Students at Dundalk Community College are preparing for the growing responsibilities of the paralegal profession by receiving on-the-job training in a variety of internships, according to Judith Munaker, an assistant professor and director of the school's paralegal studies program.
Traditionally, Ms. Munaker said, the job of the paralegal has been to do legal research under the supervision of an attorney. But more and more paralegals today are also interviewing clients and helping to prepare cases, she added.
The Dundalk students are doing research in private law offices, working on behalf of tenants in rent disputes with landlords, drawing up civil complaints and also acting as victims' advocates.
In Baltimore County, student interns work with the Criminal Justice Coordinator's office to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. The students provide advice and moral support, help victims get into counseling, and accompany them to court proceedings.
"Their work makes them sensitive to the magnitude and seriousness of the domestic violence problem," said Robert McQuay, criminal justice coordinator for the county.
In the Baltimore law office of Suder & Suder, students prepare documents, organize files and "get a good sense of how a law office works and how they can help in the system," said Robert Suder, senior partner in the firm.
Scott Adams and Bill Freedman are both recent community college graduates who held internships at the Public Justice Center last semester. This non-profit legal organization was established to resolve problems within the state's criminal justice system and make legal assistance accessible to all people regardless of income.
One of the projects of the Public Justice Center is to train non-attorneys to help low-income renters who can't afford an attorney but are in danger of losing their homes because of a dispute with a landlord. Mr. Adams and Mr. Freedman participated in a program which schooled them in Maryland's landlord-tenant law, prepared them to counsel clients about their options and taught them to represent tenants in court.
"I liked it because we were allowed actual client contact and a say in what happened, although we had an attorney to supervise us," said Mr. Adams, 28, who now plans to earn a bachelor's degree at the University of Baltimore and then apply to law school.
"It gave us a lot of hands-on experience," added Mr. Freedman, who is 40 and will also be continuing his education at the University of Baltimore and then, he hopes, at law school. "It helped us to get the feel for interviewing."
When the Dundalk students complete their two-year associate in arts degree, many will join the work force as members of what has been called the fastest growing profession of the '90s, Ms. Munaker said. Starting salaries average between $18,000 and $21,000, she added. Others, like Mr. Adams and Mr. Freedman, will go on to earn a bachelor's degree and then apply to law school.
Of the 200 students in Dundalk's paralegal studies program, some are already employed in paralegal positions. A few are fresh out of high school while others are older and planning career changes.
Required classes in the program include introduction to law, practice and procedure, legal research and writing, estate administration and the role of the paralegal. Electives are in specialty areas such as domestic relations, criminal law, personal injury, contracts, income tax law and workmen's compensation.
Dundalk offers off-campus paralegal studies classes in Catonsville and Towson. And beginning this fall, continuing education courses -- including technical research, legal writing, domestic violence issues and legal issues in the news -- will be offered in various locations throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. For information call the paralegal studies office at 285-9729.