Illinois bar calls current legal education system ‘unsustainable’

March 13, 2013
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The Illinois State Bar Association created a special committee to look at how law school debt is impacting the delivery of legal services. The committee’s report was recently released and its findings are unsurprising: debt from law school is a “crushing burden on new lawyers.”

After holding statewide hearings and hearing people’s experiences, the committee concluded that the law school debt crisis is having a serious and negative impact on the quality and availability of legal services in Illinois. The average student graduates with $100,000 in law school debt, which can balloon up to $200,000 when factoring in interest, undergraduate debt and bar study loans.

The report lists the cost of tuition and the average amount of debt law students have from schools in neighboring states. Based on the figures, law students here can expect to owe at least $90,000 on law school loans.

Some highlights from the 53-page report:

•    Small law firms have trouble hiring and retaining competent attorneys because of school debt;
•    Less lawyers are able to work in public interest positions;
•    Attorneys with high student loan debt are less likely to engage in pro bono work;
•    Debt keeps young attorneys out of rural areas;
•    The high debt is impacting diversity in the legal profession; and
•    Those with heavy debt loads are more likely to commit ethics violations.

The committee made a series of recommendations to address the debt problems and attempt to transform legal education to focus on educating lawyers at a lower cost. Those include:

Congress and the Department of Education placing reasonable limits on the amount law students can borrow from the federal government;
The American Bar Association should revise its accreditation standards; and law schools must reform their curricula to focus on educating lawyers for practice. This is something that the Indiana law schools are working toward,  including soon-to-open Indiana Tech Law School.

The Illinois State Bar Association also suggests that qualified law students be able to take the bar exam in the February of their third year, which would mean they wouldn’t have to pay to study for the bar exam after graduation and delay entering the workforce. The Arizona Supreme Court recently adopted a similar proposal.

Here’s a link to the full report.  What do you think about the Illinois State Bar’s findings?

I imagine that the issues facing Illinois attorneys mirror that of most law school graduates here and across the country.
 

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