Baker College's paralegal program starts year with ABA approval

By Jo Mathis Legal News Students in the Baker College of Jackson's paralegal program this September will be the first to enroll since the program was approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The paralegal program, which began in 2004, went through an extensive process of submitting reports to the ABA, explained Jack Jordan, dean of business administration at the college. The ABA's on-site visit verified that the paralegal program was in compliance with the organization's guidelines. Final approval from the ABA came in February. "A lot of students are really looking for that seal of approval," said Jordan. "It says we maintain a certain standard ... That gives us a pretty good distinction not only across the country, but also in the state of Michigan." Baker College of Jackson is one of about 274 ABA-approved paralegal programs nationwide and one of 16 in Michigan. Five of the 10 Baker College campuses have paralegal programs. Of those five, Clinton Township, Auburn Hills (which offers a bachelor's degree in legal studies) and Jackson are ABA-approved. The other two are still in the process of applying. Fifty-three students are enrolled this fall in the Jackson campus program, which leads to an associate degree. Department Chair Tracy Nothnagel explained that her students' biggest competition for jobs are graduates of Lansing Community College's paralegal program, which has been ABA-accredited for years. "So this (accreditation) is awesome for our students," she said. "It gives them a level playing field when looking for work." Nothnagel said it also gives them the opportunity to transfer to a four-year paralegal program such as the ABA-approved program at Eastern Michigan University. The paralegal program is within Baker College's business department. "This is a specialty program," Jordan said. "It has a lot of skills businesses are looking for: people who can critically think and analyze, who have writing skills and good communication skills. All those things are vitally important if you're going into law, no matter what aspect of the law you're going into." Paralegals work under the supervision of attorneys and perform a variety of tasks in such places as private law firms, corporations, nonprofit organizations, court systems, real estate title companies, banks, insurance companies, health care organizations, and government agencies. Jordan said that when he was going to law school, those students who'd earned associate's degrees in paralegal studies had an advantage because they already understood so much about law. Good-paying paralegal jobs are available across the country, Jordan said, noting that in Michigan, that usually means larger markets. The ABA-approved paralegal program begins Sept. 24. Published: Mon, Aug 27, 2012

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