Thursday, November 1, 2012

Continuing Education

In the personally stressful summer of 2008, I retreated to the sanctuary of school in the way that other people seek solace in work or alcohol or food or hobbies. On a whim on a vacation day around Independence Day, I visited a junior college located within a mile of my house, expecting to leave with information about a paralegal program, which seemed like a low cost portal into the legal field with which I have mentally flirted on more than one occasion. After a couple hours that included an interview with an admissions counselor and a standardized test, instead of leaving the administration office for home, I found myself being escorted into a classroom, introduced to the instructor and pointed to an empty seat. Talk about a fast track. I didn't even have a notebook with me and had to get a pad of paper from my new academic adviser.

After one semester and a 4.0 GPA earned with a class in political science and another called "Strategies for Success,” I could finally take a class in my program -- an introduction to legal something or other, along with a class in a version of Microsoft Office used neither at work nor at home. The first night of the law class, I arrived with my $300 stack of text books and legal dictionaries. After a few minutes of class members sitting around chatting with each other, an administrator appeared and announced the instructor would be late. A movie was set up for us to watch -- not an academic movie about legal process -- a Hollywood action film where one character just happened to be a lawyer. When the instructor finally arrived roughly halfway through the three hour class period, he apologized to the students in the criminal justice program because only one section of the semester would pertain directly to them. Then he launched into a theatrical recitation of his resume of which he seemed quite proud. When the speechification of his grandeur was complete and his shoulder most certainly dislocated from patting himself on the back, he assigned us a chapter in our textbooks and when we weren’t reading fast enough, dismissed us for the night. Coupled with the information processing class that had us reading the textbook on our own for half the class then being dismissed early, I was not feeling much value for my new educational encumbrance in the form of Sallie Mae loan indebtedness.

The discovery that the paralegal program wasn't ABA approved rendered my desired future portable skill set essentially worthless beyond the county line. Unfortunately, I had not asked that specific question during my marathon  info session / enrollment / first class night a few months previous. Had I not been swept up in the excitement of the last day of the semester's enrollment period and had a minute to think about things, chances are very good I would never have enrolled.

When I met with an administrator to withdraw from the school the first week of my second term, she wrote down "personal reasons" on her very official withdrawal form. Those words were very different from my utterance of "The program is not ABA approved," but they were what I had to sign to be released from the school and cancel that term's student loan, so I wrote my name and was gone. Unfortunately, the school bookstore wouldn't take back my books as they had been removed from the plastic wrappers. Every time I see them on my bookshelf, they seem to taunt me. I am probably still paying for them on my Mastercard bill.

Recently, for a second time in my adult life, I considered law school. The first time I toyed with the idea, I was an undergraduate business major in search of programs that would make me seem more interesting. The same time I was researching law schools, I was also looking at casino dealer schools. It seemed a sure bet that either one of those paths would boost a non-existent love life.  As is often the case, however, the more I know of something, the less I like it. I quickly lost interest in the casino thing, and a couple practice tests with a Law School Admission Test preparation book were sufficient to to scare me off that educational avenue.

When Nashville’s Belmont University announced in July 2009 it was starting a law program, the legal fire was ignited again. The application was immediately downloaded and the fantasies of being a member of the first graduating law school class there kicked into production. Tuition costs were researched, along with those of other law schools for comparison and due diligence. An LSAT prep book arrived from Amazon right before a Christmas trip to Virginia and was shelved until the return.

Most of the law schools don't allow students to work during the first year or so, so law school would be a very expensive major life commitment that would require leaving my job while still needing to cover a mortgage and food, at least for a few years. The one school geared for working adults was also affordable, but not ABA approved, negating its value anyplace outside Middle Tennessee. After calculating the crushing burden of debt upon graduation even at the affordable school where I could still work, law school was looking pretty shaky. The final nail in the law school coffin was set when I could imagine myself as a law student, but not actually as a lawyer. The LSAT prep book was never used. It sits on the bookshelf joining the chorus of taunts from the paralegal program books and Black's Law Dictionary.

Life is full of learning opportunities. Because I still like legal stuff -- the concepts, the precedents, the arguing -- I have undertaken what I loosely refer to as my independent study program of law. Classes are held daily (including weekends!) at the CDE Lightband campus conveniently located on my living room sofa. My school is fondly referred to as the "CDE Channel 13 School of Law" although the network is technically branded “My TV 30.”

The faculty is well known around the country. Depending upon what time I arrive home for lunch from my job where I sometimes get to deal with the horror show of the new banking compliance regulations, my afternoon session is with either the gorgeous Judge Lynn Toler on "Divorce Court," or with Judge Alex Ferrer, aka "Judge Alex." The evening session is always taught by Judge Judith Sheindlin, (Judge Judy!!) which also features bonus material in English and comedy when she scolds litigants for their poor grammar or for trying to pull a fast one on her. I realize I'll never be qualified to practice law after this particular program of study, but the tuition fits my empty wallet, and it's fun to yell at the TV and the dumbass litigants who can't seem to grasp the concept of burden of proof and the value of documentation. 

Maybe I need to focus on finding a handsome lawyer to date. We could spend romantic nights debating case law and browsing legal texts. We could play Scrabble using only legal terms and I could write his legal briefs. It would be heaven. And it wouldn’t cost me $100,000.

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