More than 5,000 paralegals are employed in South Carolina according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 survey. Columbia boasts the second highest concentration of paralegal jobs in the nation, while the Hilton Head area has the seventh.
As in other states, South Carolina’s paralegals must work under the direct supervision of an attorney, as established in Supreme Court Rule 5.3 which outlines the Professional Responsibilities of Lawyers to Nonlawyer Assistants. Lawyers are also required to instruct paralegals in ethics and confidentiality, and are ultimately responsible for their employees’ professional conduct.
South Carolina does not require a standard amount of training or education before aspiring paralegals can enter the profession. Those interested in becoming paralegals can seek employment that provides on-the-job training or earn a certificate or degree in paralegal studies prior to beginning a career as a paralegal.
Is There Paralegal Certification in South Carolina?
As the paralegal profession becomes more visible and more highly utilized within the legal field, increasing numbers of aspiring paralegals are choosing education in order to gain the skills they need to become paralegals. In addition to providing a solid legal foundation, degrees or certificates in paralegal studies can help job candidates be more competitive in the job market. Additionally, paralegals with education may find it easier to meet the eligibility requirements for national certification should they be interested in pursuing it. As employers and national certification exams may desire a degree or certificate from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved program or a school that is accredited, program choices should be thoroughly researched.
South Carolina Job Statistics
Both degrees and certificates are available to those who seek education in paralegal studies. Currently, students may earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in paralegal studies. Degrees blend focused coursework in legal/paralegal studies with general education requirements such as writing, history and other fundamentals.
Those who have previously earned a degree in any field or those who prefer to take only the focused coursework on paralegal studies may find that a certificate program provides what they need. Certificate programs can vary widely in rigor and amount of coursework required. Post-baccalaureate certificates assist those who have already completed a bachelor’s degree in supplementing their education with specialized paralegal coursework. Upon completion, graduates receive a certificate of completion and become certificated paralegals.
Earning national certification to become certified paralegals is a way for paralegals to demonstrate proficiency and commitment to continued education within the paralegal profession. In order to sit for a national certification exam, paralegals must meet requirements for education, work experience or a combination of the two. Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations and can be found here.
Currently there are four exams from which to choose:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Paralegals in South Carolina may choose to join one of the three regional professional organizations in the state. The South Carolina Upstate Paralegal Association (SCUPA), based in Greenville, promotes continuing education among its members, high levels of ethics and professionalism, and strong working relationships with others in the legal community. SCUPA offers its members monthly meetings that are social and educational in nature, an annual seminar and pro bono work opportunities.
In Columbia and vicinity, the Palmetto Paralegal Association (PPA) works to increase the visibility of paralegals within the legal community and to the general public. To this end, PPA members network with other individuals and organizations in the legal community, speak at educational institutions to attract qualified students to the paralegal profession, and volunteer for pro bono work. The PPA also offers continuing education, scholarships and a job bank to its members.
The Charleston Association of Legal Assistants (CALA), based in Charleston, supports the educational and professional development of its members by offering continuing education opportunities and assisting members in preparing for NALA’s CLA exam. Additionally, CALA offers scholarships, a job bank, pro bono opportunities and social events.
South Carolina is home to many large law firms, which are often also large employers of paralegals. Large law firms in South Carolina include: