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?