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July 26, 2013

Blinn students volunteer to guide at-risk youths from crime

Paralegal students train juries, defendants at City of Bryan’s Teen Court

Blinn Legal Assistant students, Ashley Hale (left), Sue Ellen Bohler (middle) and Shirley Bittner (right), prepare for upcoming Teen Court participation.Many of the students in Blinn College’s Legal Assistant program enrolled so they could learn about the legal system and make a difference in their community – the same reasons that Blinn’s Legal Assistant Student Organization volunteers at the City of Bryan Teen Court.

The Teen Court, established in 2008, is a diversion program designed to offer an alternative to formal juvenile court proceedings. Through Teen Court, first-time Class C misdemeanor offenders ranging in age from 10-17 can have their discipline determined by a jury of their peers.

The program provides law enforcement agencies an opportunity to guide at-risk youths away from crime by demonstrating that crime has immediate and long-term consequences. According to the City of Bryan website, teens who complete the program re-offend at a much lower rate than youths who are tried and sentenced in the juvenile courts.

But the only way the system can be effective is through the help of volunteers – and that’s where Blinn’s student volunteers come in.

“The students in Blinn’s Legal Assistant program bring energy and a passion for the law to our proceedings,” said Teen Court Coordinator Janet Sandera. “Their help has been crucial to the program’s success in creating a positive social impact.”

Blinn students assist the court coordinator in managing the courtroom, train student jurors and attorneys and even serve as court bailiff. Blinn instructors and prominent members of the legal community serve as volunteer judges.

“Volunteering gives us an opportunity to create an orderly process for the court to handle its justice and it’s a good learning experience for our students,” said Legal Assistant Program Coordinator Robert Stanberry. “This has been our No. 1 student volunteer activity the last couple years and we’re excited to provide whatever assistance we can to the City of Bryan and Bryan ISD.”

As a student in the Legal Assistant program, Shirley Bittner has found Teen Court to be a great networking opportunity for the legal assistant students.

“Teen Court provides an advantage for legal assistant students by giving them an open door to meet with judges and gain outside practice,” Bittner said. “It’s a prime opportunity for them to practice what they have learned in the classroom.”

Legal assistants, also known as paralegals, assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services, performing duties that include attending trials, assisting in testimony preparation, locating and interviewing witnesses, conducting client interviews and conducting investigations and research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for paralegals is projected to leap 28 percent between 2008 and 2018.

Blinn offers two paralegal tracks: an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree and a Legal Office Certificate. Students completing the AAS degree are eligible to sit for the National Association of Legal Assistants certification exam, and majors in the program join the Legal Assistant Student Organization. Several students have used Blinn’s Legal Assistant program as a stepping stone to law school.

For information, contact Stanberry at 979-209-7399 or Robert.Stanberry@blinn.edu.