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Women Bisnow
   
September 25, 2008
 
 
 

PATRON SAINT
OF PARALEGALS


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By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

Toni Marsh, director of the George Washington University paralegal studies program and  Associate Professor of American Jurisprudence and Legal Writing, has always had fate in her corner. Having taught in the paralegal program at Georgetown, she moved to Charlotte, NC, when her husband was transferred and called UNC Charlotte to see if she could do the same down there. It just so happened they were starting a new paralegal program which she was hired to design, launch and direct. When she moved back to Washington, she contacted GW about re-launching its paralegal program, just as its was thinking the same thing. The only instance where time wasn’t on her side? When she found out she passed the Bar and was pregnant on the very same day.

 

“I practiced criminal law and juvenile law right from the start,” says Marsh. “I always worked as a sole practitioner, which enabled me to control my schedule and leave me time to raise my kids.” But when Marsh started teaching, first at a community college in Cleveland, she caught the bug. “I just loved it. I always kept my license, but I began concentrating on teaching” in 2001. At GW since 2006, Marsh calls it the “best university I have ever been in.” Hoping to begin a paralegal certificate program, it was at the urging of the university that it became a masters program as well. “They are forward thinking, incredibly creative, and want to continue to grow into a top-tier academic university. No one ever says that’s too complicated or expensive. If you have a good idea, they’ll entertain it.”

 

Marsh and her staff are taking GW’s forward thinking and running with it. Last year, when Marsh received a call from Helen Kijo-Bisimba, Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about starting a paralegal program there, she jumped at the opportunity. Kijo-Bisimba was in Washington as part of Condoleezza Rice’s efforts to honor international women of courage. Kijo-Bisimba “asked me if I could help her to think of a way to train people to help villagers get access to the legal system.” Most likely, GW and the Legal and Human Rights Center will partner together and train local villagers, predominantly women, as paralegals. “The legal system in Tanzania combines tribal law, civil law and religious law. It’s complicated even for a lawyer,” says Marsh, who hopes to launch the program in spring of ’09. “Female victims of rape, domestic violence and robbery, don’t know where to begin. We want to help spread access to the rule of law.”

 

Playing on the old adage, "If you give a man a fish, he will have a single meal. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat all his life,” Marsh is toying with naming the program “Uana Sheria Wavuvi.” For those of you forgetting your Swahili, it translates into, “Legal Fisherman.” If a taught man will eat all his life, imagine what a woman will do.

 
 
 
 
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