Illinois State Bar Proposes to Eliminate Bar Exam

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A report from the Illinois State Bar Association’s Special Committee on the Impact of Law School Debt on the Delivery of Legal Services has found that drastic change is needed to help out law students.

Law students, along with the millions of other students across the country, struggle with crippling levels of student loan debt. However, unlike most undergraduates, law students rack up massively high levels of debt, with an average of $100,000.

The committee, which held several hearings throughout the state, offered up their suggestions in a March report.

John Thies, President of the Illinois State Bar Association, offered one suggestion that the law community may find very controversial.

 “One of these possibilities is to eliminate the bar exam,” Thies told us over the phone.

He said that doing so would allow graduates to begin practicing earlier, rather than having to wait until completing the bar exam. Currently, graduates do not know if they passed the bar exam until the middle of the Fall, meaning that there is a large amount of time in which they are not working as lawyers.

“It’s just added expense that puts upward pressure on loan amounts,” said Thies.

If elimination of the bar exam is not considered or approved, another recommendation made by the committee seeks to have the bar exam take place in the second semester of the final year of law school. This would allow graduates to potentially become licensed early before finishing school, allowing them to practice immediately after graduating.

But that proposal does have some drawbacks.

“The Committee is considering steps to make the third year more devoted to activities which make students more practice-ready, such that if you did have the bar exam in the third year, it might interfere with those academic changes,” said Thies.

Another problem facing law school graduates is unemployment.

Thies feels that the high unemployment rate of recent law school graduates is not due to the high number of law school students coming in and out of law schools each year.

“I think it’s the economics of the marketplace, and by that I mean there are a lot of jobs that would be very attractive to many graduates who might have trouble getting a job,” he said.

But unfortunately those graduates are unable to accept those jobs.

Thies said that many graduates are forced to turn down positions because they can’t satisfy their debt with the salary those positions offer. He even noted that legal aid service providers testified at hearings before the committee and explained that indebted graduates simply cannot afford to work for their benevolent agencies.

Only time will tell if the Illinois Supreme Court will consider these changes.