Paralegal Program Overview

Title: Paralegal Program Overview
Date: November 15, 2016
Panelists: Toni Marsh, Professor and Paralegal Studies Program Director at the George Washington University



Toni Marsh: So again, let me just introduce myself. I’m Toni Marsh. I’m the director of the George Washington University Paralegal Studies Programs. I’m also a professor in the program and I am delighted to welcome you here today.

The way that I’m going to proceed is like this. there are many, many, many of you on this meeting today and so it’s going to kind of have to be a one-way discussion just for today just because there are so many of you in this session. If I were to open it up to discussion, it would just be sort of [unintelligible 00:0040]. There’s just too many people. So I’ve muted you all and that is only so that we won’t have lots of echoes and background noise. You actually can unmute yourself if you want to. If you look at your own name on the screen you’ll see a little red microphone symbol with a line through it. If you click on that, you’ll unmute yourself and you can ask a question.

What I’m going to ask you to do today and because we have so many people and because it is lunch hour. . .I know that many of you are probably joining us in the middle of a work day and probably have other things to do so I’m going to go ahead and go through my presentation and I’m going to keep it short. I’m going to try to sort of go through it rather quickly. I’ll cover everything but I’ll cover everything quickly. I’m not going to go deep into detail on these things. And then those of you who need to get somewhere else who are in the middle of work, you might want to go eat lunch, you can log off and just go on about your business having received all of the crucial information and of course you can always follow up with me at another time. So there’s always that.

Those of you who’ve got plenty of time today and want to hang out and want to ask more questions, you can stay on after I’ve finished with my formal presentation. You can hang around and you can ask me questions either via chat or live using your microphone. What I’m going to do is when you enter your questions in chat, those questions pop up on my screen. I can see that a person has asked me a question. I probably won’t answer the question right then unless the question that you’re asking has to do with something that I just said and you’re asking me to sort of clarify something then I’ll be happy to read that question and we do our chat question and answer what it was but to get into like the deep questions, what I’ll do is you can post those questions whenever you want and then at the end of the session I’ll go back and I’ll go through those chat questions and I’ll start answering your questions one by one.

The way that it’s going to work is that those of you who are pressed for time will be able to get the crucial information and then log off. Those of you who have plenty of time will be able to stay on and we’ll go through answer all of your questions.

So again, I’m Toni Marsh. I’m the director of the program. I designed this program and so I know a lot about the program itself, how it’s designed and why it was designed that way, so we can talk about some of those things.

I am a professor her at George Washington University. I’m also a lawyer and I graduated from law school in 1990, so I’ve been a lawyer for 26 years. When I graduated from law school in 1990 I went to work right away as a criminal defence and juvenile attorney but my very first month out of law school I started teaching on the side at a local community college in Ohio called Cuyahoga Community College and I started teaching paralegal studies way back in 1990 and I loved it. So all the time, even when I was practicing law full-time, I was still teaching on the side because I loved paralegals, I loved paralegal studies and I loved teaching.

So all of that is to tell you that I’ve been involved in the profession for a long time –26 years and really from the inside out. I’ve done everything from teaching classes to designing classes to training paralegals and I’ve worked all over the world with paralegals and all over the country with paralegals. I’ve really seen how the profession has changed over the course of the years.

So there was a time certainly back in the 70’s when the paralegal profession first came to be even known as a distinct profession. Before that there wasn’t even any such thing as paralegals. There were secretaries and some secretaries worked in law offices and became familiar with the legal systems and they sort of learned the rules and they learned how legal documents were formatted and they became legal secretaries and then those legal secretaries became even more sophisticated and were able to do some independent research and some interviewing and things like that and they became what we now call paralegals but all the way up from the 70’s through really the mid-2000’s –2004, 2005, 2006, there was still not even agreement on what to call these people. They weren’t even all called paralegals. Some people called them paralegals, some people called them legal assistants, some people still called them legal secretaries, document clerks –all different kinds of things.

So there wasn’t even agreement on what to call these people but now there is. About 2005-2006 it came to be accepted sort of nationwide that the people who do what it is we’re going to describe today are called paralegals. So the new paralegal is quite a different person from the old paralegal, from, as I described, those secretaries and legal secretaries and people who were in law offices. It used to be that the profession was administrative, like clerical and administrative –lots of filing, booking, typing, numbering and organizing. Nowadays the profession is quite different. The people who are paralegals nowadays are far more sophisticated, much more highly educated and do much more sophisticated things within the law firms. I was just reading a white paper yesterday and in fact I’m going to post it today on my Twitter account –so if you’re interested, it’s gw@gwparalegals –that the law firms nowadays because they’re starting to be a little bit crunched. From one end they’re feeling some pressure from their clients on rights and billing. . .because they’re starting to use paralegals to do even more substantive work.

So paralegals nowadays are doing just about everything in the law firm except a very small discreet number of tasks that they’re forbidden by law from doing. Actually the law prohibits paralegals from really one thing and that is practicing law. Paralegals are not allowed to practice law but the way that that’s been interpreted through the years, there are a couple small things they’re not allowed to do. So paralegals are not allowed to accept cases on behalf of a firm. They’re not allowed to set the fees for a case. They’re not allowed to take depositions. They’re not allowed to sign legal pleadings, so those are the actual briefs and things that are filed in the court. They’re not allowed to advocate in court, so they’re not allowed to be the person who’s actually standing up in front of the judge or the witness, arguing, asking questions, making motions. They’re certainly allowed to be in the courtroom and do everything else, they’re just not allowed to be the one standing up arguing in front of the judge. By the way, they actually are allowed to do that in certain administrative hearings, so it’s a pretty small exception. And then they’re not allowed to give legal advice. That’s the biggie.

What it means to give legal advice, giving legal advice is to exercise your independent judgment upon a set of facts and circumstances so as to change the legal standing of a layperson. So in other words, a person comes into the office, says, “I was at the grocery store. I slipped on a puddle. I fell down. I broke my wrist. I missed a few weeks of work, lost several thousand dollars’ worth of pay, had several thousand dollars in medical bills. Can I sue?” For you to turn around to that person and say, “Yes, you know what, you’ve got a really good case. I think you should sue.” That would be practicing law but everything else –involvement, doing the research, doing the investigation, compiling all of the material –all of that is stuff that paralegals are allowed to do.

So paralegals nowadays, when you think of all the things that go on in a legal office other than those few things that I just mentioned, paralegals can do absolutely all of that. So there is a lot that they can do. Paralegals can bill. So when a paralegal works for a law firm and does actually substantive work, the law firm can bill that work to a client, which means the paralegals are profit centers in law firms. Law firms make money from their paralegals. Clients love paralegals because while the paralegals do bill for their work, they bill at a much lower rate than the attorneys. The attorneys love paralegals because they allow the paralegals to do those things that they can do and that lawyers don’t have to do. That frees up the lawyers to do the things that only they can do like practice law, like give legal advice and one of the big ones is like bringing in business for the firm. So going out and playing golf with the clients. These are important things that only really the lawyers can do. So the more the paralegals are doing the substantive work in the law firm, the happier the clients are, the happier the lawyers are, the happier the paralegals are because they want to do substantive work right? That’s why you want to be a paralegal because you want to do law work. So the paralegals are happier and it’s really better all in all for society as a whole for there to be more paralegals because by lower rates of legal services, they are increasing access to justice.

So there’s this whole new paralegal profession and to go with this new paralegal profession there is a new paralegal. The new paralegal is a savvy and sophisticated, highly educated, quite professional and proactive in terms of managing their careers. If you don’t recognize the woman in this picture, that’s Erin Brockovich. You’ve probably seen the movie starring Julia Roberts. Personally I think the real Erin Brockovich is much more compelling even than Julia Roberts. She is a paralegal who got a case given to her firm. Nobody in the firm wanted it. She saw that it was an important case. She saw that they could make a difference with that. She took matters into her own hands. She did her research. She did the investigation. She brought everybody into the firm on board and she prosecuted this case. I mean she has this case. She allowed her firm to prosecute the case.

Now she is famous. She is working in New York City. She works at a law firm. People from all over the country bring cases to her hoping that her firm will take the case and as it happens I happen to have an alumnus, one of my graduates works for Erin Brockovich and screens her cases for her. So what he does is when people go to Erin Brockovich asking for her to take their cases, he does the initial screening, he does the research, he determines whether there’s the potential for this to be a good case, he brings that case to Erin, she brings it to the firm and then if they decide to go forward, he puts together the team that ends up working on that case. So that’s the kind of work that paralegals can end up doing. I mean we’re talking about work that really affects people’s lives and changes their lives.

So when you’re doing this kind of work, when you’re this kind of new paralegal, you really need to have the kind of background, the kind of education, the skill set that you need in order to be able to do this kind of life-changing, society-changing, important work and GW is that kind of paralegal program.

As I said in my introduction, I’ve been in this business for 26 years. I’ve been a lawyer for 26 years. I’ve been a paralegal educator for 26 years. I travel all over the world and certainly all over the country, speaking to paralegals and paralegal organizations and I can see what they do. I know it’s important and when I designed this program at GW I designed this program to be at the top tier of the paralegal education world. I designed this program to create the kind of paralegals to give people the skill sets that they would in order to be the kinds of paralegals like Erin Brockovich who are really changing lives every day and leading the profession.

Our program is highly selective. We look for excellent academic backgrounds. We look for people that we believe will succeed in this program and in the profession and we look for people that we think will lead the profession and sort of push the envelope, expand the borders even more. One of my personal professional goals is to expand the paralegal profession even more than it is now and so I look for the kinds of students to enter this program. I look for the kind of people that will help to expand the profession that will be so great at what they do that they will change people’s perceptions of what paralegals are and what they can do.

Our program is rigorous. It is high level. We are an academic and scholarly program. I’m sure you’ve all heard of George Washington University. We’re an internationally known university. Everyone knows us. Certainly everyone in DC knows us. They know our graduates. They respect our graduates. They hire my students right out of the classroom. Just tonight the CIA is coming to one of my classes to recruit students. They were here last week. They’re so enamored of the GW students that they came twice in one week so that they were sure to catch all of our students. When they came last week they were interviewing people right there in the room and inviting them in for further interviews.

That’s the kind of reputation that we have and that’s the kind of success that our graduates enjoy. I’ve got paralegals in the United States Supreme Court, in as I said, the CIA, the Department of Justice. I’ve had paralegals at the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, the White House, Department of Energy, UFDA –all of the major law firms: Jones Day, Steptoe, Williams and Connolly, WilmerHale –all the big ones. All of the big corporations: Exxon, Citibank, [Maersk], Marriott. I’ve got paralegals just everywhere and I’ve also got paralegals in a lot of the important NGOs and non-profits. We are a respected program. Our graduates enjoy tremendous success because of our reputation and we really look to maintain the reputation.

So I can tell you this, the program is selective as I said. It’s not easy to get in. You don’t just write a cheque and fill out an application and join. You have to actually apply and be accepted but if you do get in, it means that we believe that you can succeed in the program and in the profession and once you’re in, we are going to make sure that you get the tools and the skills that you need to be a kind of paralegal that I’m describing. We will teach you to write, we will teach you to present, we will teach you to think critically, we’ll teach you to argue, to debate, to think logically, we’ll give you the technology skills, we will give you the skills that you need. Of course you got to take them from us right? We can’t make sure that you absorb everything but if you come to us with an open mind and you’re ready to learn and you’re willing to learn, we’re going to give you what you need to succeed. With the accomplishment that you will achieve in the classroom will come confidence and so when you go out of the world, you will feel quite confident that you can do what it is you need to do.

We have two credentials. We offer two credentials. They are equally prestigious. One is the graduate certificate and one if the Master’s degree. Now the graduate certificate is essentially the first half of the Master’s degree. So if you were to come in say –I don’t know, there’s probably about 40 or 50 of you in this meeting right now. Say all 50 of you were to come in and 25 of you decided to get the graduate certificate and 25 decided to get the Master’s degree, all 50 of you would be together. Not all in one section because we keep our sections down to 20 students a piece but essentially all 50 of you would be together in this cohort for the first couple of semesters, for the first three semesters and then those people who are getting the graduate certificate, they would stop. They would be done. Those who were getting the Master’s degree would continue on. So it’s kind of like being on a train, you know, everybody gets on the same train, on the same track at the same time and some people get off at the first stop and some people keep going all the way to the end of the line. That’s the way that works.

Now, Brett interestingly got the graduate certificate. She is now back getting her Master’s degree, so she came back to us. A lot of people do that. They’ll start out with the graduate certificate and then they’ll come back for the Master’s. If you get the graduate certificate and you decide you want the Master’s, it is fairly simple. You just fill out a form. You don’t have to pay a new application fee or anything like that. You just fill out a form and we sort of move you over from the graduate certificate program to the Master’s program if you’re in good standing. That’s how it works. It’s fairly simple.

Now, the graduate certificate is generally all that you need to enter the profession. So if you are not a paralegal right now, you are whatever you are. You want to become a paralegal for the first time, the graduate certificate should be enough for you. Most law firms, government agencies, corporations, all they require is the graduate certificate. That’s sort of the entry level credential.

Having said all that, there are many people that choose to get the Master’s degree anyway. Either because they’re already paralegals and they want to advance in the profession, so they’re getting the Master’s or you’re working for the federal government or you want to work for the federal government or another kind of agency where they base your pay on your highest level of education. In the federal government, your pay is based on your highest educational credentials, so having the Master’s degree actually makes you eligible for higher salaries. That’s a really good reason to get the Master’s degree. A lot of corporations are like that. If you’re working somewhere and you’re not sure, ask them about that. There are some corporations that will base your salary on your highest educational credential. I also just read and this is just silly and it’s not a reason to do it but it doesn’t hurt: they will actually base your car insurance rates and your insurance rates on your highest educational credentials. So if you’ve got a Master’s degree, you actually will pay lower rates for your insurance, which is kind of surprising but that’s just the way of the world.

Anyway, there’s the two credentials. If you don’t know which one you think is right for you, it really doesn’t matter which one you start with. You can easily move from one to the other. Probably easiest to move from the Master’s to the graduate certificate, although honestly it’s almost [unintelligible 00:20:42]. So if you don’t know which one to apply for, maybe you can talk to me offline or just go ahead and apply for the Master’s because you can always stop halfway through. That might be a good way to go.

Okay so those were the two credentials. Just very, very quickly what I was talking about, the two credentials. So if you see here on the screen the Core Courses:

American Jurisprudence
Legal Research & Writing
Advanced Legal Writing
Business Entities

Those are the six courses that make up the graduate certificate. If you choose to go on to the Master’s then you’ll take the Upper Level Course:

Administrative Law
Government Contracts Law
International Law
Intellectual Property Law

And then the Capstone which is independent research and the practicum.

That’s how that works. Those core courses give you all of the skills that you need to work anywhere in American –any law firm, any corporation, any government agency. If you’ve taken those six core courses, you will have the knowledge and skills and ability that you need to work anywhere. Those upper level courses just bring you that much further.

Okay so one of the exciting things about the George Washington Paralegals Studies Program is that we present this program in association with the GW Law School. Now what does that mean for you? Well if you live in DC or anywhere near DC, you can actually physically come and visit the campus and you can go to the law school. You can use the law library, you can attend lectures, seminars or workshops at the law school, you can participate. When you do your practicum, you can do your practicum in the law school clinic, so they’ve actually got like a small business clinic and a domestic relations clinic and things like that and you can go in and do your internship in the law school clinics.

That’s the practical side of it. A little more esoterically, the fact that we present this in association with the law school means we’ve got a great relationship with the law school. Our paralegal students interact with law professors and law students. You will get a much more well-rounded view of the legal workplace. Should you choose to go on to law school you will have had some exposure to law school, which is always a good thing and you get to enjoy and benefit from the prestige that comes with being associated with a top 20 law school. So all of those things are great. The director of the law library sits on my board of advisors. The dean of the law school sits on my board of advisors. Our legal research and writing professor is associated with the law school. So these are all benefits that you get from our association with the GW Law School.

For those of you who are interested in healthcare, who may have either a background in healthcare or who would like to learn more about it, we’ve got a special program that we offer. It doesn’t have a very catchy name, it’s just Paralegal Studies Healthcare Corporate Compliance dual degree program but what you do is you enroll in the Master of Paralegal Studies Program, you take those six core courses that I showed you a couple of slides ago. Instead of taking those four upper level courses that we offer, you take four different courses through the Healthcare Corporate Compliance Program. You take 12 credits in that program then you do your Capstone and you end up graduating. It’s really pretty cool. You end up graduating with a Master’s degree in Paralegal Studies and a graduate certificate in Healthcare Corporate Compliance. So essentially those 12 credits that you take in healthcare count twice. Also the credential that you get from the Healthcare Corporate Compliance Program, that certificate is the official recognized credential that allows you to become a certified Healthcare Corporate Compliance officer, so it’s quite a valuable piece of educational real estate that you pick up through this program. It’s a very popular program.

As you may well know, healthcare is a booming industry. It’s not going anywhere no matter what happens to Obamacare. The healthcare industry is strong and getting stronger every day and understanding how it works is a tremendous skill set. It’s not for everybody. It’s complex. It’s complicated. It’s quite difficult to master but if you’ve got the mind for it, this is a very nice way for you to increase your worth tremendously. If you’re interested in that program, talk to your enrollment advisor. What you’ll do is you’ll actually apply to both programs. Those kind of details we can talk about individually offline.

What we really would like you to do is join the George Washington community. What I’d like you to understand is that when you join this program you’re not only joining the GW Paralegal Studies Program, you’re joining the whole George Washington University community. Even if you end up enrolling online and we’ve also got a program that’s’ entirely face-to-face, you’re welcome to apply to that and come on campus but I assume most of you are interested in the online program and you’re probably scattered all over the country. It doesn’t matter. You’re still a part of GW. You are as much a GW student as the person who is sitting Marvin Center on the corner of 21st and 8th street. You are a GW student. You get a GW email address. You get a GW ID. You can get a GWorld card if you want one. You become a member of the alumni association. When you graduate if you get the Master’s degree, you can participate in the GW commencement exercises on the National Mall. GW is the only university in the country that has its commencement exercise on the National Mall.

You can see that picture there. Literally in the shadow of the Washington Monument. We have world-class speakers every year as you might well imagine. We’ve had Michelle Obama, we’ve had Michael Bloomberg, we’ve had Brian Williams, we’ve had Jose Andres, so we’ve had some really interesting commencement speakers and I happen to be on the commencement speaker committee this year and I certainly could never tell you who is in the running but I can tell you that there are some really interesting name on our short list for being invited to the commencement exercises.

So you’re part of it and not only all of that uncool stuff but also the practical things. You get access to our career services office, which is really robust. As a GW student and alum you get free lifetime access to our career services office. That’s where most universities do not offer that. We’ve got resume review, cover letter review, mock interviews, we have networking events, we’ve got individual one-on-one counselling via either in-person, on the phone, via WebEx, which is what we’re using right now, via Skype, whatever suits you that you can get individual counselling to determine what you’re good at, what you should be pursuing, how to get there and then of course we’ve got an electronic job board but it’s way, way more than a job board. We get really everyday people coming in looking to hire our students, so you get access to this whole community of employers who think that the GW students are the best and come after our students pretty aggressively. So you get all of that. It’s much more than an education and the interesting thing about the GW community is this. When you get a GW degree you’re essentially investing in yourself right but investing it’s a good word in that it brings to mind the fact that you’re planting a seed that you hope is going to grow but the way that it is not like an investment is this.

No investment is 100% guaranteed but investing in your education is. If you get an education, that education will never decrease in value. When you get the knowledge, when you get skill, you own it. Once you learn something, once you master a skill, once you gain knowledge, you own it. It’s yours forever. Once you get a Master’s degree you own it. You’ll own it forever. It will never decrease in value. Nobody can ever take it away from you. The other thing is the alumni network. The alumni network at GW grows every day. Every day new people become GW alumni and as a GW alumnus or alumna, you become part of that ever-growing network and you can tap into that network. So you know, you come to GW and you can say that you’re an alumna or alumnus of GW just like Collin Powell. I mean you join some pretty prestigious company. So these are things which makes it sort of like the not really an investment because unlike most investments, this one is guaranteed to grow.

How do you become a GW Colonial? You fill out an application. It’s an online application and you just go to the GW website, you click on apply. Again, getting down to those nitty-gritty details. We can do that offline individually but you complete the application, you upload a resume. We do not require professional experience of any kind, so don’t worry if all your resume says is, “Homemaker for 20 years.” That’s okay. We just want to know what you’ve been doing and having your resume gives us a little bit better picture of what you’ve been up to and what you know, where you come from. Actually it helps us to serve you better. A Statement of Purpose. Your Statement of Purpose is going to be simple. It is a 250-word statement wherein you describe why you want to be a paralegal and why you’re interested in GW.

Two recommendations. Ideally one academic, one professional but if you’ve been out of school for 25 years or you don’t have an academic reference, that’s fine, or if you have not worked outside of the home for several years and you don’t have a professional reference, that’s fine. Just use somebody who knows you and who knows how you work.

Again, what we want to know is that you will succeed in this program. This program is not easy to get into but once you get in, we want you to stay in. We want you to succeed and so for your recommendations if you don’t have an academic or you don’t have a professional, get somebody who can talk to us about your potential to succeed in the GW program and in the paralegal profession. And then you’ll need a transcript from every educational institutional education that you have attended.

Spring semester begins January I think 17th, something like that. December 15th is the application deadline. You’ve got plenty of time. Once you decide you want to apply, you just go online. Everything can be uploaded, everything can be done electronically. By the way, as far as your recommendations go, it’s pretty easy to give a recommendation so don’t be shy about asking people for recommendations. What you do is you give us your recommender’s name and email address. We send them an email with a link in it, they click on the link and there are some questions right there online. They can answer those questions online and click “upload” and they’re done. So it’s fairly simple. They can write a letter if they would like but anyway, it’s a pretty simple process. It’s all online.

There’s no doubt that you could get this all done by December 15th, even ordering your transcripts, which is probably the one element that will take the longest. You can order your transcripts electronically and you can get them to us rather quickly.

We’ve got all kinds of people who can answer all of your questions about how to upload things and how to order things and how to do things. This on the screen right now, this is me. I’m Toni Marsh. I’m the director of the GW Paralegal Studies Program. There is my email address. There’s my phone number. That’s my cell phone. You are welcome to call it anytime. Don’t ever think you’re going to be disturbing me because first of all, my job is to do exactly this. So when you call me, you are not interrupting my work, you are my work and so I’m happy to take your call whenever. If I’m really busy, I just won’t answer the call. I’ll look at my screen, I’ll see your number there and I will call you back. So you never have to worry about disturbing me because if you’re going to disturb me, I just won’t answer the phone and I’ll call you back when it’s convenient. So don’t be shy about that.

Then there’s Shiromi Praba. Shiromi is the program representative or senior enrollment advisor is her technical title and you can see her email address and her phone number there. You talk to Shiromi. Shiromi will have all of the detailed kind of things. She’ll literally know how to upload your transcripts and how to access the applications and things like that. I don’t know those kinds of things but whatever. Whoever you call if it’s not the right person for you to have called, we’ll send you to the person who is the right one to call.

Thank you. Those are my graduates by the way. All of the pictures that you’ve seen of graduates and graduation ceremonies, those have all been us. I am going to stop here. I’m going to now look at our chat box and see if there’s any questions here. At this point I don’t see any questions in the chat box so if you’ve got anything, feel free to either go into the chat box or look at your name, look for your name, click that little red microphone next to your name so that disappears and then you can ask the question.

Okay so I’ve got a question here. “When is the next enrollment for fall 2017?” Right, so as I said, our next cohort launches in spring and that’s January I think 17 then we’ve got a summer cohort that launches and that’ll launch around the end of May, around the 21st-22nd, somewhere like that in May and then the fall cohort as Allison has asked launches late August. It’s around August 28th or so and just figure that the application deadline for those programs is about a month before the program launches. However, I do want to say this. The earlier you apply, the better. If you have any inclination that you might want to apply for financial aid, those deadlines are far earlier than our application deadlines. So what you want to do is as soon as you decide that you want to give this a shot, just go ahead and apply because your application is good for a year. So there’s no reason to not apply and you stand a far better chance of getting the financial aid. The technical, official, drop dead deadline is about a month before the launch date but the earlier the better.

Second question is, “Can you apply if you already have a paralegal certificate in paralegal studies?”

Yes you can. Many, many, many, many of my students are already paralegals. I would say the majority of our students either are working paralegals or who just sort of got into the profession one way or another or they’re people who have paralegal credentials of one kind or another and there are many reasons for them to join this program even though they’ve already got a credential. Yes, you certainly are eligible to apply if you’ve got another paralegal certificate. If your paralegal certificate is a post-baccalaureate certificate, so in other words, if you were required to have a bachelor’s degree to enter the program that you entered then it is possible that some of those credits will weigh in. So if you have a paralegal certificate like in legal studies or criminal justice or something like that and it’s graduate level, contact me individually and let’s take a look at your credentials to see whether you can transfer any of those credits because I’ve done that in the past.

Okay so, “How does this program differ from the Master of Studies in Law degree?”

This is Paralegal Studies, so I believe that the Master of Studies in Law and I’m not sure which school’s degree you’re referring to because they do tend to differ from school to school, but many law schools offer a Master of Studies in Law and what they give you is theoretical knowledge about the law but you don’t get the actual law degree. You don’t take the bar exam, you don’t become licensed to practice law but you become eligible to I think like work in a law firm or work in the legal field but not as a lawyer.

This is a paralegal certificate. The paralegal sphere is different from the lawyer’s sphere and the things that you end up doing as a paralegal and learning to do are different from what people with law degrees or the Master of Law end up doing. I’m sorry I can’t give you a lot more information, much more finite –not finite but like definite detail about the ways that they differ. I can see that you gave me the name of the school: Gould School of Law but I don’t personally know that particular degree so I can’t give you a better answer than what I’ve just given you but I will be happy after this presentation to do a little research and if you want to contact me individually or anybody else who’s got a question about that, please feel free to contact me. Give me a minute. Give me a little bit of time to do a little bit of research and figure out exactly how they differ and I can give you a better answer than that.

Somebody said, “How many classes are you required to take per semester?”

You take two classes per semester. Thank you for asking that question. That’s a good practical question and now that I think about it, that slide should really be in the slideshow. You take two classes per semester. Now, every semester except for the first and last semester, you take one class at a time. Each class is half a semester long. So you take a class that’s either six or seven weeks long, you get a one or two week break, you take another class that’s six or seven weeks long, one or two week break and on and on and on throughout the program. That’s how the majority of the classes are.

Your first semester you take two classes at the same time and they’re 14 weeks long. Now the reason we did that is because the very first two classes you take are American Jurisprudence and Legal Research and Writing. Legal Research and Writing is a really important class and it underlies everything else that you do. You got to master Legal Research and Writing. The skills are crucial and it’s very difficult. There’s a lot of just technical knowledge and we have learned through experience that the kind of skills that you need to pick up in Legal Research and Writing are the kind of skills that you’d do better at if you do the task, you do an assignment, you get your feedback, you see what you did wrong, you do it again, you get your feedback, you do it again, you do it again, you do it again. That’s the best way to learn. It’s not the kind of material that you can cram right? You can’t take a 14-week course and cram it into 7 weeks, which is what we tried to do at first and those poor students it was very difficult for them.

We realized that with that one particular course time is good. You need more time with it. Now the American Jurisprudence class is a really fun class. It’s that introductory class. It’s the class where you just get that overview of the law. You do a lot of debating. “What is law? What is right? What is wrong? What does it mean to be a citizen? How does the Constitution work?” It’s really fun, juicy kind of. . .it’s what you’re thinking of when you think about studying law. The kind of stuff that you’re thinking of when you think about studying law. So that’s a fun class. You get a lot of information but it goes well with Legal Research and Writing because Legal Research and Writing is so technical and then American Jurisprudence is so fun that the two classes sort of play off against each other. You wouldn’t want two technical classes at the same time. That would be too tough.

So those two classes we have them run 14 weeks long and concurrently. Everything else is seven weeks long consecutively. Then your very last semester you do an internship and you write what is essentially a thesis paper and again, those two are 14 weeks long. By the way, your internship. Let me address that very quickly.

If you get the Master’s degree, you’re required to do an internship. We call it a practicum, same thing. If you are already working, the job that you have will count as your internship, so don’t panic, don’t worry. You don’t have to like quit your paying job and go take an unpaid internship somewhere. If you’re already working, that job counts as your internship. You just register for the class so it shows up in your transcript, you do a couple of exercises. Very simple, very easy, not difficult for you at all and then you get credit for that course.

If you don’t already have a job and you want to do an internship and you need our assistance in finding one, we will help you find an internship. So in any event you’re going to be fine. Don’t worry about it. Nobody in the history of this program has ever not graduated because they didn’t do an internship, so don’t worry about that. We’ll work with you and we’ll make that work no matter what.

Okay so it appears that those are all the questions that have come through. Does anyone else have any other questions? Feel free to send them through in chat. Let’s see.

“What if you have a diploma in paralegal studies from business school and a bachelor degree in criminal justice? Do you have a chance to be accepted into the paralegal certificate program, which is the program I am interested in?”

Yeah absolutely. So essentially it sounds like you’ve got a bachelor’s degree –you got a diploma plus a bachelor’s degree. Yes absolutely. Again, you would be very much like our other students, many of whom already have some sort of credential in paralegal studies, criminal justice, legal studies, things like that. We get a lot of people with that kind of a background, so you would be absolutely qualified and you would be in good company. There would be other people in the program that would be like you.

One other thing by the way, the vast majority of our students work full-time. This is a program that’s designed for adult learners who have full-time jobs. Many of our students work full-time and have kids or are in the military or have spouses in the military. We understand that. We work with you. We know that you are non-traditional students. We know that you guys aren’t for the most part a bunch of 18-year-olds living with your parents or living in a dorm and who have nothing else to do but go to school. We understand that you work. You’ve got families. You’ve got lots of obligations and we are quite understanding when it comes to that. So we work with you. I’ve had students that have been deployed in the middle of a class. We make it happen.

Okay, I see somebody say, “I have a question.” Feel free to go ahead and ask you question. That’s I think Terry or Tara.

[Terry]: Hi, it’s Terry. Thank you. My question is are you able to use your paralegal certificate to go on to the George Washington Law School Program? Would that be comparable?

Toni Marsh: Okay. That is a great question. So the credits from the GW Paralegal Studies Program do not transfer. However, the knowledge does. So if you choose and many of our students do go on to law school, if you choose to go to law school, having the paralegal certificate is going to do a lot for you.

First of all, it’s going to help you to decide if you really do want to go to law school. If you go to paralegal school and you love it then you might think, “Okay it’s worth it for me to go on to law school because I really love this and this is something I’m good at and I’m going to keep doing it.” Law school is highly competitive. Law school is all about rank. It’s a zero sum game. Only one person can be number one. Only one person can be number two. It’s really not like, “We all win. We all rise together. If you win, I lose. If you’re number one, I can’t be number one.” So anything that you have got that can give you a jump on your classmates is good. If you come into law school already knowing about the law, having all of that knowledge that you got from paralegal school, you’re going to do better than your classmates and that is the way it is in law school. You’ve got to have an edge and this will give you that edge.

The other thing is you can be working as a paralegal while you’re going to law school, which means you’re going to be making money and you’re going to be inhabiting that legal world. So you’re going to be building your professional connections, you’re going to have legal resources that you can tap into as you’re in law school. So there are many good reasons to do this program before you go to law school and then finally a lot of do this program thinking they’re going to prepare for law school and then they get into the law firms, they see what the paralegals do, they see what the lawyers do and they realize that they like what the paralegals do better than what the lawyers do. So a lot of them think that they’re going to go on to law school but decide that they do in fact prefer to stay paralegals.

Now, well how can you get into GW Law School? It will not hurt, this program, as I said earlier. We’ve got a great relationship with the law school. The law school knows our students and respects our students. I can’t say to you that if you’ve gone to this program you have a better chance of getting into the GW Law School. That is not the case but I will say that it won’t hurt. They know us and they will know that if you’ve gone to this program they’ll understand that you’ve got a nice background into law, so that may help.

Okay, “I have an associate’s degree in paralegal and a bachelor’s and a Master’s from University of Phoenix. Is that sufficient?”

Yes it is. University of Phoenix is an accredited institution, which means that yes, we will accept a degree from Phoenix, absolutely. So any accredited university, regionally accredited university would. . .you know, a bachelor’s degree from any regionally accredited university will qualify you to enter this program. Yes.

Again, I want to thank you for joining me today. I’m honored that you took time out of your day to spend some time with me here. I certainly hope that you will consider applying. If you do decide to apply, please feel free to contact me, Shiromi. Any one of us can get you started and lead you to the right people. Good luck to you all. If you decide to apply, please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. Thank you so much and goodbye.

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