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Aug. 6 , 2004
CONTACT: Carol Anderson

EMU/Washtenaw County Legal Resource Center to help community, students

YPSILANTI — Every year thousands of people need help navigating the legal system when it comes to landlord tenant disputes, small claims, personal protection, family law matters and other non-criminal issues. Some hire lawyers, while others struggle by themselves.

Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw County, the Washtenaw County Bar Association, Washtenaw County Unified Trial Court, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan have collaborated to create the Washtenaw County/EMU Legal Resource Center to help provide information to individuals who don’t know where to turn for legal help.

The center, which opens Sept. 7, will dispense legal self-help information. A ribbon-cutting, grand opening ceremony is scheduled Oct. 21 for the center, which is located near the main courthouse in Ann Arbor at 110 North Main Street, Suite 100. 

            “We are partnering with the community to fill a genuine need for information about legal services and we are well-situated to fill that need,” said Dan Ray, program coordinator of EMU’s Legal Assistant Studies Program and an early advocate of the center.

“We’re trying to provide equal access to justice,” said Roberta Gubbins, attorney and executive director of the center. “This is the only program in Michigan using paralegal students.”

An EMU paralegal faculty member will supervise 5-10 EMU paralegal students who will offer self-help information in civil matters. They will direct people to and help them fill out the appropriate forms for such civil matters as divorce, child custody, personal protection orders, small claims, landlord tenant disputes, probate, paternity or adult guardianship. In addition, the staff will provide information on various legal procedures for navigating the court system.

Gubbins estimates that the center, which will serve mainly Washtenaw and Wayne County

residents, will assist a substantial number of patrons each month. A similar center in Grand Rapids, which has been operating for three years, assists 700-900 people per month.

A 1999 study by the Michigan State Bar found that, in 45 percent of the cases filed in the state, one or more of the parties represented themselves, she said.

“People who don’t know the court system are confused and frustrated,” said Gubbins, who explained that often the correct form filed with the right office solves the problem.

“If, at any time, a person is confused or unsure of their legal rights or remedies, they will be given information to contact the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service,” said attorney Erika Julien, president of the center’s board and a primary organizer.

“This is a super service for people,” said John Dugger, dean of EMU’s College of Technology. “EMU is delighted to serve in ways that lead to better prepared students while resulting in positive contributions to our county and region as well.”

“Our students will receive practical legal experience helping real people with real problems. You can’t duplicate that (experience) in the classroom,” said Ray.

The legal assistant profession is one of the occupations projected by the U.S. Department of Labor to grow the fastest through 2010, said Ray.

EMU’s paralegal program trains legal assistants to work in various areas of the law, and is one of only two four-year, degree-granting public universities in Michigan with a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association.

For more information, contact EMU’s Dan Ray at 734.487.4330.

Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.

Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.

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