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Illinois Bar Says Law Grads Can Do First-Year Work Without Exam

May 7, 2020, 5:57 PM

Illinois law school graduates are “para-professionals” who can do most of the work of first-year associates if properly supervised by a firm attorney even though they haven’t taken the bar exam, the state bar said.

The Standing Committee on Professional Conduct said it “recognizes that graduating law students face uncertain and additional challenges” in light of the Covid-19 virus.”

Like many other states grappling with the fallout from the coronavirus, Illinois has rescheduled the bar exam from July to September 2020 due to public health concerns.

A law firm asked the bar association whether it could give a law school graduate work that would ordinarily go to a first-year associate if a licensed lawyer at the firm were to supervise.

Lawyers can’t assist law school graduates in the unauthorized practice of law, the bar opinion said. But a comment to this professional conduct rule says that lawyers can employ the services of “para-professionals,” including law graduates, as long as a supervising attorney retains responsibility for the work.

Many of the normal activities of first-year associates consist of tasks that nonlawyers also routinely perform, the bar pointed out. For example, they do research, offer legal conclusions under the supervision of a lawyer, interview witnesses and clients, and prepare legal documents and pleadings for a lawyer’s signature, it said.

The bar said that its opinion was in line with other jurisdictions, like Pennsylvania and Iowa, that have considered what work law graduates can do.

A final precaution a firm has to take is to make sure that any communications about the status of the law graduate aren’t false or misleading, the bar said.

Some states across the country have considered broader “emergency diploma privileges” in light of Covid-19, which would allow recent law graduates to practice law without taking the bar if they meet other requirements. But only one state, Utah, has actually adopted such a policy during the pandemic.

Wisconsin is the other outlier, and has long enforced diploma privileges for most graduates from schools in the state who choose to practice there.

The opinion is Ill. State Bar Ass’n Ethics Opinion, No. 20-01, May 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com