Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

Capstone Information for Students

Your Capstone project will demonstrate that you have satisfied the PCC Paralegal Program Outcomes:

  1. Apply analytic, critical thinking, and research skills to fact situations within a legal context.
  1. Demonstrate professional skills necessary to a paralegal career, including oral and written communication and technology skills.
  1. Adhere to professional and ethical standards appropriate to the legal profession.
  1. Use effective personal, interpersonal, time, and project management skills required in the legal profession.

Materials that must be included in the capstone:

Title Page

Table of Contents

Cover Letter

Resume

Memorandum Explaining Writing Sample

Writing Sample

On Capstone Day:

You will attend an interview to discuss your capstone with a legal professional.

What is this capstone?

This capstone is an electronic presentation of your work that displays what you have learned in the Paralegal Program. A capstone is your demonstration that you have attained the knowledge and competence in the four Paralegal Program Learning Outcomes.

The capstone should demonstrate your ability to produce well-formatted professional work in electronic form. The capstone should be well-organized and helpful to your capstone reviewers, some of whom are busy attorneys and paralegals donating their time to the program. Your capstone should be as easy to review and understand as possible – including a table of contents, page numbers, bookmarks and other tools to help navigate your document.

Your capstone will consist of one Writing Sample and one memo explaining the Writing Sample, along with a cover letter and resume.

Your Writing Sample should be a substantive legal document that demonstrates your analytic, critical thinking, and legal research and writing skills. This document can be of any type, including:

  • Letters
    • Client letters
    • Demand letters
    • Letters to opposing counsel/parties
    • Emails to members of the legal team
  • Pleadings
  • Factual Memoranda
  • Objective Memoranda of Law
  • Motions and Supporting Materials
  • Petitions
  • Other Course Projects*
    • Presentations
    • Analytic research papers

Typically, your document should be selected from projects and activities in paralegal courses, but you can use material from jobs, internships, and other experiences, provided you receive the proper permissions and satisfy all ethical duties. As you review your work throughout the Paralegal Program, identify a writing sample that satisfies these requirements:

  1. the document is work that you did and are capable of doing;
  2. the document is work that reflects some use of technology;
  3. the document includes content that is interesting and accurate;
  4. the document is work that illustrates your ability to research, analyze, synthesize and clearly explain the law relevant to a legal issue; and
  5. the document shows your skill in expressing your ideas clearly in writing.

The Capstone also includes a memorandum explaining the Writing Sample. This memorandum needs to satisfy two goals:

  1. Explain everything a reader needs to know to evaluate your document; and
  2. Explain how the document demonstrates the analytic, critical thinking, and legal research and writing skills you’ve gained in the paralegal program.

The memorandum should also clarify for the reader that you have assessed yourself as a student and new paralegal, identified areas that you still need to develop, and that you have a plan for that development.

How will I present my capstone?

You will be assigned a legal professional to contact to schedule your capstone interview. You will meet with the legal professional, who will review your capstone and meet with you to discuss it. While no formal presentation is required, students should be prepared to present the information in their capstones.

What is the capstone process?

Students will turn in draft documents early in the PL 295 course. Students will receive feedback on the draft and use that feedback to improve. Students will turn in the final several weeks before the last class. The instructor will grade the capstone.

Why is a capstone required?

The project has three purposes: 1) to produce a body of work that reflects what the student has learned in the Paralegal program; 2) to evaluate the quality of Paralegal courses, instructors and general implementation of the program’s objectives based on student performance in the capstone, and 3) to highlight student achievement in a way that can be reviewed by any person, including a potential employer.

When is the capstone required?

Completing the capstone is a required component of PL 295 – Paralegal Capstone. Student work on the capstone starts as soon as the student enters the Paralegal program, though, because students can choose the material to be used in the capstone from all available sources. At the end of every term, students should critically evaluate the work they completed during the term to decide whether any of the work will be useful for the capstone as potential writing samples. Students are also encouraged to revise their work based on feedback provided by the course instructor EVEN WHEN NOT REQUIRED BY THE COURSE. Revision is both an excellent learning opportunity, and an opportunity to prepare the material to be included in the capstone.

How is the capstone produced?

Students will turn in a single PDF containing everything needed to review the capstone. The title page, cover letter, resume, writing sample, and explanatory memorandum will be contained within the single PDF.

How is the capstone evaluated?

The PL 295 instructor assigns a numeric or letter grade to the capstone. That grade is used in calculating the student’s final grade for the PL 295 course. A legal professional reviews the student’s capstone to determine if the capstone demonstrates minimum competence in the program outcomes.

The PL 295 Course Instructor Grades the Capstone

The capstone is graded as the primary written assignment in the PL 295 course. The instructor will grade the capstone on completeness, organization, neatness, compliance with the instructions, and other criteria established by the instructor. These criteria include:

1. the quality of the student’s explanatory memorandum, specifically (a) whether the student has adequately addressed analytic, critical thinking, and legal research and writing skills, and (b) whether the student has adequately explained how the writing sample demonstrates the student’s learning in each of those areas; and

2. the quality of the student’s Writing Sample, cover letter and resume.

The Legal Professional Evaluates the Capstone for Minimum Competence

After being graded by the instructor, the capstone will be reviewed by at least one legal professional, who will also meet with the student. The volunteer professionals are usually program faculty, PCC staff, members of the Program Advisory Counsel, and alumni of the program. Professionals review the capstone using the Capstone Scoring Rubric attached to this Guide. If the student scores in the “Fails to demonstrate proficiency at entry-level” range (0 – 8 points on the rubric), the legal professional may ask follow-up questions, or may request changes to the capstone that the student must work with the PL 295 instructor to accomplish before the student can receive a degree or certificate from the program.

 

PCC Paralegal Program

Outcomes You Must Demonstrate

Outcomes that you must demonstrate with your writing sample:

  • Apply analytic, critical thinking, and research skills to fact situations within a legal context.

After reading your writing sample, your reader should be able to assess whether you meet the following standards:

The student can think critically about information and undertake analysis, including making decisions and taking actions based on analysis of information, and using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose. Examples of actions that demonstrate critical thinking include:

  • Engaging the imagination to explore new possibilities.
  • Formulating and articulating ideas.
  • Recognizing explicit and tacit assumptions and their consequences.
  • Weighing connections and relationships between ideas.
  • Distinguishing relevant from non-relevant data, and fact from opinion.
  • Identifying, evaluating and synthesizing information in a collaborative environment.
  • Reasoning toward a conclusion or application.
  • Determining the extent of information needed.
  • Evaluating information and its sources critically.
  • Incorporating selected information into one’s knowledge base.

The student can apply research skills to fact situations within a legal context, including being able to use a variety of tools to find primary and secondary legal authority relevant to legal problems. This includes the ability to plan research, choose the right tool for the job, to formulate search terms and queries, to understand precedent, and take proper notes/research trail.

The student possesses sufficient substantive legal knowledge to grasp the legal context of fact situations. Over time, legal professionals develop a base of knowledge about different areas of law that enables them to spot legal issues in any situation. For example, a client may arrive in the office with a personal injury complaint, but the facts may also implicate a contract issue. Without any knowledge of the substantive law of contracts, the legal professional may miss an opportunity to protect or advance the client’s interests. How does your writing sample show your substantive legal knowledge in the area chosen? For example, if your writing sample is an asylum request, how does your request for asylum demonstrate that you have substantive legal knowledge of immigration law? What legal knowledge did you have to have in order to complete your writing sample document?

The student possesses sufficient understanding of the legal system to grasp the legal context of a fact situation. For example, students will understand how the legal system is organized and how it operates. This includes a solid understanding of how American government is structured, its constitutional underpinnings, and the more specific organization of the judicial branches (state and federal). For example, a paralegal must understand the court system to comprehend where to file a particular document, and what rules must be followed when doing so. An understanding of the legal system is also important to legal research, where locating the most powerful precedent requires understanding jurisdiction. How does your writing sample show your knowledge of the legal system?

  • Demonstrate professional skills necessary to a paralegal career, including … written communication … skills.

The student can interpret and express ideas effectively in written form to a variety of audiences. Keep in mind that good evidence of your written communication skills is provided by all of the writing in the capstone itself. Is your capstone well organized and easy to read? Your writing sample should be as perfect as you can make it. Whatever you choose, be sure that the writing is free from errors, and demonstrates proper grammar and legal style – concise and precise.

Outcomes you must reflect upon and discuss in your explanatory memorandum:

  • Demonstrate professional skills necessary to a paralegal career, including … technology skills.

The student uses technology to accomplish tasks necessary to a paralegal career. For this outcome, please specifically discuss how you used necessary technology to complete your Writing Sample and/or capstone. For example, if you used Word to process the Writing Sample, what specifically did you do? Did you add Sections and develop a table of contents using Styles?

  • Adhere to professional and ethical standards appropriate to the legal profession.

The student is knowledgeable about legal ethical rules and will adhere to ethical standards appropriate to the legal profession. Be sure not to violate any ethical rules in presenting your Writing Sample. Be sure you redact any confidential information and seek appropriate permission from the attorney if you are using any writing from a real client’s case. You need not discuss ethical standards in your Explanatory Memo, just be sure to address any ethical issues that could be presented by your Writing Sample. If an issue arose, discuss how you handled it in your Explanatory Memo. If no issues arose, explain why no issues arose in the Explanatory Memo (e.g. “The writing sample was written as an assignment in PL 203 – Basic Legal Research. Thus, no ethical issues arose in providing the sample. The sample itself raises an interesting ethical point, however, regarding former client conflicts…”. If your writing sample doesn’t deal with an ethical issue, you could leave the second sentence out, of course.

  • Use effective personal, interpersonal, time, and project management skills required in the legal profession.

The student uses effective personal, interpersonal, time and project management skills required in the legal profession. Personal management includes “soft skills” such as forming constructive relationships, working with little direction, working well in a team, and resolving conflicts successfully. Examples of how to demonstrate these skills include discussing how you planned the research and writing project, whether and how you worked with or consulted others on the project, and the quality and style of the project itself.

Outcomes you must demonstrate in your interview:

  • Demonstrate professional skills necessary to a paralegal career, including … oral communication.

The student can interpret and express ideas effectively in oral form to a variety of audiences. Examples include presentations, interviews, and investigations. While you need not say anything about your oral communication skills, they will be reviewed by the legal professional in the context of the capstone interview.

Consider the following prompts as you prepare for the interview. You don’t have to answer any or all of the questions, but the questions can help you reflect on your learning and your preparedness for the profession. They can also help prepare for questions you might be asked in the interview.

Would you recommend the PCC Paralegal Program to a friend? What strategies would you suggest to your friend to be successful in the program?

If you were to take the program again, would you do anything differently? Why?

Identify the three most important lessons you learned in the program. How did you learn them? How will those lessons contribute to your success in your chosen profession?

What course was the hardest for you? Why?

Which study strategies did you embrace, and which did you abandon?

What did you believe about yourself as a learner before the paralegal program? Did your experiences in the program change this thinking? Does what you believe about yourself as a learner have any effect on how you perform?

Have you learned something you didn’t think you could learn? What? How did you feel once you had learned it?

Capstone Scoring Sheet

Student Name: _______________________________ Date: _________

Scoring Sheet

Criteria Points Awarded

Critical Thinking _________/3____

 

Legal Research _________/3____

Written Communication _________/3___

Oral Communication _________/3____

Technology _________/3___

Ethics _________/3____

Personal & Project Management _________/3____

TOTAL:__________/24_____

*A score of 0-9 fails to meet expectations; a score of 10-15 meets expectations; a score of 16+ exceeds expectations. Any score of 10 or above is satisfactory.

Scoring Rubric

Criteria

Score

Exceeds Expectations (3)

Demonstrates Entry-Level Proficiency (2)

Fails to Demonstrate Proficiency at Entry-Level (1)

Critical Thinking: The student can think critically about information and undertake analysis.

Clearly identifies the issue. Analyzes the issue and provides clear context, including the influence of the context. States assumptions for reader. Takes a position drawing support from the law, justifies own position while integrating counterarguments. Analogous reasoning used where possible. Approaches issue from a neutral, unbiased and disinterested perspective, favoring neither a positive nor a negative conclusion until all of the relevant law and facts have been considered.

Identifies the areas of law relevant to issues in a factual scenario. Identifies levels and jurisdictions of authority mostly accurately with some detail. The analysis demonstrates the ability to perceive some important legal and factual issues, though the analysis may omit some important legal and factual issues. Approaches the problem from a neutral perspective. Reasons to a conclusion supported by the facts and law.

Identifies the areas of law relevant to issues in a factual scenario, but understanding is limited and analysis contains few details. May need assistance to locate relevant legal authority, and recitation of the law may be missing or flawed. Demonstrates difficulty with reasoning to a rational conclusion and may include either irrelevant or conclusory statements of law and fact for support.

Legal Research: The student can apply research skills to fact situations within a legal context.

Student correctly identifies binding precedent, using the strongest possible precedents in analysis. Student demonstrates the ability to locate governing legal authority and interpret an object of the law – a statement, rule, decision or action – accurately and in significant detail.

Student largely identifies binding precedent and uses persuasive authority effectively. Student successfully identifies the governing rule and interprets an object of the law – a statement, rule, decision or action – mostly accurately and with the detail necessary to understand the object.

Identifies the correct jurisdiction for the issue, but may fail to identify binding precedent, at times relying on out-of-jurisdiction law. Student has trouble stating the governing rule of law and interpretations of object of law are vague.

Written Communication: The Student will be able to interpret and express ideas effectively in written form.

Sequence reflects clear organization of ideas and typically accepted legal writing form and style. Language chosen clearly and effectively communicates ideas. Errors are minimal. Sources are cited correctly.

Basic organization is apparent. Transitions connect ideas, but may be mechanical. Format is appropriate, though at times inconsistent. Most sources are cited correctly. Language communicates ideas, with errors not interfering with understanding. There may be some problems with more difficult aspects of style and voice.

Writing veers from topic to topic without organization. Paragraphs are not well developed, and few details/examples are offered. Grammar & typographic errors interfere with understanding. Many sources either not cited or cited erroneously.

Oral Communication: The student can interpret and express ideas effectively in oral form.

Communicates appropriately, taking into consideration audience, purpose, professional etiquette and tone of communication. Demonstrates ability to express ideas with accuracy, clarity and economy. Directly responds to questions posed and illustrates an understanding of the topic.

Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye contact, and vocal expressiveness) make the presentation understandable, and speaker appears comfortable, though may be tentative.

Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye contact, and vocal expressiveness) detract from the understandability of the presentation, and speaker appears uncomfortable.

Technology Skills: The student can use technology to accomplish tasks necessary to a paralegal career.

Student’s presented documents are well formatted and demonstrate sufficient knowledge of technology for an entry-level position.

Student’s presented documents are formatted consistent with procedural rules and instructions.

Student’s presented documents are inconsistent with rules and instructions, and/or documents are formatted poorly.

Ethics:

The student is knowledgeable about legal ethical rules.

Student’s presented documents comply with all legal ethical rules and professionalism requirements.

Student’s presented documents comply with all legal ethical rules.

Writing sample includes confidential information or otherwise implicates ethical issues.

* Your document should be selected from these choices ONLY if you do not have a document of a more specific type. Please speak to your Capstone course instructor before using presentations or analytic research papers in your capstone.