Melissa Feuer, Director of Career Services and Professor

Melissa Feuer, Professor
Master’s in Paralegal Studies Online Program
The George Washington University


Tell us about yourself and your role at GW as Professor and Career Services Director
My name is Melissa Feuer and I have two roles at GW: I am the Director of Career Services for the College of Professional Studies, which is the college that our Paralegal Studies program lives in, and I’m also an instructor in the Paralegal Studies program.

I started teaching in the GW Paralegal Studies program in the fall of 2007. I was in the very first class every launched online and I facilitated that course, and a number of other courses, over the course of the last five years, so 2007.

So I’m the Director of the Career Services office and actually the program that I support the most, so our largest program, is the Paralegal Studies program, and students and alums – we don’t have any restrictions on alumni use of career services; it certainly doesn’t have to be now.

Students are encouraged to contact me early on so that we can figure out what it is they want to be doing and sort of make a plan to get there. Students can make appointments – students and alums – can make appointments online; we have an online career management system, which is a part job board that students and alums have access to, and part of a system for requesting – and I can kind of keep track of appointments that way.

So students and alums just need to go on that site; they get the login information when they become students and they can go on and request an appointment. And I do appointments by phone primarily, but I’ve also done some Skype appointments with some online students.

I work with students and alums on resumes and cover letters and interviewing and networking primarily, and when students come to me and say, well, I haven’t found a job and I’ve been looking on JobWorks, I say you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface, and here’s what we’re going to do. So I kind of coach them through the process. That’s one of the things I’m doing.

The part that I’m doing that they don’t necessarily see, is outreach to employers, and GW has a national network, so we do get paralegal positions across the country.

What courses do you currently teach?
I just finished up teaching the Capstone course, which is our independent research class, and I’ve also taught the Introduction to American Jurisprudence, and I’ve also taught administrative… a couple of international sections in legal research and writing. That class is… the American Jurisprudence class is an introduction to the law. It’s designed both for people who have never had any experience with the law before, but also adds a little something for people who have.

We expect folks to understand the structure of the legal system by the time they’re finished, a little bit about the constitution, a little bit about litigation – which is a major topic in our program – and we touch on some other areas as well.

What does the capstone involve?
The Capstone project is a 25 to 30 page paper. It’s independent research – legal research, not original research – so you are looking at [unintelligible 03:19] articles, case law, and you’ve learned how to do this throughout the program, so it’s not new. The topic is anything a student wants it to be, as long as the student is making an argument and is picking something topical.

As far as impacting their career, it’s kind of a unique project on its own. I think that it teaches students, again, how to think legally, how to make arguments and so when students are working and going out and trying to advise an attorney – who is really the paralegal’s client – they have the ability to think critically, and then to be able to write it down.

What was your most memorable experience in the online Paralegal Studies program?
I think my most memorable experience – except it’s happened more than once – is a recent chat that I did. All of the instructors do online chats that aren’t mandatory, but are highly encouraged, and students can come and join in. And I did one with this Capstone class, and one of the students was asking a question and I honestly don’t remember what the question was, and before I could even type an answer, another one of the students had jumped in and given that person an answer. And they all started talking to each other through this chat room, giving each other feedback and advice and help, and I just sat back and watched and thought how wonderful it was that we have a community where everybody’s trying to help each other.

I think it’s a unique program, because the levels of background and experience are so different; we have people who’ve been in the industry for a while and then we have people who are breaking in, and so the kind of exchange that I saw on the chat session were some of the experienced paralegals helping out some of the newbies, and it was just such a nice community feeling too. And I remember commenting in the chat how great this is.

The one thing that they don’t have to have, which I get asked all the time, and that is an experience with the law. When I taught the intro class, many people said, how am I even going to do this? I don’t have any experience. And I found that over the last five years of teaching, it doesn’t seem to matter if you have experience or you don’t; everybody’s sort of equalised in the course.

So I think there’s a certain level of discipline you need to have to be able to keep up with the assignments. It’s fast-paced and falling behind can put you in a tough spot, so I think our students have a great amount of discipline, especially since they have busy lives on top of class. I think that an excitement about the law, even though you don’t have to have experience with the law, is important, because it’s a long process and we do work in a lot of different legal disciplines.

And I think also an interest in connecting with other people, even though you’re online… I try to connect with my students all the time; I even talk with them on the phone, and so an interest in being a part of the paralegal community and part of the GW paralegal community.

What trends are you seeing in the paralegal profession?
The biggest trend I guess I’m seeing right now, or the biggest need I’m seeing right now, is litigation. There’s less of a need for transactional paralegals, and I think people looking to break into a real estate field right now, or mergers and acquisitions field right now, may have a bit of a tougher time. Litigation though, is an incredibly broad field and you can do intellectual property and you can do personal injury and you can do insurance, and there’s just no limit to the kinds of litigation that you can support.

So I think that’s probably right now where the profession is, and I think as the markets become more and more robust over time, securities will come back into play in mergers and acquisitions as well.

And I think also another tip for people thinking about becoming a paralegal or entering the program, is more than ever before, networking or connecting with people who are doing the kind of work that you want to be doing is critical. Only about 10% of the jobs end up on a job board some place, so students entering our program are given lots of opportunities, even though they’re online, to network, and they should be taking advantage of those opportunities.

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