How to Become a Lawyer in Illinois

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Illinois state bird

With its strong employment prospects, prestigious law schools, and rich legal history, Illinois has long been a magnet for lawyers. In fact, many renowned figures have practiced law in the state, including former presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln.

If you’re eager to discover how to become a lawyer in Illinois, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll guide you through the various steps you’ll need to take, including the education and testing requirements.

What does a lawyer do?

Lawyers play a pivotal part in upholding the legal system and protecting clients’ rights. While their specific duties depend on their chosen area of practice, many spend their days defending clients in court, drafting legal documents, resolving disputes, and providing counsel on legal matters.

Steps to become a lawyer in Illinois

Earn your bachelor’s degree

As you set out to become a lawyer in Illinois, your first step is to earn your bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. There aren’t any specific undergraduate requirements at this time. However, it’s wise to seek out courses that are relevant to the field of law. These could include:

  • Political Science
  • History
  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • Business

In addition to the topics covered, plan to take courses that will hone the skills you’ll need as a future lawyer. The syllabus should help you assess whether a class will strengthen your writing, reasoning, and communication skills; public speaking chops; and creative problem-solving abilities.

Take the LSAT

As you near the end of your undergraduate degree, you’ll prepare to take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). 

The LSAT is a standardized test required for law school admission that includes multiple-choice questions and a writing sample. It’s designed to assess a range of skills, including:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Logical reasoning
  • Analytical reasoning
  • A writing portion

The LSAT is offered four times a year (in June, September, December, and February). You can register for your test beforehand through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).

The LSAT is graded on a scale of 120-180. You’ll need a high enough LSAT score to be admitted to an accredited law school, and an even higher score will help with admission to more reputable schools. This means you should take the test seriously and study for it diligently. LSAT preparation courses can also go a long way in setting you up for success.

If your score is low and you believe you can improve it, you may wish to retake the test. Some schools will accept the highest score, while others average your scores.

Apply to law school

When choosing where to apply, you’ll want to first consider your grades and LSAT score. These will help you determine where you’re most likely to gain admission. 

You should also think about where you want to practice. In doing so, keep in mind that it’s often easier to find employment in the same geographic area as your school. Check out our comprehensive list of the top law schools in the country that offer excellent education and networking opportunities. So, if you’re confident that you want to become a lawyer in Illinois, carve out time to research—or perhaps even visit—schools in the state. 

You’ll need to attend an ABA-accredited law school to become a lawyer in Illinois. Some of the ABA-accredited law schools in Illinois include:

  • University of Chicago Law School
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law
  • University of Illinois College of Law
  • Loyola University Chicago College of Law
  • Northern Illinois University College of Law

Finally, compare the costs of different schools, including the potential for grants, scholarships, or other financial aid.

To submit your applications, register with the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), a service from the Law School Admission Council that all law schools use. After you send your transcripts and letters of recommendation to CAS, it’ll forward them to your schools of choice. You’ll also have to craft a compelling personal statement—usually no more than 500 words long.  

Law school library

Earn your law degree

Once you’ve chosen a law school, it’s time to pursue your Juris Doctor (JD) degree.

Law school generally requires 90 semester hours of law study over three years. The first-year curriculum is relatively fixed from school to school, consisting of courses that cover broad legal areas, such as torts, contracts, and civil procedure.   

You can take elective classes beginning in the second year, allowing you to study areas in the field of law you’re interested in. You might also seek out courses or internships that will immerse you in specific practice areas. 

Still deciding which area to specialize in? Try our quiz to explore where your legal career can take you.

Pass the Illinois Bar Exam

In your third year of law school, you’ll take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), which allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of legal ethics. This test is mandatory to become a lawyer in Illinois.

After graduation, you’ll reach another significant milestone: the Illinois Bar Examination. Illinois has adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), a multi-day test that consists of three components:

  • Multistate Performance Test. A practical skills exam that assesses your ability to perform entry-level legal tasks.
  • Multistate Essay Examination. An exam with essay questions that evaluate how well you analyze legal issues and communicate in writing.
  • Multistate Bar Examination. A multiple-choice test that checks your understanding of fundamental legal principles.

The bar exam can be taken twice a year, in February and July. The exam is challenging, so you’re well-advised to take a preparation course if possible.

To pass, you must score at least 266 out of 400 points. Once you’ve received a passing grade, you can apply for admission to the bar and be sworn in by the Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. As a newly licensed lawyer in Illinois, you’ll need to take a six-hour basic skills course approved by the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Board, and nine hours of approved Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits.

Gain work experience

You’ll discover an array of possibilities for practicing law in Illinois. The best way to determine the right one is to gain on-the-ground experience. 

You can do this through internships, clinics, and summer associate positions. Internships with judges, district attorneys, or public defenders can also provide excellent opportunities. A summer serving as a clerk or associate for a firm will also provide you with a hands-on experience.

If you take the private sector route, pay special attention to the systems and processes used at the firm, including the use of any technology like artificial intelligence. Lawyers need to be organized, efficient, and unflappable, as they often have clients coming to them during difficult times. 

The right legal technology, such as Clio Manage, helps you keep track of files, court dates, and administrative tasks, so you can focus your time and energy on giving the best possible representation to your clients. 

In addition, you’ll need to bring in clients effectively to build your business, especially with clients who typically need legal support quickly. Onboard them efficiently from anywhere with cloud-based software designed to smooth the intake process, like Clio Grow.

Curious about specializing in practice areas? Check out our helpful resource to learn what it takes to become a lawyer in other practices areas, such as:

Average salary and job outlook for Illinois lawyers

An Illinois lawyer’s salary depends on many factors, including experience, education, and location. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed an Illinois lawyer’s salary to be an average of $158,030 annually. Lawyers in the Chicago metropolitan made slightly more, at $163,220 each year.

There are plenty of job prospects for lawyers in Illinois. According to the American Bar Association, there were 62,720 licensed lawyers actively practicing in the state in 2021. Illinois comes in fifth in US states with the most lawyers—with 4.9 lawyers per every 1,000 people.

Final thoughts on how to become a lawyer in Illinois

Becoming a lawyer in Illinois requires dedication, determination, and hard work. But it’s also an enriching career path to take. Illinois is an especially appealing state for legal professionals, thanks to its diverse employment opportunities across multiple practice areas.

Clio’s Academic Access Program is an excellent resource for students, as it offers free Clio access in both clinical and classroom settings. As the world’s leading cloud-based practice management software, Clio is the perfect tool to set you up for a successful legal career.