Sunday, September 7, 2008

Breaking the Ice: Week 2 in School

Time flies when you're having fun: that's what I can say about school. The semester started August 25th and we've already had two meetings.

I did not regret my decision to go back to school. In fact, every time I arrive home from class, I would tell bana-bear how much I enjoy learning about the U.S. legal system. I am passionate about law and love learning more about it.

My legal background (I've been a member of the Philippine Bar since 1991 and a court employee for 18 years until I left for the U.S. last year) is a plus factor in my studies. Although the U.S. legal system is based on common law (the Philippines is a civil law country), there are a few similarities between the Philippine and the U.S. procedural rules; so I am not really new to what is being discussed in class. It's like continuing legal education.

Every state in the U.S. has its own rules/requirements in the admission of foreign lawyers to the State Bar. Some states like California are a bit lenient while other states have rigid rules. Hawaii is strict. Lawyers coming from civil law countries like the Philippines cannot just take the Hawaii Bar exam. We need to finish three years of Hawaii law school, which means, starting all over again. Given my present situation, I no longer have the luxury of time nor the financial means to "enjoy" the life of a full-time student for the next three years. However, since I still want to work in the legal field, the next best option is becoming a paralegal.

When I enrolled in law courses under the Paralegal degree program of University of Hawaii's Kapiolani Community College, my purpose was only to gain knowledge and exposure to the U.S. legal system but without any intention of finishing the whole Paralegal degree. However, bana-bear suggests that since I am taking it full-time, I might as well finish the whole program and get a degree. That works fine for me.

Anyway, here's what happened during week 2 of school:
Law 101: Hawai'i Legal System. We've been discussing about the basics of the U.S. legal system and how it differs from the rest of the world. We've also "dissected" the U.S. Constitution, its amendments and some highlights in the US government history. My professor is really into constitutional law and her love for the subject is seen by the way she discusses the subject with gusto. She even became emotional while discussing the ERA.

I enjoy learning about the American government as much as I enjoy sharing my ideas during group and class discussions.

Law 104: Civil Investigation. My professor is an experienced insurance investigator and paralegal. According to one of my professors, he is the last of his kind in Hawaii, and when he retires, it'll be hard to replace him.

During my law school days, I learned 'by the book'. Meaning, we were concerned about 'memorizing' the rules, sections-- the law. In our Civil Investigation class, I am learning the practical side. I've discovered how different things are being done in the U.S. Paralegals play an important role here. They're not only researchers, they're also investigators. And in our Law 104 class, we are taught how to become good "investigators".

Our first lesson was locating witnesses and how to get information and take statements from them.

Law 111: Litigation. I like this subject. Having worked in court for many years, I am familiar with the litigation process, so I find this subject particularly interesting. I enjoy learning how the US (Federal) and the Hawaii court system/civil procedure works.

Law 102: Legal Research. This is another interesting subject. U.S. method is different from how we do it back home so I'm back to square one. Last Saturday, we went to the school law library (William Richardson School of Law) to do our first group work, i.e., research for case law and statutes applicable to our 'dog bite' case. Next meeting, we will be taught how to use Westlaw, an online legal research tool.

I like the way my professors handle our classes. We are not spoonfed; on the other hand, we are given assigned readings in advance and are expected to be ready for class discussions as well as group exercises.

Speaking of which, it's time for me to cram for tomorrow's class. haha!

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