Today, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an Order which gives legitimacy to Rule 429 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules (SCACR) and creates the Board of Paralegal Certification where paralegals can voluntarily apply to become certified with the State of South Carolina. According to the Supreme Court, “The purpose of certification of South Carolina’s paralegals is to assist in the delivery of legal services to the public by identifying individuals who are qualified by education, training, and experience and who have demonstrated knowledge, skill, and proficiency to perform substantive legal work under the direction and supervision of a lawyer licensed in South Carolina.”
This is a tremendous Order from the South Carolina Supreme Court issued on November 12, 2015. The Board of Paralegal Certification shall be formed of five (5) attorneys in good standing with the South Carolina Bar and four (4) paralegals certified under the program which constitutes a nine (9) member board. These individuals have been authorized to:
(1) prepare and publish applications and other forms required by the regulations for certification of paralegals;
(2) certify paralegals or deny or revoke the certification of paralegals;
(3) evaluate and approve continuing paralegal education courses for the purpose of meeting the continuing paralegal education requirements established by the regulations; and
(4) recommend to the Court any changes regarding fees set forth in the regulations.
Rule 429 (d)(1-4), SCACR
Board members will serve for a period of three (3) years. When vacancies become available due to death, resignation or removal of a Board member the position will be filled by an individual nominated by the Board of Governors in which the Chief Justice is authorized to make the appointment. The Chief Justice may remove a member of the Board at any time. More importantly, Board members have complete immunity while acting in the performance of the official duties as set out in Rule 429, SCACR. A chairperson who must be an attorney shall be selected by the Board of Governors and the appointment of the chairperson shall be made by the Chief Justice. The appointed chairperson will preside and present the Supreme Court with the annual report of Board. In the discretion of the chairperson, a vice-chairperson may be appointed from the members of the Board.
As a fiscal matter, the Board of Paralegal Certification will be funded by fees amassed from application costs, “annual fees, or renewal fees as the Court may establish.” In order to qualify as a certified paralegal the applicant must meet the following criteria:
“(1) Pay an annual fee of $50.00; and
(2) At the time of application, be designated as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)/Certified Paralegal (CP) or PACE-Registered Paralegal (RP).”
Rule 429 (IX)(A), SCACR
An individual cannot be a certified paralegal if:
“(1) the individual’s certification or license as a paralegal in any state is under suspension or has been revoked;
(2) the individual is or was licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction and has been disbarred, is suspended from the practice of law, or resigned in lieu of discipline;
(3) the individual has been convicted of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the individual’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a paralegal, or has engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; provided, however, the Board may certify an applicant if, after consideration of mitigating factors, including remorse, reformation of character, and the passage of time, the Board determines that the individual is honest, trustworthy, and fit to be a certified paralegal; or
(4) the individual is not a legal resident of the United States.”
Rule 429 (IX)(B), SCACR
South Carolina has taken a huge step toward filling the gap to making legal services more affordable to the economically challenged. Hopefully, the future will be brighter for paralegals with degrees that are forced to compete with non-degreed paralegals for jobs while carrying the burden of an ever increasing student loan with aspirations of making their mark as a paralegal with a law firm or corporation. Today, many have found themselves hopeless in their never ending quest to find an employer that would recognize their talents and creativity in legal matters. South Carolina should be applauded for creating the Board of Paralegal Certification which may someday be like the program in the State of Washington which has Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) who represent clients before judges in small claims, divorce, and probate proceedings. The State of California and several other states are seriously considering an LLLT program to bring the cost of legal services down and make it more affordable for those in need with very little resources.