George Washington University’s Paralegal Studies program has met the approval of the American Bar Association for the excellence of its curriculum, faculty and administration, the only such program granted the designation in Washington, D.C.
The ABA’s House of Delegates voted to approve the paralegal education program, housed in the College of Professional Studies (CPS), at the 2021 Annual Hybrid meeting in Chicago. GW joins 260 programs nationally that have met the organization’s requirements.
“We are absolutely delighted to be joining the ranks of elite paralegal programs across the nation,” said Toni Marsh, director of the GW Paralegal Studies program.
ABA adopted detailed guidelines for approving legal assistance educational programs more than 40 years ago. The 42-page booklet set forth standards for educating paralegals and promoting attorneys’ professional, effective and ethical utilization of paralegals, with the goal in mind of improving the delivery of legal services and the American system of justice.
In order to be considered for ABA approval, the university submitted a report describing its organization and the administration, financial resources, program leadership, student and career services, the library and physical facilities dedicated to paralegal studies and the support the program receives from the university and GW community.
“The approval process was grueling but tremendously enlightening and enriching,” said Ms. Marsh. “We learned so much about ourselves and our program and instituted even better practices than before.”
The GW program is also accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and offers a graduate certificate and a master’s degree in online and classroom-based formats.
Under the ABA guidelines, the university demonstrated in detail how it addresses a host of issues, including faculty qualifications and their standing in the legal community; the level of interactions between faculty and students in the program; the specialty legal course work offered; the curriculum’s responsiveness to trends in the legal community; the writing proficiency of students, competence in oral communication and completion of courses that develops such skills; and employment and performance upon completion of the program. The assessment required input from graduates, employers, students, advisory committee members, faculty and administrators.
Once the report was approved, a team comprising an ABA representative and an experienced paralegal educator met with Ms. Marsh; GW President Thomas LeBlanc; CPS Interim Dean Melissa Feuer; Jacob Burns Law Library Director Scott Pagel; Gelman Library liaison David Ettinger; members of the advisory committee; members of the marketing and recruitment, admissions, student services, career services and instructional design teams; and other faculty, students and graduates and staff involved in the program’s design.
In the past, the process included an onsite visit involving a review of course outlines, faculty evaluations, graduate employment records, student files and class observations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the visit was conducted virtually: the meetings were conducted via Zoom and the ABA team sat in on Zoom classes. To show the facilities, the program sent photos and videos of classrooms, offices and the libraries.
Ms. Feuer, the CPS interim dean, commended Ms. Marsh and the GW community for the work done to meet the ABA standards.
“Since I began my academic career teaching in the program almost 15 years ago,” she said, “I have been impressed by the commitment, intellect and effort of our paralegal students and faculty. [The ABA’s approval] is a direct result of their achievements.”