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The “R Word”–Repayment

I cannot believe it’s been so long since I posted to this blog.  I feel so neglectful.  I did think about blogging a few times and then decided against it.  Mostly, I’ve just been way too busy and way too tired.  Work has been very stressful with lots of unwarranted and unwanted projects that just add to my daily craziness.

ExhaustedPoseGenerally speaking, the month of December flew by.  However, the closer it got to the Christmas break the more it seemed to screech to a grind; that last week was brutal.  I was in a foul mood most of that week and then it finally hit me that my upcoming (paid) vacation would be my first since 2007.  Seriously, other than a day here or there (not paid), I have been in school, working, or in school AND working since the summer of 2007.  That’s every spring break, every summer, every break between semesters.  Most times I was finishing up my finals one day and starting work the next, or leaving my job on a Friday and starting a new semester on Monday.  Insane.

Well, I had a good run…5 solid years of working/studying/studying/working and it finally caught up to me.  So, I wasn’t too hard on myself this last week when I was done and I mean DONE with work for 2012.  I practically ran out of the office on Dec. 21—I hope my plants held on to the water I gave them because I still have another five glorious days off.

Another thing that’s been stressful is what every former law student will come to know as “transitioning into repayment status.”  I cannot tell you how my stomach knots up every time I go to the mailbox lately and there’s ANOTHER letter from fedloan, DirectLoans and the latest, SallieMae.  It seems like a I get a letter every other day.  One letter says one thing and then next say something totally different.  I have called fedloan and DirectLoans multiple times since October; I should have them on speed dial.  This latest, SallieMae just joined the party this week and now I’m all confused.

As I sort through all these letters from all these companies I keep reminding myself that I am a lawyer, an educated person, I should be able to make heads and/or tails of these notices, but yet, the thought of dealing with this mess makes me cringe.  All I want to know is how much, HOW MUCH do I pay and to whom, that’s all.  But, it’s not that easy.

Some loans are with this servicer, other loans are with that servicer.  I also qualify for Loan Forgiveness credits because I work for  a public entity and turns out only ONE servicer handles that, so I needed to move (consolidate) the loans to the one servicer that will track my public service credits.  Standard loan repayment would be equal to approximately 25% of my monthly Forgive-Student-Loan-debtGROSS income, so that was definitely not happening. I applied for a modified payment plan and then I had both that application and the consolidation going at the same time…with two different servicers.  Meanwhile, I kept getting notices that my payments were coming due (for the standard repayment) and I kept calling them to say, “Hey, I can’t pay this…where in the process is my paperwork?”  I keep getting assurances that it’s proceeding and issuing a “forbearance” is quick and easy, so they keep telling me that I’m ok.  And still I’m getting notices in the mail and via email that my payment is past due.  I check my online account which confirms “forbearance” and get the distinct impression that the left hand has no flippin’ idea what the right hand is doing.  This does not inspire great confidence on my part. If this sounds confusing, it is.  If it sounds stressful, it is.

Then SallieMae came on the scene and supposedly is handling all of the above for me and my (reasonable) payments won’t start  until March—at least according to my phone call to them yesterday.  TODAY, I get notice in the mail that says something completely different.  Sigh…my stomach hurts.

My only advice to those who eventually arrive at this point:  Get a notepad and document, document, document every time you call one of these places, the date, time, who you spoke with and what they said.  It’s the only lifeline I have in this crazy nightmare.

If I could get all this straightened out my life would be so much better.  I hate this not knowing what my finances are from month to month.  I just want to have all this settle down and get to paying off these loans.  I know I will probably be paying on these loans for a long time…at least 10 years, but I’m fine with that.  I don’t care about being in student loan debt, to me it was worth it.  I have no regrets.

SallieMae and I are going to be good friends for a long, long time.

I still have to let off a little more steam before the new year officially arrives though, so I’m planning a board game night with some of my friends for New Year’s eve.  Nothing elaborate, just good friends, good food and then…GOOD NIGHT!  Needless to say, SallieMae is NOT invited.

Happy 2012–Here’s to returning the favor to the federal government and beginning my loan repayment.  Cheers!


My Crazy Life Post Bar

In the approximately six weeks since I started working things have moved at hyper-speed because…

I literally have not had any downtime where I wasn’t just too exhausted to think anymore.  I’ve fallen right back into the groove of handling all the crazy legal issues that stem from open record requests.  Generally, people are surprised about just how many different areas of the law are captured by requests for information submitted to governmental bodies.

For example, since coming back to the UT family I’ve already written a slew (Legal term meaning: a truck-load) of legal briefs on all kinds of issues to include privacy, attorney/client communications, compliance investigations, donor information, intellectual property etc.  As many of these provisions are already familiar to me, I’ve already got a comfort level assessing these issues.  It is such a great feeling to know that you KNOW something, for a change!

What I love and hate about open records is that people can submit open record requests about anything under the sun.  In fact, this is what makes this area of the law both interesting and extremely challenging.  So, if I’m writing a legal brief asserting that requested information should not be released, I better understand the nature of the information and how the law acts to protect it from disclosure.  I have to quickly (there are pretty short time frames under the law) respond to the request and if I plan to brief it, I have to simultaneously get some basis of knowledge so that I can make a cogent argument. The idea is always to write that brief as if I am an expert on the subject at issue, and for the span of the 5-7 pages it takes for me to make my case, I am.   Or, at least, I try to be.

I’ve discovered that working on the front lines of the open record requests that come into the campus, the flagship campus I might add, is quite different from quietly doing the legal briefing at UT System in the office of General Counsel.  When I worked at System, we’d get maybe 5 requests a month whereas the campus gets 20+ per month.  People are constantly asking for information and just keeping all the deadlines straight is insane!

Presently, while the two System attorneys that typically do open records are out on maternity leave, I am also coordinating the System Open Record docket with three other attorneys.  So, I have MORE than enough work on my plate from both the campus and the System offices.

Even with the crush of work (BTW, I never retired my law school rolling bag…I got so comfortable dragging it behind me for four years that I continue to do so every day!) lots of fun stuff has gone on as well.

Football season started and so I’m all about Vista Ridge High School Ranger Band in Cedar Park, TX.  (Shameless commercial here:  Our band is in the running for a grant from Chase Bank and TODAY at 10:59 pm CST is the last day to vote.  So, if I have not already hit you up for a vote, please see the link HERE.   We plan to use the money to paint and update the inside of the band trailer so it’s not so hard for the kids to load their instruments.  Please vote and share the link.  Thanks!)

Every Friday night I am with my band kiddos.  I’ve been chaperoning on the busses, loading and unloading percussion equipment and helping move the same equipment onto the field for the halftime shows. I’m also the Executive Board Secretary and on the Marching Festival committee.  It is Vista Ridge Band all the time, every day. And it’s only September.  Wait until we add marching competitions EVERY Saturday beginning Sept. 29!!  It’s so life consuming, but so very much fun as well. When football/marching season is over it’s like someone took the air out of the balloon.  B-O-R-I-N-G

Since coming to work for the University of Texas, I also got the opportunity to attend a UT football game, which I haven’t done in years.  That was so great!  My boys loved it!  I also took them to the Alumni Center so they could see and feel what it was like to “belong.”  I don’t know, that’s really important to me:  that they never feel like higher education and the people that move in those circles are untouchable or unreachable.  Because clearly, that’s not true; I’m one of those people.

I hope that by my example they will grow up knowing that college (and any additional education they want) is accessible to them.  I always felt that way, but in retrospect, I don’t know from where that came.  Nobody in my family before me ever went to college or to professional school; nobody ever told me about the educational opportunities that were out there.  Still, I don’t recall a time when the idea of going to college, in particular, The University of Texas at Austin, was NOT the plan. I want that same thing for my boys; whether it’s innately something inside of them, like it was for me, or whether they will credit me with their aspirations.  I don’t care; I just want it all for them. So each and every time I can bring them to this University or take them to TexWes events, you can bet your last dollar I will.

Needless to say, we had a great time at the UT game and it was also my first payday as a J.D. so we went all out with food and new t-shirts and UT baseball hats.  I also bought myself the coolest gift ever:  Cowboy boots!!

What?!  I do live in Texas and work at the University of Texas, what else would I wear on casual Fridays during football season??

Also, for the record, I haven’t been totally slacking on my blogging.  Two new entries are posted on my TexWes Alumni Blog and can be found HERE.

Until next time!  Hook ‘em Horns!!!


And Just Like That: It Was Over

Once “Time” was called at the end of the afternoon session on day three of the bar exam, there was a restlessness in the room that was palpable.  We were all so ready to leave, but of course, several sections in the room took unusually long to account for all the paperwork and the state-bar-issued USB thumb drives. It took FOREVER….

Finally, the head bar examiner said the words that all of us had been waiting to hear:  “You are released.”  And what a release it was.  I wanted to jump up and cheer, but wasn’t sure if that would be too weird.  Apparently others felt the same way and gave in to the urge.  I just picked up my stuff and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.  I looked over at my friend E.J. who, gratefully had been assigned to sit in my same section, one row back and two tables over, and we both just grinned.  We were done and it was such a great feeling.

Walking out of that convention center was so surreal.  I knew that I’d get asked, a million times between now and when bar results come in, how I thought I did, so I conducted an internal check right there in the moment.  My gut tells me I did my best and that’s exactly the feeling I wanted.  Whatever happens when results come in, I gave it my all.  Let the chips fall where they may.

I am grateful that I remembered some of the crucial advice given by my professor which was to remain calm and not panic.  He wasn’t kidding.  Panic is the enemy and luckily there was only one moment where it tried to derail my plan.

About mid-way during the MPT on day one I looked at my written outline and then glanced at the time.  Something in my head quickly determined that I didn’t have enough time to finish it all and at that moment I felt the panic rising up from my chest, up into my throat.  For a second I thought I was going to cry and just completely lose it, but then a voice from somewhere deeper within said, “NO!”  I pushed the panic down and, when I thought about it later, it was like I could physically feel it getting shoved down like the plunger on a hypodermic needle.

For those few seconds I felt completely out of control and at the mercy of panic, but then it was gone and never surfaced again for the rest of the exam.  It’s not that I wasn’t in a time crunch the whole rest of the week, but there was no other point during the exam that I let my focus shift from the task, to the time.  It was like I was working outside of myself—completely insulated from panic and fear and negativity. I am convinced this was the answer to a prayer, probably lots of prayers.  I know that I had many people praying earnestly for me and I specifically prayed for peace, wisdom and discernment.  I got the peace that I wanted; that I needed.  I guess we’ll need to wait and see about the wisdom and discernment when results come in!

After 15 hours of testing over 2.5 days I then had a three hour drive home.  I was running on adrenaline and just sheer happiness at being done.  I had a brand new Maroon 5 cd waiting for me in the car and was anxious to get it into the stereo so Adam Levine could keep me company on the long drive.  That was the best drive ever.  I had to take a picture of my first, After Bar Exam sunset.

I could’ve used a several weeks to recover from the whole “bar exam experience,” but instead I had a job interview the very next day and…got the job.  Last Wednesday I started working at the University of Texas at Austin, so I was unemployed for less than 24 hours after the bar exam.  Thank you, God.

It’s been so busy getting situated and re-discovering the ability to have a life outside of school.  I’ve had time to get my hair cut, volunteer at the high school for the band, attend Jazzercise, RSVP for a wedding, stay up late to play cards with my family and watch movies without the burden of having to study hanging over my head.  It’s been awesome!  I missed this stuff!

Things promise to get busier before they slow down…but I’m already planning a vacation.  I deserve it.

A special thank you to the faculty, staff and Alumni Association of Texas Wesleyan Law who showed up on Day 2 and provided a great lunch for all of us bar takers.  Yes, the food was good, but more than anything it was nice to see friendly supportive faces wishing us well at the mid-point of the exam.  As always, you guys never stop taking care of us.  Thanks a million.

2 Weeks Until the Texas Bar Exam

Running short on time…  There’s probably nothing much to add this week except more of the same.   For anyone who is a SpongeBob Squarepants aficionado what is going on now, and clear through this upcoming week, is akin to “Squilliam Returns” (Season 3, Episode Six).  I wish I could’ve found a video illustration to link to this blog, but alas, I couldn’t find one quick and so decided to just link to a Wiki on it.

In short, SB is supposed to learn all there is about fine dining (long story, see episode for detail) and to make room in his head for all he has to learn, he has to dump what’s already in there:

Squidward tells SpongeBob to clear his mind of “everything that doesn’t have to do with fine dining and breathing.”  SpongeBob’s mind  is metaphorically portrayed as an office operated by little SpongeBobs.  The boss tells them to dump everything that doesn’t have to do with fine dining and breathing until further notice. They begin shredding all the documents, which represent SpongeBob’s knowledge, until SpongeBob just stares into empty space and doesn’t respond to anything.

Then it happens:  Someone asks SB…his name!

However, SpongeBob cannot remember his name, having discarded it along with everything else, and inside his mind, all of the little SpongeBobs are trying to find his name, which ultimately results in his brain snapping in half.

THIS is my brain on the bar exam; it is snapping in half!!  Truly I have found that in the last several weeks it has become hard to do simple things that I used to do well like, spell.  Suddenly I can’t remember how to spell “success” (are there two c’s???) but ask me to spell res ipsa loquitur, respondeat superior or res gestae and my response is, “Backwards or forwards?”  So bizarre!

Today, I spent three hours at school taking a simulated half-day essay exam and I felt pretty good coming out of that.  For some reason, studying last week I was starting to hit panic mode about the essays.  I feel good about the MPT and the P&E, the MBE is the beast that just eats everyone’s lunch on Day 2, but when I thought about what work I’d done on the essay section I didn’t feel like I’d done enough.

I did about 15 Barbri essays and submitted them for grading even though we were only required to do maybe 3-4 total.  The rest were optional and I did all but two on the list.  I may still do those last two this coming week just to say I did them all.  I was nervous going into this practice exam because I didn’t feel like I had enough law in my head to write an essay for these subjects, some of which I didn’t even take in law school.  Presently, I haven’t gotten my graded essays back from our advisor at school, so I’m feeling good about my work.  But, let’s see what the graders think….

My practice tests on the MBE are just all over the place.  I have good days in nearly all the subjects and bad days in the same subjects.  I have yet to get them to all converge at one time so I’m hoping that that convergence will happen a week from this coming Wednesday when I need all the stars and planets aligned in my favor.

I miss being at home and seeing my family, but I am noticing that my internal stress level has gone way down since coming up here and getting to focus on just this without any worry about anyone or anything.  My study partner and I have been at the SMU law library the last two days and will be there the rest of the week and it’s been great.  I forgot how much I missed being in an academic library.  I love the smell of musty books and the utter silence.  I appreciate that people don’t take cell phone calls and when they talk, which is not often, they…whisper.  It is the simple things that mean the most to me at this most stressful time.  I have also discovered that this craziness is pretty “normal” for those studying for the bar exam.  Whew!  Makes me feel better.

I’m losing track of time and what day it is, but I missed going to church today which is not a common thing for me.  As soon as I finish this blog, the last thing I plan to do before getting some hard-earned sleep is watch the online video of this morning’s service to complete my Sunday.

In life outside of the bar exam:  A job was posted last week in which I am interested.  I applied and hopefully will hear back on that soon.

This upcoming week is it; I have to finish strong and prepare myself mentally and physically to perform the way I know I can on this bar exam.  I have been in training the last four years and especially this entire summer for what will transpire next week.  Let’s go, last week of bar prep, give me all you got!

The Making of a Litigator

Fifty-five minutes.  That’s the amount of time that I spent on “jury duty” (excluding the fact that I had to get up early, drive downtown and find parking—which as it turns out, is not an issue IF you get there early).

I did have to go through the metal detector and (of course) I ‘dinged’ and so I had to then get wanded.  My laptop and purse went through the x-ray, but there wasn’t a line or even a crowd like I’m used to at the district or criminal court houses I’ve frequented before.  AND, I didn’t have to take off my shoes.   So that’s a plus.

There were 26 of us called and by show time, 24 were present and accounted for.  When I got there and signed in, I noticed that I was “Juror #24.”  At that moment, I knew I was off the hook.  The fact that I am nearly a law school grad, currently work for the DA in Tarrant County, and previously worked for the City of Austin was irrelevant.  Why?  This was a municipal trial requiring only a six person jury.  I was three rows back and knew even if both sides used all their peremptory challenges and there were a handful of additional legitimate challenges for cause, I was way too far back.  So I quickly lost interest. And, sure enough, we were released after a short voir dire.

About all I gleaned from the voir dire on the case was that it was for a speeding ticket and the cop showed up.  A lot of times the Defendants will play the odds that the cop won’t show up and then they can win by default.  Not this time.  As there were no other witnesses, it was he said/she said.  Also, Defendant was appearing pro se and the City was represented by counsel.

During my summer with the City we previously visited Muni court and watched other prosecutors handle speeding cases.  From that experience I know that the APD doesn’t use those old-fashioned radar guns that send out doppler waves to determine the speed of an object.  Instead they use a laser radar gun.  This allows the cop to point the laser at the exact license plate of the car they are trying to clock.  There is no “Maybe it wasn’t MY car speeding.”  Nope…these guns are calibrated before and after every shift so the officer knows they are in working order and they hit the intended target with pin point accuracy.  Although the judge said we could sit and watch the trial after we were dismissed from the panel, I pretty much knew how that was going down.

On one hand I thought of all the time, effort and money spent on a jury trial for this one little ‘ol speeding ticket, but then again, the right to a trial by jury is guaranteed in the United States Constitution and obviously the Founding Fathers thought it important enough to ensure that we Americans would always have this right.  So, more power to Ms. Defendant for making the state meet its burden and exercising her Constitutional right to a jury of her peers.   Besides, how else are new lawyers supposed to get trial experience?

Speaking of, my weeks at the DA’s office are swiftly coming to a close.  After this week, I have two more to go.  I met with the Deputy DA, Jack Strickland this week and we discussed what all I’d been doing since the last meeting and what else I had yet to do.  I asked about getting into a trial, or two, before leaving.  He suggested I try the Misdemeanor section if I really want to get into the courtroom.  So I emailed the division chief, Richard Alpert to see about making that happen.  Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, I continue to absorb as much as I can every day I’m there.  I have tremendous respect for the Tarrant County DA’s Office and all the attorneys who have shared their time and expertise with us over the course of the semester.  I am now a firm believer that law schools need to provide more clinic opportunities to their students.  Getting in, rolling up your sleeves and working a case is way more valuable than reading about it. Doing the work alongside a great attorney-mentor is even better and this has been my experience in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic.

My only regret is that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with one of my supervising attorneys, Christy Jack.   I spent that memorable day back in January when we had that bizarre death penalty voir dire and a few other hours here and there, but I have the distinct feeling that I missed out on a lot by not having her around.   My immediate opinion of her was that she is smart, articulate, and funny.  I soon learned that she is also a courtroom rockstar.  She’s been back almost two weeks from her marathon death penalty trial in Johnson County and the office dynamic is completely different.  There’s no doubt that she’s one of those people to whom others are drawn—a natural leader.

I did one assignment for her on that Johnson County case:  preparing a notebook of testimony offered by the Defense’s expert witness in other cases.   She asked me to go through the testimony and mark when the state made a “point” in the cross.  At first the assignment didn’t make complete sense to me and I asked questions which she patiently answered.  As I started reading the transcripts I saw what she was doing.  She was reviewing past cases and looking at what lines of cross examination worked and didn’t work on this witness.  She was de-constructing his testimony to construct her own cross.  It was brilliant; lots of work, but brilliant.  THAT is how you prepare a case.  I have no doubt she knew that witness inside and out by show time.   Seeing an established attorney put in this level of work on a case does wonders to inspire the others around to work just as hard.  I know I wanted my notebook to be flawless for her and she came back later and said that it had been very helpful.  Knowing that  your boss is putting in as many or more hours than you builds loyalty and support unlike anything else. It’s teaching by modeling.

I would love to learn to be a trial lawyer from Christy.   And if those defendants knew what they were up against, they’d take the offered pleas.  Seriously.   I know I sound like I’m just in awe of her, and well, I guess I am.  Being a DA is hard enough without adding law students to the mix and carving out the time and patience to explain with particularity what’s going on and what we can do to help.  I hope that I can take all of what I’ve learned this semester from this opportunity and make a positive contribution wherever I go.  Clearly, I have been working with the Dream Team.

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