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The only independent legal news resource covering the paralegal profession.

The Magazine for the Paralegal Profession



current issue

LAT March/April 2008 

On the Pulse
LAT ‘s 7th Annual Technology Survey results reveal more paralegals feel the beat of technology.
By Amanda Flatten
Statistical analysis by
Darrell Patton

What’s On?
The latest in trial presentation software, hardware and gadgetry.

By Milton Hooper

Taming the Terabyte
A paralegal’s guide to reining in electronically stored information.
By Sally A. Kane

In Good Form
Increasing the Value of Mental and Emotional
Injury Cases

By John D. Winer

Table of Contents


2nd Annual Unique Paralegal
Programs Spotlight

Innovative programs provide exciting paralegal education options.

By Tim Pareti


What makes a paralegal program unique? Perhaps it’s the make up of the school faculty or the student body. Maybe it’s the course selection or a need the school fills in the local community. Or it might be a specialty program few schools offer. Most paralegal ­programs offer the obvious: certificate or degree programs in legal studies. However, the schools we found this year offer a little more — something you might not find ­elsewhere: an active paralegal student association, an intense master’s program, a specialized degree program for medical professionals, a tribal advocacy degree, a legal resource center run by student paralegals and a high-tech courtroom for paralegal studies. School officials continue to improve paralegal programs to meet the changing needs of the ­workplace. Administrators are meeting challenges in the growing paralegal profession by adding new courses in emerging legal fields or meeting the needs of a global community by adding distance learning programs. The following schools are a snapshot of the many unique, innovative paralegal programs across the United States.

Expanding Tribal Advocacy

Turtle Mountain Community College

Belcourt, N.D.

(701) 477-7981

The tribal advocacy paralegal program at Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt, N.D., is taking a fresh and unique approach to improve the tribal court systems of Native Americans. With the help of a federal grant from the Department of Justice, Turtle Mountain is expanding its tribal advocacy paralegal program by offering online courses and financial assistance for up to 20 students in a co-hort program that will begin in the fall of 2005. The program currently offers two degrees: associate of arts with a concentration in tribal advocacy-legal studies, and associate of applied science in tribal paralegal, both approved by the American Bar Association.

In 1998, Congress earmarked money to Turtle Mountain in an effort to increase the number of Native Americans trained in tribal government and law. Dubbed Project Peacemaker, Congress has given more than $1.5 million to the program so far, which benefits the Turtle Mountain Tribal Courts. This program is being developed to serve as a model for other tribal courts across Indian country.

The program, which is open to anyone, seeks to strengthen tribal courts through legal training in the tribal justice system based on native perspectives, customs, traditions and culture, said Susan DeCoteau, director of Project Peacemaker. Both the Trial Advocacy and Tribal Paralegal degrees will qualify the person to become a certified tribal advocate on Turtle Mountain. These degrees will allow a graduate to appear in Turtle Mountain courts and conduct cases in that court system.

Currently, there are no standard higher educational requirements to practice law in the Turtle Mountain tribal court system, DeCoteau said. “Our goal is to get our students to become attorneys and tribal advocates. We believe it will help alleviate some of the problems faced by tribal court systems today,” DeCoteau said.

DeCoteau said Project Peacemaker now is attempting to create more distance learning courses, where students from other colleges and universities can obtain the tribal advocacy paralegal degree.

The first step is this year’s co-hort program where program administrators will choose 10 to 20 students from a batch of about 40 who register for an online course called Introduction to Legal Studies and Ethics, offered in spring 2005. The final selection will be based on performance and grades in this spring class. The selected students will receive tuition stipends and scholarships for the tribal advocacy paralegal certifications.

“Our instructors are mostly Indian attorneys, and they develop their courses around the textbooks and their experience in the Tribal Courts they have worked in,” DeCoteau said. 

To fill these teaching slots for these new online courses, administrators are searching for more attorneys, preferably with a background in tribal law.

Students who graduate from TMCC with the tribal advocacy degree can transfer the 39 legal studies credits to a local four-year college as upper-level coursework, DeCoteau said. Project Peacemaker offers coursework in addition to general education requirements in any of the two-year degrees.

Student-Run Resource Center

Eastern Michigan University

Ypsilanti, Mich.

(734) 487-4330

There are plenty of people who need help navigating the legal system but can’t afford an attorney. Many of them struggle through the system confused, frustrated, angry and worried. In Ypsilanti, Mich., paralegal students at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) are learning about such ­community needs.

Last year, in a cooperative venture, EMU, the Legal Services of South Central Michigan, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Bar Association and the Washtenaw County Unified Trial Court, opened the Washtenaw County – Eastern Michigan University Legal Resource Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. Under the supervision of an attorney, EMU paralegal students dispense legal self-help information to people in the community who need assistance in landlord tenant disputes, small claims, personal protection, noncriminal issues and family law matters, said Dr. Dan Ray, associate professor and coordinator of EMU’s Legal Assistant Studies program. “It’s going very well,” Ray said. “The reaction in the community has been very positive. Our target group is people who are not eligible for legal aid and can’t afford an attorney.”

The LRC, which opened in September, assisted approximately 160 people in the first month of operation. The selection process for EMU paralegal students to work at the LRC has become competitive. According to Ray, about five to 10 students per semester are selected to work at the LRC. Because of space constraints, some students are turned away, only to apply the following semester, he said. Although working at the LRC can be used to satisfy the clinical experience component of the school’s required program internship course, the LRC work is voluntary and not required for students in the paralegal program.

Students must have completed nine semester hours in the paralegal program and be enrolled or have completed an additional nine semester hours of courses to be eligible to sign up for the course that accompanies the LRC clinical experience. The selection process for the LRC includes an interview. Those selected must then successfully complete a two-day training course, covering the necessary forms and procedures used at the Center. The students, who work at least 10 hours per week at the Center, help patrons fill out proper forms for various civil matters such as divorce, child custody or probate matters, with attorney supervision. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t duplicate experiences students get in the Center in a classroom setting,” Ray said. “The classroom isn’t the same as real life.”

EMU’s program is one of three programs nationwide selected by the Army Judge Advocate General Corps to offer a paralegal degree completion program for Army Paralegal Specialists. All Army personnel who want to become Army Paralegal Specialists are required to successfully complete a 13-week classroom course offered by the Judge Advocate General Corps prior to becoming Army Paralegal Specialists. EMU’s proposal incorporates that 13-week course into its Army Paralegal curriculum. The remaining courses required for the degree will be taken primarily via EMU online course offerings.

“It’s extremely difficult for military personnel, especially those on active duty, to get a four-year college degree with any educational continuity. Our Army Paralegal Degree ­program is designed to help service members get a college degree, and we are very happy to be able to offer this opportunity to those folks who dedicate themselves to serving the country,” Ray said. “We are working with the American Bar Association to get approval for this program option, and we hope we can offer the Army Paralegal Degree program beginning in January of 2005.

EMU offers a second bachelor’s degree option that permits students who already have a four-year degree from an accredited institution to get a bachelor of science degree in Legal Assistant (Paralegal) Studies. EMU’s program is one of three ABA-approved, public university, bachelor’s degree granting paralegal programs in Michigan.

Active Student Association

Yavapai College

Prescott, Ariz.

(928) 776-2343

The paralegal student association at Yavapai College is an extremely active and well-known student organization. It sponsors quarterly legal clinics for the public, raises money for an annual scholarship, publishes a newsletter and conducts monthly seminars for working paralegals. Not bad for a two-year college tucked in a rural town in the mountains of Prescott, Ariz.

In fact, the Paralegal Association at Yavapai has won the Yavapai College Comm­unity Service Award every year since 1998. With the help of community legal services, local attorneys and judges and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Office in Yavapai, students of PAY provide legal services to community members.

Two to four times a year, PAY sponsors a legal clinic where students are paired up with a client to provide and explain the legal forms needed for a divorce. The students receive a weekend training course prior to the clinic, conducted by a local prosecutor or the lawyer for the Community Legal Services. The PAY legal clinic has garnered the respect of the community, and paralegal students not only get good experience the community, but they also receive bonus credits for the work.

PAY also holds an annual holiday craft fair where a percentage of the proceeds benefit three paralegal scholarships each year, said Susan Howery, assistant dean for Business and Computer Science and Paralegal Program director at Yavapai.

“[PAY] is very hands-on and service oriented,” Howery said. “Because PAY is so active, it’s out in the community all the time and that is how students get jobs. The community is happy to have us. We are an integral part of this community. We have a great reputation.”

Yavapai’s Alternative Dispute Resolution course meets most of the required hours by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in order to mediate in Superior Court. Students then will schedule the remaining time with the teachers post-class to finish their 40-hour training, usually held at the college. Two local mediators with more than 10 years mediating experience teach the course. The ADR class began two years ago. Also as part of the ADR requirements, students must sit in on several mediations before they can become a mediator.

“It’s very beneficial to anyone wanting to mediate to observe different styles of mediations, what happens when you deadlock, ways to facilitate communication,” Howery said.

Yavapai College offers an associate of applied science degree in paralegal studies, a legal nurse certificate program and a post-degree paralegal certificate program, all of which are ABA approved. Many of the courses are distance learning. Students can see and speak to each other through an ITV system from each of the college’s two campuses — Prescott and Verde Valley.

“While there also is real time incorporated into those courses as well as same-time chat rooms, students mostly work on their own time, except that they must meet assignment deadlines,” Howery said. “We do have students work in groups via the Internet to provide them the experience of working as a team. We make the courses as interactive as possible.”

Each core paralegal course has two instructors — a graduate-level paralegal and an attorney, Howery said. “The paralegals give the practical experience and the attorneys provide substantive knowledge,” she said. “It’s really good. It works out incredibly well.”

LNC in a Law School Setting

Capital University Law School

Columbus, Ohio

(614) 236- 6885

The paralegal program at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, started in 1972, and is the only one in the nation housed in a law school and endorsed by a local bar association — the Columbus Bar Association.

“Our unique features lend for excellent faculty and enhance the placement of our students,” said Donna Schoebel, director of the paralegal program at Capital University.

The ABA-approved paralegal program at Capital University offers two unique post-baccalaureate certification programs geared for nurses and medical professionals: the Legal Nurse Consultant program and the Life Care Planner program.

The LNC program began in 2001. While some registered nurses prefer to go through the paralegal program, the majority of nurses go through the LNC program. Either approach prepares them to work in areas of civil and criminal litigation, involving workers’ compensation, personal injury, insurance law, products liability or medical malpractice. Nurse paralegals who hold the LNC certification are prepared to work as independent consultants for insurance companies, law firms or hospitals. However, Schoebel noted that in Ohio, LNCs are required to work under the direct supervision of an attorney.

“Legal nurse consultants are unique nonlawyer professionals who can analyze medical records, do medical research and significantly assist in the case, and as such, are specialized nonlawyer professionals,” Schoebel said.

The LNC program is held in monthly modules with blended distance learning from February to November each year. The paralegal program is offered in a part-time evening format or as an accelerated summer immersion program. According to Schoebel, Capital’s LNC program format meets the needs of a busy and demanding nurse schedule. Most nurse paralegal programs require students to attend classes two to three times each week for one year. “Our program allows them the flexibility to maintain their full-time nursing position and complete the legal nurse consultant program at the same time,” Schoebel said.

There currently are 12 LNC students, many of whom live outside of Ohio. “The LNC and Life Care Planner programs have been really effective,” Schoebel said. “We have drawn students from all over the country.” The Life Care Planner program prepares medical professionals who are capable of working with attorneys and clients to create a life care plan for the catastrophically injured or chronically ill individual. “Our program prepares a life care planner to effectively function as an expert witness capable of defending the life care plan they have written,” Schoebel said.

One of only four LCP educational programs in the country, Capital University’s program is rigorous, teaching deposition and trial practice skills, as well as the ability to break down the medical cost of a patient, she said. LCP students, who are required to take an intense medical research and writing course, must devise a life care plan and defend it in a mock trial at the school. “We prepare students to function as expert witnesses which no other program does. Our students are much better rounded, trained and prepared to hit the ground running. They are seasoned veterans by the time they come out of school,” Schoebel said.

The LCP program, approved by the Commission for Health Care Certification for the 120 hours of training required to sit for the Certified Life Care Planner examination, is an eight-month module program where students take weekend courses once a month from October to June. Both programs hold membership in the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants.

An Intense Master’s Program

Texas State University — San Marcos

San Marcos, Texas

(512) 245-2233

When administrators began putting together a plan to create a master of arts in legal studies program for paralegals at Texas State University, there were only six other programs in the nation that offered a model. The final result was an ABA-approved graduate studies program for paralegals started in 1999, requiring an advanced writing and research project similar in scope to a master’s thesis, said Dr. Terry Hull, director and associate professor of the Legal Studies program at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. “Some of our students’ writing from this course has been published in legal journals and publications,” Hull said.

Graduate students are assigned an advisory instructor and must defend their research project to an advisory committee in order to pass the required oral comprehensive examination. The graduate program requires a total of 36-semester credit hours, consisting of 21 core courses as well as a 135-hour internship.

The master’s degree in Legal Studies at Texas State University is the only program in Texas to offer a master’s in legal studies. Graduate students can choose from a general concentration, legal administration, alternative dispute resolution and environmental law. To enroll, students must take the Graduate Record Examination and have a minimum grade point average of 2.75. “We don’t believe this is for everyone,” Hull said. “The writing, analytical and critical thinking skills and the admission standards reflect that. It’s a difficult and challenging program. We want our students to be successful and that is why the program is rigorous.”

The master’s program has grown about 24 percent since its first class in the spring of 1999. Hull said the program has earned a stellar reputation in the legal and corporate community. “[The legal community] has been very supportive,” Hull said. “I know in many instances where the employers pay their employees to go through this program.”

Texas State University also offers a post-baccalaureate paralegal studies certificate program, which requires completion of 24-semester credit hours including an internship. The Lawyer’s Assistant Certificate program began in 1976, and has graduated 1,080 students, Hull said. The university also offers a graduate-level mediation certificate program suited for students interested in mediating employment, landlord-tenant, neighborhood and other interpersonal disputes. The certificate program, which can be earned separately from the master’s degree, is post-graduate work.

“We have found that mediation skills are readily transferable to a variety of settings and many students are interested in this type of training for a variety of professional and personal reasons,” Hull said.

High-tech Courtroom for Paralegals

The University of Toledo

Toledo, Ohio

(419) 530-7746

University of Toledo offers an associate of applied science and bachelor of science degrees in paralegal studies. The four-year university also offers a post-graduate degree in paralegal studies and a nurse paralegal certificate. But what really makes this program shine is its new high-tech mock courtroom for paralegals, which opened in August 2004.

The Richard B. and Jane McQuade Mock Trial Courtroom at UT features integrated communication technology, including a drop-down liquid crystal display projector, two 52-inch plasma screen monitors, interactive computer monitors, wireless Internet capabilities and a document camera at the podium. The computers are interconnected and have a digital evidence presentation system.

Each counsel table, the judge’s chair and the jury box have a flat-screen monitor with the ability to connect to a laptop. The witness stand also has a flat-screen monitor where witnesses can annotate evidence on screen. The judge’s chamber is connected to the entire system and has a library and a camera system that can be used to simulate remote witness testimony.

“The students really enjoy the opportunity to have classes in the courtroom,” said Kathleen Mercer Reed, chair of the UT Undergraduate Legal Specialties Department and director of Paralegal Studies. “They come out of the program  with more familiarity with a courtroom environment and with the technology they will need for a career in today’s practice of law.”

The courtroom facility was funded through part of a $16 million renovation of UT’s College of Health and Human Services building. In addition, more than $85,000 in grants and alumni support helped to fund the courtroom’s technology upgrade. Reed said, with available funds, the school is considering installing a video conferencing system. It would allow the school to hold CLE workshops and have remote guest speakers in classrooms, she said. “Not only do we have this wonderful mock courtroom, but we also have some real financial support,” Reed said.

All paralegal courses are taught by attorneys and judges in the mock courtroom. In addition, the courtroom is a practice site for the university’s nationally recognized Mock Trial Team. While in the paralegal program, students can become a member of the Mock Trial Team, which has qualified for the national finals 13 times in the past 18 years. For the first time, the team competed in the four-year university category last year in an annual competition sponsored by the American Mock Trial Association and placed sixth among representative teams from the Ivy League and the Big Ten, Reed said.

To provide long-term support to the Mock Trial Team, and to provide the opportunity to continually upgrade the courtroom with the most up-to-date technology, Judge Richard McQuade and his wife Jane McQuade gave a $100,000 gift to the team. The money was put into an endowment fund where a portion will be available each year to support the team and provide for technology upgrades in the courtroom, Reed said. The rest of the money will pay for travel expenses incurred by the Mock Trial Teams, which compete in invitational, regional and national mock trial tournaments, she said.

Beginning next year, UT paralegal students also will be conducting mediation for disputes between students referred through the school’s Student Legal Services. The majority of the disputes, which will be held in the mock courtroom and monitored by an attorney/professor, will be roommate and landlord/tenant related, and will be conducted through the paralegal program’s Alternative Dispute Resolution course and clinical experience.

Education for Changing Times

The paralegal profession is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States. As the profession grows, the role of a paralegal is changing in the legal community. Paralegals can become licensed, and more and more states are recognizing them. To keep up with increasing job demand, changes in law and a rapidly changing workforce, paralegal curricula must change as well. Perhaps that is what defines a unique paralegal program — the ability to understand and adapt to the new changes and needs of the profession.


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