Requirements to be a paralegal in South Carolina follow the Supreme Court Rule 5.3 which lays out a lawyer’s responsibilities to non-lawyer assistants. That is, the attorney is responsible for the behavior and actions taken by their paralegal. South Carolina also leaves the training and education of paralegals to the legal industry and higher educational institutions. Aspiring paralegals can earn a certificate to help them get employed as an entry-level paralegal or attend a two-year associate’s degree program to gain more in-depth knowledge about the duties and responsibilities of a paralegal in South Carolina.
What Do I Need to Become a Paralegal In South Carolina?
Someone who is interested in becoming a paralegal should look into getting their South Carolina paralegal certification prior to applying for jobs as a paralegal. Having a working knowledge of the law, the kind of work that’s done by a paralegal, and insight into how legal issues are initiated make it easier to find employment. Law firms and attorneys can and do train people to be a paralegal, but the training may not be as complete and thorough as an educational program. A student gets the most benefit for their career by earning a paralegal certificate at the very least.
Having an education prior to seeking employment as a paralegal offers advantages over learning on the job. Learning in a classroom environment eliminates picking up personal or institutional bias from an attorney or law firm that trains a paralegal from the ground up. Having a certificate is also advantageous when it comes to looking for work as lawyers and law firms tend to focus on specific areas of the law. A general paralegal education acts as a framework that your career hangs upon throughout your working life.
Should You Earn a Certificate or a Degree to Become a Paralegal?
The answer is: it depends. If you’re currently employed in a law office and have experience working as a legal secretary, a paralegal certificate is usually sufficient to further your career. The certificate enhances your working knowledge and shows a potential employer that you’ve had formal training in the accepted styles and methods of writing legal documents, know how to perform legal research, can keep a calendar for a lawyer and take care of clients in a professional manner. However, paralegal certificate programs in South Carolina don’t offer the same in-depth education as an associate’s degree in paralegal studies does. If you plan to be a paralegal for your working career, you’re better served by getting an associate’s degree in paralegal studies.
An associate’s degree in paralegal studies in South Carolina offers an in-depth education that the certification program does not. The difference in educational depth is solely due to the amount of time spent studying. A certificate program takes anywhere from a few weeks to a year for completion whereas an associate’s degree requires two years of study. The length of time needed to earn an associate’s degree means there’s more time for a student to learn more than just the basics of paralegal duties. A student who completes an associate’s degree program in paralegal studies is well-positioned to start working at a level that’s higher than someone who has a paralegal certificate.
What’s the Employment Outlook Like for Paralegals in South Carolina?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a little less than 1,900 paralegals employed in the state of South Carolina as of 2019. The median salary for paralegals in South Carolina is $47,180 in 2019 and represents a 4.2% increase in pay over 2018. The BLS estimates that the demand for paralegals will grow by 10% between 2019 to 2029. This is much faster than the overall estimated job growth for U.S. employment. Someone who is considering getting their paralegal certificate or degree now is entering into a job field with high demand and good employment prospects. Opportunities outside of the legal employment field are opening up more frequently than ever before.
Paralegals are in demand due to the fact they’re trained to handle aspects of legal paperwork that lawyers normally don’t handle. While a lawyer is capable of creating legal documents and researching, they frequently hand parts of the work off to paralegals for processing. Attorneys typically bill at much higher dollar amounts than a paralegal and take care of proceedings that a paralegal is not otherwise legally qualified to perform. Corporations and other organizations are turning to hiring paralegals in order to save money on legal fees while getting their legal needs fulfilled by a legal professional. This fact alone makes getting an associate’s degree worthwhile as it can pay off when it comes to finding gainful employment.