Previously incarcerated citizens in the Washington, D.C. area from Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI) participated in an employment preparation program with career coaches at the McCourt School of Public Policy from August to December 2022.
The McCourt Career Development team worked with 16 PJI students from the 20-week MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program, a partnership between Georgetown, the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens’ Affairs and the D.C. Department of Employment Services, to allow participants to earn a certificate in paralegal studies from Georgetown.
PJI students received career coaching for interviews with District law firms and personalized feedback from McCourt’s career team during the program.
PJI Deputy Director Caitlin Chamberlain said McCourt’s experts sought to make the 16 PJI participants confident in their abilities and to ease their transition into employment.
“We were fortunate to have members of the McCourt Career Development team come work with the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Fellows to hone their interview skills by leading an interview prep workshop, conducting mock interviews and providing feedback,” Chamberlain wrote to The Hoya. “This prepared the Fellows for their next steps after the program and to build their interview confidence.”
According to a McCourt School press release, the program will welcome its next group of fellows in the coming months.
“This spring, the Prisons and Justice Initiative will welcome its next Paralegal Program cohort and continue its partnership with McCourt’s Career Development team,” the release said.
Chamberlain said the paralegal program gives fellows access to resources that break down employment barriers for returning citizens pursuing careers in law. Many PJI students have gone on to obtain and succeed in full-time positions, according to Chamberlain.
McCourt’s director of career development and alumni engagement Briana Green said she worked with the fellows both individually and in teams during the advising sessions.
“These types of projects are really near and dear to my heart when it comes to the work that I do,” Green told The Hoya. “That to me is empowering students with the confidence and the ability to really talk about what they have to offer and the value they have to offer to employers.”
Eighty percent of graduates from the previous cohort are employed or continuing their education full-time, according to Chamberlain. Agencies, organizations and firms currently employing graduates from the program’s three past cohorts include the DC Office of the Attorney General, Legal Aid Society, Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, Rising for Justice, Wilmer Hale, Outten & Golden, Relman Colfax, Kirkland & Ellis and Covington & Burling.
Green said interview skills are essential for candidates who are trying to communicate what they are capable of bringing to a new job.
“There’s this expectation that if you re-enter into society, you have to be a citizen that has a job and does all of these things,” Green said. “But if you don’t have access to the resources to be able to do those things, it makes it even more difficult. Programs like this really can bridge that gap.”
The PJI’s paralegal program generates positive effects throughout the local community, according to a university spokesperson.
“The Prisons and Justice Initiative’s goal is to empower students through higher education and create a lasting foundation for academic, professional and personal growth and achievement moving forward,” the spokesperson wrote to The Hoya. “In doing so, it also creates a larger impact that benefits society as a whole.”
Green said programs such as the paralegal program hold institutional importance for Georgetown, as they enable the university to expand its reach beyond the Hilltop as a form of fulfilling its Jesuit mission of being people for others.
“A lot of times, you hear about the ivory tower,” Green said. “We are up on this hill, a separate thing, but universities are community builders. Whether the people in the neighborhood or the surrounding area are going to the university or are engaging in some other way, it is really important for schools to be able to do that.”
Chamberlain said she hopes to extend resources from the paralegal program to returning citizens in the D.C. community as a whole.
“It is critical that returning citizens be able to access education, training and opportunities to build rewarding careers,” Chamberlain said. “Re-entry programs like this one prepare returning citizens to take the next step in their professional lives and give them the tools to overcome the many barriers to employment that exist for people with past convictions.”
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