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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!

Mission Accomplished!

Things have just moved by in a blur since I got my bar results on Nov.1.  I received my actual bar notice from the Texas Board of Law Examiners (“BLE”) the very next day.  It was a nice fat envelope…sweet!

Inside was an official letter of congratulations from the State Bar of Texas that simultaneously informed me not to forget to pay my:

  • Membership dues ($78 at least for the first 3 yrs. of practice, then it goes up!!!)
  • Occupations tax ($200, but pro-rated to $116.69 for November licensure), and
  • Legal Services fee ($65 and no explanation what this covers.)

Luckily, as a government lawyer, I fall into a statutory exemption category and only have to pay the membership dues.  Whew!  That was a nice surprise.

I also got my bar score from the BLE and a nice letter from the clerk of the Supreme Court of Texas regarding my attorney’s oath and when I should receive my official license (suitable for framing!!).  Since there are currently vacancies on the Court, our licenses are going to be somewhat delayed until later in December.  BUT, assuming we pay all our fees and get sworn in, we are considered licensed and eligible to practice law in Texas right away, even without the paper license.  Awesomeness!!!

My head was swimming and it took me several reads of every letter in the packet to digest it all.  I also found out that within my first year of licensure I have to take my first “official” Minimum Continuing Legal Education (“MCLE”) class on Ethics which is required of all baby lawyers…that’s another $125.  Money, money, money…it’s no wonder lawyers charge so much for their services.

With regard to MCLE I say “official” because as soon as I paid my dues I was able to access my MCLE account where I had already banked 12 hours during the time leading up to the bar exam.  Since new lawyers have 2 years to meet their first 15 hours of MCLE (after two years we need 15 hours per year), I am just a few hours short of being MCLE’d up until 2015.

I don’t know that reality has really and truly set in with me yet.  I am still hoping that I’m not dreaming and that I am in fact DONE.  It is the strangest feeling to be looking forward to Thanksgiving for nothing more than THANKSGIVING.  For the last 4 years my Thanksgiving was spent trying to squeeze studying into every spare moment without totally blowing off my family.  I had a final exam each and every Monday after Thanksgiving all 4 years of law school.  This year I will not only get to fully enjoy the holidays, but I will get to join the black Friday craziness that I’ve had to skip for so long.  Basically, I have my life back.  Oh and I’m now a lawyer, an attorney…ESQUIRE.  What a weird feeling. I smile every time I think about it, but am still in awe of what I accomplished.

Case in point:

I met with a professor the other day that came by the office to review his promotion and tenure file.  When we were done, he got up to leave and, noticing the glass name plate/card holder on my desk said, “Thank you, uh….  What do you call attorneys?  ‘Ms.’ sounds so disrespectful.”  I paused for a moment and confessed, “You know, Professor…since I just got my bar results less than a week ago, I’m still getting used to being an attorney myself, so ‘Ms.’ is just fine.”  He smiled and I smiled and once again I felt that little thrill run up my spine of knowing that yes…I DID IT!!!  I am a TEXAS LAWYER!!!

Me in front of the Texas State Capitol–Austin, TX

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!!!

 

1 Week Until the Texas Bar Exam

Well, this is my last (hopefully) bar prep countdown blog.  I kinda missed my usual Sunday update, but figured that getting to sleep early was more important.  This last week was my final push to the Texas Bar Exam and I doubled my study time.  From last Sunday to yesterday I logged in 81.5 hours.

At 8 pm yesterday my study partner and I closed our books and said, “No mas.”  While we’ll for sure do some light review of our condensed notes the rest of this week, the intense and focused study time is done.  Thank you, God.

As we left the SMU Law Library that had been our home for the last 9 days, it was sort of bittersweet.  We’d developed our little routine, for the most part we got there at the same time everyday (after a visit to Starbuck’s ), we left there at the same time everyday, we sat at the same table and saw the same 5 or 6 people and we studied like probably neither of us has ever studied before.  I have come to realize that studying for the bar exam is unlike any other kind of studying I’ve ever done. Ever. And it’s because no matter how much you study or how long you study, there’s always more to learn.

I thought of it this way:  The “LAW” is as vast and deep as the ocean.  However, what law you need to know for the bar exam is only the surface of the ocean, maybe 6″ deep.  But how many of us, if challenged,would have more success putting 6″ worth of all the world’s oceans in our pocket as opposed to ALL of the world’s oceans?  The reality is, both tasks are just as daunting. You do what you can do and then you move on.

I started out this summer with a goal and that was to eat the elephant one bite at a time and I accomplished that. Now, I’m a day away from my bar exam and no matter what happens, I know I did all I could do.  I tracked my progress.  I had a plan for every day.  I sacrificed time, and sleep, and LIFE, for the opportunity to tackle the biggest, most important test of my life and to do it well.

No matter what happens the rest of this week and when results are released, I have no regrets and no reason to second-guess myself.  I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and know that I gave myself the best shot at doing this right the first time.

I am blessed to have so many friends and family and colleagues that genuinely supported me through this experience. Thank you to my wonderful study partner, E.J., here in Dallas who  was a pleasure to be around during this most stressful time.  Thanks for keeping us on a tight schedule and taking care of parking for us which made it so convenient.  I appreciate studying with someone who was as serious and diligent as I was (and sometimes more so!).  I also enjoyed the precious few breaks we took to walk  around and just laugh off some of the stress.  I am so going to miss seeing you!  I know you are going to do great on the bar; that’s just the kind of person you are. I’m glad you’re my friend.

Thanks also to my friend, L.H. with whom I’ve stayed for 4 years of law school and now up until the bar.  You have been wonderful.  These last two weeks I’ve been here you’ve taken care to be sure I had dinner every night and provided a calming environment where I could study undisturbed.  But too, you were there to remind me to take a break and have some ice cream:  The bar exam is just a test.  I appreciate the perspective, sometimes it was hard to remember that.

Well, after over 495 study hours, 20 or so practice essays, a dozen MPTs and over 700 practice problems all I can say is let the chips fall where they may this week.  If the Texas Bar Exam eats my lunch, it will be a long hard-fought battle, because I’m not going to make it easy.

I’m bringing everything I have and everything I’ve learned and every prayer I’ve sent heavenward throughout this journey.  And I’ve got any army of people praying for me this week and so I know, nothing is impossible.

“..being confident of this, that HE who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Phil 1:6″

This  week, I’m claiming this promise.

4 Weeks Until the Texas Bar Exam

Today is July 1 which means that in exactly 23 days I’ll be sitting for the Texas Bar Exam. Let’s just stop for a minute to let that sink in….

I spent eleven hours studying yesterday and as I drifted off to sleep it hit me that when I woke up time would start pouring though the hourglass even faster.  This is my last “full” week of Barbri, but really it’s just two days, the 4th of July, and then an all day simulated MBE on Thursday followed by two days analyzing that exam online.  Next week I have two class days and I’m done; then I will be on my own for the last 13 days leading up to the exam.

What can I say?  It’s been real and it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun.  Actually, I take that back…this last Friday evening was fun.  Three of my Barbri friends and I got together for an MBE flash card study party.   We really did study and we also had a nice meal and shared a couple bottles of wine.  We were way overdue for some down time because we’ve all been burning the candle at both ends and we knew that once July hit, the bar would consume our lives for that month.  But…at the same time, none of us wanted to give up an evening of studying something so we compromised and did the flashcards.  It turned out to be a great night of relaxing and studying together.  Everyone was really happy about the time we spent and what we got done.

I’m really proud of us four because we’ve all made it to nearly every single Barbri class.  I think we have each missed only one, which is pretty darned good considering it’s so many weeks long.  My assessment is that YES it’s a pain to drag yourself there everyday, 6 days a week,  for approximately 7 weeks, but it is much more difficult to self-motivate and watch these lectures on video.  It’s good to have the option to see the video in a pinch when you have to miss class or to go back and catch notes that you missed in the live lecture, but in general, going TO the facility and being there in class makes it bearable.

I know that lots of places don’t have live Barbri lecturers.  I was really lucky taking it here in Austin that we had live lecturers for every single class.  It made a world of difference.  Many folks go to a venue and watch the videos together, which might make you think, “Why go to a place to watch a video when I can see that same video here at home?”  I hear you… and in that case it might be a harder sell for me to encourage you to GO anyway, but that’s what I’m saying.  In a nutshell, here’s why:  Misery Loves Company.

Since starting law school my circle of friends consists of more and more people “like me”—other law students, attorneys, judges.  It’s like finding a community of people where everyone just “gets it.”  It’s comfortable and safe and everything makes sense.  During my bar prep, friends within this circle have treated me with kid gloves.  Really, it’s kind of weird—in a good way.  Reminds me of how everyone was so nice when I was pregnant with my sons.  There have been emails and phone calls asking how I’m doing, asking if I need anything, offers of quiet places to study…just people going out of their way to encourage and be there for me in whatever capacity I need.  It’s because they remember how completely wiped out and scared and overwhelmed they were and they empathize.

In my experience I have discovered that when it comes to law school there are three categories of people:

  • (1) Those that have been there/done that—-they “get it” (See above)
  • (2) Those that don’t really understand the craziness of law school (and then the bar), but that’s fine; they are glad you enjoy what you’re doing and they encourage you to “do your thing,” and
  • (3) Those that don’t get what you’re doing, make no effort to get what you’re doing AND do everything in their power to be a hindrance to what you’re doing.

It is this last category of people from whom you need to stay away.  They will sabotage your life.  It’s hard enough to get through law school with these people constantly undermining your success, but when bar prepping and you have just a finite amount of time and energy, these people will suck you dry of both.  This is why those friends you make going to the Barbri lectures will be your lifeblood; they will not only feel your pain, they are right there with you…and there’s strength in numbers.

This is why when you start law school at some point you will hear about X amount of students who will get divorced during the process or break up with their significant other etc.  Law school is destructive to relationships because  you are on another planet and suddenly you are not the same person anymore.  If those around you aren’t willing to let you metamorphose and still love you after the transition, you’ve got a category 3 person in your life and studying for the bar exam is only going to make things worse.

Luckily, most everyone in my life is in category 1 and 2 above, and so I try and stay far away from the category 3 people.  Especially right now when I hear myself saying, “I don’t have time for this” it seems like all the time.  And it’s hard to explain to people that you’re not saying you don’t have time for that person, just that you don’t have time to give them intense shock therapy so that they can move from a category 3 person back to human being status.  If they haven’t “gotten it” by the time you get ready to study for the bar, you’ll just have to put  your head down and plow right through them and figure out how to clean up the mess later.  Seriously.

Like my bar prep professor is fond of saying: “The bar exam is the closest most of us will get to climbing Mt. Everest” and I am convinced that this is true.  The thing is:  Nobody but you has to “get” why it is you are taking on this monumental task— but it’s unfair and wrong for them to make a difficult situation impossible.

Just like it says in the old Tracy Lawrence song you find out who your friends are, I’m thinking the same goes for the bar exam.  That’s my take on it anyway.

I’ve gotten a lot of work done this week and logged in 53.5 hours.  I’m going to use July 4th for an organization day.  The plan is to put all my outlines into notebooks—one for each day of the bar exam and get the rest of my study materials together. Also, I’m going to start audio recording my rule statements onto files that I can add to my mp3 player and burn onto CDs for when I drive.  Much of July is going to be spent memorizing as soon as Barbri is done, so I want to be ready.

But too, I have to save room on the 4th to be grateful for the fact that I am an AMERICAN and thankful also for the men and women in our military, past, present and future, without whom none of the freedoms I have spent the last four years learning about would even exist. (A special thank you to Marlon Pugh who will come home from Afghanistan any day now!!)

I also promised my boys that we’d keep with our July 4th tradition of 1) watching the annual Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest (Go Joey Chestnut!!!) and 2) watching Jaws.  You can’t have the 4th of July without Jaws!!!  Lastly, we’ll get to enjoy the annual fireworks spectacular in my neighborhood where all that’s required of me is to put a lawn chair on my front yard.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about! (Who am I kidding?  I’ll for sure have an outline or two out there with me to review while waiting for the show.)

Thank you to all my category 1 and 2 people…this craziness will all be over soon and I will stop being so high maintenance, I promise!

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