Paralegal Pathways Initiative

Housed at Columbia Law School, the Paralegal Pathways Initiative (PPI) aims to amplify the talents of formerly incarcerated individuals by providing skills-based legal training and connecting them with professional mentorship in preparation for careers in the legal field.

Mission

The Paralegal Pathways Initiative (PPI) seeks to amplify the talents and perspectives of those who have directly experienced incarceration in an effort to create economic opportunity for our participants, advance racial equity in the legal field, build knowledge of the impacts of the criminal legal system among current and future legal professionals, and expose the legal profession to an untapped wealth of legal experience and talent. 

Problem Statement

There are approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., and about 600,000 of those people return home from prison each year. While many have gained a range of legal skills while inside correctional settings, they face barriers upon reentry to high-quality jobs due to legal restrictions, stigma, or other structural barriers. As a result, formerly incarcerated individuals are unemployed at nearly five times the rate of the general U.S. population. Our initiative seeks to elevate, rather than ignore, the skills of justice-impacted individuals that could lead to long-term employment. We emphasize a shift to an asset-based approach: one that recognizes those experiences and enables more fulfilling, sustainable careers for our participants. 

In Fall 2019, the Paralegal Pathways team developed an initial curriculum and welcomed its first group of co-designers in Spring 2020.

In Fall 2020, the team refined the program curriculum and began to secure financial and institutional support to ensure that the program will be stable and sustainable.

In Spring 2021, the initiative launched a fully virtual pilot phase, where co-designers participated in a 12-week training program. The program connected participants with professional and justice-impacted mentors and provided ongoing support and professional development opportunities. 

Spring 2022 is the official launch of the initiative, where we will support participants seeking to enhance their legal careers by matching them with a paid fellowship or connecting them with other employment opportunities. For participants actively pursuing law school, LSAT support will be provided by a law firm partner.

Program Structure

Through a 12-week training program, this initiative will leverage the talents of individuals who have gained legal skills while incarcerated and connect them with professional legal opportunities. This cohort includes former jailhouse lawyers, pro se litigants, and other individuals with direct legal and advocacy experience looking to pursue careers in the legal field. Participants who successfully complete the program may have the opportunity to pursue a paid fellowship.   

To be eligible, you must:

  1. Reside within New York City
  2. Have been formerly incarcerated
  3. Demonstrate a genuine interest in working in the legal field.
  4. Commit to attending a two-hour class one night a week for 12 weeks and additional programming with employers and practitioners.
  5. Bring a positive attitude to the classroom and commit to foster relationships with similarly minded individuals.

Familiarity with LexisNexis and/or Westlaw is not required, but preferred.

We are strongly committed to diversity within our programming. We welcome applications from a wide range of people and do not discriminate based on race, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, or disability status.

The application includes:

  • a copy of your resume,
  • a 750-word response to a writing prompt, and
  • a 500-word personal statement.

You have the option to include a 1-2 page writing sample (e.g., a motion or brief you assisted in drafting, a memorandum, legal or nonlegal, or anything that represents your writing skills).

View the Application Flyer for more information. Please email ppi@law.columbia.edu with any questions. Once we have reviewed your application, we will contact you to set up a time to virtually meet and discuss the program’s goals in more detail.

The application is now live! Seats will be filled on a rolling basis.

We look forward to reading your application! Thank you for your interest.