Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Autumn... the year's last, loveliest smile" - William Cullen Bryant

Happy Fall! Autumn is definitely my favorite of the four seasons. I love the crisp air, how it is not too hot to go outside and I am not sweating just by walking around the house, yet it's just chilly enough to need a light sweater in the evening. It typically doesn't rain too much in the Fall, either. The weather is perfect for a nice stroll or run and there isn't the treacherous mud that we see in Spring. I love the apples and pumpkins and all the wonderful baking that occurs and restaurant specials and Autumn brews. Most of all, though, I LOVE Halloween! I love getting dressed up in costume Halloween night, I love candy, I love seeing the kids trick-or-treating, and I love everything that leads up to the holiday. :)

There may not be as much foliage in Philadelphia as I have seen every year before in NH and MA, but it's still a great time to be in the city. There are a lot of harvest festivals and events that take place in October and November, and there is a lot of different foods and drinks available to try. Additionally, the Eastern State Penitentiary opens its doors over the next couple of months for "Terror Behind The Walls," which is supposed to be one of the creepiest and scariest haunted houses in the country, as it takes place in the massive prison. Might be worth checking out to kick-off the best season ever...

So the week before last I unfortunately got sick. I tend to get a surprise illness in September, so I half-expected it was going to happen at some point. Last Tuesday morning I woke up feeling yucky, and soon after the cold of the century turned into ear and teeth and sinus pain. I stayed home from work for a couple of days and finally went to the doctor on Thursday who prescribed a few different medicines. Funny story about that. I asked the doctor where the closest pharmacy was to get my prescriptions filled and he pointed me in the direction of China Town, which was a couple of blocks away. I automatically assumed the pharmacy he referenced would be a Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid - or something of the sort. However, when I arrived at the address the doctor had indicated, it was a hole-in-the-wall store with a handwritten "Pharmacy" sign. I wandered in and saw two Chinese ladies rummaging through the store's two narrow glass cases filled with over-the-counter medicines such as Peptobillsmol and Tylenol. Another man was behind a large counter and asked for my insurance card. I handed it to him promptly and my prescriptions were filled in a grand total of six minutes. It was quite the speedy process until I asked to pay with my American Express credit card and they needed to locate their credit card machine... Needless to say, I was a bit worried about this pharmeceutical joint that I discovered, but tried to remain calm knowing that the doctor had pointed me to it. I still stopped at the nearby Rite Aid on the way back to my apartment and had a pharmacy technician there analyze the boxes that the China Town pharmacy had given me, She laughed a bit and told me that they were perfectly fine. All's well that ends well, as I felt better within a few days. My weekend consisted of lounging, watching Big Bang season 5 on DVD (thanks mom!), and going out for ice cream in the pouring rain at "The Franklin Fountain." After watching Man Vs. Food, we had to check this place out! They are famous for their homemade fudge and massive sundaes, and on the show, he ate what's called "Mt. Vesuvius." Needless to say, we stuck with a small sundae each with hot fudge which was MORE than enough. But, if you ever have a hankering for it, here's a photo of the famously large sundae:

On Sunday night we went to our typical 7pm mass. After mass ADROP (Augustinian Defenders for the Rights of the Poor) sponsored a wine and cheese reception to celebrate the UN's "Peace Day" which was the Friday before mass. One of my housemates, Katharine, works for ADROP as her service assignment. They did a variety of "Peace" activities that week, including a poster competition for children at a local Catholic school. The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders warmed our hearts with their posters representing peace. She also attended and helped to organize a conference at Villanova yesterday concerning restorative justice. There was a keynote speaker by a prior Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and panel discussions with victims of prison and defenders. I wish I could have attended because it sounded super interesting, but alas, I had work.

After being sick for a few days last week, my work load definitely piled! This past week was super productive for me, though. I did some follow up for Pro Bono Opportunities Day. I got a few of my cases approved at our case review meeting. This means that I was able to write case summaries for the files and begin the process of trying to refer the cases to volunteer attorneys. Each staff member can have a maximum of 30 case files assigned to them at any given point. This includes cases being worked-up and cases trying to be referred to attorneys. Thirty seems quite overwhelming to me, as each case is individual and requires different work. But, needless to say, I am learning a ton. For instance, I learned how to calculate the amount of transfer tax someone would have to pay to have a title transferred to their name from a non-family member. I also learned how to calculate an approximate inheritance tax rate someone would have to pay to have a title transferred from a deceased person's estate based on the mortgage currently left on the property in question. I also negotiated with a mortgage company and "stayed" a sheriff sale on a client's property, which essentially means that because VIP is currently assessing and working on the client's case, the company has given an extension, which is typically 120 days, and needs an update at that time. I also ordered a deed from archives and picked it up at City Hall - which was an insanely confusing process to find the correct and open door to retrieve the document. I was happy to call two of my clients and tell them that their cases have been approved and we were now working on finding them a volunteer attorney. Even though it's still a long road and nothing is guaranteed, just knowing that things are moving in a productive direction and the case is accepted is typically a big relief for the client who sometimes feels helpless and burned out. I also learned about VIP's "Tangled Title Fund." Tangled Title cases are primarily homeownership cases - so the ones that the LawWorks team is assigned to which I am a part of - and the Fund is something that a volunteer attorney who has an open case can apply to have certain fees and taxes paid for so the client does not have to pay out of pocket. Most clients cannot afford these fees, as they are low-income and receiving pro bono services for this reason. I believe each accepted applicant can receive up to $2,500 currently. This covers things like transfer and inheritance taxes and some of the fees for processing titles and such. It's a great benefit for our clients, but the application itself can be time-consuming for attorneys, so we are working to edit it and make it much simpler for the volunteer to facilitate.

All in all, I am so happy that I am at Philadelphia VIP. In addition to learning a ton, the staff is super friendly and open. There's about sixteen full-time staff and several part-time interns. Although the office is split into the LawWorks and Litigation Teams, there is some overlap in terms of the process of the work we do. I am constantly full of legal questions and need help reading and understanding various documents, such as deed and mortgages, since every case is unique and every document is different. It is crazy how one deed from the 1950's appears versus one from a few years ago. In addition, the language really dictates the terms of the case, and this is especially relevant for cases where the deceased record owner left a will. If nothing else, a lot of this information is good to know for everyday life. Shout out to Mom & Dad (and really anyone who is currently will-less) - please write a will. It makes whoever is handling your estate that much more knowledgeable about what to do with your assets and it is less of a sticky situation. I will let you know the things that I desire. :)

Side-note, I am currently preparing for the LSAT. I just signed up for an online course that begins in mid-October. I have flash cards and have been preparing on and off since the summer. My goal is to take the December 1st test so that I have the option to apply to law schools for next fall. It is going to be a test of my diligence - so wish we luck!

Oh, and someone shared this with me recently. A non-partisan Christian group asked both Romney and Obama about their views on poverty and plans to provide help and opportunity to our nation's poor. Each submitted a short video clip on the subject. Definitely worth watching if you have a few minutes to spare:

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