just exhaust you. Focus on your problem areas for one last refresher and try to get out and do some fun things to relax you. The last thing you want to do in the days before the exam is burn yourself out. Lastly, you WILL feel like you failed when you get out of there. It is just part of the process. So don’t be like me and spend the whole night crying and looking into other careers, because chances are you rocked it! Believe in yourself and whatever you do, DON’T talk about the exam when you’re done! You can’t change your answers and usually the people bragging about what they wrote are wrong anyway. Ok, that is all the wisdom I have so good luck and hang in there. It will be over before you know it!”
Jeni Christopher, associate at Schlesinger Conrad, passed the Arizona bar exam in February 2011

“Whatever got you far enough to take the bar exam will see you through it — and allow you to leave the indignity of it far behind.”
David J. Bodney, partner at Steptoe and Johnson 

Good luck everyone!

More Bar Exam Wisdom:

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