June 2018

‘Spinning plates’ is one solo lawyer’s nonlinear path to success

Ruth Carter manages to combine her profession with her passions, and calls herself a lawyer, speaker, writer and artist.

Her story of how she put her unique career together, “A Nontraditional Lawyer’s Story: Spinning Plates,” ran in the March-April 2018 issueof GP Solo.

Going to Arizona State University Law School after working in the mental health field for nine years, Carter initially expected to go the route of a traditional lawyer and pictured herself wearing a suit and going to court.

Then she participated in her first flash mob, and a passion was born. She started organizing them and became more active on social media. A fellow organizer suggested she start a blog, and The Undeniable Ruth began in January 2010.

Describing herself as “outspoken” and interested in learning how far her group could push the envelope, Carter focused the latter half of her law school time studying intellectual property, cyberspace law and media law.

Upon graduation, she launched Carter Law Firm. For two years she worked from her dining room table, used a mailbox at the UPS Store and met with clients at the state bar office.

Carter credits her business mentor with helping her learn to be an entrepreneur. The two met every six weeks, and Carter was schooled on “networking, managing the bank accounts and building a business from the ground up.”

In addition to practicing law and operating her law firm, Carter “was also researching and applying for speaking opportunities, preparing for talks and writing books.

“From the beginning, I felt like I was perpetually spinning plates,” she says.

Two years later, in search of more stability, she joined a business and intellectual property boutique firm in Phoenix, where she focuses on intellectual property, internet and social media law, business law and flash mob law.

“I’m lucky to be an of counsel lawyer at a firm where I set my own hours and rates, I handpick clients, I wear whatever I want and I still have the freedom and flexibility to speak, write and take on outside projects,” she writes.

Carter says she owes her success to “being willing to ask for help, being available when someone needs my help, showing up and maintaining relationships.”

In fact, meeting up for meals and attending events are things she particularly enjoys, while also acknowledging the amount of work they entail.

Carter writes a monthly column for Attorney at Work called “Nothing But the Ruth,” a gig she got through connections with an author who spoke at her law school, whom she had kept up with over the years.

“Between attending and speaking at conferences and events, being in the Shankminds business mastermind group (shankminds.com), writing blog posts, creating YouTube videos (youtube.com/user/carterlawfirm), being active on various social media platforms and having hobbies, I never know where the next opportunity will come from,” she writes.

Despite her various gigs, Carter’s income is neither steady nor secure. “I’m strictly in an eat-what-you-kill environment,” she writes.

To keep track of her spinning plates, she turned a wall in her office into a blown-up, color-coded to-do list. “I’ll admit it’s a bit insane, but at a glance, I know where I am with all my projects, and it is a visual reminder to focus on one thing at a time,” Carter says.

As appealing as her life can look from the outside, Carter admits to bouts of loneliness and succumbing to pressure. She calls herself “part of the substantial minority of lawyers who deal with mental health issues,” hers being depression and anxiety. That, too, she works to manage on a daily basis.

“Thankfully, being my own boss often gives me the flexibility to step back when I’m overwhelmed by the whirlwind of my self-created life.”

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