What is a paralegal?
The American Bar Association defines a paralegal or legal assistant as a person, qualified by education, training, or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity. A paralegal performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible. Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.
What skills do the best paralegals share?
Communication - An effective paralegal must be able to communicate clearly both orally and in writing. Many times a paralegal serves as a liaison between clients, experts, witnesses, other support staff, and the attorney.
Attention to Detail - While lawyers are often focused on the larger picture, attention to detail falls to the paralegal. Paralegal tasks such as cite checking (verifying legal authority in briefs and memos), document review, exhibit management, and title searches require painstaking attention to detail.
Organization - Lawyers rely on paralegals to organize their cases and files in civil, criminal, and transactional matters. The ability to sort, index, categorize, order, manipulate, and organize large amounts of information is a fundamental paralegal skill.
Multi-Tasking - Rarely are paralegals assigned to a single case. In the real world, paralegals must juggle multiple tasks and simultaneously balance competing priorities. Successful paralegals are able to think quickly, remain flexible, prioritize assignments, and balance the demands of multiple supervisors and clients.
Writing - Strong writing skills are essential to almost any paralegal position. Paralegals may draft correspondence, pleadings, discovery, motions, briefs, legal memorandums, and other documents ranging from simple to complex. Paralegals must master the art of clear, concise, and persuasive written communications.
Research and Investigative Skills - Research is another core paralegal skill. In addition to mastering traditional legal research methods, paralegals must become proficient at Internet research and legal research databases such Westlaw. Paralegals must also learn to analyze case facts and properly cite legal authority. Solid investigative skills are also necessary in locating records, evidence, documents, and witnesses.
Technology Skills - Technology has infiltrated every aspect of law practice, so paralegals must master a growing array of word processing, spreadsheet, telecommunications, database, presentation and legal research software. Legal technology has expanded into the areas of litigation support and e-discovery.
Teamwork -Due to the complexity of delivering legal services, a team with multiple skills is necessary to provide quality and cost-effective service. Since rules regarding the unauthorized practice of law require paralegals to work under the supervision of a lawyer, teamwork is essential to paralegal practice.
Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.
Is there a national certification test for Paralegals?
Holding a professional certificate increases opportunities in the job market, though most firms and agencies do not require a paralegal to hold such certification. Paralegals may certify with the National Association of Legal Assistants and use the designation of Certified Paralegal (CP). To certify, professionals must meet established standards with regards to education and experience, and then pass a 2-day examination that is given in regional testing centers. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers another test, the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, (PACE) to paralegals with two years of experience. Registered Paralegal (RP) is the professional designation of those who pass this examination.
Gadsden State Community College Paralegal Program
Since 1989, our paralegal program has provided students with the fundamental skills and training necessary for success. The program is recognized for providing high quality training and education for students. The program provides a balance of legal background and hands-on practical skills through training from lawyers who have practiced in the fields in which they teach.
Our students show their involvement through dedication and commitment. The Gadsden State Paralegal Association participates in pro bono activities and social opportunities. In 2011, a chapter of Lambda Epsilon Chi, the paralegal honor society, was established at Gadsden State.
Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) is the national honor society founded by the American Association for Paralegal Education. There are over 170 chapters throughout the United States and thousands of inductees who have been honored for their outstanding academic achievements.
Each year the host institutions select those students who meet high academic criteria and cite them for their accomplishments by inducting them into Lambda Epsilon Chi. These students are recognized through a formal ceremony and the awarding of a Certificate of Induction and a special pin. They are also entered into the permanent records of LEX. http://www.aafpe.org/?page=LEXHonorSociety
Paralega Course Requirements
Please refer to Gadsden State Community College's current Catalog and Student Handbook
Gadsden State Community College's Paralegal Program is approved by the American Bar Association. Legal specialty courses transferred from regionally accredited programs must be evaluated by the program coordinator to ensure that the content of the course is comparable to the Gadsden State course before acceptance. No more that two legal specialty courses from non-ABA approved programs will be accepted for transfer. It is the responsibility of the student to verify the transferability of credit in this program to a senior institution with the appropriate senior institution advisor.
- The Paralegal Program is a Selective Admission Program.
- Legal specialty courses taken at ABA-approved schools will transfer automatically to equivalent Gadsden State courses if the student has a grade of C or above in the course.
- Legal specialty courses from non-ABA schools in Alabama will be evaluated by the program director to determine if credit will be awarded.
- Legal studies courses from non-ABA out-of-state programs will not be considered for transfer credit.
- Transfer credit for Paralegal courses will be limited to six (6) semester credit hours.
- A student must take at least ten (10) semester credit hours in the legal specialty courses in a traditional classroom setting.
- These policies are published in the Paralegal Brochure, the Paralegal webpage, and the GSCC catalogue.
NOTICE: Paralegals may not provide legal services directly to the public, except as permitted by law.
General Scheduling Information: Legal specialty classes are only offered in fall and spring semesters. PRL101 and PRL102, which must be taken in the same semester, are offered during fall and spring. Once these prerequisites are completed, the upper level paralegal classes are offered on a set schedule. Domestic Law (PRL230), Real Property Law (PRL210), and Civil Litigation (PRL262) are offered each fall semester. Advanced Legal Research and Writing (PRL103), Criminal Law and Procedure (PRL160), and Wills, Trusts, and Estates (PRL240) are offered each spring semester. All legal specialty (PRL) are traditional, on-site classes that are offered on the East Broad campus, Gadsden.
The Paralegal Internship (PRL291) may be taken any semester once at least 2/3 of the paralegal classes are completed. However, students are strongly encouraged to complete their internships their last semester before graduation.
It is imperative that students considering the paralegal field meet with an advisor as earlier in their education as possible. An advisor can answer questions and advise about employment and continuing education. Contact Elizabeth Howard at 256.549.8336 or firstname.lastname@example.org OR Angie Waits at 256-549-8342 or email@example.com.
Paralegal Professional Organizations -
- National Association of Legal Assistants- http://www.nala.org/
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations- http://www.paralegals.org/
- Alabama Association of Paralegals, Inc. - http://alabamaparalegals.net/
- Gadsden State Paralegal Association Facebook
- Top Ten Reasons to Use a Paralegal
- What does a paralegal do?
- Paralegal Career information
- Occupational Outlook - Paralegals and legal assistants
- ABA Approved Paralegal Programs
- Paralegal Education
American Bar Association Approved
Gadsden State Community College is one of just a few two-year paralegal programs in Alabama approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA approval has become a benchmark for many employers who hire paralegals. To be considered for approval by the ABA, a program must meet standards adopted by the ABA Standing Committee on Paralegals. The GSCC Paralegal Program was granted approval by the ABA in 1994.
The mission of the Paralegal Studies program is to provide a quality paralegal education that prepares each student to work in a variety of paralegal positions by developing professional competence in both general and legal specialty areas through courses in substantive law, procedural law, and ethics, and by stressing understanding and reasoning through practical legal applications.
The program goal is to provide a general education with emphasis on substantive and procedural law and ethical principles. Students are required to apply their knowledge in practical assignments which will prepare them for entry-level paralegal positions working under the supervision of an attorney in the private or public sector.
Paralegal Program Specific Goals and Objectives:
- To prepare students to perform legal research using traditional library print materials as well as electronic sources, and to use proper legal citation.
- To prepare students to use forms and models for drafting legal documents related to contracts, domestic matters, probate, real property, torts, and criminal law.
- To enable students to understand the rules of professional conduct governing attorneys' actions and application of those rules upon paralegals.
- To respond to the needs of the local legal community by providing well-qualified paralegals.
The paralegal studies program classes are offered on the East Broad Campus, Gadsden. Many of the required core courses are offered online.
Legal specialty courses from ABA Approved Paralegal programs will transfer automatically to Gadsden State Community College if the student has a C or above in the courses. Legal specialty courses from non-ABA approved schools must be evaluated by the program coordinator to ensure that the content of the course is comparable to the Gadsden State course.
For more information regarding the paralegal program, please contact Gadsden State Community College, Paralegal Department at 256.549.8250 or visit the GSCC website at www.gadsdenstate.edu
Gadsden State Community College -- Paralegal Program
Gadsden State Community College -- Area of Business, Legal Services, and Computer Science
1001 George Wallace Drive
P.O. Box 227
Gadsden, Alabama 35902-0227