U.S. Expedited Traveler Programs

flying airplane wing through the clouds

After standing in seemingly endless security lines staring longingly at the practically non-existent TSA Pre-Check line, I finally made up my mind to find a way to sign up for the privilege myself. The TSA Pre-check  program allows low-risk travelers to experience expedited, more efficient security screening at U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel. When the program first came into being, it was an invitation only sort of deal; however, that has now changed. Today you can actively apply for the program without being invited by one of the airlines, etc.

I applied under this independent option and found it to be much simpler than I anticipated. I applied online, scheduled an interview, and voila! I received my known traveler number in the mail about a week later. I’ve been flying through security ever since (smile).

Pre-check entitles you to a special line, which is normally much shorter and quicker. Generally, you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptop, liquids, etc. like you would in the regular security line. I say generally because most of the smaller airports I’ve been through have asked that I remove my laptop and liquids. I haven’t quite figured out the discrepancy, but given all of the other perks I see no reason to protest.

Now that I’ve experienced the benefits of TSA Pre-check firsthand, I’ve been thinking more about enrolling in the Global Entry Program. This program allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival into the U.S. (Kind of like the pre-check program for the customs line.) You complete the entry process through kiosks instead of the standard customs passport check lines.

From what I gather, signing up for this program is very similar to the TSA Pre-check program. The only complaints I’ve heard relate to finding a nearby Global Entry Enrollment Center, although it appears that most major cities/airports have one. The application fee is $100 vs. the Pre-check $85, but that’s not a hugely significant difference. Given my upcoming travel plans and success with the Pre-check program, I think it’s high time to get on that application!

For both programs, you cannot have been convicted of any criminal offenses, have pending criminal charges, or outstanding warrants. For the Global Entry Program, you must have a valid U.S. passport or permanent resident card; although the program is also available to citizens of a select group of countries through their own qualifying programs. It is also important to note that each program is member specific, so your traveling companions will need to be enrolled in the same program to enjoy the same benefits (the exception to this is that TSA Pre-check will allow children to go through with parents). There are a number of additional requirements for each program that you should read carefully before applying. Both programs are valid for 5 years and may be renewed.

airport terminal

A few people I’ve talked to about these programs have expressed reluctance to give the government any additional personal information/opportunities to play “big brother”/etc. My thoughts are along these lines – if you buy a plane ticket, they already know who you are and where you’re going. If you have a drivers license or passport, they already have that information too. In fact, it’s because they have that information that you can apply to be a “low risk traveler.” If you’re going anyway, and you qualify, why not make it easier on yourself?

I must admit that I’ve debated this post because encouraging others potentially erases that whole “short line” scenario, but in the end that’s selfish reasoning (smile). For anyone who has been on the fence about these options, I strongly encourage you to go for it – it’s totally worth the effort!

10 Alternative Careers for JDs

justice scale clip artI’ve been thinking a lot lately about career choices, especially all the different career paths available for my educational background and experience. Until I went to law school, I had never thought much about alternatives to traditional legal practice. Then I met others who were actually subjecting themselves to law school with no intentions of practicing or even being admitted to a bar! It blew my mind to think of all that hard work without the end “prestige.” Of course now I can look back and smile at my naiveté. It was those people who gave me hope after I hit the real world and realized I didn’t want to be a practicing lawyer. I was lucky enough to fall into environmental consulting, but there’s a whole world of other options out there!

Last month I went over the top reasons NOT to go to law school. This month I wanted to focus on alternative career options for those who survived law school only to discover that the traditional legal field just isn’t for them. So here are my top 10 suggestions (based solely on my opinion):

  1. Academics. Whether you wish to teach law or at a collegiate or K-12 level, academics is a very viable (and popular) option. Law professors, much like college professors, spend a great deal of time teaching (obviously) but also conducting research and writing articles on various aspects of the law.
  2. Agent – sports, entertainment, real estate, etc. My law school had a reputation for sports and entertainment law. Students in that area were generally the ones in law school for the knowledge (with no intention of sitting for a bar exam). Those negotiation and contract skills really help out when it comes time to bring in those endorsement deals! Commercial real estate also seems to be especially popular given all the different laws and regulations in that area. Any of these would certainly put those hours of studying for contracts to good use! (smile)
  3. Banking/finance. If you prefer to stick to working with the money rather than statutes, that law degree can still prove useful, especially when advising clients. Areas such as estates, tax, and small business are popular options.
  4. Compliance. Compliance professionals can be found in almost all industries, but especially health care, technology, insurance, etc. These guys make sure that business flows in accordance with laws and regulations.
  5. HR management. There’s an increasing desire for individuals capable of hiring employees and implementing policies and procedures to enhance work environments. These positions also involve a degree of #4, as the rules and regulations for businesses are constantly evolving.
  6. Government. Several of my classmates and friends have taken government positions as officers in the Foreign Service, asylum or refugee officers in Citizenship and Immigration Services, or policy advisors in one of the other departments. The FBI, CIA, and other enforcement agencies are also popular options. All of these positions fully utilize the skills inherent with a law degree, without requiring you to actually practice.
  7. Journalism/writing. Legal journalism has become popular these days thanks to an increasing interest in high profile cases. There’s even a network devoted to the cause (TruTV, which used to be CourtTV)! But if you find it’s not your thing, consider writing instead – just channel your inner John Grisham. (smile)
  8. Law librarian. Chances are you spent a good amount of law school becoming very familiar with the library. Law librarians maintain the library’s collection of texts and materials as well as assisting lawyers, professors, and students with their research. I actually knew a girl in my class who took this option and loves her job; although I do believe there was some additional training involved.
  9. Politician/lobbyist. Law school does give you a very insider perspective as to how our government works. You begin to understand how an idea comes together to form a law as well as the ramifications from that law – especially if it’s not well written. This is invaluable knowledge for someone running for office or lobbying for particular issues. Politicians make the rules. Lobbyists are often employed by public interest groups, trade organizations, and PR firms to utilize contacts with lawmakers to push certain policies. Lobbyists, like politicians, must be well versed on the issues and possess excellent communication skills, which shouldn’t be a problem for most lawyers.
  10. Consultant. And last on the list, my own choice – consulting. I chose environmental consulting but these days there are consultants in most industries. These guys work with any number of statutes and apply them to their client’s needs. It’s a great way to practice your legal skills in a particular area in a broader way. For instance, I like environmental law but I don’t want to be tied to only water law. As a consultant, there are few environmental laws I haven’t had some exposure to at some point along the way, which certainly keeps things interesting!

This list is by no means comprehensive and I encourage anyone out there thinking about making a change to do your research! I fully understand how hard it is to let go of the idea of being a traditional lawyer, but with so many great options out there these days, there’s no excuse not to be doing something you love. And there’s certainly no shame in being happy!

Sweet Home Alabama?

The topic for this week’s Travel Tuesday is “where you’re from and why you left.” I feel like I can sum that up in two words: Alabama + family. But that wouldn’t make much of a post would it? (smile)

sunset over Alabama field

Sunset on the farm

I am from the quintessential small southern town. We lived within 10 miles of the majority of my family, all of the neighbors were friendly (well, they knew one another anyway), schools were small, trucks were large, and church was supposed to be your second home. I grew up on a small farm with a variety of fuzzy creatures. I know where peanuts come from – and how to grow them. I also know how to castrate most any animal (TMI?). I can appreciate green fields and dirt roads just as well as any skyscraper or shopping mall. There’s a quiet, where I grew up, that is healing.

Alabama, outdoors, nature

From the dirt road

So why did I leave? Well, honestly, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to truly appreciate where I came from. When I left, all I could think about was conquering big cities, seeing the world, and hopefully gaining some anonymity along the way. I love my family, but I’m pretty independent and prefer my privacy. My family all seems to translate that into stubbornness – so be it. I was determined to go forth and make my own mistakes; something I’ve rather successfully accomplished. (smile)

The question I frequently ask myself (generally because my family is frequently asking me) is whether I would ever consider moving back. The answer is usually a very hesitant “maybe.” Truthfully, I would only do it under specific circumstances and even then I’m not sure it would be permanent. I love my dad’s place – it’s in its own little bubble and absolutely gorgeous – but I’m still not so sure about the people. Perhaps a vacation home? Moving back would be just that for me – moving backward instead of forward. Forward for me is moving abroad. I will always have a soft spot for Alabama, but it no longer feels like “home” in the traditional sense. My home, in my heart, lies across an ocean.

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

Once upon a time I deleted all blurry photos. It’s only since I’ve gotten more into photography that I’ve been able to see the beauty in the blur. (smile)

When I signed up for a night photography class at the Desert Botanical Garden, I went into it with the expectation of some blurry photos; considering I forget the tri-pod attachment piece, I felt pretty lucky to get any non-blurry photos – oops! All around though it was a fun time. And I did get a few pretty neat shots of the “super-moon.”

Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix Arizona supermoon

That “spaceship” is really an airplane :)

Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix Arizona supermoon

Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix Arizona

And one final “I’m not quite sure what happened here…”

Happy weekend everyone!!

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Phones

This week’s subject for Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge is “telephones.” I remember how much fun (or so I thought) it used to be to use the rotary phones – never mind the use of party lines. The neighbors that shared their line with my grandparents were always on to some good gossip – and I always seemed to be in trouble for listening in! (smile) These days it’s not nearly so much fun to be on the phone, probably something to do with it being all work and no play!

black and white rotary phone ecuador

Apparently these do still exist in some places!

black and white office phone

My desk phone definitely has a few more buttons!

Cee's Black and White Photo Challenge

Arizona Renaissance Festival

Arizona Renaissance Festival

A couple of weekends ago, my friends and I set off for the adventure that is the Arizona Renaissance Festival. I’ve been a couple of times before and it’s always a fun local adventure. The Festival grounds here are permanent and the medieval amusement park is open every weekend from (generally) the first weekend in February to the last in March. Covering over 30+ acres with 13 stages, plenty of arts and craft “stores,” and it’s very own jousting tournament, the Festival definitely has something for everyone!

There are stages hosting comedy acts, singing, dancing, musical entertainment, acrobatics, falconry, etc. The characters do a great job staying in character and I am inevitably (despite all efforts to the contrary) pulled in to the drama that is the jousting tournament. (smile) The aroma of giant turkey legs abounds next to beer in chalices and other similar forms of refreshment. Should you be so inclined, you can also rent a costume – or buy one – and fit right in! It’s an anything-goes (as long as it’s family friendly in an old school Disney movie sort of way) atmosphere, which definitely makes for some entertaining people watching!

When I first drove past the Festival grounds, I was blown away that the “village” and jousting arena were permanent fixtures. Honestly, until I moved to Arizona I had never attended a Renaissance Faire – I’d only seen them on TV or in books. So I of course marked my calendar in eager anticipation to attend the next year, and I’ve been back at least every other year since that first experience. I love the atmosphere at the Festival – the slightly romantic, fantasy vibe you get from walking around a medieval village with knights in full armor carrying cell phones. (smile) And if you go with the right group of people – and keep the right sense of humor about it all – it’s a guaranteed good day in the desert.

A few recommendations:

  • It always seems like the first and last weekends are the busiest. Same goes for mid-day whenever you go.
  • Buy tickets ahead of time – online or at the local grocery (Fry’s Food) – to avoid ticket lines.
  • You can’t take in water, but you can take in an empty water bottle – there are “well water” fountains inside.
  • Sunscreen – take it and wear it!
  • Layers – it’s a funny time of year in the desert, so it never hurts to plan for everything.
  • On the clothing note, wear good shoes – it is in an open area in the middle of the desert.
  • Take photos, but remember to take in the atmosphere as well. I may only have a handful of photos, but I have tons of good memories. (smile)

Find more information here: http://www.royalfaires.com/arizona/

Pondering: Land & Politics

I had a completely different post planned for today, but then this article came into my Inbox. This isn’t a new idea – the transfer of federal lands over to state control. Several Western states have been trying to pass legislation for years. What concerns me now is that there are those in federal government that want to help the states do just that.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an environmental consultant who helps (primarily) with the process of leasing federal lands for private projects. This includes everything from solar and wind to utility lines and oil & gas. I don’t have much say in the type of projects I work on, so I just try to go in with the mindset that if something has to happen on these lands, I can at least help it get done in the best way possible.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Sunset

Grand Canyon, South Rim

My point is, I work with federal lands and federal agencies. I’ve also worked with state lands and state agencies (same for counties and cities come to that). I have seen firsthand the checks and balances in play at every level. And there is no way, given what I have experienced, that I could see how to justify allowing states to take over federal land. The fact that it’s a federal body assisting with the idea would be laughable if it weren’t such a non-laughing matter.

Setting aside the myriad of constitutional issues, it’s poor management protocol*. States are having difficulties keeping local parks open still. Local rules are also, generally, much less restrictive when it comes to land use and selling lands. Can you imagine having a Wal-Mart along the south rim of the Grand Canyon? Maybe you think I’m being over-dramatic in that statement, but I assure you I am not. Most arguments in favor of this movement claim that the federal government is preventing the state from using resources to bring in income – generally through tourism, development, and mineral resources (read hotels, shopping, and wells). There are a few states where state law actually strengthens federal, but in most instances it’s the other way around. And the latter states are – of course – the ones most up in arms about all of this.

I know that it’s impossible to make everyone happy when it comes to deciding what to do – or not – on public lands. However, that’s not always a bad thing. If you have a park, forest, monument, etc. managed for all of the people of this country, then we all have a say. And, believe it or not, the federal agencies do listen to us. I’ve been in meetings that have literally taken days, going through comments received from all over the world. I have tracked down those international contacts to make sure they know what’s going on. And this is done for the greater good, to prevent any one small group from controlling something so special that it was set aside for the enjoyment of all. I have also seen this process at local levels…

Yellowstone National Park, Roosevelt Arch, Elk

“For the benefit and enjoyment of the people” (Yellowstone, Roosevelt Arch)

Ugh. There’s so much I could say, but I don’t want this to turn into a rant (at least no more than it has already). We are each entitled to our own opinion – the beauty in living in the United States. All I can hope is that those opinions are founded on research and an understanding of the greater whole.

So what can be done about this? In truth, I don’t know. People will tell you to write your representatives, but given the leanings of those from my state, I have little faith in that being a productive exercise. I’m still researching other options. And I encourage all of you to do the same, no matter your opinion. I’m going to include some links to other articles here as well – I encourage you to click through a few of them. You might just be surprised at who supports which position.

*Note: Allow me to clarify that I believe the state and local governments do the best they can with what they have. But the process is often less clear and underfunded. I support land ownership at all levels, just not such a dramatic change in that ownership.

Other articles: