Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gradations of graduation

Our syllabus came to an abrupt end following the last week of class. After that, we had two exams and an assignment due. Beyond that point ... there be graduation -- at some unspecified date.

Graduation. The goal of the Magnificent Seven ever since day one of MUPP. We had finished our last Contracts class with Contracts Guy. We'd met once more with our Skills Goddess to get final feedback on our client folders. A few of us went to "Paralegal a Go-Go," a continuing education event that merits its own chapter in this story. We jumped out of the online exam windows and endured free-fall until our grades were posted. And still the question we asked each other, in person and in emails, was, "Have you heard anything about graduation?"

Our Skills Goddess did her best to get the Powers That Be at MUPP to give us a graduation date. An approximate date. A hint at an approximate date. It took awhile, but we finally got one. It would be a luncheon in our collective honor, with our instructors and the program administrators. Then it was a dinner. A date was set. And then there was a surprise: No guests.

Here's the email I sent to the other 6/7ths of the class:

Hi guys.  
Was your reaction to X's email about no guests allowed at graduation "Say WHAT??!!?" (or your generational equivalent)?  Mine was. 
I realize that it's probably meant as a cost-reducing measure. But isn't it the point of graduation events to let graduates AND their families, significant others, friends, etc. celebrate their accomplishments?  
I myself would rather have our peeps in attendance than get a free meal. What do you all think?

The answers were primarily agreement. My favorite response was from LawBaby, who expressed his general ambivalence toward graduations per se, (having just had one), but added, "I always love a good riot ... I'm with ya." He also mentioned something about lobbing a television through a shop window or two.  (I knew I liked that kid.) Skills Goddess once again went to bat for us, and the next thing we knew, all of our loved ones were cordially invited to celebrate with us. Yay!

Family members - other than Spousie - being in short supply, I decided to invite the two un-indicted co-conspirators who got me into this mess - Cagney and Lacy - to join us at the party. Unfortunately, Cagney was out of the country and could not attend. (Rumors of cucumber smuggling and midnight flights to Manila are all patently untrue. Well, the parts about cucumbers and midnight, anyway.) Lacy was available. Not only did she drive me to the fancy-schmancy hotel, but she soothed my frazzled nerves, convinced me I didn't look like crap in my suit, and even drove a couple of laps around Downtown to kill time when we managed to arrive forty-five minutes early.

Frazzled nerves? You betcha. I had been named Valedictorian - a death sentence honor I snagged by a mere 1.3 grade points. Had I only missed two questions on the sundry exams I'd taken, I wouldn't have to Give A Speech. I don't Speak. At all. I have turned down job interviews on being told I'd need to "give a little presentation to the staff." I dropped out of an improv class that I was really enjoying when I realized they weren't kidding about us giving a show at the end of the eight weeks. To mangle Paul Stookey's lyrics, whenever three or more of you are gathered, there is no way in hell I'm going to be addressing said gathering. So I put my little valedictory brain to work. I had a feeling there was one among us who would want to Tell Her Story at graduation. I was right. She did. Her parents were thrilled. And I was off the hook. Bless you, Felonious Floozie; I owe you one.

You may be wondering what one gets - other than the opportunity to avoid giving a speech - if one is a Valedictorian. I thought it would be a plaque, or a trophy, or a nice little silver bowl suitable for using as a candy dish for my desk when I got that High Paying Job in the Exciting Field of Paralegal Work. Nope. I got a belt. An "Academic Champion" belt. Imagine a boxing or wrestling championship belt, shrunk down to half size, and decorated with scrolls and mortar boards and such. The valet who returned Spousie's car post-graduation asked me how many rounds I went to win it. (You can't make this stuff up...) It's too small to wear (unless I decide to get into extreme corseting or somesuch nonsense), but its acrylic display box is wider than my fireplace mantel, which makes display a little problematical. I was hoping it was one of those awards that your name is engraved on, and you keep it a year, and then you pass it on to the next lucky winner. Like the Stanley Cup. Nope. It's mine for keeps.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twelve hours, ten chapters, and fourteen glazed eyeballs

Well, we’ve been hanging from this cliff for quite awhile now, haven’t we? Sorry about that. Here’s an up-to-the-minute, brief recap:

I survived contracts and graduated from MUPP. Yay; go, me.

But that statement, while correct and current, isn’t as much fun as me havering away and telling stories. (It isn’t as much fun for me anyway.) So, I’ll digress a bit and do some of that. Havering. (Google it. Then hear it in its natural habitat here. I love that song, BTW.)

Unlike my previous horrible experience with Contracts, this class was short, to the point, and cut down to the very basics. The instructor, who I’ll call Contracts Guy, didn’t have the time to play “hide the ball” so we got the essence of the Rules, plus lots of practice tips. We also got many opportunities to buy his car, which was a little unexpected.

That’s the thing about good legal instruction, IMHO: it uses clear and memorable examples. I will never forget the Long Arm Statute because my professor at WCSSL-SP taped a nattily-sleeved fake arm to the blackboard that reached across one chalked state border and into another. I’ll never forget the difference between assault and battery because another WCSSL-SP professor used an open bottle of water and a cooperative classmate to demonstrate the difference (battery gets you wet; assault does not). And in contracts, a lot of cogent points can be made with various offers to sell a car to a classmate.

Contracts Guy chose the baby of our class (the son of a lawyer and a law professor) for these examples. Maybe he thought LawBaby needed a car so he wouldn’t be consistently late to class; I don’t know. There must have been at least two dozen opportunities to purchase his Volvo. We learned about offers, counteroffers, puffery, fraud, misrepresentation, price quotes, and option contracts, all starring that car. And lovely man that he was, C.G. gave us each a Volvo for a graduation present. (Okay, so it was a picture of his car, but it’s the thought that counts, right?)

Contracts was the last of our substantive law classes. This was the home stretch. And stick a fork in the Magnificent Seven; we were passing medium-well on the way to charcoal. Four months of intense study of a strange topic like law was taking its toll. I felt sorry for C.G., facing fourteen glazed eyeballs and seven slack jaws for three hours of class. He was really a good sport about it.

What did we do in Contracts? The first thing we learned (after finding out how sellable a used Volvo was), was when an instructor says, “bring in some examples of [fill in thing you’re studying here]” be very careful what you choose. Odds are you’re going to be working with whatever they are for the rest of the class. We had to bring in three examples of contracts. I had a promissory note between Spousie and Cagney, Lacy gave me an old contract her boss used to rent out animals, and Cagney gave me her company’s rental agreement and terms and conditions. Our course assignment ended up being a memo to Contracts Guy about the three contracts, and drafts of the contracts to get rid of ambiguities and make improvements.

The memo I wrote was only okay. C.G. said we just needed to write, “here are the answers to your six silly questions, and by the way here are some contracts attached.” I took that to mean that it wasn’t supposed to be a formal memo memo. My bad. I got some points knocked off for not citing anything. Fair enough. I then considered My Three Contracts (Sorry - showing my age there.) C.G. had also said that, in view of the fact that some of our contracts were really long (Law Baby had brought in Apple’s T&Cs for the use of iTunes, for example) and others really short, he would leave it up to our own consciences as to how many of them we re-wrote.

Cagney’s contract from work was really well-written. It even had a choice of law clause, the importance of which C.G. had stressed in class. I didn’t see anything that needed rephrasing – of course, I wouldn’t spot any subtle changes to make because I was new to this. My conscience said, “Drop this one like a hot potato, baby, and just do the other two.” So I did. Moving on.

Spousie’s promissory note was the antithesis of the iTunes contract. It was about six lines long. “Spousie is borrowing X dollars from Cagney for this purpose and will pay it back in monthly payments of Y,” was pretty much the gist of it. I had learned that people don’t think of all the possibilities when they write contracts, and end up surprised when something not covered happens. So, I added a mediation clause in case of disputes, and a choice of law clause. C.G. suggested in his feedback that I didn’t show a good reason for choosing mediation, and that he would have gone for litigation instead. Well, yeah, he’s a lawyer; of course he would have wanted to litigate. But knowing Spousie and Cagney, I figured mediation fit them better.

Lacy’s animal contract was the perfect choice for the assignment. It was only a page long, but it covered more ground than the promissory note had. The best part was that it was so badly written, all that survived after I’d worked my magic was the letterhead and the signature blocks. I do not exaggerate. We had to turn in a redlined version along with a copy of the original contract, and only the very top and bottom of the page were not crossed out. C.G. was impressed. He thought I should have been more specific with some of the information, but I was trying not to add in facts that weren’t in the existing contract. If it didn’t constitute unauthorized practice of law (and Great State Bar is a real bastard when it comes to prosecuting UPL) I’d have given the new! improved! contract back to Lacy to give to her Animal Guy boss. Maybe I can give it to Animal Guy’s lawyer as a draft, and he can make a generic form out of it or something – it’s a shame for it to go to waste.

And that was Contracts. Twelve hours. Ten chapters. One assignment, one exam.

All done.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Interlude: PKSD (Post-Kingsfield Stress Disorder)

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" 
                -- Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.

Or in my case, Contracts.

The Magnificent Seven (yes, there are still seven of us, surprisingly) are rounding the corner into the home stretch of paralegal classes. All that's left are a few huge, galumphing assignments, a smattering of final exams, and we will be crowned, not with laurels, but with Certificates. Yay. Go, us. Having conquered  Torts and Texas Procedures, we next take keyboard in hand to slay the beast known as Contracts. And I'm having flashbacks.

Some of them are pleasant enough. Widgets, for example. In Contracts hypotheticals, if there is a product being bought or sold, it is generally widgets. I always imagined them as looking like wing nuts (hardware, not political). Shiny, silver-colored, and always purchased in great numbers. Something one might fish out of one's pocket and fidget with during a boring lecture.

In addition to the widgets, I'm seeing old friends in my Contracts textbook: the Zehmers, who thought it would be fun to write a "joke" sales contract for their farm on the back of a restaurant guest check. Fairmount Glass which couldn't tell the difference between a price quote and a contract. The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway, which needed to read offers from iron mills, not just answer them. Oldies but goodies, one and all.

But some of the flashbacks have been not so pleasant. My Contracts professor at Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point was a real pri- ahem -nce who said to me not once, but twice in the same meeting about my midterm exam, "This is Law School. I'm not going to spoon-feed you." Well, no risk of that with margin comments of "No," "Bad rule," and "Did you even read what you wrote?" in my bluebook. And that was, as they say, all he wrote. Those ten words. And more than that would have been "spoon-feeding?" I still can't decide whether he took a personal dislike to me, or was he merely continuing his contemptuous treatment of mere staff members. (I was one, and I had the temerity to try to rise above that lowly station and take law classes! Imagine!) Seriously, I tried to drag more information from him about "bad rule" by telling him that my review of my class notes, the textbook, my outline, and (horrors!) a purchased outline all agreed that that was indeed the rule. Clearly, I told him, if I was so far off, I must have a fundamental misunderstanding somewhere, and need help getting it corrected. That's when I was told he was not a delivery system for pablum.

Despite his best efforts, I did pass Contracts. With a nice, mediocre "C," but I passed. And when I dropped out of law school, I cheerfully threw away my Contracts notes. I neither peed on them nor wiped my ass with them, but either would not have been out of line with my feelings. And now giant, rusty, fanged widgets,  zombie Zehmers, and evil, smoke-belching 19th-century factories are all back. Laughing at me.

Is it just coincidence that the law school abbreviation for Contracts, "K," is the same as the baseball scorecard symbol for "strikeout?" I think not.