EMU Legal Resource Center celebrates tenth anniversary

Ten years ago, The Washtenaw County/Eastern Michigan University Legal Resource Center (LRC) opened its doors. Since that time, more than 34,699 Washtenaw County community members have received assistance with court forms from EMU paralegal students as part of their University course work.

The LRC is the only university-supported paralegal clinic of its kind in the country, where students in the program work under the supervision of faculty and attorneys for course credit. The center is a collaborative effort between Washtenaw County, its judges and attorneys and Eastern Michigan.

"This is a tremendous, positive contribution to the community by our paralegal students, EMU and the LRC shareholders," said Nancy Caine Harbour, paralegal program coordinator at Eastern. "The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching just recognized Eastern Michigan University for its deep level of community engagement, and the LRC was part of this community engagement, which is a high honor," said Harbour.

At the LRC, paralegal students assist community members who cannot afford an attorney with court forms in four civil legal areas: family law, probate, landlord tenant and small claims. This includes civil matters such as divorce, child custody and personal protection orders. The students also provide information on various legal procedures for navigating the court system.

Students have the option to work at the LRC to fulfill their required internship course, typically after they have completed the core legal courses.

"The LRC experience allows our students to get hands-on paralegal experience right where the action is - in the courthouse" said Harbour. "It's a great way to get inside the law without incurring the tremendous debt of today's law school education. And with a paralegal degree, our students can immediately enter the law profession."

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 6,110 paralegals employed in Michigan during 2011, with a statewide average annual income of $50,800 and those in the top ten percent earning an average of $72,520. The majority of paralegals in Michigan find employment in private law firms, corporations and state or federal government offices.

The EMU paralegal studies program offers two bachelor of science degree options in paralegal studies. The undergraduate degree program is for students without a four-year college degree. A second bachelor's degree program is offered for students who already have a four-year college degree from an accredited college or university. In this option, a student can earn a second bachelor of science degree with the completion of a minimum of 50 semester hours of program courses.

"In our paralegal program, students essentially receive the first two years of law school courses at a university level," said Harbour. "The program is approved by the American Bar Association, which is the gold standard for paralegal studies programs, and many of our paralegal graduates write to me and tell me how helpful, for example, the legal research and writing courses were to their success, not only in law school but in the legal profession."

The Legal Resource Center is located on the first floor of the Washtenaw County Courthouse at 101 E. Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor, and is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during regular court hours.

For more information about paralegal programs, visit www.emich.edu/cot/undergrad_paralegal.htm. For information about the Legal Resource Center, contact Nancy Harbour at nharbour@emich.edu or 487-7790.

Published: Mon, Jan 19, 2015