Inaugural state paralegal award goes to Kent County's Campbell

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Charles Campbell has a job he loves, helping lower-income people with their legal needs at the Kent County Legal Assistance Center, and the icing on the cake is that he has now received an award for doing it.

This month for the very first time, the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section has given a “Shining Star” Award to a paralegal or legal assistant based on outstanding charitable and/or community service works. Selections are made by the State Bar’s Council.

The mission of the section is to provide “education, information and analysis about issues of concern through meetings, seminars, [the web] site, public service programs, and publication of a newsletter. “

Monthly winners will be recognized on the Section’s pages of the SBM web site, www.michbar.

org/paralegal (Shining Star is the last choice on the left-hand menu).

The Section Chair, Casey Mobley who works at Capital Bancorp in Lansing, says, “The goal is to recognize paralegals doing good things. Charles Campbell showed a real dedication to the community.”

Campbell first got involved with the Legal Assistance Center (LAC) as a student intern through the post-baccalaureate paralegal program at Davenport University.

The Cedar Springs High School graduate attended Grand Valley State University for his undergraduate degree in history, but found that his first career choice, of teaching in the public schools, was not going to happen. “No Child Left Behind kicked in around that time. It says that you have to be a social studies group major, able to teach all the subjects, even if all you want to teach is history.” Campbell says he could have gone back to school in that field but in the meantime he had heard that Davenport had a “high quality program that’s ABA [American Bar Association] accredited.”

He saw that he would be able to receive his certification quickly, and “it fit in with where I was at at that time. Not so much as far as the law, but the writing and the research elements.”

Campbell says that he knew he had made the right decision when he took a business law course his first semester. “At first it was really a struggle for me trying to get my mind around how you have to think about things in the law, you have to plug the facts of the case into the legal elements in a certain way, but one day it clicked. Once I was able to get myself into that thought process I felt completely comfortable — but actually came to be much more
enthusiastic once I started getting hands-on experience when I got my internship here, the chance to work with the type of folks I’m working with.”

After graduating from the Davenport program, Campbell went to work for an individual attorney in private practice. “That attorney was gracious enough to let me continue volunteering here one day a week,” Campbell notes.

When the Program Coordinator job opened up about a year and a half ago, Campbell expressed his interest. Executive Director Valerie Ambrose and the LAC board (on which the head of Campbell’s Davenport University program, Barb Craft, serves) hired him.

Campbell states, “A paralegal can do everything that we do here. Even the attorney volunteers are placed under the same restrictions I am.”

Those restrictions can be summed up by observing that the LAC does not give legal advice. That should not be taken to mean, however, that their assistance is limited. After an interview, the LAC staff determines which of four courses to pursue:

—Staff members and trained volunteers may determine that the person’s problem is not in the legal arena, and make a referral to a community agency;

—They may determine that the person is eligible for Legal Aid and refer him or her to the Legal Aid of Western Michigan office;

—They may refer them to the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s lawyer referral and information service program; or

—They may provide self-help materials and assistance if the person decides to represent him/herself.

This assistance takes the form of giving “information regarding legal options and court procedures” and “distribut[ing] appropriate, court required forms and then check[ing] to ensure that the forms are filled out accurately and completely.”

This is work that Campbell finds a perfect fit. “I feel like I’m making a difference. I’m very happy with my position here.”

Ambrose indicates the feeling is mutual, and that she could not think of a better choice for the Shining Star award. “I sent it out to the board, too, and lots of emails have come in congratulating him.”

And Campbell continues, “There’s a lot of need out there, a lot of unmet legal needs, and I see my future as continuing to work with the same population of folks I’m working with now.

“I like helping people. Secondly, I enjoy working with students — we have up to 20 student volunteers a semester from Cooley, Davenport, and the Grand Valley State University paralegal program that Ruth Stevens runs now.”

The Grand Rapids Bar Association started the LAC, but it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2005. The LAC helped 15,033 people during 2010; 61% of those had annual incomes at or below $20,000 per year. It was able to do this despite funding decreases in the operating budget, but thanks to a variety of in-kind contributions totalling nearly $100,000.

Campbell, who also attended the NALS legal professional group as often as he could while a student, lives with his wife in the City of Grand Rapids.

He was not aware that he had been nominated for the award, and says that when Section Chair Mobley called to inform him, “I actually was surprised, but I’m honored.”

To nominate a paralegal/legal assistant who “go[es] above and beyond what is expected of them” for the Shining Star Award, visit http://www.michbar.org/paralegal/shiningstaraward.cfm.

Mobley, who says the Shining Star award is “kind of my baby,” may be reached at mobleyc@northwood.edu.