Returning Citizens’ Paralegal Program Welcomes Fourth Class
A group of returning citizens began classes at Georgetown University on April 3 as part of a unique reentry program for aspiring paralegals.
The University welcomed the fourth cohort of the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program to the classroom to begin 24 weeks of intensive paralegal training. The program prepares D.C. residents who have previously been incarcerated for successful careers in the legal field through a certificate in Paralegal Studies from Georgetown Law. There are currently 14 students enrolled in the program.
“We have a talented group of new students, and we’re excited to offer them an opportunity to find rewarding careers in a field they’re passionate about,” said Program Manager Maya Hambrick.
Through rigorous academic coursework and professional development, the program builds the skills and knowledge participants need to reenter the workforce and succeed as paralegals. And by creating partnerships with area employers, it removes some of the many barriers to careers that people with past convictions experience. The program is a partnership between Georgetown, the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA) and the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES). Students are paid an hourly stipend while taking 40 hours of classes per week in person at the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative’s space in downtown D.C.
“Never did I ever think that someone like me could be in school or be a paralegal,” Jessica Trejo, one of the new Paralegal Fellows, said on her first day of classes. “Sometimes, people coming out of prison don’t have any hope. When you have somebody willing to help you, it gives you motivation, it gives you hope, it gives you courage to take on something new.”
Led by Faculty Director Suzanne Tsintolas, the program’s curriculum focuses on a broad array of legal topics including contract law, torts, litigation, corporate law, legal technology, research, ethics, and more. Toward the end of the academic portion, students focus on professional job readiness, preparing for interviews with law firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations.
Thirty-five returning citizens have graduated from the program’s previous three cohorts, and an estimated 75 percent of past graduates are currently employed or continuing their education full-time.
“Our goal is to prepare program participants to confidently step into a job and to connect employers with highly qualified talent,” Hambrick said. “In the legal field in particular, returning citizens are often overlooked in the hiring process, even though they have unique experience and so much to offer their colleagues and employers.”
The program’s newest group of students come from a broad array of professional and personal backgrounds; some gained valuable legal research and writing skills while incarcerated. When they receive their certificates at the end of September, the graduates will be ready to take the next steps toward their career goals.
Trejo sees herself beginning a career in immigration law and hopes to help families navigate the U.S. immigration system – just as she helped her own mom secure her residency in the U.S.
“Taking this step to come into this program has made me feel more secure in my life,” Trejo said. “I want to be placed in a job where I’m proud of what I do, where I can value my work and make a living – and, more importantly, not be where I was a few years ago.”
- Paralegal Program