Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw County’s Legal Resource Center at the Washtenaw County Courthouse in Ann Arbor provides paralegal students with hands on experience beyond the classroom. The program teaches students how to assist members of the community with filling out court forms in civil areas such as divorce, custody, and personal protection orders and the general court system.
Paralegals are trained in subsidiary legal matters and perform tasks that do require knowledge of the law but are not fully qualified as lawyers. The LRC is the only university-supported paralegal clinic in the country where students are supervised by faculty and attorneys for internship credit. The program offers both an undergraduate and graduate program.
Tracy Nothnagel, attorney, professor and co-program director of EMU’s paralegal program, has led the center for nine years and worked as an attorney for 19 years. She supervises EMU students at the LRC 12 hours a week. When she graduated from the paralegal program, she wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted to go to law school.
Her experience from the program motivated her to make that choice and she said that the legal research helped her succeed. Learning the tools in legal research, writing and knowledge helped her move forward.
Nothnagel worked as a paralegal for a year before law school. She wanted to teach after Alice Callum, the first full-time paralegal studies program coordinator at EMU, offered her a teaching position for a wills and trust estates class. She continued to work as an attorney while teaching and was hired this year as a full-time lecturer. Nothnagel said that paralegal students should get involved with the EMU’s Legal Resource Center if they want to go to law school.
“Students really learn a lot of useful information. They learn how to deal with patrons. We have about four thousand patrons that walk through our door a year and a lot of emotions are involved," Nothnagel said. "Our center gives students hands on experience with court procedures, personnel and working with the public. The paralegal program is a great way to prepare someone for law school.”
Enrollment for EMU’s paralegal studies program rose 21 percent this year and has been approved by the American Bar Association, which is a big success for any paralegal program. Nothnagel is very proud of the program’s good employment rate. Students from EMU have gone on to work all over the state of Michigan in government agencies, law firms and corporations. EMU is also 1 of 4 universities in the United States that have a bachelor’s degree program for paralegal students.
“My big goal is to increase the number of paralegals as well as awareness across campus and the community," Nothnagel said. "I want to grow our program and also work with our paralegal eagles. I want people to realize what a paralegal is and does.”
Nothnagel plans to bring awareness to students about the paralegal studies program through various educational festivals on campus. The Fall Major Fest gives students who are undecided about a major the opportunity to meet with faculty and staff of various majors. No Limits: College to Cancer Conference brings focus to EMU degree programs through interactive breakout sessions to high school students, giving them a chance to build relationships with EMU students. Explore Eastern is an open house for transfer and high school students to learn about programs.