BC classes to focus on legal issues

Published 12:56 pm Friday, August 28, 2009

Bainbridge College students will have the opportunity during fall semester to learn from two women attorneys who work with the Georgia Appleseed project, an organization that annually recognizes distinguished pro bono leadership that exemplifies the organization’s values and goals for its mission.

Georgia Appleseed’s mission is to effect change by addressing difficult social justice problems with systemic solution and level the playing field for children, the poor and the marginalized.

Former Fulton County Juvenile Court Associate Judge Sharon Nelson Hill, who is the organization’s founding executive director, and Crystal Chastain Baker, who is the University of Georgia (UGA) School of Law’s Cousins Fellow, will speak in Bainbridge about their work. They will focus on the Georgia Appleseed Heir Property Project in presentations to Bainbridge civic and professional groups, in addition to speaking to BC students on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 2 p.m.

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BC’s Melissa Harrell, who heads the paralegal program and teaches criminal justice in the Arts and Sciences and in the Technical Studies divisions, is excited her students have the opportunity to learn from practicing attorneys from other parts of Georgia.

Nelson Hill started her legal career in private practice and served as a poverty lawyer with Atlanta Legal Aid Society.

Baker has been actively involved in researching property issues affecting Heir Property owners and is working on a solution for solving these issues, beginning with a comprehensive educational program made available to property owners throughout the state. Before accepting the UGA fellowship, she was in private practice focusing on real estate.

“When students can learn first-hand from experts in their field that gives them a distinct advantage beyond textbook content,” Harrell said. “Being able to interact with and to ask questions of professionals at the high level these experts have will give my students so much insight into their field of study, whether it is law enforcement management, juvenile delinquency or paralegal studies.”

She added that, while many people have a general understanding of her field of expertise, it will be very helpful to have speakers who understand the wide scope of criminal justice, especially the contributions of paralegals, one of her specialties.

“A paralegal is qualified to work in private law firms, government agencies and corporations to assistant the attorney, and may be responsible for investigating and researching case facts, interviewing witnesses, drafting pleadings, motions, and briefs, and organizing exhibits for court, just to name but a few of the exciting aspects of this work,” Harrell said, adding that she is always glad to accept a speaking engagement about this work, which offers an excellent opportunity for individuals to specialize in specific aspects of law.

“Our paralegal program offers an excellent opportunity for those interested in the legal aspects of their chosen field or career, such as medicine, real estate or corporate experience,” she said, citing as an example that a nurse may earn a paralegal certificate to work with attorneys specializing in medical law.

A legal assistant with specialized training, the paralegal works under an attorney’s supervision to conduct legal work and has many options to choose a specific area in which to work, such as the issues with which Georgia Appleseed works, she said.

BC’s paralegal program in the Tech Studies Division is taught by local attorneys. Throughout the program students learn research methods and hone writing. They learn about law in a variety of fields—family, real estate, criminal—and about wills, trusts, probate and administration. One news organization ranked the paralegal field as one of the 20 best jobs in America, she said.