Paralegal Pathways Initiative

The Paralegal Pathways Initiative 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.

There are approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S., and about 600,000 of them 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. 

PPI seeks to elevate the skills of justice-impacted individuals that could lead to long-term employment for our participants. The program's immediate impact is connecting formerly incarcerated individuals to the legal field. But we hope to extend our reach further. PPI aims to introduce legal employers to the talents of formerly incarcerated people, influence the trajectories of law students, and bolster policy and scholarship by putting law students and professors in direct contact with ground-level issues in criminal law and reentry. 

Starting PPI at Columbia is only the beginning. Ultimately, this program can result in a scalable, national model that can be emulated at law schools around the country. 

The PPI course is 12 weeks long, beginning in mid-January and concluding at the end of April. Class sessions are held once a week in the evening and supplemented by periodic workshops. Topics covered include legal research and writing, legal ethics, client interviewing, professional development, and an overview of civil litigation and discovery. PPI participants will work closely with Columbia and Fordham Law students and faculty as part of a collaborative learning environment.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Reside in New York City
  • Have been formerly incarcerated and at least one year post-release
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in the legal field
  • Commit to attending an in-person two-hour class one night a week for 12 weeks, and additional programming and workshops
  • Commit to contributing to a collaborative learning environment
  • Complete an interview

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.

Applications for the Spring 2024 cohort are now closed. Please check back in September 2024, for the applications for the Spring 2025 cohort. Thank you! 

Keep up with PPI on social media by connecting with us on LinkedIn and Instagram!