Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Small “e” epiphany

I can’t believe I’m halfway through my MUPP classes. Torts? Dead and buried. Likewise Texas Procedure. And all of volume one of the Essential Skills text: done.

Grade-wise, I maintain a nice, solid “A” average. I aced the recent Essential Skills exam, and received a 92 on my Texas Procedure assignment. I’m waiting on my grades on the Texas Procedure exam (I answered all of the T/F questions correctly; the rest has to be graded by an actual person), and my last Essential Skills assignments. 

Something strange happened to me when I was studying for that Essential Skills exam. I realized that I was reading questions and answering them not because I’d hammered particular factoids into my brain, but because I just knew what the answers were. The information was sitting there waiting for me, just like I know a plot summary goes in the 520 field of a MARC record without having to really think about it. And I could almost hear the realization of that level of knowing click into place. I bet if I’d looked into a mirror right then, I would have seen one of these expressions on my face.

I’m starting to know what the hell I’m doing.

Wow. Kind of scary.

The rest of our merry band of proto-paralegals is also doing well with grades in the low to upper 90’s, with one exception. We get to see a statistical summary of each exam – down to how many people chose which answer on the multiple choice questions – but not the names attached to the grades. I suspect I know who isn’t doing well. There’s a guy in the class who has had internet access issues, and if there’s one thing you need to do in order to do well on tests, it’s get into the program’s website. (I credit the practice quizzes and mock exams for my score on the Essential Skills exam.) He’s very quiet in class, and from what he’s said about some of the assignments, I don’t think he’s quite with the program. He’s no dummy – he’s got a wicked sense of humor, and I’ve heard him muttering some really funny comments under his breath in class just about the same time they occur to me. But … I worry he isn’t going to make it.

That’s another difference between paralegal school and my brief venture into Real Law School at WCSSL-SP: there’s not the same sense of cut-throat competition. I really do want all of The Magnificent Seven to do well (or at least graduate), and I think we all feel pretty much the same way. We’re not being graded on a curve. We don’t have to have somebody else tank in order for our grade to be better. There’s no Law Review to compete for; no limited number of summer associate positions pressuring each of us to be The Best or miss out. Don’t get me wrong: we don’t all hold hands and sing “Kumbayah” at the close of each class. One of my classmates confessed that she wasn’t happy with her class participation grade in Torts because, dammit, she wanted that 100%. (She’s a woman after my own heart!) But we do tend to look out for each other, and share tips on assignments. And I like that very much. Maybe proto-paralegals are just nicer people than proto-lawyers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ketchup. Catsup. Whatever.

You know paralegal school has kept me busy because I haven’t been blogging.

I know paralegal school has kept me busy because I have a growing stack of Wednesday New York Times crossword puzzles that haven’t been solved.

I am a devout member of the Church of the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle in Ink, and have been for many years. Since my local newspaper sees fit to give us a “free” Wednesday paper along with our Sunday subscription, I’d started attending Wednesday choir practice at the Church as well. After dinner, I did the Wednesday puzzle before taking to my recliner and watching junk TV. Until, oh, about five weeks ago. Now I have a collection of puzzles on my transparent blue puzzle clipboard. Sunday services still go on (just barely), but the extra day of praise for Mr. Shortz has fallen by the wayside.

But I digress. And I blog, because I have a week off for Thanksgiving. Hooray! “How have things been going,” you might be asking. Well, let me catch you up.

Torts has (have?) come and gone. We have learned all there is to know – or at least, all MUPP thinks we need to know – on the topic in a mere four weeks. Twelve class hours. One assignment. One final exam. Done. Torts Guy did improve after the first class. I guess he realized there was no way he could make it through thirteen chapters in four class sessions unless he floored the accelerator, so he did so. Also a big help was a set of PowerPoint files, which apparently came from a sister program in Florida, guessing by the references to Florida statutes. A little odd, considering the program at the Mothership started a good six weeks ahead of us, so they would have already been through Torts, and they’re in the same state as we are, and it would have made more sense to use their PowerPoint files. But it all worked out in the end. Torts Guy managed to fit a course review into the last half hour of our last class, and just might have been reading over our exam as he reminded us of the topics on which to concentrate. Including mentioning a specific section of the state code that was particularly helpful. (And telling us it was named after Tony Dorsett, so that the sports fans among us would remember that it was section 33. Nice.)

How did I do in Torts? Ninety percent on the assignment, and a 96 on the exam. I was disappointed that Torts Guy hadn’t written any comments on my assignment along with the grade. Don’t get me wrong: I was pleased with my 90, but I’d like to know what I missed that would have gotten me the other ten percent. (Okay. I admit it: my inner grade whore wanted that bright, shiny 100. There. Satisfied?)

Meanwhile, back in Essential Skills, my assessment of our instructor (I need a nickname for her) seems to be correct: she’s energetic, informative, and is not going to let us slack off one bit. At the moment, we have, in addition to our reading assignments (updated the morning of class), three written assignments hanging over our heads: a demand letter, a “we sent a demand letter to the folks you’re suing” letter to our imaginary client, and an internal memo on a canned subject. We’ve had two sessions on citing cases and statutes, and now we should be able to put a cite together without using the Bluebook. We’ve watched a live Lexis demo wherein she showed us not only how to enter a search strategy, but also how to evaluate the results, and modify the search query based on them. She took us on a field trip to Large’s Major Private University’s Law School Library for a meet and greet with the Actual Paper versions of the resources we’d be searching in Lexis and Westlaw (or “Wexis” as they called it at WCSSL-SP).  And she’s no slacker, either. She re-vamped the syllabus for the second half of the course to make better sense of the order of topics, and does her own PowerPoints for class, which she e-mails us beforehand. I like her. A lot. (She deserves a nice nickname; not just “Skills Gal.” I must give this some thought.*)

A few last bits to get fully caught up: We haven’t lost any from our gallant band of seven. In fact, we are supposed to gain an eighth member pretty soon. I’m not sure how that will work, being as how she’s missed five weeks of class, but who am I to argue with the fine folks of MUPP? In our immediate future are double doses of Essential Skills until xmas break, followed by double doses of Civil Procedure for our next substantive class. Our last topic will be Contracts. I’m not sure how I feel about that subject. At WCSSL-SP I had the Contracts Professor From Hell, and hated every second of it. I hope I don’t find I have a mental block thanks to him.

I think that covers everything for now. I need to go put some sweet potato fries in the oven, and catch up on all the lecture note transcribing I didn’t do while I was studying for my Torts final. And then there are those letters and that memo to work on.

‘Scuse me while I get back to the salt mines.

*Ooh!  I’ve got it: “Skills Goddess.” Yeah. That’s the ticket.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Week One: In which the Fellowship of the Certificate is formed.

(That's a bit dramatic, but we are, after all, a small group of strangers from different backgrounds thrown together to work toward the same goal, so it seemed apropos.)

The students
When I say we're a small group, I'm not kidding: there are seven of us. No wonder MUPP wanted to "allow more time for people to register." Many fewer and they wouldn't have covered our instructors' salaries. Since I don't want to get sued (and this would be the crowd that would do it), I'll not name names, but rather use generalities in describing our happy band. To wit:
Two of us are taking paralegal classes as "law school lite," and intend to go on to the real thing in the future.
Two of us have jobs in the legal profession or deal with lawyers daily and want to be Real Paralegals.
One of us is demon lawyer spawn on both sides.
Three of us are not (very) gainfully employed, and think being a paralegal beats the heck out of whatever we're doing right now.
Two of us are looking for a career change.
(The mathematically astute among you will notice that this adds up to nine, not seven. Very good. Some of my classmates fit into more than one of these categories. Told ya I'm trying not to get sued...)

The instructors
I don't want to go too far out on a limb as I've only have had one class with each instructor so far. Here are my initial impressions.
The Essential Skills instructor, who will be with us for the whole program, is bright, bubbly (in a non-annoying way), chock full of helpful real-life tips, and is going to challenge us to do our best. She's not adverse to keeping things light and having fun, but I can see her cracking the whip if we start getting behind schedule.
The Torts guy, who will be with us for four weeks -- what can I say without getting myself in trouble? He's had a long, successful career in litigation, and has some terrific war stories to tell. And he tells them entertainingly. Were I looking for a lawyer to handle my problems, I'd put him high on the list, because he obviously knows his stuff. As a teacher, though -- not so good. He didn't cover anywhere near the material we needed to get through the first night. What he did do with us was skim through some of it, and tell us where he disagreed with the textbook's author. I really hope he improves, or we're going to be in a world of hurt come test time.

The venue
As I mentioned before, the office building in which our classes take place is at the intersection of two very busy highways (one of which has just entered a five-year construction program), and within about a mile of a third one. Class starts at 6. Anybody else seeing a potential problem here? As somebody in class put it, "Obviously the person who chose this location doesn't live in the City of Large." No kidding. A wreck on that non-intersecting highway just before Tuesday rush hour tied up the other two highways, and all of the surrounding surface streets. It took Spousie nearly 45 minutes to get me from the train station to class - a trip that should take about 15.* So I'd say the location is a fail. A geographically centrally-located fail, but a fail nonetheless.
The classroom itself is fine. Comfy chairs. Lots of space for the Magnificent Seven. But it's in a suite of offices, the rest of which is Totally Off Limits. This means no vending machines, no sink, no microwave, and no restrooms. There are restrooms around the corner in the building's lobby, but that's the end of the amenities. And again, class starts at 6. Dinnertime. Oops.
Now this one has me baffled. The centerpiece of the program is a very-well-appointed, user-friendly, no-learning-resource-left-behind website exclusively for the use of the program's students (and there are lots, under the auspices of several Major Universities - yup, I'm in a franchised paralegal program). Seriously, the website sold me on attending. It's that good. It's not just an add-on, it's an integral part of the program.
And there is no wi-fi access in our classroom.
No, I'm not kidding.
I don't know how much an 8-user wi-fi hotspot would cost, but it seems to me that it would be worth the price. (I did a quick search and found an offer of $299 for setup and $29 a month for month-to-month service. That'd be $420 plus equipment, and surely a Major University would have a compatible wireless router kicking around somewhere. I'd kick in another $50 bucks to have wi-fi.)
Of course, an all-around better solution would be to hold classes at Large's satellite campus of Major University. I'm not sure why the Mothership couldn't get space for a little bitty class like ours. Hopefully, subsequent classes will get better accommodations.

So that's the way it is, as the few, the proud, the Proto-Paralegals launch their tiny boat into the dark, scary ocean that is The Law. Let's hope the Kraken stays asleep. 

*Did I mention there's been a logistical change? Instead of driving myself to class, I am leaving work, schlepping my school accouterments to the closest light rail station, and training it to the closest station to Spousie's place of employ. She leaves early, picks me up, carts me to class, drops me off, spends a less mentally exhausting three hours elsewhere, and then fetches me home again. This gives me a chance to snarf a sandwich in the car (or at the train station), to arrive less stressed-out, and doesn't put me and others on the road in danger of my driving home at night. (Trust me; this is a good thing.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the road again for the first time

Having gotten no further “we need to allow more time for people to register” notices from MUPP, it looks like my classes will really, truly start next Tuesday. So today I decided to do a test drive from LPL to the class site at the time I’d actually be driving it.

I double-checked my route, which involves surface streets for about a third of the distance. I’m trying to avoid an area of road construction at the intersection of two major highways, which, coincidently, is right next to the building wherein my classes will be held. I went over the satellite views of critical intersections. I was ready.

As I packed up my stuff at the end of the day, I realized I was feeling queasy. Either the leftover noodle and pork dish I had for lunch was past its prime, or I was – nervous? What was up with that? This was a dry run. A fact-finding trip. If I ran into logistical problems, there was no harm. I wasn’t on a deadline. And yet I was sure I was going to woof my cookies at any second. I took deep breaths. I reminded myself that Everything Is Fine. And off I went.

I left my desk at 4:35. I expected it would take 30-40 minutes to make the approximately 15-mile drive. It took nearly an hour. Traffic was ugly, and that was without any accidents or construction delays. Two of the stoplights along the route are ridiculously long, and let very few cars through in the direction I travel. I was lucky I didn’t have to wait through them twice each. I did arrive a full half-hour before my scheduled class time, but I would still have to eat a quick dinner, glance over the evening’s assignments, and get settled into my desk. Thirty minutes sounds like a lot, but it would go by very quickly. And the penalty for being late is quite harsh. According to the PRCP (Paralegal Rules of Classroom Procedure):
“Just as a judge will not tolerate an attorney’s being late to court, tardiness in this class will be discouraged. Any student not counted present at the beginning of class will be considered absent for the entire class” unless s/he presents a written excuse from his/her physician or employer, or the instructor decides to approve of the tardiness “in the interest of justice.”
Eep. Notice the lack of provision for traffic delays. Or for the forgiveness of a good-hearted yet chronically chronologically-impaired student. (Does the ADA cover that handicap?) Call me paranoid (I heard that!), but I’ve got to have more of a time cushion built into my schedule. Which means I have to leave work earlier. Which means I have to get to work earlier. Which means I have to get up earlier. And “not a morning person” doesn’t even begin to describe me. And what if I’m out at some remote branch on the other side of town, packing up books? (Why, no, LPL won’t be hiring movers to empty a branch undergoing renovation; why do you ask?) Fortunately, my boss is fine with flexing schedules a bit when needed, because I have a feeling I’m gonna need it.

Meanwhile, back at the Big Office Building in the Groin of Two Highways, I noticed that there were some empty parking spaces outside the parking structure. This is good, because the parking structure is two stories, the ground level is all reserved, and there is only stair access to the top level. (Yes, I’m lazy. And I’ll be toting a heavy, wheeled laptop case, at the end of a very long day, in the dark, back to my car. So just shush.)

Having conquered the scary, maniac-filled roads, figured out how much time I’m going to need, and located the classroom, it was time for a reward. I hied myself to the nearest Long John Silver’s (about which I have nothing bad to say, so I’m not going to wrack my brain for a pseudonym) for a Fish & More. Once my malt vinegar quotient was back where it belonged, I visited a nearby comics store and picked up a copy of Warehouse 13 #1, and left my number so they could call me when more copies of #2 arrive.

I’ve still got a few oversized butterflies circling my pyloric sphincter, but fish and chips, and a comic book go a long way toward getting them netted. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to write up a quick summoning ritual for the gods of traffic, and find a suitable sacrifice. I wonder if they like malt vinegar?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Latest dispatch from the front

[A brief recap, which will update my educational quest to the present day]

As I explained in the previous post, I have wrangled my tuition money from those who were kindly taking care of it for my retirement. (And fear not: I took out enough to pay taxes and the penalty for early withdrawal.)

I have, after many heated e-mails, convinced HOTH to let me drop my scheduled classes and gotten them to refund my already-paid tuition. (By-the-by, I'm not the only one in a state of high dudgeon at that fine institution. Many students who are not dangerously over-educated, and are entitled to financial aid have had their money delayed over and over due to "procedural changes." Some, like my friend Lacey, have found other sources of payment to tide them over until their financial aid arrives. Others, without backup funding, have had to drop out of school before they could even start. The aggrieved students have even set up a Facebook page demanding reform at HOTH. I wish them well.)

I have put up for sale one of the textbooks I bought. (Why, yes, I do happen to have that information handy. Thanks for asking.)

I even have a shiny, new, powerful laptop for note-taking, legal writing, and nifty-paralegal-school-website accessing.

Now I wait with bated breath for my classes to start.

And wait.

And wait some more.

I will be attending at a satellite campus, not at Major University's mothership which is many miles from Large. The same program's "home" classes have already started. Lucky them. Our classes were to start, well, today, actually.  Just after I paid my tuition, we were told that the start date would be pushed back to an unspecified date to allow students more time to register. I became a little bit concerned. Twelve days ago, we were given a start date of September 20th. That would have made it unlikely to finish before Christmas, although an ending date before the close of 2011 would have been doable. Today, we were told that classes would begin in mid-October and end in February 2012.

Say what?

I expected to ring in 2012 with a paralegal certificate in hand, followed immediately by a thorough investigation of the local job market. Now I'm idling my engine; my enthusiasm dwindling, and my impatience rising. All I can do now is wait. And wonder if I should have asked MU for a refund, and signed up for the longer program at one of Large's slightly-less Major Universities. As it stands now, I will graduate a few weeks ahead of that group.

I really, really hope that doesn't change.

Monday, September 5, 2011

In which I expose my ignorance of Things Financial

I have mentioned that I'm not good with numbers, haven't I? Yes, I thought I had. My anumia rarely rears its head in any significant way that I can't work around. It does affect my ability to process statistics and financial information, but I can usually work around it in conversations by nodding and making "um-hmm" sounds, or by just letting my eyes glaze over and turn to the next item on the page if I'm reading. But every once in awhile, I get caught.

If I were good with numbers, I'd have been hovering over my various and sundry retirement accounts, fluffing them here, turning them there, playing with ratios of stocks and bonds and following the S&P 500 and Warren Buffet's pronouncements like the words of deities. But no. I take a job, I sign up for the 401(k) or 403(b) or 98.6(q) or whatever it is, then when I move on to the next job, I repeat the same process.  I've gone from job to job, leaving a trail of abandoned clumps of retirement dollars here and there like empty bottles of Diet Dr Pepper. Not a worry in the world. Again, until I get caught.

Like when I try to wrest money from a retirement account to pay for paralegal school.

I'd been receiving statements from three financial concerns for awhile: "Cotton Swab," "Stereo," and "Aunt Cliff." (I'm doing the best I can with pseudonyms, okay? Geez.) When I decided I needed to raid my nest egg, I dug out the most recent mailings from each, and tried to figure out who was who. Stereo is handling my current pension money from the City of Large. Cagney and Lacey had told me that I could borrow money from my retirement account and pay myself back later, but only if it was the one connected with my current job. Let's see: try to figure out who in the Large HR department to talk to, talk to them, get whatever forms I need, get them filled out and money paid to me, all in a relatively short space of time? No thanks. People have gone into Large City Hall on simpler errands than that and never been seen again.

That left Cotton Swab and Aunt Cliff. Puzzling over the statements, I saw that my money with Aunt seemed to be in two separate accounts from two different jobs I'd had that used their company. Why hadn't everything gone into one pot? The money was all from me. It's for my retirement. Why split it up? This looked potentially complicated. On to the next statement. I had a big clump of money in the tender care of Cotton Swab, and despite the recent market downturns, it was doing pretty well, actually. So I decided that the simplest course would be to roll all of it over to Aunt, take out enough to cover my classes and books at Major University, and go on my merry way.

Poking around Swab's website, I noticed several mentions of rolling over money "to qualified accounts." What the heck did that mean? I thought I'd better call Aunt and see if one of my accounts was "qualified," and while I was chatting, find out what she needed to do to deal with my incoming dough, besides rubbing her hands together in gleeful anticipation. I called. Got put in a queue. And waited. And waited. And ... you get the idea.

Allrighty then. Time to call Swab. My first bad vibe came when I got a recorded announcement that said, in essence, "The person you're about to talk to Wants to Sell You Something So S/He Gets A Commission." Oh brother. The fast-talking Noo Yawker on the line had no patience with my hesitant description of what I wanted to do. He zipped through a list of the stuff Swab needed to know, winding up with, "Do you even know how they want the check made out?" When I said, no, and that I hadn't been able to get through to ask that question, he shot back,"Well are they the kind of people you want to do business with?" Since I hadn't had the opportunity to be condescended to in person like this guy had so ably done, I couldn't answer that question off the top of my head, so I said I'd have to call him back.

It looked like I would have to deal with the unreachable on one hand, and the insufferable on the other. What fun.

Long story short (too late) I finally reached a very patient person at Aunt Cliff who, after I trotted out the metaphor of leaving a trail of retirement accounts behind me wherever I go, quickly got the picture, translated my needs into FinancialSpeak, and got to work. Not only did he walk me through Aunt's forms, he placed a conference call to Swab (!), and got a less-snarky person to walk me through Swab's forms (!!!). Now that's the kind of people I want to do business with. Thirty minutes later, I had two sets of forms ready. In a week, my tuition money was sitting in my savings account. Another week, and I briefly and reverently held a Very Large Check in my hands long enough to pop it into a FedUp envelope and ship it off to Aunt Cliff. An email assured me it had been received and deposited into one of my accounts.

I sighed a huge sigh of relief, paid my tuition to Major University, and waited with bated breath for news of the program's start date.

What could possibly - yeah, you're way ahead of me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Plan B-sub-2?

Please forgive me getting a little meta here. I had a few future blog posts planned out about some of my pre-class experiences at Hoth CC. One was going to be about checking out Hoth's library and law collection. Another was about logistics: cars, trains, long walks, and summer heat. One was going to be about the art and science of textbook shopping. But all of them have been rendered superfluous now, as I am currently trying to wrest myself from the tentacled mass that is Hoth CC. And if you've seen enough hentai you know where this is going.

The first instance of tentacle -ahem- screwage was the fight over core classes not being credited. Yes, it's been how many weeks now? And I can't get Mr. Paralegal Advisor (formerly known as Advisor Two) to return my e-mails or phone calls. If there is any kind of appeal I can make to have my undergraduate classes reconsidered, or if there is some provision for “school of life” credit, I have no way of knowing. Mr. Paralegal Advisor is my Hoth adviser. Period. And he ain't talking.

Given the list of actual Paralegal courses required, add English, Speech, and Government to Algebra (and whatever remedial classes I'd need to arrive at that level) and the required-by-the-program Computer class, I'm looking at a good four years of evening schooling before I'd get my grubby mitts on a Paralegal certificate. That's just too damned long. My cataloging job at Large Public Library would have long since evaporated by then, and Spousie and I would be living in a cardboard box somewhere.

And that was only the first tentacle. The second was an e-mail I received that said, basically, “You've got too many degrees to get financial aid. Bugger off.” Yes, since I already have a bachelor's degree, Hoth's Financial Aid office pitched my request for a student loan into the round file. Never mind that there are indeed loans available for the dangerously over-educated like me. They've got a higher interest rate, and you don't get to defer payments while you're in school, but you do indeed get these loans by filling out the almighty FAFSA, and going through your school's financial aid people. I guess that's news to Hoth. Again, no explanation, no appeal. Just the “bugger off” e-mail, and we're done.

Community college ain't cheap. Well, relatively speaking, it is, but it ain't free. I paid for my three classes with a stash of money I lovingly call my “coronation fund.” (I was saving up for an inevitable crown for a slowly-cracking upper tooth, and it had taken longer than I care to admit to get the total up as far as it had.) Without a student loan, at a comparable rate of future saving, I could multiply by three to how long it would take me to get my paralegal certificate. That's way too damned even longer than I reasonably have to get an occupational safety net under me.

So, we have not enough time, and not enough money. What's an aspiring paralegal student to do?

This one went to an information session about Major University's paralegal program. At the time, it was just for a look-see. (This was before the Two Terrible Tentacles made their presence known.) And it did look good: only four months. No class-transfer hassles: you got a high school diploma, a pulse, and enough cash? Congrats. You're in. But there's the rub: Cash. Major University's certificate falls under their Continuing Education program. As in: “we don't do financial aid.” They politely offered me a promissory note: ¼ of the tuition in advance, and monthly payments of the other ¾. (Um, right. If I could afford four-figure monthly payments, I'd just hand you the dough.) And then there's another six hundred for “required materials.” (No bargain-hunting expeditions for textbooks allowed.) Impressed as I was by their program, there was Just No Freaking Way.

Or was there?

Over frosty plastic cups of Starbucks' finest Tea Lemonade, Cagney and Lacy and Spousie and I brainstormed the possibilities. We came up with this: if I rolled over an old employer's 401(k) into an even older employer's account, and took a chunk out as a cash distribution in the process, I could plunk down the money to get me on a fast track to Paralegaldom. Granted, I'd have to take out enough to cover taxes and the penalty for breaking into my retirement piggy bank, but still, it would be doable. And I'd be down to only two retirement funds instead of my current three.

What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, August 1, 2011

I have the craziest dreams

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired.
                                        -- That spear-shaking Dude of Avon

Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to defend the honor of my Alma Mater, battling to get Hoth CC to recognize her faculty's competence in teaching English, Speech, and Government?

Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't need to take three years (not including the above-mentioned classes, and math, and computer literacy) to get a paralegal certificate?  Maybe something that would take a year? Or -- dare I say it? -- even less?

Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to be in classes with students who spend their energy arguing about page count and font size for assignments rather than on learning?

Wouldn't it be nice if a Major University, home of an Impressive Law School, would offer a short, to-the-point, skills-based paralegal program that would carry the imprint of said University, rather than a community college?

Wouldn't it be nice if --

An elbow jabs me in the ribs, and I hear Spousie's voice say, "Hey! Wake up!"


"The presentation is over. You fell asleep." That's my friend Cagney.

"If you're planning to sign up for MU's paralegal program, you're not making a good first impression!" adds Lacey, Cagney's roommate.

"It wasn't a dream?"

"Starbucks," says a trio of voices, and I'm hauled to my feet and pointed toward the door.

Whoa. This could change everything...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Transcript Follies update

After a pleasant phone conversation, the nice folks at my undergraduate Alma Mater were pleased to send course descriptions of my long-ago adventures in English, Speech, and Government to Advisor Two. I awaited with bated breath the waiving of those three classes. Little did I know what was in store.

Eventually, I was forwarded an email of explanation from the person who had evaluated my transcripts in the first place. The writer seemed very defensive, saying that, in their experience, anything that had "workshop" in the title wasn't a real English class. Really? Two semesters, three hours per semester, it had "Honors" in the title, but it wasn't a real English class? Okay, how's about you explain this oversight, then, Transcript Evaluator Person: I got a "B" in Legal Writing. From a real, honest-to-deity, ABA-accredited Law School. That doesn't count, either? You going to tell me it's not on a par with the "English for Mouth Breathers" class you want to force me to take?

Moving on to Government: the course was described as being "for education majors, so it couldn't possibly be a match" for Hoth's government class. Again: Really? I can't believe the content was all that different. (Unless I missed the class in which it was revealed that the half-reptilian-alien Illuminati were truly in charge.) And could someone tell me why, exactly, the Government class isn't waived for Paralegal students? How much more about the American government does, say, a Food Service major know after that class than a Paralegal student does after taking "Introduction to Law?"

The email didn't really address why the Speech class was unacceptable. I guess the fertilizer truck didn't deliver a full load that day.

Yes, I'm annoyed. Peeved. Ticked off. The University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople's School of Library Science and Dewey Decimation deemed my undergraduate record worthy of granting me admittance into a Master's Degree program. The Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point thought my five year trip through the halls of Academia was a good enough foundation to build on. But Harvard On The freakin' Highway COMMUNITY COLLEGE says, "Nope. Our classes are too special for you not to take them. We will accept no imitations."

Give. Me. A. Break.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hoops, and the jumping therethrough.

"What a day this has been
"What a rare mood I'm in
"Why it's almost like being
-- with apologies to Alan Jay Lerner

If I ever decide to go back to school yet again, please, somebody: bash me upside the head with a shovel. Okay, if that's too violent for you, at least tell me -- nay, order me -- to burn all of my transcripts and start from zero. Take English 101, embrace Computer Literacy for Complete Idiots, and enter joyfully the classroom wherein Bonehead Math is taught. Because doing otherwise involves pain and aggravation on the order of crawling naked across broken glass through flaming walls of rabid rattlesnakes.

We re-join this comedy of transcript errors where we left it yesterday: on the doorstep of the Advising Office. I got there shortly after 8, and there were already several people ahead of me. After puzzling over which box to check under "What do you need today," I settled in for a relatively brief wait. Right when "Bucket List" was getting to the part of the movie dealing with the actual bucket list, my vibrating coaster went off, and off I went to see an Advisor.

Actually, there was a group of three of us to talk with Ms. Advisor One, all with prior college classes, but with different problems. The woman who was going to study Child Development had a lot of trouble navigating the online registration process. The other woman, who was enrolling in some kind of health care program, had questions about withdrawn classes on her transcript. And then there was me: the big ol' problem child.

If there's one thing I'm going to have to learn (above and beyond math skills I've long forgotten, and, once re-learned, I will never use again) it's to shut up and let people do their jobs. It was probably a good thing that I kept correcting Advisor One, who was determined to type "1997" instead of "1977" in relation to my transcripts. That 20 year discrepancy might have caused trouble. But interrupting Advisor Two and telling him that Advisor One had already checked the Database That Holds All Class Descriptions and hadn't found mine was not so good. He paused, looked at me, and said, very very politely, "I'm looking up the file with your transcript in it to print it out." Oh. Sorry. Shutting up, sir.

After disentangling my foot from my tonsils, I left the hallowed hall of Advisement having learned the following things:

1. Nobody knows why the transcript-analyzing person skipped over my Freshman English class. An email was sent asking that another look be taken so as to give me proper credit.

2. Advisor One thought Advisor Two would be able to decide whether my Government and Speech classes were acceptable substitutes for Hoth's required courses. Advisor Two said, no, he couldn't, not without a copy of the relevant descriptions from my Alma Mater's 1977 catalog. Which I have to hunt down and provide to him. And while I was at it, I'd better get the description of the English class, just in case. (Shouldn't that be his job? I'll do it, but ... c'mon.)

3.  There was no point in taking the computer literacy test, because the results wouldn't matter. The Paralegal program requires its students to take the basic computer skills class, or take a CLEP test to prove they don't need to.  Taking the CLEP test requires visits to three different offices to collect signatures (shades of service sorority rush!), payment of a $25 fee, and the purchase of the software needed to take the test. Total cash outlay: about $50. Total aggravation factor: a plus 6. Not to mention that I might not pass the test, and therefore would be out the portrait of President Grant, and still have to pay for, and take, the class.

4. Not only is there no way out of taking the required Algebra class, I must (the actual words Advisor One used were "I strongly suggest") take a math skills placement test - a.k.a. the math portion of "Accuplacer". This is a non-timed test that starts easy and gets harder and harder until the program decides you've reached your level of incompetence and stops torturing you. For me, this should be right around question 4, or whenever they start asking about percentages.  You think I'm kidding? In my senior year of college, when everybody was getting their GRE results, we'd compare scores. I opened my envelope and saw that I'd achieved the 91st percentile in Language, the 98th percentile in Analytical Reasoning, and [drum roll, please] the 37th percentile in Math. "What does that mean," a friend asked me. I replied, "It means that -- um ... ...uh -- seventy-something percent of the people who took the test did better than me in Math. What? Why are you all rolling around on the floor and laughing?"

So my tasks are laid out for me: call my undergraduate institution and ask for course descriptions, figure out when to fit that computer course into my schedule, and start studying up on how to divide fractions, plot equations, and answer questions like "32 is 40% of what number?"

I just broke out in hives. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Algebra? At my age?

I had some other posts planned, but breaking news compels me to skip them for the time being.

 I seem to be in a good news/bad news ping-pong game.

Bad news: Financial Aid couldn't process my application because I didn't have a valid degree plan chosen.

Good news: I think I fixed that. I went online and found where you specify your degree plan, and chose one. Since it appeared in a drop-down menu, I'm assuming it's a valid choice. Whether it's the "right kind" of degree plan that will let me have financial aid in my situation remains to be seen.

Good news: My transcripts have all arrived.

Bad news: But none of my undergraduate courses have been credited/transferred into my degree plan.

Good news: I wrote the very helpful person in Admissions, and she requested that somebody get my transcripts analyzed.

More good news: Within a couple of hours, she let me know that my classes were all credited.

More bad news: I'm apparently not getting credit for English, Speech, and Government. I have to take a computer literacy test. And my college-math-dodging days have finally caught up with me.

Okay, let's review.  I took (and this is a guestimate here; I don't have a copy of my undergrad transcript) upwards of 120 credit hours and got two (count them! Two!) bachelors degrees. I took freshman English: two semesters, honors level, got A's. I took Speech: one semester, got an A. I took "American and Texas Government" as a requirement for the "Ed" part of my Music Ed degree: one semester, got an A.

And that didn't wipe out the core course requirements at Hoth CC? You've got to be joking.

About that computer literacy test. I suppose I should cut them some slack: I can't point to an official class I've taken and passed that says, "Yep, she's computer literate." But please tell me job skills count for something.

I've been working with computers since database searches were done via phone handset hooked to an acoustic coupler dialing into Dialog at a very high per-minute search charge. I used a dedicated terminal to do interlibrary loans on OCLC. I keyboarded feature stories for an Army post newspaper and saved them on 8-inch floppy disks. (Remember those? Really? Then you're showing your age.) I've used Microsoft products from MS-DOS all the way to Windows 7. (How about another trip down memory lane: remember the C:> prompt? I used to prank a co-worker by changing the "C:" to "What is thy wish, master?") I've used WordStar, WordPerfect, and Word to write entire procedure manuals. So cut me some slack, Hoth CC. I'm computer effing literate, okay?

But then we get to the Algebra requirement. What can I say. "Officer, you got me dead to rights. I was going 50 in a 35 zone. I'll sign the ticket."

I blame a student from my undergrad days for this. Susan had her GPA requirements for Honor Roll, Dean's List, Mortarboard Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and her top graduate school choices calculated out to three decimal places. I found this out the day she asked me what math class I would be taking. Not "did I have to take," but "would be taking." After I stopped laughing and had hauled myself up off the floor and back into my chair, I said, "None, thank heavens."

"What??!?!" she shrieked. "You can't make Phi Beta Kappa unless you take a math class!"

"I guess I'll be doing without, then," I replied.

She then explained that there was a totally painless and brainless math class nicknamed by the mathematics faculty "Math for Morons," and it would satisfy PBK's math requirement.

"Thanks, but no," said I. "I'm a music major because I only have to count up to 6, and that's only when we're not playing a Sousa march in 2."

"Seriously: the hardest thing they teach is how to balance a checkbook," Susan said. "If you can make a Mobius strip without gluing yourself to your desk, you get an A."

And so it was that I took Math for Morons, got my A, and did indeed graduate Phi Beta Kappa. (But don't tell anybody. It'll ruin my reputation. As Linus van Pelt once said, "There's no heavier burden than great potential.") I did not, however, darken the door of anything remotely like "College Algebra." And now my past has caught up with me.

After all of this bad news, I asked the helpful person in Admissions if I could come down and have a chat with her about why some of my credits weren't, well, credited. "You need to see an Advisor," she said. "No appointment necessary; just walk in." So I hied myself off to Hoth CC after work. Once there, I was told it would be a three-hour wait to see an advisor. All of the change I could scrounge had only bought me 50 minutes for the parking meter. And it was about two hours and 45 minutes until the advising office closed for the evening.


I'll be in late to work tomorrow morning, because at 7:45, I plan to be waiting outside the advising office. With a book.

Gotta run.  I need to decide whether "Painless Algebra," "Forgotten Algebra," or "Beginning Algebra, 5th edition" will be keeping me company.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Institutional memory, or, How many transcripts are there in a plethora?

When one decides to go back to school after a long absence from things academic, one discovers many interesting things. (First of all, one finds that referring to oneself as “one” is very annoying, so one knocks that the heck off and reverts to first and second person early on. But one – er, I – digress.) FORMS. The existence of lots and lots of forms that need to be filled out in order to become Fully Matriculated is one thing that hasn't changed. How you fill them out, however, has.

Eager to set out on the road to Paralegal School, I get on the Harvard On The Highway Community College (hereinafter “Hoth CC”) website and find an online application form. Hooray! I can submit my information without worry about my sloppy handwriting. So I fill it out. No problem. Send it out into the ether, and go about the next task: rounding up Official Transcripts.

Getting transcripts from the hands of one academic institution and into the hands of another is also the same but different these days. Again, we have the wonder of requesting them online. Nice. First stop: undergraduate land. My first Institution of Higher Learning subscribes to a nationwide transcription service. I tell them my name, birth date, years of attendance, and who I want the information sent to, and Shazam! off it goes. Just like magic. Free magic. I'm loving this. My second Alma Mater isn't as technologically connected. I fill out their online form, send them my credit card particulars ($8 into the school's coffers), and they promise to mail out my transcript after my graduation is confirmed. (Guys: I graduated. Really. Twenty-five years ago. Trust me.)

I'm a bit embarrassed to request my last transcript. I attended Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point (hereinafter “WCSSL-SP”) part time, and didn't finish all of the traditional First Year classes. I also had a really crappy GPA. And now, I'm going to ask them to send the sorry record of my studies – to a Community College. Oh, the shame. Well, there's nothing for it – it's got to be done, or Hoth CC won't let me in. This time it's an e-mail, but it's free. Small consolation.

Having dotted and crossed all of my transcriptional i's and t's, I head back to Hoth CC's website to collect my shiny new student ID number.

Not so fast, pardner.

Seems that Hoth CC knows me: I already have a student ID. And the previous information doesn't match what I've submitted. Say what? I send an e-mail to Admissions for clarification, and am reminded that years ago, I took a Spanish class at Large Public Library which was taught by an instructor from Hoth CC. This made me an Official Previous Student of Hoth CC, and therefore not eligible to apply online. I must print out the 12-page paper application form, and submit it by fax, mail, or in person. Sigh.

Luckily, I'm able to access my online application, so I can use it to help me fill out the somewhat trickier and less clear paper form. I fill in. I go to Admissions office. I get a lovely “congratulations, you've been admitted” letter from the nice work-study student at the counter. Once all of my transcripts arrive, I can register for classes. I wait patiently. I get one, two, three automatically generated emails that my transcripts are in Hoth CC's custody. Hooray! I can register!


Seems I'm still one transcript shy of a full load. I'm told by a very helpful Admissions counselor that my undergraduate record refers to a class taken elsewhere. I wrack my brain. Ah yes. It's coming back to me: in an effort to get a better grade (and pay much less tuition), I took a required science lab class at a community college back home. Thirty years ago. And I need to submit an official transcript therefrom. You're. Kidding. Me. (No, they're not.)

The way I expected this part of my paper chase to end was with a harried record keeper at St. Swithin Junior College (now called “St. Swithin College” thankyouverymuch), faced with my request for records from the Pleistocene Era (exact semester unknown) to throw up her hands and say, “Forget it sister!” Luckily, SSJC has an online student service system. Type in your last name, birth date, and social security number, and ta-DAH! it spits out your student ID number, no matter how old it might be. Plug that into yet another transcript request form, and Shazam! again: transcript is en route.

Have I mentioned that I love technology?  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where am I going, and what am I doing in this handbasket?

So. What's a nice librarian like me doing applying to paralegal school?

Does the phrase “Hail Mary pass” mean anything to you?

Don't get me wrong. I love paralegals. I married one. [waving to spouse, who will be referred to as “Spousie” in this blog] But I've been a librarian for a long time. A really loooooong time. From the time I graduated Library School until the present, I have never been an unemployed librarian. Ever. And I want to keep being a librarian until my bun falls off, my shusher gives out, and they pry the Dewey Decimal Classification from my cold, dead fingers. Problem is, I don't think I'm going to have a choice.

Libraries - all libraries - are getting their budgets slashed, their hours reduced, and their personnel laid off. Public libraries are bearing the brunt of these cuts. After all, if your house is on fire, who do you want to still have a city job: a librarian, or a firefighter? What's a librarian going to do about a bank robber? Read him a story? And those are the more reasonable arguments. There are also the wing-nuts who think My Taxpayer Dollars shouldn't be buying Those People DVDs or providing Them with free Internet access. Whole blogs-full of words have been written (and more ably than I could) to refute those views, so I'll just quote Eleanor Crumblehulme, who said, “Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague.”

Back to the topic at hand.

With the whooshing sound of the budget ax ringing in my ears, I decided I'd better come up with a Plan B if I want to keep a roof over Spousie and me, and the cats' dishes full of kibble. A faint, not-very-fond memory arose from the hindquarters of my brain: law school.

After I stopped laughing and dragged myself up off the floor and back into my chair, I gave it semi-serious thought. I admit that I'm a proud dropout of Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point (a.k.a. WCSSL-SP). I struggled mightily to maintain just north of a 2.0 average in the first year courses I managed to complete. And I swore I would never, ever put myself through that particular hell again. But wait – what about Paralegal school? I already have some foundation (albeit crumbly around the edges) in law. I'm married to a paralegal, for Pete's sake. I could take very reasonably- priced classes at a community college. Hey. I may be on to something here!

The next thing I knew, I was browsing class schedules, checking textbook prices, and wondering if my various Alma Maters still had my transcripts kicking around somewhere.

Now, if I can just convince my employer, Large Public Library (hereinafter referred to as “LPL”), to keep me around until I get a paralegal certificate with my name on it in my hot little hands...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Watch this space. (If you like.)

Coming soon: the continuing adventures of a middle-aged librarian as she goes back to school to prepare for an Exciting New Career as a Paralegal.