Can You Start Your Own Firm Right Out of Law School? Here’s Someone Who’s Actually Doing It!

Ruth CarterToday’s interview is with Ruth Carter, who’s got a fantastic story to tell. Known for her daring antics and outgoing personality, Ruth is a 2011 law student graduate from Arizona State University and a co-founder of Improv AZ.

Once she has her law license, she plans to open a virtual law office that specializes in intellectual property, social media, First Amendment, and flash mob law. She also writes a weekly blog at UndeniableRuth.com.

Flash mob law? How cool is that?!?

Alison: You came to law school as a non-traditional student, in that you’d worked for many years in the mental health field. What was it like to go back to law school as a more mature student? Do you have any tips for other OWLS (Older, Wiser, Law Students – as we called it), who might be feeling a bit out of place?

Ruth: I was on the Law School Interactive podcast that addressed getting a law degree later in life, so people can check that out.

I think it’s better to get at least a few years of real-life work experience before going to law school. Going to law school is a big deal and not a decision that should not be made casually. You should be fairly certain that you will be happy practicing law before you commit yourself to three years and potentially tens of thousands of dollars of debt to pursue a career.

It’s kind of weird to meet someone who went directly from undergrad to law school, where a big law firm is their first real world job. I think it puts them at a disadvantage because they could have trouble building credibility with their client and I think they might have trouble understanding the average client’s perspective and needs due to their lack of life experience.

My advice to the OWLS is don’t feel obligated to act like your younger counterparts. Do what you know works for you in terms of studying and time management. One of the benefits of being an older student is that it’s easier to maintain perspective, to see the big picture, and to resist getting wrapped up in the drama of law school. We also tend to understand our motivations for being in school and what we want to do with our degrees when we’re done.

When I took the bar exam, I spoke with some of my fellow OWLS during one of the breaks. We noticed that for many of the younger students, the bar exam was the hardest thing they’d ever done. For us, the bar exam was a challenge, but it wasn’t even in our top 3.

In your final year of law school, you launched a project called Sponsor a Law Kid, which gave people the opportunity to sponsor content on your blog in exchange for helping out with your law school tuition. What did you learn from this project? Did anything really surprise you?

I was most surprised by how angry and nasty my critics were. Some of the responses to my initial announcement of the program were downright hateful. When I launched Sponsor A Law Kid, I figured that the people who wanted to support me would, and those who disapproved wouldn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the backlash from some people in the legal community.

The negative backlash became one of my assets. Some of my sponsors decided to purchase a day after seeing the critical feedback I received and how effectively I responded to it. Sponsor A Law Kid taught me that innovation will always be met with opposition and the best thing to do is to let the haters hate and focus on the task at hand.

This program taught me that it only takes one idea to generate a lot of attention. When I launched Sponsor A Law Kid, I had been blogging for less than a year, and my average readership was less than two dozen hits per day. When the story about Sponsor A Law Kid got picked up by the ABA and Above the Law, my blog got over 1,400 hits in one day.

Sponsor A Law Kid also taught me that sometimes you have to take big risks to achieve your goals. I also learned that it takes a lot of work to manage a business, even a small business.

You’ve decided to start your own law firm straight out of law school, which is a tremendous undertaking! Can you talk a bit about what you’re doing every day to get that off the ground? How is your day-to-day work different from (or the same as) what you expected to be doing when you started law school?

When I started law school, I thought I’d end up in a firm after I graduated. After working in a variety of settings, I realized that doing that would be too restrictive. It was unlikely that I would find a job that would let me work on the issues that interested me and that would encourage me to do extra activities like writing books and being a public speaker about legal issues. Given the economy, it made sense for me to open my own firm right out of school.

I work on some type of professional task every day, 7 days a week. Right now, I’m working 4 part-time jobs (3 legal, 1 retail) to pay the bills. When I’m not working at one of those jobs, I’m working on defining what services I want to offer clients, identifying my competition, and developing my business plan. I recently completed Rachel Rodger’s online seminar on how to have a virtual law office. I’m also working with a business mentor on developing my business plan, increasing my network of contacts, and becoming more visible in my community.

I’m also working on my first ebook which is tentatively titled The Legal Side of Blogging. I’m also preparing to speak about defamation at an upcoming conference for bloggers and podcasters called PodCamp AZ.

After I got my bar results, I emailed the AZ State Bar every week to make sure that my character and fitness paperwork had been received. My file is currently being reviewed, and hopefully I’ll have my license soon.

I’m working more now than I did in law school, but it’s completely different than going to school. Now, I’m working on projects that I’m passionate about. I read less about the law itself and more about how to be an effective business person and speaker. I’m spending more time networking than ever before and putting a lot of energy into creating my personal brand. For the first time, I feel like I’m handcrafting my career. It’s a ton of work and I love it.

My website: www.UndeniableRuth.com, or find me on Twitter: @rbcarter.

Thanks Ruth, and best of luck with the new firm (and with all your other projects). I get tired just reading about everything you’re doing!

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Image by Jeff Moriarty.


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