Sunday, October 28, 2012

the bar exam

It would take me a very long time to write about my bar exam experience.  In fact, I already have.  When I was preparing for the bar exam, I wrote the California Bar Exam Primer as a guide for other law students going through the same experience.  Rather than reiterate much of what is already said there, if you are interested in my take on the bar exam, I recommend reading that website. Caution: It is increasingly out of date.

Friday, October 26, 2012

chat with a fitness newbie

I had a conversation with a friend about fitness.  I've pasted the conversation below, changing names for privacy.  This is an extension of my blog post that I wrote about fitness.

 Friend:  how often do you go to the gym? i don't know if i'm overdoing it or underdoing it. i try to go about four days a week and get in about 25-30 minutes each time
 me:  you don't need to do any more than that.
if you're making good use of your time there, that's PLENTY.
"good use" depends on your objectives, but in general, either high weight, or high intensity.
 me:  are you doing cardio for heart-health and endurance, or weights for strength?
 Friend:  trying to do that might result in too many dropped weights on my toes ;-)
i've been concentrating almost exclusively on weights so far to bulk up a bit
 me:  ok, good.  you don't need to do cardio at this point.
 Friend:  should i start mixing it up more?
 me:  stick to compound exercises - exercises that use a major muscle group (chest, back, legs, shoulders) compounded with a minor muscle group (arms).
For example, chest press uses chest+triceps.  Back exercises use back+biceps.  Squats and deadlifts use ALL of your legs.
The core compound exercises are:  Chest press, shoulder press, chinup/pullup, squat, and deadlift.
Doing those, with dumbbells or barbells (skip the machines, they're fairly useless) will give you good results.
 me:  And eat protein - 1 gram per pound of body weight on workout days is ideal, but hard to achieve, so aim for 75% of that and you'll be ok.
 Friend:  what do you think of push ups and lunges?
 me:  Doing pullups and chinups, even with weight assist (because at first you may be too weak to do them) works your biceps AND back simultaniously.
body weight exercises are great exercises to do at home.  dont' waste your time on them at the gym - use the gym for weights.
at home, or when travelling, do body weight exercises:
but again using compound muscle groups:
pushups are probably the best exercise you can do.  do 100 of them.
lunges, and body weight squats, are wonderful.
single-leg deadlift is great.
if you can install a chin-up bar at home (there are popular models that don't require drilling, and fit in yoru bathroom doorway), that's a great exercise too.
 Friend:  haha, it's like there's a whole other world i know nothing about. i need to look half of these terms up
 me:  When you go to the gym and you see 50 machines, ignore them.  stick to the basics, compound exercises... they're far more efficient.
(more bang for your buck, where buck = minutes in the gym)
 Friend:  good to get another opinion along those lines. i have also heard that most machines are basically useless.
 me:  also, at your body metabolism (fast) and general health, cardio just isn't needed right now.  when yuo're 45, different story.  it also works against you in terms of bulking up a bit.
so please don't do cardio.
 Friend:  ok, i won't :-)
 me:  Pro tip:
 Friend:  thank god i have permission. cardio bores the hell out of me
 me:  Come up with 2 routines, an A and a B routine.  Each routine will have 3-4 exercises.  Go to the gym 3-4 times a week for 30-40 minutes each time, and each time you go do an A, then a B routine, and continue alternating.
Sample A: Squat, Chest Press, Shoulder Press, Chin-Up
Sample B: Squat, Deadlift, Row, Chin-Up
for each of those compound exercises, do 5 sets of 5 reps.
increase weight each set, such that at your 5th set you are failing.
 Friend:  ok, so the routines don't need to be like targeted to just upper body or lower body or something like that?
 me:  if you do that, and eat protein, you'll be buff.
No, they don't.  Your legs are strong muscles and need to be exercised each time.
(squats, lunges, etc.)
they don't require recovery time.
but feel free to mix things up if you're sore.
or bored of an exercise :)
 Friend:  haha, alright
 me:  Keep track of how much weight you're using, so that each week you can try to push yourself a bit.
but always listen to your body.
(to avoid injury)
 Friend:  so when you do squats, do you use a barbell? i've seen videos of people doing that and it kinda scares me a little to put a lot of weight on my spine like that
 me:  right.
start off with body weight squats.
you should be able to do that.
 Friend:  yes.
 me:  then at some point just add the barbell.  the barbell is 45 pounds, and you should be fully capable of doing squats with that.
put the barbell behind your neck on the fatty part of your neck/shoulders (I realize you probably dont' have that)
use a towel/pad for buffer.
and just do the bar.
when you're comfortable, add 5 pounds, and so on.
 me:  your spine should be fine as long as you're not adding more weight than you're capable of.
 Friend:  i should probably make sure i have a spotter the first time i do this right?
*use a barbell i mean
 me:  probably a good idea the first tim
good form is important - with ALL of the exercises i mentioned, use 90 degree angles.
your joints should go from fully extended to 90 degrees, and no more.
for example, with a squat, instead of your ass hitting the ground, you want your knees to bend to 90 degrees (like you're sitting)
with a chest press, the bar comes down until your elbow makes a 90 degree angle - no more.
 Friend:  ok,
 me:  if you go beyond 90 degrees, you're no longer using the big muscles, you're using muscles you don't want to be using for that exercise, and you risk injury
 Friend:  good to know
 me:  all exercises except chinups apply this 90 degree rule.
(the exception is body weight exercises)
 Friend:  haha, that would be a funny looking chin up
 me:  with body weight exercises, you can go all the way.  for squats, your ass can go all the way down.  for pushups, your chest can go down to the floor, etc.
there's no risk of injury :)
 Friend:  except to my pride when i realize i am giving out after only 30 pushups ;-)
 me:  that's fine, write that down on your spreadsheet
and tomorrow do 31.
 Friend:  ooh, yeah, keeping track. i should do that
i met this guy who works for fitocracy in new orleans. do you know about it?
 me:  yes, I use it extensively
i love the points element of it
i'm addicted to points.  :)
btw, everything I've told you, is largely from the founder of fitocracy.
 Friend:  me too
they only have an iphone app
 me:  android is about to be released.
 Friend:  cool
 me:  bookmark that article - it's from the fitocracy founder, and basically reiterates everything I just told you
worth a read sometime
I do not beleive in his fasting approach though - skipping breakfast.
you don't need to lose weight - you need to gain it
so ignore that part.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

important lessons i've learned in life

  • Having good mentors and coaches in life is important. Surround yourself with good mentors, in your personal life, at school, and at work.  Seek them out, and formalize the relationship.  Good mentors will help you immensely.
  • Take care of yourself physically
    • Eat well
    • Exercise
  • When you are in a position to do so, treat other people well
    • Be a mentor to others
    • Give generously
  • Do not sacrifice your principles for friendship or love
  • Keep things simple
    • A complex life is a difficult one
    • Materialism is expensive
    • Declutter, physically and mentally. Less is more.

Monday, October 15, 2012

career paths in the big-4 for tax lawyers

I'm occasionally asked by law students about my career path, so I thought I'd write a blog post summarizing my usual answer to them.

I have no finance or accounting background.  I was a political science major, and in law school I wasn't sure what type of lawyer I wanted to be.  In my 3L on campus interviews, I interviewed with two of the then Big-5 (now Big-4) accounting firms.  I didn't know they had tax departments that hired lawyers.  Both made me an offer, and I went with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).  In my 3L I took two tax classes: Federal Personal Income Tax and High Tech Tax Issues.

Following the bar exam I started at PwC in the federal tax group.  I would have preferred international tax, but at that time, PwC started everyone in federal tax.  I was in that group for two years, doing mostly tax returns and tax provision calculations.  It was not what I envisioned my long-term career to be.  At the end of my second year, I was promoted to senior associate, and left PwC to join the international tax group at KPMG.  Although I liked international tax better, and saw a long-term career in that field, I did not like KPMG.  To make a long story short, about three years later I ended up back at PwC as a manager in the international tax group.  I felt at home, and planned to stay there long-term.  

Five years later, I was promoted to Director, and a few months after that Google contacted me about an opportunity to be international tax counsel.  It was a tough choice to leave PwC, but companies like Google come around only once in a while, so I knew I had to take the chance.  No regrets.

My lack of a finance or accounting background did create for a steep learning curve, especially the first few years.  There has always been inertia within the firm against hiring people, even lawyers, who lack a finance or accounting background.  But lawyers who can demonstrate a solid commitment to tax (through classes they've taken, past work experience, etc.) can overcome that hurdle fairly easily.  During interviews, the firms will be particularly focused on the lack of accounting background, which can be overcome by demonstrating a strong interest in tax.

A few relevant links:

A blog post I wrote with career advice for starting at Big-4 firms. Some job interview tips for Big-4 firms. And a blog post I wrote about my decision to leave the Big-4 for industry.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

observations from 24

I've been watching 24 on NetFlix.  I noticed some patterns, translating into life lessons:
  • Work-Life Balance
    Working 24 hours straight means there aren't enough of the right resources on your project.
  • Know When It's Time To Stop
    After you've been kidnapped once, it's time to reevaluate your life choices.  Being kidnapped repeatedly in a 24 hour period is a sign of a much bigger problem.
  • It's Important to Have the Support of Your Boss  
    If you have to go rogue at work, it's time to get a new job.
  • Take Care of Your Health... 
    At the first sign chest pain, stop and get treatment.
  •  ...Including Your Mental Health
    If you aren't willing to call 911 in an emergency because you "don't trust the authorities," that's a sign of a problem.
  • Protect Those You Care About
    It's time to take a sick day when your child gets kidnapped.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Today is the first anniversary of the death of Steve Jobs. This morning I visited the Apple homepage, knowing they'd have a tribute posted. They do. It is moving. Check it out.

People like Steve are outliers. They come along occasionally, a product of their own characteristics, good timing, and circumstance.* And they change the world. They are fascinating people to be around.

* - For those interested in one theory about what creates outliers, I recommend Outliers: The Story of Success (non-paid link).  It is a fascinating book.