The Who What Why How and Where of Paralegals

Title: The Who What Why How and Where of Paralegals
Date: March 10, 2015
Panelists: Toni Marsh, J.D., Program Director, Master’s in Paralegal Studies Online program at the George Washington University; and Kira Nguyen, Host/Moderator
Subject: This presentation explains WHO today’s paralegals are, WHAT they know and WHAT they can and cannot do, WHY law offices should use more paralegals to do more things, HOW to use paralegals for maximum benefit, and WHERE paralegals are working to advance the legal profession and serve the public.


Kira: Hi everyone, thank you for joining us today. We’ll be starting in just a couple of minutes. We’re just doing a sound check. Good afternoon on a beautiful Tuesday March 10th and welcome to the George Washington University Masters in Paralegal studies online webinar. And thank you for taking the time to join us for the hour.

My name is Kira and I will be your moderator for today. Before I begin I would like to go over the logistics of the presentation and some housekeeping items. All participants are currently in listen only mode. Please place your line on mute and communicate with me by typing in the chat box founded on the bottom right corner of your screen. This will ensure a smoother line of communication where all questions can be addressed directly through the chat function. Also please feel free to forward any questions you may have while the webinar is in progress via the chat box and we will strive to answer all questions in the order as at the end of the presentation. If we are unable to get to your questions by the end of the hour we will be in touch with you at a later time.

Also, the enrollment advisor will be happy to follow up with you at a later time on any program related questions. Now let’s get over to our feature speaker. Your panellist today is Dr. Professor Toni Marsh. Professor Toni Marsh is the founding director of the George Washington University Paralegal Studies Program, an associate dean and an associate professor of paralegal studies. She designs and [launched] the paralegal studies program at the University of North Carolina, at Charlotte and designed the first ever paralegal program in the nation [unintelligible 05:40] at the University of Bagamoyo.

Professor Marsh presents regularly on authorized practice of law, paralegal utilization and using paralegals to increase access to justice. She had practiced juvenile law for 19 years and is the author of Juvenile Law published in 2006. She received her [JD] in 1990 from Cleveland Marshall College of Law and also received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Cleveland State University. Now Toni M, I would like to pass the stage over to you.

Toni M: Thank you very much Kira and thank you everybody for joining us today. I’m really excited to be here with you. Let’s see if I can advance the PowerPoint slides on my own. I now can.

So, anyway thank you so much for joining me. I am, as Kira said, I have been involved in the paralegal education field for a long, long time. I started practicing law in 1990. I graduated from law school in 1990 and immediately started practicing or teaching paralegal in the evenings right out of law school.

So, I graduated from law school, I went to work as a trial attorney but I actually happened to see an ad in my local newspaper looking for an adjunct professor for my local paralegal program. And I did it and loved it, absolutely loved being involved in paralegal education and loved the paralegal profession even back then. Even a long time ago when it was very, very different from how it is now, frankly not nearly as exciting as it is now. But loved paralegal profession, loved paralegals and I loved teaching.

So, I’ve been involved in this profession for a good 25 years. And I can tell you that the profession has changed profoundly in that time. So, that – and actually the paralegal profession emerged as a distinct profession in about the mid 1970’s. Before then there were law firms and there were lawyers and there were secretaries. The lawyers had secretaries. And really in the olden, olden days they were just secretaries. And they were, I don’t mean just secretaries, but they were the classic generic what you think of as a secretary. They’d type and file and take dictation and things like that. And then those secretaries became, certain secretaries started specializing in law firms, started working in law firms and became known as legal secretaries. So, they understood the intricacies and the quirks and the unique elements of working in a law firm.

And so they all of a sudden became legal secretaries. Those legal secretaries then soon became even more savvy and sophisticated and knowledgeable and they were able to do things – they know how to independently, how to format a document that they were typing, they understood that there were certain formatting conventions. And they even started looking up the rules and they knew when to file things and maybe started fact checking case names and things like that so they became more and more specialized and more knowledgeable.

So, in about the mid 70’s this separate profession emerged. Now back then there wasn’t even any agreement as to what to call these people, these people that I’m describing, the people who understood a little bit more about what they’re doing and could actually bring some independent knowledge to create a new documents, researching them, drafting them, interviewing clients and things like that.

So, they were using the term paralegal back in 70’s and up through really the 2000’s, the early 2000’s, they were using the term paralegal and legal assistant interchangeable. And there were even some other terms. People would just come up with them. Some people were still calling these people, these professionals, legal secretaries, but they were doing paralegal work or docketing clerk or law clerk or legal assistant, whatever, there were a lot of names, there was no convention. But in about the mid, early 2000’s, 2004 or 5, 6 around there, paralegal really became the term.

And so now what I’m going to talk to you about today, the profession that I’m going to talk to you about today, is the paralegal profession. The people who do what I’m about to talk to you about today are called paralegals. There are still legal assistants but that is now a different job. Paralegals have legal assistants who now work for them. So, legal assistants assist paralegals. There are still legal secretaries and they work for paralegals.

So, it’s gotten to the point nowadays, especially in the big cities, in the big firms and the big agencies where paralegals are at the very top of the non lawyer system in law firms and law offices and government agencies. So, they are – they sit at the very top of this hierarchy. They have their own legal assistants and their own legal secretaries. So, as I said what I’m going to talk to you about today are the people who we call paralegals. And you know cleverly, the presentation is called the who, what, why, how, where which is a really nice way to organize our thoughts about the paralegal profession. So, I’m going to talk about who paralegals are. What do they know? What can they do? Why are people using them? Why should people use them? And talk a little bit about why anybody would want to be a paralegal, although it’s not written on the agenda, about talk about why somebody would want to be a paralegal. How law firms are using paralegal and law offices.

And by the way I will probably use law firm and law office interchangeably. When I say law office, and as we’ll talk about in a moment, paralegals work in a lot of different venues, so you’ve got law firms, you’ve got corporate law departments, you’ve got government agencies, you’ve got government branches of government like the senate, house, the White House, your local legislature and you’ve got the military. So, I’m going to use the word law office and I’m talking about all of these different venues. How best to use them, how to develop paralegals, how law firms are developing paralegals and how to develop as a paralegal. And then as I just said I’ll talk a little bit about where paralegals are working, where they’re having the biggest impact today and finally the job outlook and of course I will be very happy to take your questions.

So, who are paralegals? So, nowadays, as opposed to the time that I was just describing, the olden days where people sort of settle into the profession. They started out as secretaries and sort of became paralegals, a lot of people joined the profession as a way or they really didn’t even view it as a profession as more of a job and they viewed it as a stepping stone for law school or something else.

Nowadays that is not the case, that’s no longer true. Now a day’s paralegals are choosing the profession. They are going to college and they are going to graduate school because they want to be paralegals. They’re making the affirmative, active decision to become paralegals. And they plan to make a career of it. So, they’re not on their way to law school, they’re not using it as, some do, I mean there are still people out there, it’ s not unheard of for people to join the profession thinking that they will go on to law school and many do. But it’s not the norm anymore. The norm nowadays people are joining the profession because they want to be paralegals, they know that the paralegal profession is different and separate from the attorney, it’s a different job, it’s a different career and they like it, that’s what they want to do and they’ve chosen to do it. And as I said they’re choosing to make a career of it. So, you can be lifelong paralegal there are paralegals out there who have been working 20, 30 years, they are very, very high ranking in the law offices in which they working. Many of them are quite powerful; they’re at the executive level. So, these are powerful and prestigious professionals.

Again, it used to be different. It used to be that if you could find a firm that would call you a paralegal, you would be a paralegal, there were no educational and no licensing or certification requirements. Now that’s still the case technically, legally. There is no legal requirement for any particular – there’s no licensing requirement, there’s no testing requirement, there’s no bar exam for paralegal and there’s no educational requirement legally. But in practice the way that it is nowadays everybody – the very least, the very minimum is that you would have a college degree, that’s the way that it is nowadays. Because paralegals are doing so much more in the law firms and we’ll talk about that in a minute.

Because it is such a prestigious profession nowadays that the college degree, the undergraduate degree is the minimum requirement and most paralegals who are working now in the big cities, in the big offices, have some sort of post [unintelligible 15:31] credential, either a certificate or a master’s degree. So, that’s become the norm. And I just said there’s no licensing requirement, there’s no certification requirement and there’s no bar exam and that’s true although in some states they are starting to – there is certification available for the paralegals in some states. Now certification – the difference between licensing and certification is that licensing is mandatory and certification is optional. So, lawyers are licensed. You must pass the bar, you must pass the bar exam and pay your dues. You must become a licensed attorney to practice law. Certification is voluntary. So, you go out and get a certificate [unintelligible 16:19] it’s certified that’s optional but some states are making some sort of certification available for paralegals so you’re seeing a little bit more on that.

And let me also say that there’s a difference between certification and having a certificate, which is why I corrected myself when I said certificate. Getting a certificate, earning a certificate in paralegal studies, you go to school, you go to a graduate certificate program, you study, you pass, you earn the certificate, you now have a certificate. That’s not the same as being certified. Certified means you take a standardized test, much like a bar exam but for paralegals, you pass that test and you can now say that you’re a certified paralegal. So, it sounds like a subtle difference but there really is a difference. So, okay as I said nowadays college grad is the minimum and then you’re going to see [unintelligible 17:17] certificates, graduate certificate or master’s degree, especially in the big firms in the big cities.

Now what do paralegals know? Well, what you’re seeing now and no matter where you are or no matter where you’ve gone to school, no matter where the paralegals are going to school, what you’re seeing is the paralegal education programs all over the country now are very, very good, they really are. There are great programs everywhere. [unintelligible 17:50] I teach at G.W, I run the G.W program. I have worked at other programs. I am a member of a national organization called the American Association for Paralegal Education. I am a very active member of that organization and that organization comprises program directors like me from programs all over the country and so I know a lot about all of the programs all over the country. And paralegal education nowadays is really good.

So, for example at G.W we’ve got a really, really rigorous program. We are very selective; we look to get the most high achieving, high potential people into our programs. And then you’ve got this really rigorous curriculum that is geared to the local market, or not so much to the local market but geared to the market that paralegals will be entering when they graduate. So, most paralegal programs and G.W [unintelligible 18:52] most of them are like this, will have a really active advisory board and the advisory board comprised of members of the profession. So, for example we’ve got – I’ve got working attorneys, I’ve got paralegal managers, I’ve got judges, I’ve got alumnae. I’ve got recruiters that all join me twice a year and we all talk about what’s going on in the legal field, what are the employers asking for? What do the attorneys want? What do the clients want? What are the judges looking at? I’ve got somebody from the board of Lexus Nexus on my board. So, Lexus Nexus is the legal research data base, so can tell me what are the trends in research. I’ve got technology consultants. And this is what you do.

So, you put together these programs, or these boards, that have members of the general public and the working professionals to tell me what my paralegals need to know. What are the employers demanding? So, for example we went out and we did some research and we have discovered, and this should not be a huge surprise to anybody, but the number one skill set that law firm and law office employers are demanding is written and oral communication skills. I mean you must know how to write and you must know how to present, how to speak well to a small group, to a large group in order to really advance in the profession. Now we know that. We’ve done the research, our board has told us, we’ve gone out and done all kinds of data base research and we know this. So, what do we do? Well, we’ve added oral presentation assignments to every one of our classes. We’ve always had writing scattered throughout the curriculum but we’ve increased it. We increased the kinds of writing.

And this is the kind of thing that a good paralegal program will do, right? Because you say what do my graduates need to know in order to get a good job and really advance in the field? I find out what they need to know and I put that into the curriculum so that I make sure that it is something that you know when you graduate. So, this is what the good paralegal programs are doing. Now what can they do specifically? That’s sort of a general thing, what can they do specifically? Again, every good program is going to teach their paralegal current and electronic research. What are they doing in the law offices? They’re doing a ton of research. They’re doing a ton of drafting. They are running the technology. The technology is really important and they’re really engaging in communication.

Now what can paralegals do by law? What are they allowed to do in the legal field? It is much easier for me to tell you what they can’t do. Now if we’re together in a room and we were face to face I would go around the room and say does anybody here know what paralegals can’t do? And I know you can’t answer me now cause you’re muted. But I’m going to put that question out there and I’m going to ask you to think about what it is that you think that paralegals cannot do. Think about the whole legal universe and what can they not do? Well, I’m going to tell you what they can’t do. It’s a short list.

Number one they can’t take depositions. So, a deposition is a device where you’re in the middle of litigation or you’re involved in litigation, you bring the other party into the law office, you swear them in and you ask them questions about the case. It’s not in the courtroom, it’s a pre-trial procedure but it’s part of how you discover what’s going on. Because the witnesses are sworn in, a paralegal cannot be the person asking those questions. So, they can’t take a deposition, it’s a minor, well it’s not minor, but it’s a discovery device that happens in the course of a pre-trial. So, a paralegal cannot take a deposition.

A paralegal cannot accept a case on behalf of a firm. A paralegal cannot set the [unintelligible 22:51] for the case. Paralegals cannot sign legal pleadings and by that I mean briefs, answers, complaints, motions, they can’t sign those pleadings. Now they can draft the pleadings, they can research the pleadings, they can prepare them, they can do everything except they just can’t sign that very little like at the bottom. The lawyer’s go to do that. So, they can’t sign a legal pleading. And by the way the paralegal can sign all kinds of other things. So, they can sign all kinds of business forms things like that but they just can’t sign legal pleadings.

They cannot advocate in court. And by advocate in court I mean they can’t be the person who I standing in front of the bench arguing to the judge and asking questions of the witness. So, again, they can do everything else leading up to going to court. They can put together the trial notes, do all of the research, prep the witnesses, get everybody ready, in the war room take notes, advise the lawyers, talk to the clients, keep everybody together, they can do all of that. They just can’t stand in front of the judge and ask questions of the witness or argue to the judge. Now even that is slightly qualified because in some administrative proceedings, paralegals can do just that, they can question witness and they can argue to the hearing officer. [unintelligible 24:17] security hearings, things like that, paralegals can do that. So, again that’s a narrow exception.

And the final thing that they cannot do is they cannot give legal advice. Now give legal advice again is a pretty narrow thing. What does it mean to give legal advice? Giving legal advice is exercising independence judgement on a set of facts and circumstances so as to change the legal position of lay person. That’s the requirement for giving legal advice. Now a paralegal can certainly relay what a lawyer has said to the client, so they can certainly do that. The paralegal can advise the lawyer as to what’s a good thing to do. The paralegal can certainly talk to the client and update them, can communicate with them, help them to place forms and things like that, take their statements, write things down, take notes, meet with them regularly, they can do all that, they just can’t change their legal position. So, changing a legal position would be saying to a person you know what? You’ve got a really good case here; I think you should file a law suit. I think you should decline the offer that the insurance company is making to you and file a law suit instead. That would be having a person change their legal position, so that you cannot do. But you can certainly say those things to the lawyer. So, you can say Mr. Jones has got a great case, I really think he should decline that offer and file a law suit. You can and you do, paralegals will talk to lawyers all the time but you can’t say it to the client.

So, six really narrow things that paralegals cannot do and everything else in the whole universe in a legal setting, a paralegal can do under the supervision of an attorney. So, really it is a lot that paralegals can do and what’s nice about that is that it’s an exciting and big rich world out there for paralegals.

So, those of you who are viewing this webinar, who are involved in this webinar, because you have a passion for the law and you’re interested in the law and you want to make a difference, you want to be a part of an exciting process that really means something, this is a way to do that. You can do meaningful work as a paralegal. You can change lives as a paralegal. And especially in some settings where there are very few attorneys. There are huge [unintelligible 27:02] or rural America where there are very few attorneys and paralegals are doing a lot.

And this isn’t really relevant to you but I’ll just tell you because it’s interesting and cool. As Kira mentioned I designed a paralegal program in Tanzania. I’ve done a lot of work in Tanzania. I go there frequently and I work with their paralegal program there. In Tanzania – Tanzania is a nation of 40 million people and there are 12,000 registered lawyers in Tanzania. So, in Tanzania paralegals do everything. So, you go out into this rural [unintelligible 27:37] way out in the country I guess you would say, out in the Serengeti and [Gora Gora] park, out in vast [swabs] of land where there are no big cities and just these villages and regions, what you’ll have is a little paralegal clinic there. And it will be staffed by local people who have become paralegals kind of like how we did in the old days, informally become paralegal just by being wise and smart and learning the law and learning what they’re doing. They work there and they dispense all of the access to justice is through this paralegals and then you’ve got attorneys. You’ve got on attorney maybe who’ll ride circuits from clinic to clinic to clinic and do those things that only the lawyers can do. But the vast majority, the vast point of access to justice for a lot of people is through paralegal.

So, as I said if you’re interested, if you’ve got a passion for the law, if you want to make a difference, if you want to touch people’s lives you can do so as a paralegal. And do so in a very satisfying way.

Now why are people using paralegals? Why are law offices using paralegals? Lawyers and paralegals and the clients are all happier when the firms use more paralegals. The clients who are interested in the amount of their legal fees would prefer that the law offices use more paralegals because paralegals are more cost effective. They are also better communicators. So, the clients love paralegals because the paralegals are meeting with them, they’re talking with them, they’re helping them and the clients will develop very close relationships with the paralegals.

So, the clients are very happy when there are more paralegals. The paralegals are happy because as I just said in the last slide, most paralegals are now joining the profession not because it’s an easy pay cheque not because of this, not because it’s glamorous, it is, but mainly because they want to do, they have a passion for the law, they want to make a difference. They want to do [unintelligible 29:48] work. So, the more work that they do, the happier they are and the lawyers are [unintelligible 29:54] so, when the paralegals are doing what they want to do and what they can do and what they do best, then the lawyers can be off doing what they do best and everything works better and more efficiently.

Judges love paralegals cause they get things done, paralegals love working with other paralegals because they know what’s up and it’s just a very – everything works better when you use more paralegals.

And by the way the United States Supreme Court has recognized that paralegals are a substantive part of the law firm and that they provide, or law office, and that they provide substantial, substantive legal services and the Supreme Court has ruled that paralegals are billable just as attorneys are, as opposed to being non billable like secretaries and other staff are. So, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that paralegals sit in the sphere with lawyers where they’re providing substantive legal service rather than with staff where they’re just providing administrative and clerical types of services. So, everybody is happier when everybody is using more paralegals especially the clients and really that’s what it’s all about.

Now how are people using paralegals? The best way for law offices to use paralegals is to understand what they can’t do. We already talked about that so we won’t spend any time on that. But really most paralegal enter the field – paralegals tend to be the type of people who are drawn to the profession, who want to be paralegals rather than attorneys, are people who love organization and processes and systems, they love to set things up and organize them and make sure that they run smoothly, they’re kind of control freaks, they like to see things happen, they’re detailed oriented, they’re meticulous, they’re conscientious, schedule driven and they’re not the kind of people – lawyers are the kind of people who say oh this is due at noon on Friday? Well, it’s 11:30 on Friday time to get started. Paralegals are the type of people that say oh this is due in six months, I better get started now.

So, they are people who plan ahead and understand and [unintelligible 32:10]. They’re very social, they’re community minded, they’re great networkers, they build up these wonderful networks that they then bring back to the law firm and so this is a great way that law firms are using paralegals and it’s what paralegals like to do and what they do best.

By the way on the slide in the picture, to the right that’s a village in Tanzania and the woman who is sitting in the front with the big smile and the blue plaid shirt is one of my students who I brought over to Tanzania to work in a clinic. That clinic happens to be in the Serengeti. And those are some Masai villagers that she’s working with. That was a great trip.

Okay, now what is life like as a paralegal? So, life as paralegals like I said in the very beginning work in a lot of different forums. So, law firm, what’s life like in a law firm? Well, law firm life is good, it’s fun and it’s interesting. Now if you work at a big law firm it’s interesting, the bigger the law firm the smaller the job description, and I don’t mean the smaller the job the less important, but I mean the more narrow description.

So, when you work at this big – there are big multinational thousand person law firms out there. If you work in a firm like that you are going to have – first of all you’re going to work in a beautiful and glamorous environment. I mean the big law firms are gorgeous. I don’t know if any of you have ever been inside the offices of the big law firm but they are lovely. Some of them are old and traditional with the hardwood floors and the green glass lamps and the oriental rugs and the mahogany desks and some are very modern and sleek and high tech with these big huge windows looking out over the city. They all have great resources; you need something that’s there. They’ve got staff, they’ve got cafeterias, they’ve got libraries, they’ve got librarians, they’ve got typists, whatever you need, it’s all there for you, all of the resources.

And as I said if you’re a paralegal in a firm like that you’re going to have your own legal assistant, you’re going to have your own secretary, you’re doing to have an office with a door so it’s a very nice lifestyle. But what you’re going to be doing is going to be small and specialized. You’re going to work with a group. Say you’re with the international I.P group; you’ll probably with the international property electrical division group where you’re working with the electrical. So, you’ll work in a very narrow group and you’ll do a very narrow job. You’ll learn that job very well, you’ll know it beautifully, you can do it in your sleep and you can certainly expand within that group and rise up within that group but you’ll be specialized.

And if you want to, and again in big law firms there are many, many groups, so you can move to another group. So, say you do international I.P for a while and you feel like you’ve gone everywhere you can do with international I.P and now you want to move onto mergers and acquisitions, you can do that. You’ve got to wait for an opening and you’ve got to work your way through, you can move your way around the firm but that’s the way it’s going to be.

Now if you were at a small firm or even a medium sized firm, not quite as glamorous and beautiful the offices although some of them are very glamorous and beautiful. They’ll be a little bit more modest, the resources will be a little bit more modest, but you’ll be doing everything. So, you’ll be making the coffee and you’ll be filing the documents, you’ll be interviewing the clients and you’ll be on litigation today and I.P tomorrow and mergers and acquisitions the next day. So, you probably don’t do M&A in a small firm but whatever, you’ll be doing bankruptcy one day and [unintelligible 35:53] the next. So, you’ll be moving around, you’ll be doing a lot of different things; you will be as I said everything from making the coffee to interviewing witnesses to going to court. So, that’s a nice way to get exposure to a lot of areas of the law. So, that’s what life in a law firm is like. As I said you are generally accountable for your time, you’re billable so you’ll be billing out your hours and thinking about that. But it is a very good; it is a very nice life.

Now life in a corporation is different. If you work in a corporation you have one client and that’s your corporation. So, if you work for Apple, Apple is your client. You’re going to know Apple business systems and products like an executive cause that’s what you’re going to be at Apple. So, you’re going to know everything about Apple and you’re going to be far more of a business person than a law person. So, you’re going to understand – you’ll be interested in marketing and manufacturing and representing – like the manufacturer’s rep and things like that, distribution, billing, shipping, those kinds of things are what you’re going to be working on. It’s a very nice life. People who work as corporate paralegals love their job. They identify strongly with their product, with their company.

I work with a lot of corporate paralegals; I run a corporate paralegal education program once a year. It’s a two day program where all the corporate paralegals come and we have learning and socializing networking and I love when we go around the room and we do the introductions cause it’s like I work at [Trip Advisor] I work at [Stock Trade] I work at Hewlett Packard, I work at Apple, I work at Google and it’s really interesting. They are really into what they’re doing. They’re into their product, their client and that’s always fun and interesting.

And life in a corporation is a little bit more predictable, you’re not doing quite so much overtime, you’re not working weekends, you’re pretty 9-5. Every once in awhile there’s going to be an emergency and you’re going to be working late but for the most part it’s 9-5 and it’s predictable and it’s comfortable. So people like working in corporations.

Life in a government agency is like working in a corporation in that you’ve got one client and that’s your agency. And you will identify with that agency and you will be part of that agency’s mission. So, for example – and of course at G.W we’re in the middle of Washington D.C so we’re very federal government oriented. I have a lot of my students who end up going off to work at the federal government.

The C.I.A comes and recruits every year they have a big recruiting event and they hire my paralegals right out of the classroom, they love our paralegals and our paralegals love to work for the C.I.A. But if you work for the C.I.A you need to understand the C.I.A mission and you need to support it. So, you don’t go work at the C.I.A to get a pay cheque. You work at the C.I.A because you believe in what they’re doing and you support it, same thing with the department with defence.

What’s interesting and cool about working for a government agency – you know the work is very sexy. I mean everybody knows your agency, everybody knows what you’re doing and one of my students said to me the other day which I thought was really cool, he said I know what I’m going to be working on tomorrow morning cause I watch the news. I watch the news and I know what I’ll be working on. So, that’s kind of cool. You see something on T.V and you think I’m doing that, I’m working on that, that’s me. And again talk about changing lives and having an impact, this is very, very exciting and very rewarding.

And also just on a practical level the pay is good, the benefits are great, it’s very secure, lots of job security and again for the most part pretty regular hours, not too many evenings or weekends. You’ll always get those emergencies where you’ve got to work late and that’s fine. People do that, that’s what everybody does. But for the most part your hours are predictable and pretty [darn nice].

Life at a non-profit, that’s one of the paralegal clinics in Tanzania that I was talking to you about. So, this is – clearly life at a non-profit in the United States is not going to be like this but I put that up there just cause it’s kind of cool. Working at a non-profit you are really – this is where talk about believing in the mission, this is where people truly believe in the mission. You work for the A.C.L.U or the children’s defence fund, the Red Cross, you work in a place like that, you are truly there because you support the mission and you want to have an impact. Life at a non-profit is wonderful. Everybody shares a mission. Everybody is there because they want to be there, they want to do this thing, they believe in it, they support each other, they support the clients, it’s really a very nice atmosphere, lots of camaraderie, lots of sharing, lots of going out for pizza after work because you just did some big thing and it was wrenching and you’ve all worked hard and you need to let off some steam. So you get a lot of that kind of thing.

But it’s a good life; the pay of course is not as much as the big firms or corporations of government agencies and it might be a little less predictable. You might be working harder, you might be working evenings and weekends. But the rewards are huge and if this is what you want to do there’s no other substitute. There’s no substitute for this kind of an atmosphere.

Life as a military paralegal you do not be to be a solider to be a military paralegal. So, the military does hire civilians. Again, here at G.W the U.S army is a huge employer of our graduates and they come and just like the C.I.A they have a big recruiting event, they come in a couple of times a year, they bring breakfast, they do a slide show and then they talk to students afterwards and [pull them in].

The military loves a good smart well educated paralegal. And so you can join the military as a civilian. Like working for other government agencies it is federal work and so the pay is good, the benefits are good, the hours are good, the camaraderie is huge, probably more than anywhere else. So, there’s a sense of shared mission very much a sense of shared mission and a sense of belonging to a cause that’s greater than yourself as a military paralegal, so, very rewarding work there as well.

The job outlook, the job outlook for paralegals is fabulous. Right now the profession is growing, employment is high and if you look at the bureau of labour statistics you will see that the bureau of labour statistics who track all of the identifies occupations of The United States has put paralegals in the very top band of job growth, which is at least 22% job growth over the next 10 years. And that’s [unintelligible 42:50]. So, they have bands and 22% is the highest. It might be even higher than 22% but that’s as high as it goes like in that movie Spinal Tap, I always go to [unintelligible 43:00]. So, paralegal growth rate now goes to [11.]

It is a very good career, the pay is good, it varies wildly. I can’t give you an average salary because it varies depending on which venue, are you corporate? Are you government agency? Are you law firm? Are you big firm, small firm, big city, small city? It depends on what practice you’re in, so the pay varies wildly. But you can expect to make a good – whatever city you’re in you can expect to make what’s considered a good, healthy salary in your city. So, if you’re a paralegal – if you’re in Des Moines Iowa it’s going to be far different than if you’re in New York New York. But if you’re making – whatever you’re making in Des Moines Iowa is going to be a good living wage and whatever you’re making in New York city is going to be a good living wage for your city. So, you can count on the fact that your pay is going to be good and it will be a good living wage wherever you are.

Oh and by the way one other thing, way back I said [who’s paralegals,] they’re making a career of it if you are truly a career paralegal and you have an advanced degree, you’ve got either the graduate certificate or the master’s degree, you can figure that you will enjoy some good job security no matter where you go.

And by the way speaking of degrees and credentials let me just quickly give you a very quick rundown on the kinds of credentials that are out there. So, essentially you’re going to find [three things.] There’s a bachelor in paralegal studies. A lot of colleges offer that and a lot of people have that. That’s one credential. Then the other thing is the graduate certificate, the post [unintelligible 44:50] certificate in paralegal studies. So, that will be generally – and I don’t know anybody that doesn’t have – this will be an 18 credit certificate in paralegal studies. Again at G.W we [unintelligible 45:07] 18 credit certificate in paralegal study. This is a great way to enter the profession.

So, the graduate certificate or the [unintelligible 45:15] certificate is pretty much all of the things that I describe, the law firm, corporation, government agency will require the graduate certificate or a post [unintelligible 45:29] certificate. So, that’s a good way, if you’re an entry level paralegal, that’s a good way to enter the profession. Now again at G.W we offer the certificate and the master’s degree and I’m going to get to that in a minute and a new thing that we’re offering at G.W just this year is this graduate certificate over the course of the summer.

So, starting this May you’ll be able to earn the certificate in one summer at G.W. That’s an on campus program so you would have to move to D.C. We got on campus housing available. But you can earn that over the course of one summer. So, that’s something that is kind of new and exciting for us. But at any rate – and then if you take it online you can get the graduate certificate over the course of three semesters. So, it’s a little bit longer but you don’t have to move. So, that’s the graduate certificate and that’s a great way to enter the profession.

And then there’s the Master’s degree. G.W also offers a master’s degree and we offer it on campus and online. Not too many other universities offer the master’s degree. The master’s degree is not required to enter the profession. The graduate certificate is more than enough, well it’s not more than enough, it’s enough to enter the profession. The master’s degree is really for people either who are already paralegals and want to advance in the profession or it’s for people who really do want to go work in the federal government because if you’re working at the federal government the master’s degree makes you eligible for a higher [G.F] level which means you can get a higher salary and that’s great. Also, like the CIA, they require a masters; some of government require the masters. And if you want to be a paralegal manager, if you’re really looking to be a manager then you’ll want to get your masters. So, that’s the way to sort of advance in the profession but you can start out with a graduate certificate, that’s a great way to start.

Some people want to get their masters because they just love school, they want the degree. So, I would say if you’re looking to enter the field, the graduate certificate is a great way to do it. If you’re looking to advance in the field and really, really lead the profession or to go into certain government federal agencies, you’ll want the masters. Again, [I’m talking about G.W that’s why I know that.] If you start out with a graduate certificate then you can then move on to the master’s degree. So, you can start on one and then move on to the other. But again I say the graduate certificate is a good way to start. And that is it for my prepared remarks. I talked a little longer than I meant to but once I get started it’s hard to stop. So, I’m going to stop now and I will take your questions.

Kira: Perfect Toni, thank you so much. We have a very highly engaged audience, lots of questions coming in. So, for Q&A session let’s start with the first. Now the question is what are the benefits and advantages of gaining a master’s degree in paralegal program versus getting a law degree? I’m sure a lot of people are anxious to hear about that.

Toni M: That’s a great question, I’m so glad you asked that. Well, for one thing it costs a heck of a lot less to get a paralegal degree than to get a law degree, that’s huge. And it’s a lot quicker; you can get it a lot faster. So, if you go on campus you can get the masters in a year, about a year and a half, online you get it in two years as opposed to three years and you can do it online. You can’t get a law degree online, so that’s another thing.

Another advantage to getting a paralegal masters rather than a law degree is that really, honestly the job market for paralegal is way, way, way better than it is for lawyers. Lawyers are having a hard time right now, paralegal are not. Their job outlook is much better.

Also the paralegal degree is portable. So, if you become a paralegal – remember how I said there’s no licensing requirement? That really works well for paralegals because you can go work anywhere in any state. So, if you can find somebody to hire you then you can get a job in any state in The United States. Whereas lawyers have to pass a bar exam for each state in which they’re going to practice. So, if you want to move to California you got to go take the California bar. But if a paralegal wants to move to California you just got to move and get a job. And actually it’s interesting that I would use California, that just popped out of my head but California is one state where you do have to have a credential to call yourself a paralegal. You don’t have to be licensed in California, so you can get the credential anywhere but you’ve got to have a credential in order to call yourself a paralegal. But anyway you can get – it’s portable which makes it very nice.

So, far less expensive than to get the degree, quicker to get the degree, you can get the degree online or over the course of one summer or one academic year as opposed to three full time years of law school and it’s portable.

Kira: Thanks Toni M. And another follow up question to that same topic is with regards to paralegal holding a master’s degree, is that going to help them get their foot in the door, becoming a part-time instructor or can you confirm paralegals holding a master’s degree can also teach at colleges? Thank you for the question.

Toni M: Yes, that’s another great question, thanks Kira. So, with a master’s degree, the master’s degree is what they consider a terminal degree. So, a terminal degree means the highest degree in the field that’s available. So, a master’s in paralegal studies is a terminal degree for paralegal studies. So, you could teach at a university with that degree. Certainly I would say again as a practical matter at G.W we hire our own – I hire my students as faculty frequently. So, a lot of the current professors in my program are students, are former students of mine who graduated in the top of their class and ended up – I ended up hiring them. And I imagine it’s like that at some of the other programs as well. So, yeah that’s a good way to teach. And having a master’s degree certainly does set you apart from your peers.

So, as I said it’s certainly not required by any means but if you’ve got it, and the guy next to you in line doesn’t, you might be the one that they hire as opposed to someone else.

Kira: Thank you Toni. So, the next question is a very bright one as well I think. Toni, do you ever see the ABA licensing paralegals in the future? Paralegals are to attorneys as RN’s and PA’s to physicians so what’s the difference?

Toni M: Well, yes that is another good question. So, the ABA is an interesting beast. [laughter]. They’re unpredictable. I have no idea what the ABA is and what they do. The only thing I can predict about the ABA is that they are probably not going to do anything fast and they’re probably not going to do anything progressive. They’re very traditional and they’re kind of slow moving and I just don’t understand why they do what they do. But there is a movement afoot for something called LLLT. Limited legal license technician which is very much, even more, like the physician – it’s even more to the lawyer as the physician assistant is to the doctor. And as far as I know the state of Washington has the triple LT – and I don’t know a whole lot about it and I don’t know where it’s going but I do see a trend for a little bit more – paralegals going a little further and a little higher and having increased responsibilities. I see that happening.

Kira: Perfect. Next question is what is legal technology?

Toni M: So, legal technology is the whole host of – law firms now are very automated. They’re very technological so all of the research now is done online. You’ll see law libraries but honestly right now they’re just mostly for show and they’ve become like beautiful conference rooms. But for the most part legal work is done online using the electronic data bases, Lexus Nexus and West Law. So, all the – so again at G.W we teach our students that Lexus and West Law very much. They get their own passwords in the beginning of the program. They keep it all through. We make sure that they know that and they’ve mastered that, that’s a required skill. But then there are other legal technologies. There are litigation technologies, there are case management technologies. There’s all kinds of technology out there that paralegals are required to know and to use. So, again a good paralegal program will teach you those technologies.

Kira: Perfect, thank you Toni. So, it looks like we’re approaching the hour very soon. So, we’ll have time for a few more questions. The next one we have is in regards to the job market. Now since the job market is saturated with attorneys, Toni, do you think attorneys are in competition with the paralegals for employment?

Toni M: You know I’m glad you asked that. The answer is no, they are not. And there’s this kind of urban legend going around that law firms are hiring lawyers to do paralegal jobs or hiring lawyers as paralegals. That is not true. I don’t know where that came from but it is absolutely not true.

Law firms don’t want lawyers to do paralegal work because paralegals do different things than lawyers. And when law firms want a paralegal, they want a paralegal. They’re far more likely to hire a paralegal to replace an attorney then to hire an attorney to replace a paralegal. So, they are – the lawyers might think they’re in competition with the paralegals and they may want to compete with the paralegals but that’s not happening.

Kira: Thank you. And the next question is when looking for employment would smaller firms be easier than larger firms to apply for when looking for an entry level position?

Toni M: You know that’s a good question, perhaps, you know, perhaps. You might be able to – I’ll tell you what, the thing about going into a small firm is it’s far less regimented. So with a small firm you might just have a lawyer out there who puts an ad somewhere maybe on your local university job – like we’ve got a job board at G.W where employers can put up jobs. And so maybe he goes up and posts a job and then you call him and he says yeah, come down and talk to me and you go and you talk to him and you talk to him and he says yeah you look great you’re hired. It’s more casual.

Now if you go to a big firm you’re going to submit your resume, they’re going to post the position in a certain way, it’s going to be open for a certain amount of time, they’re going to get thousands of resumes, or whatever, they’re going to get a lot of resumes and then you’re going to go through the interview process and then there’s a first interview and then a second and a third, things like that. So, it’s a lot more formalized and so in that respect there’s more to it.

But as far as credentialing like are you qualified to work – like if you’re good you can just as easily get a job at a big firm as you can at a small firm. Many, many of my graduates have gotten right into a big firm right out of the classroom. And in fact the nice thing about the big firms is they’ve got this nice sort of professional development [unintelligible 57:06] so they hire – they’ve got an entry level paralegal position, they’ll hire entry level paralegals and then they’ve got a training program. So, they’ll start you off here and then you move onto here and then you move up to this and then you move up to that. Whereas at a small firm they might have less of it, they might need somebody who can really come in and go right to work as an experienced paralegal. So, don’t be afraid to apply to the big law firms right out of paralegal school. They do hire.

Kira: Perfect, thanks Toni. Now really great question for seasoned paralegals, how does a master’s in paralegal studies benefit a paralegal who has been in the field for at least about 20 years?

Toni M: Right, well for one thing you’re going to learn the latest technology. So, you’ll know the latest technology cause you’re going to school and you’re picking up these new skills. So, you’re going to get new skills. You’re going to brush up on your technology, you’re going to brush up on your research skills, you’re going to brush up on your writing and your oral presentation, you’re just going to take a more professional and methodical and reasoned intentional approach to what you’re doing. If you’ve been in the field for a long time, you probably do – there’s probably a lot of things that you do because you’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and it’s worked fine and those things can probably be modernized. You’re going to pick up some good new skills, you’re going to sharpen your skills and you’re going to hone what you’re already good at, you’re going to get better at.

Another thing is you’re going to get connections; you’re going to get networks. You’re going to be able to talk to other professionals, you’ll be able to talk to the career services directors, your professors and get career advice and career development advice and resources. So, that’s going to help.

And then the other thing is you’re going to get that master’s degree, you’re going to be able to put those letters next to your name. And that’s really valuable because in a lot of the big firms when they hire a corporate client, so say you work in a law firm and Exxon is looking for a new lawyer, they’ve got a case. And they’re interviewing law firms. They’re going to ask for the bios of everybody who’s going to work on their case and if they can say well we’ve got John Smith here and he’s got a masters in paralegal studies. That’s going to make them look better to the clients. So, you’re going to be able to distinguish yourself and make your firm look better if you’ve got that master’s degree.

Kira: Thank you Toni and thank you everyone for providing your questions. We’re trying to go through as many as we can within the hour and if we don’t have the chance to answer your questions within today’s session, we will try to get back in touch with you if you have an email that you provided. And so we do have time for perhaps a couple more questions. There’s one concerning the education. Is there value in obtaining a credential if you already have a B.S and masters in paralegal studies?

Toni M: You already have a bachelors and masters in paralegal studies? At that point – you’ve already got a masters and you want to get another masters? I would say that’s a lot. [laughter] Two master’s degrees would be a lot. In the same subject, honestly that might be redundant. One thing you might get from getting a second masters in paralegal studies would again be access to the networks, the professors, the career services office, so that might help.

Now if you’ve got a bachelors in paralegal studies and no masters there would be an advantage to getting some post [unintelligible 01:00:45] credentials because as I said it’s kind of the [coin] of the realm out there to have some sort of [unintelligible 01:00:52] credential. But if you’ve already got a masters in paralegal I wouldn’t get a second. If you’ve got a masters in something else, it might be worth it to get a masters in paralegal. But I don’t think you need two paralegal master’s degrees.

Kira: So, to follow up on that just to clarify the question, the attendee actually was inquiring whether it’s worth while getting an ALA credential versus having a -

Toni M: Oh, that well that’s sort of a [unintelligible 01:01:19]. Yeah, sure that’s a good thing to do. If you’ve already got it and you want to go get the [Nala] or the [unintelligible 01:01:26] there’s two different national certifications out there, that’s what I was talking about in the very beginning, the difference between a certificate and certification. Sure, that’s worth it, that’s a good thing to do. That’s a credential. Again, you get to put those letters after your name, it sets you apart, it shows the employers that you’ve got a certain base level of knowledge. If you’ve got the time and the money and you want to take the test, there’s no reason not to.

Kira: Perfect. And I believe we have time to squeeze one more question and this is a very good one I’m sure on many attendee’s minds as well. What are the advantages and disadvantages of taking paralegal studies program online versus in the classroom in terms of the interaction that would go on in the classroom and the resources available?

Toni M: Sure, if you are a self motivated person, if you’re driven and you’re good at managing your time, of course if you’re like that you’re going to succeed no matter what you do. So, either one is fine for you.

The thing about the online program is that you – it’s you and the material. You can work at it, you can get so that you understand it. You can work at it at your convenience. If you’re working, if you’re travelling, if you’ve got small kids and you’ve got a tight schedule, the online program certainly offers you some convenience. There is – the way that we run our online program we’re very interactive, we’re very engaged so you’re not going to feel like you’re just one person alone sitting at a laptop. You’re going to feel like you’re part of a community. So, that’s nice.

The on campus program of course is nice because you get to see people once a week and you get to talk to your professors face to face and some people like that. But certainly no matter what your preference if you find yourself a good reputable, well run program you should be able to succeed in either venue. And if you need the convenience of online program you absolutely can thrive in an online program. Again, don’t be afraid of online education, it’s very, very good. It’s very well respected; nobody has any qualms about hiring a person who’s graduated from an online program anymore. It’s a whole new world out there. So, if you like face to face then that’s what you need, certainly that’s a great way to interact if you like online and you want to do it that way, that’s a great way to do it as well.

Kira: Wonderful thank you Toni. So, we’re approaching the one hour mark. It sounds like from the feedback of or attendees it’s been a very engaging, enjoyable webinar. Thank you so much for taking the time to attend George Washington’s webinar from the masters of paralegal program. And we are also going to be recording this session and we will be posting it on our website and we’ll be sending it over to you.

So, if you have any question regarding the content of today’s webinar that’s delivered by Toni Marsh you will see her contact there, telephone as well as her email. And if you have questions, concerning the program logistics, as Toni had mentioned, we have the online program for the certificate as well as the master’s program.

And if you would like to hear more information about the upcoming [starts] feel free to get in touch with [Sherome Praba] she is the enrollment advisor. Her telephone and email address contact information is there as well.

Once again thank you so much Toni for a wonderful presentation. It’s been very informative and has answered a lot of our attendee’s questions. I’m looking forward to having you back on a future webinar for 2015 and I look forward to getting feedback from everyone as well. Thank you Toni and all attendees for today.

Toni M: Thank you so much Kira and thank you to everybody who stuck with me through this thing. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you all and I really look forward to hearing from you. Take care, bye, bye.

Kira: Bye bye, have a great day everyone.

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