State By State Requirements to Become a Lawyer

Law Careers in South Carolina

According to the South Carolina Bar, the organization started as an organization of 200 lawyers in 1884. In 2012, the bar has over 14,000 members. The South Carolina Labor Department says that lawyers in the state have a bright outlook statewide over the next decade, with an expectation of an average of 213 jobs for lawyers available each year through 2020. The South Carolina Department of Employment & Workforce says that as of 2011, lawyers in the state earned an average annual salary of $107,100. As of July 2012, the counties with the largest number of jobs available for lawyers in South Carolina were Richland, Charleston, and Greenville. If you would like to become a practicing lawyer and bar member in South Carolina, and possibly claim one of those over 200 estimated jobs per year, read on.
 

Step 1

Get Your South Carolina Undergrad Pre-Law Major

The South Carolina Office of Bar Admissions has not mandated any undergraduate education necessary prior to law school education for admission to the state’s bar. The office does, however, mandate that you graduate from a law school approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Because the ABA requires that you have at least a bachelor’s degree before being admitted to any ABA-approved law school, it follows, then, that you must complete undergraduate education.  

Accreditation

Make sure that the undergraduate institution from which you graduate is accredited by an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Requirements and Standards

There are no strict guidelines on courses that you must take as an undergraduate. Some students have found that the following types of courses taken as an undergraduate have helped them the most when they get to law school: criminal justice, economics, political science and government, history, world cultures, communications and philosophy.

Degree Options

You may receive a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in any major you choose. Often, majors taken from the above-mentioned course areas are the most helpful to students once they reach law school.


  
  

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Step 2

LSAT (Law School Admission Test) in South Carolina

The next step along the way to becoming a South Carolina lawyer is to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). All ABA-approved law schools nationwide require that you pass this six-hour-long standardized test prior to acceptance.  

How to prepare

The LSAT website supplies numerous study aids free of charge. These include practice tests along with samples questions and answer explanations. If you would like more help in preparing for the LSAT, South Carolina resources include:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in South Carolina:

Exam content

The LSAT is made up of five 35-minute sections containing multiple-choice questions. Only four of these sections count towards your LSAT score, but you will not know which section does not count, so treat every section as if it counts. Sections include Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning and Writing a 35-minute essay. Although the writing section also does not count towards your LSAT score, all law schools that you apply to receive a copy of the essay you write – so make sure to do your best work.

Application process

Applications are processed online by the Law School Admission Council when you sign up to take the LSAT. It is given in February, June, October and December, on Saturdays and Wednesdays. The following centers across South Carolina offer LSAT testing:

  • College of Charleston, 66 George St, Charleston, SC 29424-0001
  • University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208
  • Coastal Carolina University, 755 Highway 544, Conway, SC 29526
  • Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC 29613-6162
  • South Carolina State University, 300 College St NE, Orangeburg, SC 29117-0001
  • Winthrop University, 119 Tillman Hall, Rock Hill, SC 29733

Receiving Your Score

Expect to receive your LSAT scores by mail about 21 days post-test. The lowest you can score is 120, and the highest, 180. Average LSAT scores of new admittees to South Carolina ABA-approved law schools include:

  • Charleston School of Law:                                      152
  • University of South Carolina School of Law:        158

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Step 3

Go to Law School in South Carolina

Law School Application process

The next step in becoming a lawyer in South Carolina is to apply to an ABA-approved law school. You need not apply only to South Carolina-based ABA-approved law schools – you may attend any law school nationwide, as long as it holds ABA approval, under South Carolina’s bar admission rules. There are over 200 such schools, listed here.

Credential Assembly Service

All ABA-approved law schools nationwide require that you utilize the Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when you apply for enrollment. It is a great help to you in collecting your undergraduate college transcripts, gathering letters of recommendation from references, and gathering evaluations of your work from references. The CAS will create up to five law school reports to send to up to five ABA-approved law schools to which you apply.  

Accreditation

The South Carolina Office of Bar Admissions says that you must receive a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from a law school that was approved by the Council of Legal Education of the American Bar Association at the time you received the degree, in order to be eligible to take the state’s bar exam. If you graduated from a non-ABA-approved law school in the United States, or a foreign law school, you are not eligible to take the South Carolina bar examination.

ABA-Accredited Law Schools in South Carolina

Two schools in South Carolina hold ABA-accreditation:

Course requirements

Law school courses that are usually common to all ABA-approved institutions include:

  • Civil procedure
  • Constitutional law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal law
  • Legal research
  • Legal writing
  • Property
  • Torts

Online Law Degrees

Internship

Depending upon your law school’s requirements, you may be exposed to a practical situation in which you work in the law field.  During most internships or externships, you work about eight hours weekly at law firms, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. Work usually consists of helping lawyers in research and drafting, and learning lawyer skills through observation (including negotiation, counseling and interviewing).  You will check in from time to time with law school faculty to review your performance and will receive a grade on your experience.

Trial Experiences

Under Rule 403 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules, before appearing alone in any matter in any South Carolina court, you must complete four trial experiences. After completing half the credits you will need for graduation, you may, as a law student, begin to accumulate your necessary trial experiences. Internships, externships and the like may also help you in this regard. Trial experiences you must complete are:

  • One civil jury trial in a Court of Common Pleas or in the US District Court for the District of SC. This must include:
    • An opening statement
    • A closing statement
    • Direct examination and cross examination of at least three witnesses
  • One criminal jury trial in General Sessions Court or in the US District Court for the District of SC. This must include:
    • An opening statement
    • A closing statement
    • Direct examination and cross examination of at least three witnesses
  • One family court trial. This must include:
    • Direct examination and cross examination of at least two witnesses
  • One equity trial or administrative proceeding governed by the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act or the Federal Administrative Procedure Act

Once you have completed each of your Trial Experiences, you must have this Certificate completed by the court clerk, judge and others involved.

J.D. Degree Programs

You must have a JD or LLB under South Carolina rules before bar admission will be considered. Often, dual degree programs are offered, which increase your marketability as a lawyer after graduation. They may include:

    • Law and Accountancy (J.D./M.ACC.)
    • Law and Earth and Environmental Resources Management (J.D./M.E.E.R.M)
    • Law and Economics (J.D./M.A.)
    • Law and Health Administration (J.D./M.H.A.)
    • Law and Human Resources (J.D./M.H.R.)
    • Law and International Business Administration (J.D./I.M.B.A.)
    • Law and Public Administration (J.D./M.P.A)
    • Law and Master of Criminology & Criminal Justice (J.D./M.A.)
    • Law with Master of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School (J.D./M.E.L.P.)
    • Law and Master of Mass Communication (J.D./M.M.C.)
    • Law and Social Work (J.D./M.S.W.)

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Step 4

Take the South Carolina State Bar Exam

If you are at least 21 years old and have completed steps 1, 2 and 3, you are now eligible to take the South Carolina bar exam. Although the South Carolina Office of Bar Admissions places no limit on the number of times you can take the state bar exam, after failing for three times they require that you complete additional study. You may only sit for the South Carolina bar exam one time per year.

Non-ABA approved law school graduates

If your law school was not approved by the ABA at the time you received your JD degree, you are not eligible to sit for the South Carolina bar exam.

Graduates of Foreign Law Schools

If you received your law degree from a law school outside of the United States, you are not eligible to sit for the South Carolina bar exam.

Preparation

The National Conference of Bar Examiners website offers helpful, free study aids for the national part of the South Carolina bar exam (the Multistate Bar Examination, more commonly known as the MBE). Additional preparation help for the bar exam in South Carolina is available through:

Exam content

You will take the South Carolina bar exam over three days. Day one is devoted to the MBE, with 200 multiple-choice questions on Contracts, Torts, Criminal Law, Evidence, Constitutional Law, and Property. You must receive a scaled score of at least 125 to pass the MBE.

Days 2 and 3 consist of the South Carolina Essay Exam. You are given a number of essays (four to eight) on a given subject and asked to write them within a two-hour period. Subjects covered on Day 2 are usually Agency and Corporations, Domestic Relations and Equity, and Wills, Trusts and Estates. Day 3 questions usually concern UCC Articles 2, 9, 3, and 4; Insurance, Federal Practice and South Carolina Civil Procedure. You must receive a score of 70 out of a possible 100 points to pass the essay section.

Application Process

File the correct Bar Examination application for the month and year you wish to take the bar exam (applications are posted on the SC Judicial Department Office of Bar Admissions website). Along with your completed application:

  • Attach a recent photograph of yourself taken within last 6 months
  • Attach  original transcript or letter from Dean of Admissions or registrar of your law school showing receipt of a law degree
  • If applicable, attach certified copies of final orders and proceedings in any judicial matter in which you are/have been involved
  • Completed affidavits of three persons attesting to your good moral character
  • Completed fingerprint card (instructions are contained within application)
  • Completed and signed Authorization and Release
  • If you have been admitted to the bar of  another state for one year or more, file an additional copy of your application and submit an additional fee of $800 (for character report from the National Conference of Bar Examiners)
  • Filing fee of $700 if filed on time:
    • For July exam – must be filed between Dec 1 to January 10; if filed from Jan 11 to 31, the filing fee increases to $1050
    • For February exam- must be filed between August 1 to August 31. If filed from September 1 to September 30, fee increases to $1050.

Mail everything to Office of Bar Admissions, Supreme Court of South Carolina, P.O. Box 11330, Columbia, SC 29211.

Pass Rates

If you take the February bar exam, expect to receive your scores via mail within eight weeks. If you take the July exam, scores usually take 12 weeks to reach you. The Supreme Court of South Carolina published the following bar exam results from recent bar administrations, noting the percentage of applicants from state law schools who passed the exam:

  • February 2011:
    • Overall pass rate:                                      69.76%
    • Charleston School of Law pass rate:    63.49%
    • University of South Carolina pass rate: 69.57%
  • July 2010:
    • Overall pass rate:                                      76.36%
    • Charleston School of Law pass rate:    72.31%
    • University of South Carolina pass rate: 83.85%

Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)

You must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) with a scaled score of    at least 77 within four years of the date you file your application for bar admission in South Carolina. The test is given in March, August and November. South Carolina testing centers for 2012 include:

  • Charleston School of Law, Charleston
  • College of Charleston, Charleston
  • University of South Carolina, Columbia
  • Midlands Technical College, West Columbia

For more information or to schedule the MPRE, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners website.

Admission on Motion

South Carolina does not provide admission on motion (that is, admission without examination) for those already licensed as lawyers elsewhere. The exception to this rule is if you are a dean or a tenured professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and meet the following conditions:

  • You have been a licensed lawyer and bar member in another state for at least five years
  • You have been a full-time, continuous member of the law school faculty with rank of assistant professor or higher for the past three academic years
  • You have been recommended for bar admission by the Dean, the President of the University of South Carolina or the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Charleston School of Law

Limited Licenses

South Carolina also offers limited licenses for law school clinic program teachers, in-house counsel, and for retired or inactive lawyers who are working for state legal services organizations or the bar’s pro bono program. These applicants may be issued a limited certificate to practice law.

Licensing and Admission to the Bar

Before being admitted to the South Carolina bar, you must complete a Bridge the Gap program. Sponsored by the South Carolina bar, this program focuses on practical skills used by lawyers. You will be taught about professional responsibility issues, review the South Carolina Court System and review arbitration and mediation. You may register for the program in your second and third year of law school, as well as after graduating from law school. Bridge the Gap is usually offered in Columbia and Charleston over a three-day period.

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Step 5

You’ve Been Admitted to the South Carolina Bar

Congratulations on your new status as a member of the South Carolina Bar! You will find that the bar offers much help in practice management, establishing your own solo practice if that is your goal, mentoring, networking, finding job opportunities, and much more. As a new member of the bar, you must participate in its mandatory New Lawyer Mentoring program. Objectives of your individualized mentoring program set forth in the Supreme Court rules are:

  • To establish a clear understanding of your expectations and those of your mentor
  • To introduce you to other members of the legal profession and to other legal system participants
  • To make sure you thoroughly understand generally accepted professional values and behavior standards, and how to educate yourself throughout your career
  • To make sure you aware of your ethical obligations and how to deal with any ethical issues that may arise
  • To make sure that you are aware of the proper practices for avoiding mishandling of another’s assets, conflicts of interest, neglect of a matter and other common ethical and civil liability problems
  • To help you create and implement a successful career plan
  • To help you improve professional skills necessary to effectively practice law
  • If you are in private practice, to help you to develop a productive and effective law practice
  • To help you learn how to enjoy a healthy personal life while fulfilling your professional obligations

Legal specialty certification

The Supreme Court of South Carolina has set forth rules regarding legal specializations in the following areas:

  • Bankruptcy and debtor-creditor law
  • Employment and labor law
  • Estate planning and probate law
  • Taxation law

Each specialization has its own requirements for years that you must have been in practice, involvement, continuing legal education, examination and fees in order for you to attain certification. You may review these rules here. There are also requirements you must fulfill after certification.

Requirements for maintaining license

In order to maintain your law license in South Carolina, you must complete 14 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) per year. At least two of those hours must be in professional responsibility/ethics. CLE may be obtained in a variety of ways, including through live seminars, live webcasts, on-demand seminars, publications, teleseminars and course books direct. For more information, visit the CLE section of the SCBAR website.

Court Systems in South Carolina

The South Carolina Judicial System is structured like this:

  • Supreme Court: the highest court in South Carolina, the Supreme Court has original and appellate jurisdiction. It is located at 1231 Gervais St in Columbia, and hears seven classes of appeals directly from circuit and family courts:
    • Death penalty cases
    • Public utility rates
    • Constitutional issues
    • Public bond issues
    • Election laws
    • Order limiting investigation by state grand jury
    • Order of family court relating to abortion of a minor
  • Court of Appeals: hears most appeals in the state, except for appeals within the seven classes above. Located at 1015 Sumter St. in Columbia.
  • Circuit Court: South Carolina’s court of general jurisdiction-16 judicial circuits exist across the state. Also has limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from Probate, Magistrate and Municipal Courts.
    • Court of Common Pleas – civil court– hears the state’s civil cases
    • Court of General Sessions – criminal court-hears the state’s criminal cases
  • Family Courts: have exclusive jurisdiction of all domestic/family relationship matters, such as marriage, divorce, separation, child custody, visitation rights, termination of parental rights, adoption, support, alimony, division of marital property, and name change. Family courts also have exclusive jurisdiction over minors under age 17.
  • Municipal Courts: serve counties of South Carolina and have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of a municipality’s ordinances, and over offenses under $500 fine/30 days in prison. Also may hear cases transferred from general sessions under $5000 fine/1 year in prison. These courts have no civil jurisdiction.
  • Magistrate Courts: There are 319 magistrates throughout South Carolina serving all counties. They have criminal trial jurisdiction over offenses under a $500 fine/30 days in prison; hear cases transferred from general sessions that carry a $5000 fine/one year in prison; have civil jurisdiction in cases under $7,500; set bail, conduct preliminary hearings, and issue arrest and search warrants. These are not courts of record- proceedings are summary.
  • Probate Courts: Found in each county in South Carolina, probate courts have jurisdiction over marriage licenses, trusts, estates, minor settlements under $25,000, guardianships of minors and incompetents, and involuntary commitments to mental institutions.

Elective membership organizations

Since you are a member of the South Carolina Bar, also think about joining another beneficial organization to your professional career as a South Carolina lawyer, such as:

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South Carolina Resources

General Resources

Law Exams

Lawyer Career Specialties

  S Carolina Statistics:
 
SC Active Lawyers 14,000+
Average Annual Wage $107,100
  

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