Special Presentation: Hear from Graduates of Our Program!

To prepare for your role as a successful leader among paralegals, view our special year-end webinar featuring Patti VanHeyde and Trina Brown who, respectively, are a current student and a recent graduate of our Master’s in Paralegal Studies online program at the George Washington University!

Dr. Toni Marsh, the Director of the Master’s in Paralegal Studies online program will also be available for Q&A.

In this webinar, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the program and hear first-hand from Trina and Patti as they share their thoughts on how GW stood out for them!

Patricia (Patti) VanHeyde, B.Sc, B.Ed (MPS Candidate)

Patti VanHeyde entered the Master’s in Professional Studies Program, concentrating in Paralegal Studies, without any prior legal experience and feels she has been successful due to the transferable skills she acquired.

Prior to joining GW, Patti owned and managed a design company at which she continuously found herself researching building codes, city codes, and statutes, reading and writing contracts. On average her daily job included: organizing timelines, receiving products, hiring sub-contractors and writing detailed contracts.

Throughout her career, she worked with many attorney clients, who would repeatedly say, “you would be a great paralegal”, due to her time management skills, organization, and diligence. One day, she decided it was time to unlock a future of possibilities and she enrolled in the Master’s in Professional Studies Program at GW. She said,” it was the best decision I ever made.”

Trina Nycol Brown, M.P.S., Pa.C.P., AACP

With over 23 years of combined paralegal and paralegal management experience, Trina Nycol Brown marries practical experience with academic orientation and research acumen through a portfolio career approach. As a subject-matter expert in legal research and legal writing, Trina provides paralegal instruction to paralegal students within an American Bar Association approved paralegal program in Dallas, Texas. Trina is also the Founder of The Paralegal Advocacy Project, a website dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession.

A Philadelphia native currently living in Texas, Trina holds chair positions and board appointments both in Texas and Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership at Abilene Christian University. She holds a master’s degree from The George Washington University in Paralegal Studies, bachelor’s degree from Immaculata University in Organizational Dynamics, certificates in Paralegal Management, Paralegal Studies and Legal Studies.

Trina is an American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP®), Pennsylvania Certified Paralegal (Pa.C.P.), and a Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP). She was awarded membership into the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas for outstanding pro bono service as well as the College of the State Bar of Texas, an honor society chartered by the Supreme Court of Texas. Trina has written and contributed to numerous publications, has lead workshops, and conducted speaking engagements on the legal profession. Most notably, she writes a Paralegal Column for examiner.com and collaborates with the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division annually to update the Paralegal Ethics Handbook.

Professor Toni Marsh, JD

Professor Toni Marsh is the founding director of the George Washington University paralegal studies programs, an associate dean and an associate professor of paralegal studies. She designed and launched the paralegal studies program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and designed the first ever formal paralegal program in the nation if Tanzania at the University of Bagamoyo.

Professor Marsh presents regularly on unauthorized practice of law, paralegal utilization and using paralegals to increase access to justice. She has practiced criminal and juvenile law for 25 years and is the author of Juvenile Law (2006).

Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, J.D., 1990
Cleveland State University, bachelor of arts in English, 1987


[Start of recorded material 00:00:00]

Kira: Wonderful and hello everyone and welcome to the George Washington University Special Year-End Webinar. Today we’re very excited to have with us a current student, a recent graduate and our online program director, speak about our online masters in paralegal studies program at GW. My name is Kira and I will be your moderator. I know everyone is very excited to hear from our feature speakers, so let’s go over the logistics of today’s events. Please note our participants conference lines are currently placed on mute or listen in mode, to ensure a smoother line of communication, as this presentation is being recorded for later viewing. To communicate with me, please type your messages to me, via the chat box. It’s the roundish bubble icon that lights up when activated. There will be a great opportunity to have your questions answered by our speakers during the Q&A segment, so please don’t hesitate to send me your questions via the chat box, even while the presentation is in progress.

If we’re not able to get through all of your questions within the hour, as you know the webinar will run for about an hour, we will be sure to get in touch with you after our event. Also, our wonderful Enrollment Advisor, Shiromi Praba, will be happy to follow up with you at a later time, on any program-related questions. Now let’s introduce you to our panellists. I’d like you to meet Patricia VanHeyde, but you can call her Patty. She’s a current student of our program. Patty entered the masters in paralegal studies online program, without any prior legal experience, and feels that she has been successful due to the transferrable skills she acquired from the program. Prior to joining GW Patty owned and managed a design company, at which she continuously found herself researching building codes, safety codes and statutes, reading and writing contracts. Throughout her career she worked with many attorney clients, who would repeatedly say you would be a great paralegal.

Due to her time management skills, organisation and diligence, one day she decided it was time to unlock a future of possibilities and she enrolled in the masters in paralegal studies online program at GW, and she said it was the best decision I ever made. Our next special guest is Trina Nicole Brown, a graduate of our masters in paralegal studies online program class of 2014. With over 23 years’ of combined paralegal and paralegal management experience, Trina married practical experience with academic orientation and research acumen through a portfolio career approach. As a subject matter expert in legal research and legal writing, Trina provides paralegal instruction to paralegal students within an American Bar Association approved paralegal program in Dallas, Texas. Trina’s also the founder of the Paralegal [Advocacy 0:08:11] project, a website dedicated to the advancement of the paralegal profession. A Philadelphia native currently living in Texas, Trina holds chair positions and board appointments both in Texas and Philadelphia.

She’s currently pursuing her doctor of education in organisational leadership at Abilene Christian University. She holds a masters degree from the George Washington University in paralegal studies. Bachelors degree from Immaculata University in organisational dynamics, certificates in paralegal management, paralegal studies and legal studies. She was awarded membership into the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas for outstanding pro bono service, as well as the College of the State Bar of Texas, An Honour Society chartered by the Supreme Court of Texas. Trina has written and contributed to numerous publications. Has led workshops, conducted speaking engagements on the legal profession. Most notably she writes a paralegal column for Examiner.com, and collaborates with the State Bar of Texas Paralegal Division, annually, to update The Paralegal Ethics Handbook and, finally, with us today is a Program Director, Professor Toni Marsh, who is the founding director of the George Washington University Paralegal Studies program, an Associate Dean and an Associate Professor of paralegal studies.

She designed and launched the paralegal studies program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and designed the first ever paralegal program in the nation of Tanzania, at the University of Bagamoyo. Professor Marsh presents regularly on unauthorised practice of law paralegal utilisation and using paralegals to increase access to justice. She has practiced criminal and juvenile law for 25 years, and is the author of [Juvenile Law] published in 2006, and she graduated from Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 1990, also Cleveland State University with a bachelor of arts in English in ’87. Welcome everyone for being with us today, and to our panellists. Now, for today’s agenda, we will be talking about the program. So you’ll be hearing from Patty as well as Trina, who will introduce to you our masters in paralegal studies program. They’ll also be talking about the career opportunities available and what it takes to be successful and, of course, the top five reasons to become a GW alumn, and the most awaited Q&A so that all your questions will be answered. So next let’s introduce Patty to the stage. Please take over Patty.

Patty: Hi, I’m Patty VanHeyde and I’m introducing you to the masters in paralegal studies program, which I found to unlock a future of possibilities. Next. Through the course work of the masters in paralegal studies program, GW helps you build a solid foundation through comprehensive course study. The course study is laid out in a very sequential pattern. It’s very comprehendible and very easy to reach the goals at the end of each unit. The course of studies laid out in weekly segments and the material presented to you, through assignments, provide you with the knowledge and the ability to work through those assignments and achieve the goals at the end of the weeks’ assignments. The courses have objectives. The courses have learning skills that you should know, and multiple references that you can use to comprehend the material that was presented. There is also a fantastic faculty support built within the program. There’s a professor that teaches.

The facilitators that assist and there’s many other venues that students can reach out to if they’re looking for support or additional help. One of the programs that I found most beneficial is the George Washington University Writing Centre, since the paralegal program is a writing-based program. The Writing Centre will help students with the cohesive management of their writing assignment. They will encourage you to either research more or write more, condense more and, kind of, coach you through the whole process, to produce a fantastic write at the end. Next. There’s quite a few different possibilities, career possibilities in the paralegal program. When I entered I was thinking more of just the traditional paralegal, working in law firms such as a law firm that specialises in divorce, or in personal injury, something like that, just a real specific law firm-type topic. Well, when I entered the program, I have a science background, a real inquisitive mind, so I tended to lean toward more than non-traditional roles, which I just kept noticing more and more and more opportunities.

So there’s a wealth of opportunities for the paralegal program, that are outside of a law firm, and it’s just personal preference on which way you’d want to go. I’m extremely interested in intellectual property law, which is copyright, trade mark, patents, trade secrets, and there’s all different venues that you can work with, or work from, within that area of law just by itself. There’s also government sector which, in my case I was looking at the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office. There’s also all the government agencies that, you know, you can actually find all of them on the internet. It’s just an unbelievable amount of opportunity for a paralegal in the government sector, and there’s also finance and real estate. Next. The key to success in the program is pretty basic. I would say the most important thing is to be organised, and the organisation would come through real consistent study habits. It’s important to stay on top of the program.

It’s important to stay consistent with the assignments in the program, and it’s important to reach out to faculty if you’ve having a problem within the program. By problem I mean you may not understand a concept. You may have difficulty comprehending a unit or how to write a legal brief. I came in this program with no prior legal experience, and the first course that I had was legal research and writing, which is really the crux of the whole program. Along with the American Jurisprudence, which teaches you the legal system itself, but I spent a lot of time in that first semester with a professor and with the facilitators, working through and comprehending all of these things that I’ve never touched, never read in my life, and with that extra time that I put in, I had a strong foundation to go through the rest of the program, and my favourite part of the program is actually the legal writing.

When you read the assignments, it’s real important to read with purpose and know why you’re reading the assignments, and focus on learning, what are you learning, rather than what your grade is, because if you learn the material and if you read it and if you know what you’re reading you’re going to do just fine. The program is laid out beautifully. It’s very sequential. It builds on itself and it has the ultimate goal, at the end, of producing a very confident, capable and knowledgeable paralegal and, again, utilise the resources. There’s resources posted for each course, there’s resources in the College of Professional studies, there’s resources at the library and they’re all very easily accessible to you. Next.

Kira: Perfect, thank you Patty, and now let’s have Trina.

Trina: Hi everyone, my name is Trina Brown, and I’m a recent grad of the paralegal program at GW, and I’m going to tell you the five reasons that you should become a GW alumn. Next slide please. Well first, the cutting edge approach to the learning, I’m going to piggyback on what Patty’s spoken about, the course work. You’ll find that the particular classes that are set out in this degree program, they tie directly to practical experiences that you’ll need as a paralegal, specifically as Patty spoke about, legal research. You’ll have a real world experience by working with Les Law and [LexisNexis 0:17:52], which are the research platforms that are used generally with our paralegals in law firms, and you’ll have experience doing those things while in school, which you can carry on into the professional [unintelligible 0:18:04] which you choose. The second thing is the technology that you use, a platform called [Mootoo 0:18:10]. I’m not sure if you guys are familiar with Mootoo, but I found that if you can use LinkedIn and you can use Facebook you can use Mootoo.

It is that user-friendly and it’s an easy way to get to the different assignments, the way that the platform looks and the way it’s laid out, it will be very … it’s not difficult at all. Next slide please. Your personal and professional support and this is really important to us as online learners. Sometimes, not being on campus, you feel that maybe you’re disconnected, but this program is the opposite of that. You’ll find that, from your [unintelligible 0:18:46] counsellor, [unintelligible 0:18:48] to the faculty and the student services advisor, you’ll have the personal and professional support that you may be looking for as an online student. I’ll give you a few of my testimonies specifically. Just dealing with the faculty, and having any type of real world issue that comes up, they’re very responsive to what you need and, specifically, the student services advisor, my student services advisor served as a [unintelligible 0:19:18] for me to finish the program. While in the program my family was struck with a real world crises.

My mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I’m in the program, I’m thinking oh my goodness, how am I going to finish this program? You know, I have all these [unintelligible 0:19:32] going on and I sat down with my student services advisor. She gave me advice. She gave me tips on how to get work done. She was a listening ear that I just needed someone to talk to. Someone who understood what it was like to experience this as well as be in school, and I felt very connected to campus, although I was an online student and that was very important for me. Also, your Program Director, Professor Marsh, she’s very touchable and I really do mean that. I was very blown away, and I tell people this all the time, I was very blown away that I actually called her line and she answered the phone. She’s very touchable. She’ll answer any questions that you need. Even as an alumni, I reached out for her for reference letters for jobs and [moving 0:20:18] all of my education and, specifically, she travels and does a lot of paralegal leadership … had a lot of paralegal leadership opportunities.

She’s going to be in Missouri. She’ll get an email that says hey guys I’m going to be in Missouri. Do I have any students or alumn there? I’d like to meet up with you, so maybe we can go for coffee or tea or something like that, and those things are more important to me, as an online student, because I felt connected with campus. Next slide please. The Paralegal Association … you have two. While you’re a student there’s a Paralegal Student Association, which is the PSA, and then once you complete the program you’ll be part of the Paralegal Alumni Association, which is the PAA. As a paralegal student, you can participate in student leadership opportunities with the PSA. They have a board of directors. They have a volunteering event. They have a Facebook and a Twitter account where they post events that are coming up. Sometimes there’s an online event, like post your GW t-shirt, and there’d be a contest that way. So even though you’re an online student, you’ll get to participate in that.

They had on campus pro bono events, which are extended to the online community as well. Sometimes things are streamed, that you can see what’s going on there, and then there’s the association newsletter. The board gets together and they put out a newsletter, so you’ll know exactly what’s going on, on campus, as well as in the online world, due to that newsletter. As part of the Paralegal Alumni Association, this year I served as the Education and Ethics chair, and so we’re doing some great things for our alumns. Of course there are leadership opportunities, where you could join the board or chair a particular position, but we have webinars in CLEs, specifically next month we have a CLE [unintelligible 0:22:10] that’s going to talk about forensic litigation collection through e-discovery which, as we know, is very relevant now, e-discovery is that [composite 0:22:19] everyone’s talking about, and it’s relevant to the paralegal community, and it’s important to have at least a fundamental skill set of that, and so we would offer that through the PAA.

You will be able to log on, on your lunch break and maybe take that webinar, and then the networking. Last month, for alumni weekend, we had a networking event online, because we’re online students of course, so we wanted to put just a … we wanted to have the online students participate, and we did a post a picture of you with something GW. So you had … some people posting pictures where they were hiding behind a GW mug, or they had a GW maybe painted on their cheek, and then we did a drawing for someone to win a gift associated with that. So that was just one of the fun events that we’ve done so far. Next slide please. The networking opportunities. You’ll find in this program that as you go through the cohort with the individuals who join with you, that you’ll build personal and professional relationships. I have done that. Today I still am associated with some of the individuals from my cohort. Specifically, there were two ladies in my cohort who actually live here in Texas, and I ran into them at a networking event here, and I remember seeing her name, while at GW.

I thought hey, you went to GW and I said yeah, you did too, and so we built a bond there, and they’ve become part of my professional network, and then you’ll find that networking via social media, right, because that’s how the most of us network these days. We’re all LinkedIn. We’re on Twitter and we’re on Facebook. Well, GW has a huge alumni base. They have a LinkedIn group that you can join, and then specifically for the Paralegal Association, the Paralegal Students Association, as well as the Paralegal Alumni Association, and they both have individual Twitter and Facebook pages, where events are posted. We are even talking about maybe posting changes to laws, things that affect the paralegal community as a whole, and so those will be places that will help you feel connected with campus, by visiting those social media [partners 0:24:38]. Next slide please. And a development of high potential. What I found and I graduated in 2014. It’s been a year since I’ve graduated, and I found that employers are very impressed with receiving a terminal degree in your field.

They’re very impressed with one, that you have a masters in paralegal studies, as well as that you went to GW, because just like employers are selective and rigorous, so is GW, and they recognise that, and just having that terminal degree in your field is very rewarding, and is definitely a great way to enter or continue through the paralegal field. As Kira said earlier, I’ve been a paralegal since 1993, and as I went through my career I thought hey, you know, I’ve been doing it for a while. I have my bachelors, my paralegal certificate, and I’m pretty much set up. I was not at all prepared for how my degree catapulted me in my career, specifically a job interview that I went on, and I showed up and I gave her my resume, and they were really impressed that I went as far to get a terminal degree in my field. It showed them my dedication to the profession and last, but definitely not least, the research project. One of these courses, here at GW, will be to take a research course.

It’s similar to a master’s thesis, and I found that this body of writing is a deliverable that’s very impressive, very scholarly. I’ve used it as writing samples. My research project was on the unauthorised practice of law, and I’ve had portions of that project published in different publications, and I am now sitting on a UPL committee here in Texas, and it’s a very impressive deliverable to the blood, sweat and tears that you put in as you go through your program, and you produce this document and say hey, you know, this is a scholarly piece of writing that I was able to produce from the things that I’ve learned through my course work. Next slide Kira please.

Kira: Perfect, thank you so much Trina. So, before we go into the Q&A segment, I know we have lots of time for that, so we’ll be going through all your questions. Anything you want to ask our student, our graduate, our Program Director, now would be a wonderful opportunity, but as well, I’d like to introduce to you, in case you’re like, eager to find out about how you can get started joining our program, we are currently accepting applications for the spring start. Course begins January 11. There is time to apply. Shiromi Praba will be your Enrollment Advisor. She’s the team lead, very helpful, very dedicated, knowledgeable, and I’m sure our panellists will testify to that on Shiromi’s role in helping really ease the enrollment process. So we’ll talk more about that but definitely, you know, get in touch with her via email or telephone, and she’ll have … go through everything there is, thoroughly, with you. Now, we are going to go through the Q&A segment.

So what I wanted to ask our panellists, Trina and Patricia, perhaps we can start with Patricia. What’s really interesting about this webinar is that we actually didn’t reach out to you. You reached out to Rachael Lawrence, your Student Service Advisor, about actually providing a presentation on your experience in the program, and that was something that you wanted to participate in, and have the opportunity to, kind of, share your experience and your insights with, you know, prospective students of the program. So Patty, can you tell us, and then afterwards Trina, can you tell us what inspired you to participate in this event?

Patty: This is Patty. What inspired me to participate in the event is just the overall confidence, capabilities and knowledge that I gained through the program. The program’s taught me to teach at a higher level and to achieve at a higher level. Throughout the program I also learned it was very personal, very interactive. The content was engaging. The professors are engaging. They’re all very interesting and they constantly reach out to you. It’s not something that you feel that you’re struggling through a project on your own. I felt that, you know, perhaps it would be like I was just doing a private study, when you’re taking an online course, but it’s anything but. The assignments are very interactive. Every single week you have an interactive assignment, where you’re relating to other students in your course, your course section, and you have questions and answers. Sometimes you could take each other’s work.

Sometimes you work together, as a group, on a project and I feel that the knowledge that you get from everybody else in the program improves your ability to communicate with people. To work with other people and it improves just your skills as student, because grad school’s intense and it’s challenging, but it’s also very rewarding, and what I found it does, is that it requires you to sharpen a variety of skills, and to learn new skills, and the other thing is, like I said, it provides … the program produces very good writers. It provides you with the skill set necessary to excel in the paralegal community. I found that it increased my depth of knowledge, my critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and it’s given me a strong grasp on legal concepts in the legal system overall. So it trains you to be a professional. It trains you to understand people, and it trains you to work with others.

Trina: I definitely agree.

Kira: Thank you Patty, Trina.

Trina: Yeah, so me, I reached out, and wanted to talk to prospective students because my experience has been so enjoyable, and hearing the different stories about … different opinions about online learning and, you know, the good, the bad and the ugly, and my experience was so rewarding and so great that I say hey, I would love to talk to people about this. Not just because … I mean, even though opinions of judges and lawyers, GW is always an icebreaker, it really is. When I go to networking events and they’re like hey, well what did you study, and I’m like oh, I got my paralegal masters from GW. It’s like, people know … they know GW, they trust that name. It’s just in the online program. It is an online program [housed 0:31:47] in a prestigious university and most people, in a legal community, they recognise the rigour associated with this type of program, and they want someone who can complete a program like that but, specifically to GW, although the course work is rigorous, because we want to make sure we’re here to learn the course work, it’s laid out in an easy, understandable way, from the senior paralegal to the brand new paralegal, because I’ve met both, you know, during my time at GW, the learning curve … there really isn’t one.

The course work is laid out so that you can understand week by week, step by step, what you need to do and, as Patty said, there’s always someone there to help you. From the Writing Centre to the faculty, and the professors actually have facilitators who … they actually help you as well, and so you have twice as much support during each course, and I just felt like I wanted to, you know … I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to enter the field that I’m in, that I take very seriously they are the next generation of paralegals. You know, why not have them [get a great support 0:32:51] by getting a terminal degree in their field, as well as attending a university that would help them be successful?

Kira: Thank you so much, and this question is for our Program Director, Toni Marsh, Professor Marsh. What are your thoughts about the ABA approval, and some employers specifically ask for the ABA approval, or approved paralegal programs. Can you talk about that?

Toni: Sure. Thank you so much for asking, and before I just have got to jump in and say that, probably our greatest asset here at GW is our alumni, and they are fabulous, and Trina and Patty are great examples of some of the really wonderful people that are associated with this university. One of my favourite lines, ever, comes from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, where Captain Jack Sparrow is sitting there and he says … he’s talking about what’s a ship and he says, you know, a ship isn’t a mast and sails and a hull, but the ship is [freedom 0:33:59]. It’s with the sails and the hull that you [do 0:34:02] … and the same thing with the university. You know, university is not bricks and mortar and chalkboards and desks and classrooms, it’s the people in it, and the ideas that it generates and the knowledge that it creates, and so I just want to acknowledge how wonderful this university is because of the wonderful people who are associated with it, so anyway, on to ABA approval. That’s a really interesting question.

So the GW program is not ABA approved and the reason that we’re not ABA approved is because we are a fully accredited academic credit bearing program, and we are … to get accredited is actually a much higher level of credential than ABA approval, so we’ve got official government mandated, or government issued, accreditation that comes from … well, ultimately from the federal government, and then through the Middle States Association. So we … you know and [to get this 0:35:00] accreditation we’ve got to do all kinds of things that are far more stringent and rigorous than ABA approval. Now, a lot of people say well, the employers demand ABA. You know, they want people with a certificate from an ABA approved [forum 0:35:14], or a degree from an ABA approved program. That has not been the case … that is not realistic. That’s not the case. So there’s two things [there 0:35:23].

First of all, most employers don’t know and don’t care, and the evidence of that is in where our graduates end up. So our graduates, we are almost 100% … our graduates are almost 100% employed. Those who want employment and who seek it in the right way are employed, and they’re employed at where they want to be. So we’ve got students … I’ve got a student at the United States Supreme Court. I’ve had students in the Senate, in the House or Representatives and the White House and Royal Bank. Department of Defence, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, USCA, [unintelligible 0:36:04] Office, all the big law firms. [Exxon 0:36:08], [unintelligible 0:36:08], GE, [unintelligible 0:36:10]. I mean, I can go on and on and on. Our graduates are in the top firms, corporations and government agencies. So clearly … and I didn’t even get to the non-profits and charitable organisations. You have Southern Poverty Law, Centre of Children’s Law, Centre of … and so, anyway, so that’s your proof, right.

It is [unintelligible 0:36:30] being employed, and yes they are … and they’re being employed in really great places. I’m going to tell you a very quick story to also further illustrate this. A lot of employers, they send out these job notices and they say looking for a paralegal, must know how to do blah, blah, blah, must have this and that. [Unintelligible 0:36:50] get from an ABA approved program, right, and it’s because it’s boiler plate. It’s in the ad, it’s been there for a thousand years, and they just keep setting those ads up. They change, maybe, the job requirements or the job description, and they leave all that boiler plate in there. So one day, and this was right when the program … when our program first started up, somebody from a major multinational [office 0:37:14] called me up and said I’m looking for a paralegal. We’re looking to hire a paralegal, can you please post this job notice on your university website, or on the program website, and so he sent me the notice and it said just that.

Looking for a paralegal, [marked down 0:37:27] this, [marked down 0:37:28] that, must have graduated from an ABA approved program. So I called the guy up immediately and said I just wanted to let you know we’re not ABA approved. He said oh, that’s fine, just delete that, just delete that line then, which I did, and I ended up sending him the legal [unintelligible 0:37:42] student, who he ended up hiring, and then when he wanted more paralegals he came back and hired more, and I think I ended up placing three or four paralegals in that law firm. So it just illustrates that even where the ad says must have an ABA approved … you know graduated from the ABA approved program. When you explain to them that you’re from GW, and that there is an accredited program, that you’ve got a masters degree from GW, that whole ABA thing just melts away. So it’s not a big deal. We’ve chosen not to pursue it because, you know, we’ve got the higher level of credentialing, and we think that that’s best for us and our students.

Trina: And Toni, this is just to speak specifically to what you said, Kira and I were talking before the webinar began, and I’ve been doing freelance paralegal work for the last year, after my mother passed away, and I’m back to work now, and [Unintelligible 0:38:37], the corporate government paralegal position that I’ve just got, to start on Monday, actually said ABA approved [unintelligible 0:38:44]. I said okay well, I have a master’s degree from GW, and it’s a master’s degree, I’m going to apply anyway, and it was exactly like you said. Kira and I were just discussing this. It was exactly like what you said. They were like oh well, you have a master’s degree, you know, they were thinking, more fresh out of high school paralegal certificate, ABA approved, not on a master’s level, and that’s why it was posted that way. They figure once you get to the masters level you’re good to go, and that’s what they said.

Toni: Yes, absolutely right Trina. Thanks for mentioning that, but you’re absolutely right. So it does, it trumps. [Unintelligible 0:39:19] but it definitely does, but it does, it definitely trumps [unintelligible 0:39:24].

Kira: That clears things up. So thank you so much, and the next question is for Patricia. Now Patricia, I know you graduated with a certificate in paralegal studies, so congratulations on that, but you’ve actually opted to move further and now you’re currently working on obtaining your masters. So can you tell us, do you need to go through the certificate to get to the masters program, and also what made you go further into the masters? Thank you.

Patty: Well, the graduate certificate of paralegal studies is actually part of the paralegal program, the masters in paralegal study program, and it was just the first step, to me a two step process. So I accomplished all the requirements for that, and I found that a lot of employers actually wanted the certificate. You know, a certificate that shows that you have the education and the background, and they just wanted to know and they wanted the piece of paper, and so I took the courses and fulfilled the requirements for that first, but it’s also part of this paralegal program. So I’m at the tail end of it, meaning I just have to do the thesis, which I’m writing in my head, so it’s not put down on paper –

Kira: That’s nice.

Patty: – and I keep getting all these like, really great ideas and I’m going oh boy, I’ve got to get this down, I’ve got to get this down, and then I just have one more course. So it’s part of the program. It’s a very reputable certificate and, you know, it’s just like, one more thing to add to your resume.

Kira: So essentially you don’t need to graduate with a certificate before moving on to your master’s degree? You just wanted to have more education, right, because –

Patty: Yeah. It’s built into this program, so it’s part of the program, and I went in for the masters and found out that I could get this graduate certificate also, which I did. So yeah, you could say it’s like furthering your education but, you know, I’m an overachiever.

Kira: Nice, yeah.

Patty: I just get going and I don’t want to stop, and I think a lot of it is just the encouragement from the faculty at George Washington University. It created a sense of community and they really support the students, and they really encourage the students, and you just find yourself reaching for goals that you would never have expected yourself to reach for, prior to the program. It’s a lot of support and also, the faculty gets back to you like, you know, in a snap, and Professor Marsh called me, on a Saturday morning when I was having problems with a program, by getting online to an interview stream program. She called me up. Okay, let’s go this, let’s do that. You know, and I was just shocked that, you know, she picked up the phone and called me, but we got it straightened out and then everything went through.

Trina: You know it’s funny Patty you would say that. This is Trina. I often thought Professor Marsh is going to kill me, because when I started to apply for … to further my education, I applied to six schools, and I sent out … I had to send off six letters of recommendation, right, and so I’m constantly [binging 0:42:54] her with hey, we need a recommendation for Trina again, and she happily complied with each and every request.

Toni: Well, I hope you two remember this around Christmas. You know, Christmas is coming soon, and what’s … just kidding.

Patty: Yeah, you’re first on my list.

Toni: No, no, but I do, I love … we love helping our students, and it’s what we do, and it’s what makes the job enjoyable and pleasant, seeing our students succeed. You know, it’s why we’re here. So I’m glad that you have benefited from it, and you’ve done … you know you’ve taken it and run, so that’s great.

Kira: Great, so the next question. This is for Toni, our Program Director. Now, with GW being based in DC, we have a student who lives in California, so is this degree going to be useful, or is it focussed in DC law?

Toni: Well that is a great question. So we focus on federal law. Because we have a national program, we focus on federal law. So with that … there’s two legal systems operating simultaneous in the United States. So it’s the federal system that governs the whole country and then each state has its own system. So wherever you are, you’re really under two jurisdictions. We teach federal law and then … which makes the degree portable. You can go from state to state. The paralegal profession, there are no licensing requirements in the paralegal profession, which is another really good reason to choose the paralegal profession, because you can go anywhere with it. Unlike an attorney, for example, where you’ve got to be licensed in each state that you practice, a paralegal can go anywhere and does not need to be licensed in each individual state. So having that [unintelligible 0:44:45], in federal law, gives you enough to operate on, so that whatever state you go to you can start, and you’ve got enough experience, you’ve got enough knowledge, and then you can pick up whatever, you know, state law or rules and regulations you need to know, but the federal government is the number one employer throughout the United States, not just here in Washington DC.

So there’s huge federal presence throughout the United States, and having a good solid basis in federal law will serve you well, no matter where you live and no matter what you do. Even if you go into a completely state practice like, for example, criminal law. Most criminal law is state law. There are a lot of federal crimes, but most criminal practices focus on state law. Even there, having that federal base of knowledge will serve you well, because most state laws are based on the federal laws or are derived from the federal laws. So once you have mastered the federal system it’s easy enough to adapt to the state system and by the way, California … even though we’re on the east coast, the whole thing with, you know, we’re on the east coast, and the whole thing with, you know, operating east coast time and west coast time, what we do, we have many students on the west coast, and throughout the west coast, and we take that into account.

So, for example, all of our assignments are due at 3:00 a.m., which is midnight west coast time, and we do that purposely to accommodate the west coast students. So the east coast students get a couple of extra hours, but the west coast students get until midnight their time, which is fair and reasonable. So we know you’re out there. We understand things like time change and time zones and we accommodate that as best we can.

Trina: And tell me, this is Trina. I had quite a few students from California in my cohort, specifically there’s a young woman on the panel of the Alumni Association. She’s actually in California and she has a freelance paralegal business there. She graduated from GW.

Toni: Oh great, yeah, because we have a lot of people in California, for some reason.

Kira: Yeah, so the next question we have would be both for Trina and Patricia, and this … I guess a lot of … it’s applicable to many of our prospective students who are busy managing life, family life and also work life. Now, how do you balance all of that? How do you even fit, you know, your school work into a fulltime life schedule, with everything that’s going on, and could you also talk about the support system from, you know, starting from your enrollment advisor to your student services support, and how that has helped you achieve your success? Let’s start with Trina.

Trina: Okay. While in the program … I touched on this a little bit earlier. I mean, life happens, and while in the program my mother was actually diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I spoke with Rachael Lawrence many times, to work through that process, because it was such a devastating event for my family. I didn’t think I could get out of bed, better yet go to work and also handle this program, but I was able to do much more than I thought I could, just from her support, but specifically for the work-wise balance. While in the program my daughter Kathy was born in 2011. I started the program in 2012. So I had two small children under the age of 5. I worked fulltime and I did this program one night a week, and so the way that I was able to balance it all, I had to be very diligent about my schedule. As Toni spoke too, I really enjoyed the fact that they catered to the west coast time zone, because there were times that I needed the extra two or three hours that evening to make sure my assignments got in on time, but I found that it was a good time to do it, for me.

It allowed me to not only tap into a level that I didn’t think I could go to. It showed me just how much I could do, and my husband just kept saying to me there’s no good time. There will never be a good time. If you sit down and wait for the perfect opportunity, where the stars are aligned, for you to start the program that may never come. You need to jump in and we figure out life as we go, and that, kind of, was our motto as we went through. The support system at the university is amazing, from the facilitators to the professors. They understand real world, because a lot of them, they are practitioners of what they’re teaching. They actually have practical experience in, you know, another job, doing this, as well as teaching at GW. They have advanced degrees and they know the world that exists and they work with you. Every professor I’ve had has worked with me. They’ve been very kind. They’re very responsive, and they’re very sensitive to real world issues, and so that was a big contributing factor for me, to finish the program, considering all of the different life challenges that I faced while there.

Kira: Thanks Trina, and Patty, do you have something to add as well?

Patty: Yeah, I totally agree with Trina, that the stars are never going to align perfectly. There’s always going to be something on your plate, that you might think would hold you back, but you need to remember that, you know, this is your future, and you’ve got to take the first step, because once you take that first step, the university will help you formulate a plan to focus … if you need the help, they’re going to help you. If you’re real independent, you know, you’re going to formulate your own plan, but the key is, really, to know your study habits, and just try to be as consistent as you can with them, to stay on course. Organise yourself and look forward, because each course will open up with assignments, and you can see the assignments from week one, from the first week to the last week, and if you know there’s going to be a time constraint on a certain week, you can look forward and actually try to prepare for it, to make life easier for you, but all in all you have advisors, you have support advisors. You have your student advisor.

You have people that will reach out and help you. The other thing is when you’re studying, and you don’t have a lot of time to waste, what it teaches you to do is really hone in and focus on your assignments. The program will teach you to read with purpose and to relate your reading assignments to your course work, and then relate your course work to the reading assignments. So it’s a real nice balance there, where you’re not ever wasting time if you focus. You can just focus, achieve, focus, achieve and, like I said earlier, focus on learning and learning the objectives, and also learning from the comments that a professor or facilitator will write on your assignments when they turn them back in, because those comments will help you achieve a better grade, or a better grade with more ease, on the next assignment, so all in all yeah, it is intense, it is challenging, but it’s very, very rewarding and, like Trina said, the stars never align right.

When I started the program my son started graduate school, and him and his wife were living on and off with me here, so we just had a real hectic schedule. My mom passed away, my dad needed to clear out the house, and I got it all done because I just kept focussing, looking ahead, planning, staying organised. It wasn’t easy, but I felt very accomplished when I finished everything. So it’s a very, very, very rewarding program, and I’ll tell you one thing, it is a darn good [unintelligible 0:52:43]. You won’t find anything better out there.

Trina: I hear you.

Kira: Thank you so much both. So the next question is for Toni, and it’s actually a two part question Toni. The first part is can you talk about the timing of the program? Are courses done like, one at a time? How long does it take to complete? That sort of thing and, also, the second part is once a student has graduated are there job placement opportunities or internship? Can you speak about type of services available to help students get on their way? Thank you.

Toni: Sure, thank you, so a couple of things. So the first question was what’s the timing of the program? The courses run … you essentially take two classes per semester. If you are getting the masters degree, it’ll take you two years altogether. The very first semester you’ve got two classes running concurrently, so both classes are full semester long, and they run at the same time, although we have very carefully planned those two classes, to be sure that the workload is evenly distributed. So there are … you know you make sure that test and assignments, between the two classes are coordinated, so you don’t have two huge projects on the same day, in both classes. Those are the only two classes that run like that. However, after that the classes run consecutively. So it’s not just 14 weeks long. That first semester you’ve got two classes that are each 14 weeks long. After that each class is seven or six weeks long, and then you’ve got a break, one class and a break, then the other class.

The reason we run those first two classes concurrently, for 14 weeks, in the first semester is because both of those classes contain a lot of material that’s of the type that you have to look at, think about, learn, sort of, digest, practice, tweak, go back and review. The subject [matter 0:54:39], and especially legal research and writing, it’s such that you need time with it. You just need time, and so that’s why we designed it in that way and, you know, it will [unintelligible 0:54:49] because those courses used to run concurrently. Since we’ve changed them so they run consecutively, our students have experienced a lot more success, so we’re really happy with that, and [that's it 0:54:59]. The courses run one right after another. You do it at your convenience. We impose a lot of small assignments and deadlines throughout the week, so that you stay engaged, and so that you’re, kind of, forced to keep up with the work, and it works very well for everybody, and the second question was about career support.

I believe it was about career support and [sort of a 0:55:23] … we understand that people are coming to this program because they are seeking careers. I do give some people who are coming to us of a love of learning, and that’s wonderful, and those people are more than welcome, but the majority of my students are career oriented, and we start our students … we get them on the road to their careers from the very first day. In fact from before the first day, because the first day of class we’ve got an orientation and we bring in our director of career services to meet with our students before classes even begin, and talk to our students about the resources that are available. Get our students to create LinkedIn profiles if they don’t have them already, and familiarise them with the career services office. In the very first class American Jurisprudence, there’s a career unit, and we get you thinking about that, and then throughout your time at GW, as Trina and Patty said, there are all kinds of events. We’ve got networking events.

We’ve got seminars. Many of these are on campus, but many of them are online. So you can work with people online, virtually. We encourage our students to create these networks, and they have. I mean, many of our students are connected very closely, of our online students, and so we bring them into the university. We make sure that we integrate them with each other and with the university, and as many of you know that the best way to build your career is through networking. So we get you started networking from the very beginning. Then, just in a more tangible, concrete sense, we offer all kinds of services. Real direct career services to our students and our alumni. So our career services are available to our alumni, free of charge forever, which is unique among higher education. Most schools do not offer their alumni career services, or if they do it’s fee-based. We offer career services for free, but we’ll do … of course we maintain a job board, a password protected job board, for the exclusive use of our students, and we post some killer jobs on that job board, really good ones.

We offer resume review, [unintelligible letter 0:57:33] review, mock interviews, and we do those … again you can come in, in person and do a mock interview or do it online. You can use Skype, we use Face Time, we use a device called InterviewStream. So we offer that. We offer counselling, one on one counselling. We offer testing, to help you decide where you want to go and what you’re good at. What your skills are. What your gaps are and then, again, you know, all kinds of resources and events for you and then, finally, your [capstone 0:58:03] is a practical. So if you’re already working in the legal field that will count. You use that experience as your practical, or your internship. If you aren’t already working in a legal field, or you don’t have a job that’s at least closely related to the law, there you need to find an internship and we give you all kinds of help with that. We’ve got a huge network of internship sponsors that we work with, and then you do that and we guide you through that.

So you go and you work, but while you’re working you’re also learning. You’re journaling, you’re reflecting, you’re sharing your experiences with other, so that you really put that internship to good use. We’ve even got things … we’ve even got grants from the career services, from the higher university career services and from the board of trustees, to develop career-related programs, and we’ve done that as well. We’ve got a huge network of alumni because we’re an online, a national online program, we’ve got a great network throughout the United States, and I think it was Trina who mentioned we really keep in touch with our alumni throughout the States. So all of that works to the benefit of you and your career search and development.

Kira: Thanks Toni, so our next question would be for our graduates. So we have Patty who did not have prior legal experience, coming into the program. Please let us know how the program has helped you, and also for Trina who’s had, you know, extensive paralegal experience, a season paralegal. Did you find the program still challenging? You know, was it able to provide you with challenging material? So let’s start with Patty, from your perspective and then we’ll move to Trina. Thank you.

Patty: Hi, this is Patty. Yeah, prior to joining GW I was a designer, and what I learned, through the program was that I had a lot of very transferrable skills, and you wouldn’t think so, as like an interior designer, but I work with contracts all the time. Everything is in a contract, from a sub-contractor to a vendor to, you know, working with the city. I was researching codes and statutes and all sorts of things like that, and when I was going through the program I thought oh, I know what that is, or I know what that statute is, or I know how to find this. I know how to find that. So what was real interesting to me was the discovery of how I had a skill set that would actually transfer into this paralegal program, and in doing that, you know, I just found the love of research, the love of legal writing, and also the fact that I’m a designer, so I’m a little bit creative, and a science background, so I’m very … I question a lot of things. You know, I’m always thinking … like the scientific method, and then that’s, kind of … well, snowballed into the fact that I’m very interested in the intellectual property area.

Trina: Okay and as a ten year paralegal I found the program rigorous because I received my paralegal certificate in the 90s, and I know that just dated me, but I’m going to move on, and the program that I went through, it was a really great program, a very structured program, but at the time I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for in a program. I didn’t know the classical standards were before the program, and I chose a program that provided me with what I needed, but there were still a few gaps, that I learned, that I was able to pick up on, working in the profession, but as I went through I realised that there were still some things I needed to get. There were still some things I needed to learn about the profession, that I didn’t actually learn in school, and said well okay, this time, when I look for another place to get my education, I’m going to make sure that they offer me what I need, to do this job, not just a basic knowledge of how to do this job.

I want to go into the job and be able to hit the ground running. I want to go into the job with practical experience and knowledge of how to do the job, and so that’s what inspired me to go back and get a masters degree and, ultimately, what led me to GW was that I knew that I would get that level at this university and I was actually surprised at the personal experiences that also came with that, and so I did find the program a little challenging, because there were gaps in what I learned in the 90s in my program, versus what I got at GW, but I was happy to be able to fill those gaps with this program.

Kira: Thank you ladies. So this question’s for Trina. I guess we’re coming up to the one hour mark so probably the last question for today’s event. You mentioned earlier you were applying to six different programs. What made you decide GW was it for you?

Trina: Well, it was the [same 1:03:12] in the community and, to be quite honest, it was what the program offered, as a student, but their alumni network, GW was named as one of the top 50 most powerful alumni networks in the nation, and I thought that that was amazing because not only will I be a student, but some day I’m going to be an alumni, and I’m going to be alumni while I’m going to be a student, so it’s important for me to be able to tap into a network of people who I can call on, you know, as I go through my career, who are part of powerful law firms and legal departments and government, who can assist me as I go through my career, and so for me that was the deciding factor, along with the way the program’s laid out. The order in which it’s laid out, it builds on each other.

You’re not just [unintelligible 1:03:59] through a legal class and you have no legal background, for those who may not have a legal background, but the classes build on each other. You don’t feel like you’re forced into a … you know you’re not in another country where you don’t speak the language. The classes are built on each other, which helps you to digest the challenging course work and so rewarded at the end of that.

Kira: Wonderful Trina. Thank you Patricia VanHeyde, Trina Brown and our Program Director, Toni Marsh, as well as all of our attendees today, for taking the time from your busy day, spending your lunch with us for the hour. Really appreciate you being here and I hope the session has been beneficial. Has been insightful for you, as you get to know our program more, and hear your firsthand experience from our graduates. Those who are currently … one who’s currently going through the program, as well as Trina who completed the program, if you’d like to join this fantastic network of alumni and become a GW alumn, with a masters in paralegal studies, either certificate program or the masters program, talk to Shiromi Praba?

She is accepting applications currently for upcoming start dates in January and she can be reached at 1888 989 7069, extension 3251, and her email address is also just beneath her telephone number, on your screen, and we look forward to welcoming you to the GW family. Something that’s going to stay with you for the rest of your professional career, so thank you everyone, and enjoy the rest of the year and hope to have you join us 2016. Once again, thank you Trina, Toni and Patty, looking forward to speaking with you soon. Good-bye everyone.

Toni: Thank you everyone. I hope I hear from you very soon. Okay, bye-bye.

Trina: Bye.

Patty: Bye-bye, thank you.

Kira: Bye-bye now.

[End of recorded material 01:06:08]

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