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The American Bar Association reports that in 2011 there were over 60,000 licensed lawyers actively practicing in Illinois. The Bureau of Labor Statistics quotes the average Illinois lawyer’s salary at that time at $138,550 annually. Lawyers working in the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville metropolitan division made even more, averaging $146,780 per year.
The University of Chicago Law School had a teacher a few years back who is arguably the most famous man in the world now. President Barack Obama, who received his law degree from Harvard Law School, taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School. Later, he became elected to the state’s senate, and the rest is history. While not all lawyers in Illinois go on to become President of the United States, if you work hard, anything is possible. If you would like to learn how to get your law degree and follow Obama’s example, read on.
The Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar has ruled that all applicants to the Illinois Bar must have a preliminary pre-legal education consisting of at least 90 semester hours of undergraduate college credit. This credit must be obtained at a Board-approved college or university with admission requirements equivalent to those of the University of Illinois.
In order to be approved by the Board and by the American Bar Association (ABA), your undergraduate institution must be accredited by a national or regional accreditation organization acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Education.
Requirements and Standards
Because the Board uses the admission requirements of the University of Illinois as a standard for admission to pre-legal education, you must have completed a minimum amount of certain courses in high school prior to enrollment in your undergraduate education. These include:
Within the required 90 semester hours of undergraduate education the Board says you must complete should be coursework in the following areas:
The Board requires that you complete 90 semester hours of undergraduate coursework – not that you necessarily obtain an undergraduate degree. Under Board rules, you may obtain a diploma, degree, or certificate signed by the dean or registrar of your institution stating that you have completed the required coursework. However, ABA-approved law schools (which the Board requires you graduate from) insist that you have at least a bachelor’s degree prior to admission. This degree may be in any major. Majors in the above-mentioned coursework areas are often the most advisable to pre-law students.
The Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar requires that you graduate with your first professional law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). All ABA-approved law schools insist that you pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, prior to admission. The test is offered four times yearly at testing centers around the world.
How to prepare
The LSAT website provides some great, free study materials that will help you study for the LSAT. If you want to take a formal LSAT preparation course, consider the following options in Illinois:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Illinois:
Subjects tested on the LSAT are:
You must create an account online with the Law School Admission Council when you apply to take the LSAT. You will also pay the $160 examination fee online. The LSAT is offered twice a week in December, February, June and October, at these testing centers in Illinois:
Receiving Your Score
It takes about three weeks after the exam before your scores are mailed to you. The lowest score you can possibly receive is 120, and the highest score you can possibly receive is 180. Average LSAT scores accepted by some Illinois law schools in 2009 are:
After receiving a passing score on the LSAT, it is time to apply to ABA-approved law schools. Under rules of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, you must graduate from an ABA-accredited law school in the United States (not necessarily within Illinois) in order to be eligible for bar membership. Every school has its own requirements when it comes to admissions. Read this list of admission services that various ABA-approved law schools require.
Credential Assembly Service
ABA-approved law schools mandate that you use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service when applying for admission. The CAS will ask you for a list of potential letter of recommendation (LOR) writers. Then you will indicate which letter you wish to have sent to which law schools you are applying. You will also obtain transcripts from your undergraduate institutions online through CAS, who will compile and distribute them to law schools.
Then you must complete the “Common Information Form” and you will be taken to the individual application for the law school(s) to which you wish to apply. You will answer the questions on the law school’s electronic application and upload any documents required (such as essays, letters, personal statements, etc). The LSAC will charge you $155 for the CAS report and you will pay the school’s application fee.
The Illinois State Board of Law Examiners specifies that you must be a graduate of a United States ABA-accredited law school in order to take the state’s bar exam. The ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools lists ABA-approved law schools across the nation.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Illinois
The following law schools in Illinois are ABA-accredited:
Foundational legal coursework that usually does not vary from one law school to the next will include:
You must attend law school for at least two years, but no longer than seven years, to get your Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. The average number of credits you will complete in law school is 83 semester hours.
Online Law Degrees
You will likely be assigned to some sort of internship or clinical placement during your tenure in law school. This will give you the chance to use what you have learned in the classroom in a real-life setting. You will develop your lawyering skills here. Your performance will be judged and evaluated by a supervisor on-site as well as by faculty from your law school.
Foreign Law School Graduates
If you graduate from a law school outside of the Untied State, you may still be eligible to take the Illinois Bar Exam. You must:
If you meet these requirements, you may initiate your request for permission to sit for the bar exam by completing the Preliminary Questionnaire for Rule 715. It must be filed online and approved in writing before you will be allowed to take the bar exam.
Register with the Illinois State Bar
You should register with the Illinois State Bar during your first year of law school. If you start law school in the fall, file your Law Student Registration application online by the following March 1. If you start law school in January, file your application by July 1 of that year. The fee for filing your Law Student Registration application on or before these dates is $100. After these dates, you must pay the full filing fee of $450.
Filing your registration online will initiate the Character and Fitness Questionnaire and investigation necessary prior to admission to the Bar. The Character and Fitness Questionnaire, the Illinois State Police Criminal History form, and the Notice and Acknowledgment form must be completed on the Bar’s website and filed electronically. You must print the Authorization and Release Form from the website, execute it, and mail it to the Board with the requested additional documentation. Filing fees can be paid online through credit card or by certified check, cashier’s check or money order payable to the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar. Mail everything to the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, 625 S College Street, Springfield IL 62704.
If you have already completed two years of law school and expect to be eligible to register for one of the next two upcoming bar exams, and you have not yet filed a Law Student Registration application, you may not file one now without written permission of the Board.
The Board has ruled that you must have your first professional law degree (Juris Doctor – J.D. or L.L.B.- the foreign equivalent) prior to sitting for the Illinois Bar Exam.
You are now ready to apply to take the Illinois bar exam. It is offered on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of February and July at various locations throughout Chicago.
You may use the free materials provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners website to help prepare for the bar exam. In particular, the sections on the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE), Multistate Performance Test (MPT), and Multistate Bar Examination (MBE) should be studied. Additional bar preparation courses include:
The first part of the Illinois Bar Exam is the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE). This lasts for six hours and consists of 200 multiple-choice questions on contracts, criminal law, torts, evidence, constitutional law, and real property.
The second part is the MEE, Multistate Essay Exam. This tests your knowledge of Illinois’ laws. Topics that may be covered include administrative law, agency and partnership, business organizations, commercial paper, conflict of law, criminal procedure, equity, family law, federal taxation, Illinois civil procedure, secured transactions, suretyship, trusts and future interests, and wills and estates.
The third part of the exam is the Multistate Performance Test (MPT). This tests your usage of lawyering skills, with a file and a library.
Since you have already registered as a law student with the Bar, completing the rest of the application for the bar exam is easy. Go online into the account you created with the Bar when you registered. You will be asked to submit:
Here are passing rates from the Illinois Bar Exam from 2002 to 2011, provided by Adaptibar:
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
In addition to passing the Illinois Bar Exam, you must also pass Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) prior to bar admission. This consists of 50 multiple-choice items and lasts just over two hours. The MPRE is offered in March, August, and November in various locations throughout Illinois. After you have completed 66% of the credits necessary (or 60 credit hours) for the J.D. degree, you may take the MPRE. Click on this link for more information on applying to take the MPRE.
Admission on Motion
If you are already a licensed attorney, you may apply for Admission on Motion to the Illinois Bar. You must meet the following requirements:
If you feel that you meet these requirements, you must initiate application for a Preliminary Questionnaire. If approved, you will be instructed on how to proceed. The fee to file for admission on motion is $1250.
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
About six to eight weeks after taking the bar exam, your scores will be mailed to you. Information on where and when to report for your admission ceremony to the bar will be provided if you passed. After bar admission, you must complete a Basic Skills Course of at least 15 actual hours of instruction.
You are now a licensed Illinois lawyer and member of the Illinois Bar! Congratulations! The Illinois State Bar Association gives all new lawyers free membership for one year. You will also be granted free membership in the association’s Young Lawyers Division. This division can help you with practice tips, networking, and interpreting the law. The Practice Tools and Resources section of the Bar can help lawyers of all ages and experience.
Are you going to start you own solo legal practice in Illinois? Consult the Bar’s General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm section for help. If you would rather join an established law firm in Illinois, names that may sound familiar to you include Baker and McKenzie in Chicago, Sawyier & Williams in Evanston, DLA Piper in Chicago, Churchill & Churchill in Moline, Mayer Brown in Chicago, Sidley Austin in Chicago, and the Law Offices of Turner, Jr in Sycamore.
Perhaps you would rather work for a corporation as legal counsel. Many Fortune 500 corporations are Illinois-based, including Walgreens in Deerfield, Boeing in Chicago, State Farm Insurance Company in Bloomington, Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Kraft Foods in Northfield, and Sears Holdings in Hoffman Estates.
Legal specialty certification
Are you well versed in a legal specialty area? You might consider becoming certified to practice in that area. The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification offers certifications for specializations in civil, criminal, and family law, as well as social security disability advocacy and civil trial law advocacy. Get in touch with the Illinois State Coordinator of the NBLSC, David Rapoport, at 312-327-9880 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Requirements for maintaining license
As a licensed lawyer in Illinois, you must complete 20 hours of CLE (continuing legal education) during the first two years in which you are licensed. During your second two years, it is expected that you will fulfill 24 hours of CLE. For all subsequent two-year reporting periods, you must complete 30 hours of CLE. AT least four hours of CLE during each two-year reporting period must be in legal ethics, professionalism, diversity, mental illness and addiction, or civility.
Court Systems in Illinois
There are three levels to the court system in Illinois:
Elective membership organizations
Now that you are a member of the Illinois bar, consider joining another elective membership organization for attorneys in the state:
Lawyer Career Specialties
|IL Active Lawyers||60,000+|
|Average Annual Wage||$138,550|