Monthly Archives: December 2011

Welcome 2012, I’ve Been Waiting For You

Although I am not  yet a lawyer, 2012 marks the beginning of my final semester in law school.  There were no guarantees that I’d ever reach this milestone, but clearly, I am blessed.  Wishing everyone a wonderful, safe and prosperous New Year.

 

HAPPY 2012 EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!

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I Am the 85

In my own personal experience it’s been relatively easy to find paid jobs to fill in the semester and summer breaks while in law school, but maybe my situation is unique because of my ongoing connection to my former employer.  Today, I overheard one of the section managers in the office talking about ongoing interviews for a spot in our Business Law section.  I stopped him and asked how many applications he received for that one job opening.  Eighty-five (85).  He walked away shaking his head and muttering about the poor schmucks soon to graduate from law school.  Well, that’s sobering.

As I get closer to finishing my legal education and think about finding a permanent job, I’m starting to wonder who will have the job-hunting advantage: career student or career-person turned student. Obviously, I got my money on the latter and here’s why:

These last 3.5 years in law school have been so wonderfully fulfilling, but simultaneously very, VERY, humbling.  I quickly realized that once outside of my former job and area of expertise, I lost all my superpowers!  If you’ve never had a real job, do you even have superpowers?  Ok, sure…you can maybe pull an all-nighter and write a decent paper on the fall of the Greco-Roman Empire, but really…that’s useful to a potential employer…how???

In my entire undergraduate career I had ONE professor that actually took the time and effort necessary to do a line edit* of our papers which is what you need if your goal is to become a better writer.  One skill that WILL help you in most any job that you do is writing.  No matter how many jokes people make about a liberal arts degree, that’s where you first get your writing experience.  However, most undergrads get their papers back with sparse comments in the margin and a fat letter grade at the end, but that’s about it. Critical/analytical thinking is generally not taught in undergrad unless you’re in a science or math major, maybe.  But these skills are essential in life and for sure, in law school.

Also, I probably wouldn’t have incorporated the phrase, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” into my vernacular had I not spent time in the real world learning my several jobs from beginner to expert.  As you can imagine, this phrase has come in handy on many occasions in law school.  I have discovered, or maybe reaffirmed, this about myself: I am most out of my comfort zone when forced to operate as a beginner at anything. Granted, this is probably not a comfortable place for anyone, so no great confession there, but I personally experience another kind of frustration while sitting on the learning curve: I feel like a “taker” instead of a “giver.”

I am all about “value added”—ewwww, I know, I too hate this overused corporate buzz word, but it fits here. I am most fulfilled when I am contributing positively to a common goal; I want to be known as the “go-to” person, dependable, smart, trustworthy and accurate. The learning curve is my enemy—it makes me vulnerable, dependent and slow. If the extent of your work experience consists of part-time jobs and the occasional pizza delivery gig, I wonder if you’ve ever experienced value added.  Even if you have multiple degrees, the operative question in my head is, “Yes, but what have you DONE with those degrees?”  It’s the difference between reading a cook book and getting in the kitchen and making a meal.

Law school is one huge 3-4 year-long learning curve.  It is clearly meant to show you just how little you know about so many things.  It’s no wonder lawyers hedge so much, the law is so fact driven that you are conditioned to tread lightly about any opinion.  I can’t even answer the question “What do you want for dinner?” straight because it always “depends.”  I miss certainty in my life.  I would like to know more than just a trickle about ANY area of the law I’ve learned in law school so that I could once again speak with authority about something.  I guess I miss the freedom that comes with that kind of confidence.

One of the best things I’ve found to combat this general feeling of inadequacy is hanging around with attorneys that do know what the heck they’re talking about.  Working with Randy in his practice for the last year has been great for these kinds of opportunities.  I tell him all the time that I love hearing his war stories or getting to read his snarky** emails to opposing counsel because it reminds me that knowledge is power.  He tells me that when you have as many skins on the wall as he does, you can get away with that kind of stuff.  I guess that’s one way to put it.  I remember with fondness when I had skins on my wall in my last job; now I’m back to skinless.  😦

The jobs I enjoyed most before law school were those where I was allowed (even encouraged!) to push the envelope and, I don’t know, be an independent thinker?!?  It takes time to get to that level with your boss and co-workers.  The climb to that point is when I work the hardest.  I want to build trust, demonstrate honesty and integrity, and earn their respect—fast.  You know you’re there when something happens and instead of the boss running in and demanding to know why XYZ happened or didn’t happen, they instead stroll in, or better yet, email and ask for a rundown of how you handled the matter.  In this moment of truth you’re ready with a well-thought out response, organized, succinct and of course, correct. The boss nods, says ok and all is again right in the world.  I love that feeling.

This is when you know you’ve arrived.  There is a rebuttable presumption that if you did something unexpected, 1) you had a very valid reason and 2) there WAS no other way to address that particular issue.  They give you the benefit of the doubt and trust that 99.99% of the time you’re not going to drop the ball.  On the rare occasion that you do, you’ve probably self-reported, identified the problem, and are nearly done with the solution by the time the boss is ready to deal with it.  This is what I think of as the job “sweet spot”—when everyone just lets everyone else do their job.  As the boss, you trust your own hiring skill and allow me to do what you hired me to do.  As your employee, I know my limitations and go to you when I need your help and/or clarification.  Then we both go on and do our own respective jobs.  Micro-managers just breed passive-aggressive employees.

In my opinion, regardless of the amount of education you have, there is no substitute for work experience.  Having worked both before AND after my higher education experiences…twice,  my opinion stands.  Those of us that have BOTH education and a true employment history should, generally, have more to offer a potential employer.  And what, if anything, is a job but one person looking to hire another person for a mutually beneficial transaction?  Clearly, the employee benefits (i.e. a salary, insurance, perks etc.) so the question is what is the employer getting out of the bargain?  Depends:  What is the goal?

If the goal is to hire someone to micro-manage, someone with such marginal skill that the boss ends up doing the work him/herself, that says something about the boss’s (lack of) confidence as a manager. Most smart bosses hire someone so they are able to reallocate the work and lessen the burden for the whole team.  That’s the place I want to work.  So hopefully, when you see my resume in the stack you’ll pull it out first and save yourself the trouble of 85 interviews!

 

*Line editing is the norm in law school.

**I should point out that “snarky” is not Randy’s preferred method of communication, but if pushed to that extreme by opposing counsel, he will inevitably win any battle of words that they start. He’s just that good.

CHRISTmas Makes Me Smile

It’s only been two weeks since school let out, but it feels like a lifetime.  I guess that’s due in part to the many things I’ve done in such a short while.  As much as I enjoy law school, I notice that when I’m away for a while I feel like I’m waking up from a long sleep.  Suddenly I get to do things I’d not been able to do in months or more.  This Christmas was no exception.  Although I worked all the way through the 23rd of December and Monday the 26th will be my only “official” holiday during my entire semester break, I made the most of the long weekend.

I purposely spent more time with my mom this holiday because I often caught her quiet and deep in thought.  I know she was missing my dad as we all were.  Mom and I watched movies—several, while wrapping gifts in my office locked away from the rest of the family.  We needed that time together and the boys were more than happy to let Santa’s “elves” work at wrapping Christmas gifts in peace.

We watched a particular movie that I have to recommend because it was both enjoyable AND thought-provoking.  If you’ve not seen the movie, “Fracture” with Anthony Hopkins it’s a definite must see, especially for aspiring barristers.  I definitely don’t want to give any plot away, but I wish I’d seen this BEFORE law school and then again at this point in my education just to see whether I had a different take on it.  I can bet that the two experiences would be as different as night and day.

As it was, I watched the movie (which deals with a criminal prosecution) and found myself analyzing the evidence, listening to the courtroom banter and planning my case strategy so much faster than it unfolded in the movie.  A couple of times I listened to the direct examination and thought, “Objection, hearsay!” before the movie attorney got to his feet. I even ended up figuring out the key to the movie all the way down to the final strategy.  It was so exciting!  I mean, the movie is itself pretty good, but watching it now within the context of my legal training, it was like someone turned on the light.  I imagine I must’ve felt this way when I first started to read and what had once been strange symbols, turned into letters, then words, and FINALLY into sentences.  I wanted to shout, “Eureka!!”  I tried to explain this phenomena to my mom and all I could tell her was that it was like the movie dialogue was a language within a language and all of a sudden (after 3.5 years in  law school) I discovered that I suddenly knew both languages.   It was bizarre and strangely wonderful.

The Christmas Eve service at my church was especially nice this year because all of us were there together.  Every year there’s one gift that I can’t wait to give more than anything.  This year I’d been planning a gift for my friend Joanna since October and gave it to her at the church service.  Her oldest son is a senior in high school and college is around the corner.  We’ve had many conversations about how tough it’s going to be to let him go and with my oldest a freshman in high school, watching Joanna and her son is particularly difficult.  That and the fact that I love that kid as if he were mine.

Both our boys are in the marching band (at rival high schools) and I was able to find some pictures of her son at our marching competition and purchased them for her.  Their band went on to win the State 4A Marching Championship this year.  I mounted the three pictures in a frame and matted it with their school colors.  I put his name and the year of the Championship on the matting.  I figured she’d be pretty down this year because her son is gone visiting his dad in California, so I knew these pictures would make her feel just a bit closer to him.  I was right, and she loved it.

Mom and I also spent lots of time cooking for the family.  This is a hobby of mine that I also miss during the semester; there just isn’t time to cook the way that I want to cook.  A couple of times I’ve cooked for friends in Ft. Worth and they are always happy to get my food, but because I’m trading off valuable study/reading time, I never get the same relaxed pleasure I get when I cook and there are no school deadlines.  I find that during my semester breaks I cook a lot more and my family is the recipient of many more elaborate and adventurous recipes.  Here is our Christmas Eve dinner….

Brown sugar glazed ham, green bean/carrot/onion/mushroom medley, creamed corn (Rudy's BBQ-style) and rosemary potoatoes

We didn’t exchange too many gifts this  year, which is fine with me.  Everyone got a couple of small presents, except for the boys who got WAY too many gifts that cost WAY too much…but, they’re good kids, with excellent grades and I couldn’t ask for anything more.  So, what the heck!  I got John Grisham’s newest novel, which I specifically asked Santa to bring me.  I held it in my hands, flipped the pages a bit, sniffed the wonderful paper smell (I do NOT like the whole evolution of e-books…give me hard cover any day of the week!!) and then put it aside to read later….like, in  AUGUST 2012.  Yep, that’s the soonest I’ll get to this unfortunately, but that’s a story for another blog!

This evening, Christmas Day, we were invited to my friend, Marilyn’s house for dinner and a white elephant gift exchange; only mom and my oldest son went with me.  Marilyn is a professional caterer and so you can imagine the spread.  She had so much fantastic food!   The gift exchange is always a circus because Marilyn literally collects items all year long especially for this white elephant game—she easily had over 100 gifts there.  You never know what you’re gonna get from her and since there were only ten of us playing we all got to pick many times over.  Needless to say when we left, my car was bursting with stuff:  some of which was pretty cool (a blender, two cheese plates, set of springform pans, plastic pitcher, and a tomahawk to name but a few!) and others were, well…junk (singing James Brown doll, collection of nylon bags, pair of second-hand Wrangler jeans, candle holders, more candle holders, and still more candle holders).   This is why it’s so fun to go to Marilyn’s house, she has an eye for really cool things, but she is also a pack rat.  So, on Christmas Day it’s hilarious fun to see what all Marilyn’s found during the preceding year.  Thankfully I didn’t get the box of bubble wrap!

All in all, it’s been a wonderful Christmas.  I’ve enjoyed the time I spent with my family and friends.  I am slowly re-charging my batteries and gearing up for ONE. LAST. SEMESTER.   Merry Christmas, Everyone!  May the blessing of the Christ child be in  your heart today and always.

This is me: Class of 2012; Band Mom; JD 2B

You Too Can Be A JurisDebtor!

So today I was working on reviewing the institutional catalog for one of our* medical campuses.  This is the first time I’ve ever done this type of work and although it’s not too complicated, it can be somewhat painstaking.  Basically, I was looking at the campus’s student catalog and checking to be sure that it complied with all the requirements set out in our checklist to include legislative, statutory, and regental policy changes.  There’s a lot of cross-referencing between all these documents which makes it easy to get lost in the layers.

One part that I reviewed today pertained to tuition for attendance at the medical school.  Here’s the line that caught my attention:  “The designated tuition fee is $8660 per academic year.” My mind immediately started ticking:  Hmmm, so one could go to medical school for a year and spend roughly a third of what it costs to go to a private** law school for that same year!  Nice.

I have to admit I never really thought too much about the expense (Read: Debt) of law school before deciding to attend.  Why?  For me, there was no point.  I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer…that meant I had to go to law school…that meant that I’d go into debt.  So be it.  But seeing the stark difference between what it costs to become a doctor versus a lawyer, I have to cry: OBJECTION!!!!

You would think that with what it costs for a legal education (and the beat down one endures to get licensed) that lawyers would be held in higher esteem.  Maybe if we didn’t have 3x the debt of doctors, legal fees wouldn’t be so out of whack.  I don’t know, I’m just speculating.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any undergrad debt to carry forward into law school which wasn’t anything I planned; it just happened that way.

In discussing this whole issue of debt repayment with one of my recent law school grad friends (we’ll call her “Gina” just because I know no Ginas and it’s a lot easier than saying “one of my recent law school grad friends”)—I found out two important things:  1) There is a cap on the amount they can set for your monthly payment and 2) You only have to repay for 25 years.  These are both good things to know.

So in a nutshell (and according to Gina) these two rules are pretty clear.  I went on this website to further investigate and it’s not nearly this cut and dried. We are, after all, talking about government loans and so there are the requisite caveats and categories, all with different rules. What I did discover is that there are several options available and that in all probability I won’t have to be destitute to pay these loans off.

Gina was right about the 25 years, which if you’re paying off loans that long, let’s face it, you’ve long since paid off the actual money you borrowed and what they are “forgiving” is the interest*** they were still squeezing out of you.  That’s generous.  However, they do note that you might have to pay taxes on the amount discharged.  So don’t plan that trip to Tahiti just yet.  They’ll get it out of you one way or another. (I find this just hilarious:  So the federal government Dept. of Education “forgives” the remainder of your interest (Uh, I mean “loan”) and the federal government IRS collects taxes on what you were forgiven.  Sneaky!  Thankfully, the IRS does not run heaven since they clearly misunderstand the concept of forgiven!)

There are, of course, options to get portions of your loans forgiven if you work in public interest, which, it turns out, is something that I am seriously considering. 

Also, Gina’s information about a cap on the amount you can pay is, I think, generally correct under the section pertaining to Income Contingent Repayment plans which calculates your monthly payment based on your  adjusted gross income (AGI, plus your spouse’s income if you’re married), family size, and your total loan amount.  So each month you’ll pay the lesser of:

1.      The amount you would pay if you repaid your loan in 12 years multiplied by an income percentage factor that varies with your annual income, or

2.      20 percent of your monthly discretionary income.

They have a handy little calculator on the website so you can plug some numbers in and play around with various scenarios.  Here’s another link to a blog that has interesting information on Income-based Repayment, which may or may not be the same as Income Contingent Repayment from the Dept. of Ed. website.

Either way, it’s not pretty, by any means.  You could probably buy a fully loaded Hummer and pay less monthly, but I seriously doubt a Hummer will get you as far in life as a good legal education and a law license.  I could be wrong, but since I will have the latter before I can ever hope to have the former, we’re just gonna go with that.

Like I told another of my recent law school grad friends, whom we’ll call, Denny, he knows why…  There’s always a bright side and the bright side to law school student debt is indeed the 25-year rule.  I find comfort in knowing that my ENTIRE social security check will be mine.  Then, I might go to Tahiti.  🙂

Footnotes:

* I still say “our” even though I haven’t been a regular full-time employee here in four years!

** BTW, it’s not much cheaper to go to a public school.  I’d say the numbers I was looking at put it at about $6K/year less.

***I have to point out that by the time you’re “forgiven” you’ve probably already paid more than a few years worth of interest.  I’d not want you to think they let you fully off the hook.  No, they get interest out of you, it’s just a matter of how much.  So student loan forgiveness is more or less akin to the “mercy rule” in baseball–they’ve beaten you so long and so hard that it’s no longer fun, so they walk away.

My Awesome Holiday Job

I’ve decided there are both good and not so good things about returning to work at a previous job—not only after having left to go to law school, but just generally.

So here are my TOP 10 both pro and con:

PRO:

10)  No hassle with downtown parking because the guard still knows who you are.

9)    You can bring a lunch on the first day and nobody thinks it’s weird.

8)    Within the first hour of your arrival they pass you the sign-up sheet for the luncheon and you know just what to do; no words necessary.

7)  Ready-made group of cohorts/friends/partners in crime.

6)  When they send out the email that lunch is served, you know just HOW fast to move to get there and assure that you don’t get leftovers.  He who hesitates is lost.

5)  Everyone who was cool before is still cool; everyone who was weird is still weird, and everyone who was a pain is still a pain.  There’s comfort in consistency.

4)  You can forgo the nickname: “The New Girl/Guy” for the duration of your stay.

3)  The lady that takes badge pictures will try really hard to take a good one and/or will let you do a re-take.

2) The term “unemployed” does NOT apply to you.

And the number one reason that returning to a previous job is a good thing:

You’ve got nothing to prove; they already like you and your work product!

CON: 

10)  It’s hard NOT to spend half the first week saying “hi” to everyone you haven’t seen in months.

9)  Those closed files you left in 2008 are still waiting for YOU to review them for destruction.

8)   Paper timesheets and payday lag.  (Boooo!)

7)  Having to use an office coffee mug or bring in one from home daily.

6)  Being out of the loop.  Me:  “Hey, where’s so and so?” [Awkward silence]   Response: “They…left.”

5)  Weird looks from people who were hired after you left and now can’t figure out why everyone already knows you.

4)  That frozen dinner in the office freezer is dated June 2009 and has your initials on it.

3)  On one hand:  Figuring out a proper response to, “You’re back already?”

2)  On the other hand:  Figuring out a proper response to the person who completely ignores the fact that you’ve suddenly reappeared after 4 months.

And the number one reason that returning to a previous job is a not such a good thing:

Constant urge to tell the person doing your old job that they aren’t doing it right. (Because, they aren’t!)  🙂

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Even so, I am enjoying my three weeks away from law school and things have been relatively low-key.  There is something to be said about one’s comfort zone!

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